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Scaling mountain passes and chasing mermaids in the Klein Karoo

2020-05-15 10:00

Charlen Raymond

Renault Kwid Climber

Renault Kwid Climber. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

A while back, a few 'adventurers' and I took on a road trip to Oudtshoorn, one of the trademark towns in the Klein Karoo.

It was a fun trip, made all the more interesting by a Renault Kwid Climber - the pre-facelift model.

On this specific day, we had just completed a tour of the Cango Caves and made our way back to the car. It's so freaking humid in those caves and having to squeeze through tight spaces did not bode well with my claustrophobia. But despite shallow breaths and a burning chest, it was an experience worth cherishing.

We still had a good few hours to kill, so what's the next mission? What about the Swartberg Pass? I mean, we saw the sign en route to the Caves, why not just make our way over it. And the Kwid? Will it survive? Hmmm, guess we'll have to find out.


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Renault Kwid Climber

Renault Kwid Climber. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

Swartberg Pass

Barely 5km down the road from the Caves, direction Oudtshoorn, you have to make a right. It's a beautiful piece of tarmac that snakes as you gradually reach higher altitudes. And then the gravel road hits. At the start, it doesn't seem too bad, but just a few hundred meters in you realise that this is not your Sunday afternoon drive along the beach. Big rocks lay half-hidden under the gravel, fine stones and loose sand ensure minimal grip, and in the meantime, the Kwid Climber has to… well, it has to climb.

The thin air has a massive impact on the car's 1.0-litre engine, and it's three cylinders has to work hard to offer any kind of performance against the inclines. But forth we go at about 20km/h. You don't want to go fast, because if something happens to those 13-inch tyres, who are you going to call? The entire drive up the pass is a dance between first and second gears just to get over the advantage line, but the Kwid is not calling quits. At times it sounded as if the car had no more to give, but giving up does not seem to exist in this Frenchman's vocabulary.

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Oh, but this pass is beautiful! Mother Nature surrounding you, valleys laying stretched out ahead of you. You wish you had a vehicle that could conquer the pass, just so that you could have a moment to really take in what you're witnessing. Then you see the sign that says you've reached the top: 1500m above sea-level. Compared to other passes this is not high, but there's a calmness that brushes over you. On some of the peeks, you can still see the snow left by winter. And it adds a freezing effect to the fresh wind.

As we found out a few days later, the prettiest part of the pass lies on the other side as you descend for Prince Albert. We opted against it because the poor Kwid Climber already had quite a workout.

Renault Kwid Climber

Renault Kwid Climber tackling Meiringspoort pass. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

A Mermaid?! Where?

On the last day of our visit to the Klein Karoo, we decided to head to Meiringspoort Waterfall before turning back and heading home. It may be in the opposite direction of where we're supposed to go, but you can't be in the area and not explore one of its treasures. Wow, Meiringspoort Pass is beautiful! It should be on everyone's to-do list if you ever find yourself in the Klein Karoo.

The road you drive on is engulfed and surrounded by mountains, and the majesty of it all almost enchants you. The sun breaks over the mountain tops, the shadows sending a soothing sensation across the road. You don't want to rush through the drive because the moment has to endure. The experience needs to be engraved in your memory. We arrive at the waterfall, park the car, and make our way up the footpath.

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What a sight! There's water everywhere! The sound of the waterfall is almost deafening, water bouncing off rocks and calling you closer. I swear this had to be Eden, but unfortunately neither Adam or Eve left a fig tree leaf behind. The water is ice cold, so if you decide to take a dip, be ready to have the sound of your clapping knee caps echo off the mountainous walls!

There's also a story going around that, at Meiringspoort Waterfall, there's a mermaid. And that she's beautiful. But if you come too close to her pool or make a nuisance of yourself, she'll lose her mind and attack. Luckily for us, she wasn't there on our visit.

Meiringspoort Waterfall

Meiringspoort Waterfall. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

And the Kwid Climber?

At the end of the trip and back home, it struck me that the Kwid Climber did not put a foot wrong. Yes, the build-quality is not the best, and the engine is noisy, and it swerves across the road when the wind blows, and and and. But it took us to all our destinations and back home again.

The media system, with its built-in satellite navigation, worked without fail, and connecting wireless devices was no issue at all.

At times, you had to mash the throttle to get any performance out of it, but we've made it through the straights and turns to where we had to be. It's unlikely that I'd want to use this car again for any long trips, but it at least gets a nod in the right direction.

Renault Kwid Climber

Renault Kwid Climber. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

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