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4x4 Trails | Tackling 'To Hell 'n Gone' in an Isuzu mu-X via Bosluiskloof Pass

2020-08-25 08:45

Nick Yell

Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve

The Isuzu mu-X cuts a dashing figure in a field of canola outside Swellendam. Image: Nick Yell

• Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve is 32 kilometres from Route 62 via Seweweekspoort and Bosluiskloof Pass.

• The 21km 'To Hell 'n Gone is one of three 4x4 trails currently available.

• The Isuzu mu-X proves to be a steady steed to accomplish this journey.

• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za

No matter how many times I transit Seweweekspoort outside Ladismith, I'm always fascinated by the colourfully warped strata of Table Mountain sandstone that are redolent of its tumultuous formation. Many millions of years ago, these layers of rock were exposed to folding and faulting forces so violent they were in some instances bent over double. 

I'm thinking of this as my fiancée, Annette, and I cruise through the myriad skyscrapers of stone in our borrowed 2020 Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4x4 AT6, wishing it had a domed glass roof so we could fully appreciate the awe-inspiring geology of this place. 

Having already travelled about 5000km in an earlier version of the Isuzu mu-X, much of it on rough gravel roads and 4x4 tracks, this competent and comfortable SUV is a firm favourite of mine. Besides a couple of niggles experienced with the infotainment system (Bluetooth fade being the worst) and questionable use of hard, squeaky plastics in some parts of the dashboard, the mu-X pretty much soaks up whatever you throw at it with consummate ease. And, in my view, it has one of the best multi-link (rear) suspension systems around.   

Bosluiskloof Pass,4x4 trail, isuzu mux
The spectacular view from the top of Bosluiskloof Pass. Image: Nick Yell


Another natural spectacle I never tire of is the view from the top of Bosluiskloof Pass. 

Framed between the sides of this V-shaped kloof, this truly spectacular view was arguably best described by well-known geologist, Dr William Atherstone, while travelling with Thomas Bain in the late 1860s: "A scene burst upon us I shall not forget in a hurry. Breathless I gazed down the valley on the boundless sea of blue mountains, cones and peaks, tabletops and jagged lines of hillocks, tingled with the faint blush of early morn — the huddled groups of hills in the mid-distance, still deep in shadow…"  

I read this quote to Annette as we pause at the top of the pass to soak it all in. Erroneously named after what early explorers thought were fossils of large tick-like creatures (bosluise), the pass should actually have been named Trilobite Pass after the crab-like arthropods who survived here for nearly 300 million years between the Cambrian and Permian periods.   

Even if you don't want to take your 4x4 bundu-bashing on one of the testing 4x4 trails offered by Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve, the epic dirt track drive through Seweweekspoort and then down the Bosluiskloof Pass to the Gamkapoort Dam should be more than enough to enchant you. And if you stay over at the reserve's 4-Star lodge (self-catering and full board options available) not only will you be styling it, you will also have access to "guest only" facilities such as guided nature walks and game-viewing drives.

Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve
Annette Theron relaxes in our sumptuously furnished self-catering chalet at Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve. Image: Nick Yell

After a good night's rest under percale linen in our self-catering chalet, Annette and I are itching to take on the part of the 12km Shepherd's 4x4 Trail (Grade 3+) and then the full 21 km of the To Hell ‘n Gone 4x4 track (Grade 2). 

The reason we only plan to do part of the Shepherd's Trail is that host Gerhard Rademeyer warned us that heavy rains earlier in the year had damaged most of the trail badly — it hasn't been repaired yet due to 'lockdown' — making it a more of a Grade 4 track and we don't feel like road-building today.  

I engage low range, and we trundle down the first obstacle, a steep drift near the start of the trail. Even though the mu-X has Hill Descent Control, it's not necessary as the 380Nm of diesel torque walks our vehicle down the steep hill with little fuss. 

Up ahead, the going gets considerably more challenging. A river of thick sand topped with loose rocks and boulders issues us through a narrow kloof, and its limber suspension comes into its own as the vehicle adopts a spider-like gait over the obstacles, without a murmur from the bash-plate.  

isuzu mu-x,4x4 trail
The Shepherd's Trail is not for sissies. Image: Nick Yell


Having conquered the first two enervating kilometres, we decide to quit while we're ahead. But turning around in this narrow gorge is no easy matter. Thankfully, the reverse camera assists greatly, and we make it back to the kloof's main gravel track without incident. 

With special permission from our hosts, we amble down a number of the reserve's private roads and take in some of their exquisite "Big Five" view-sites, as well as a bird-hide next to a water hole. Sitting in the bird-hide reminds me of a dead Black Eagle I found on the main gravel track to the dam when I visited here some years back.  I reported the find to the lodge, and they speculated that, with no apparent signs of injuries, it might have been a victim of aerial combat between two males in a turf war. 

Continuing towards the next entry point of the Shepherd's Trail we keep our eyes peeled for antelope like kudu, gemsbok, hartebeest, grey rhebok and eland that are found here. It's a bit late in the morning, but we eventually see a small herd of kudu after re-joining the bushier trail, and then a lone gemsbok on the side of a distant scree slope.  

Kudu like these are often seen in the Bosch Luys K
Kudu like these are often seen in the Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve. Image: Nick Yell


This lower section of the Shepherd's Trail is much tamer than the upper part. More like a relaxing Grade 1+ through sandy thorn-veld with only the occasional rocky drift providing a moderate challenge every now and then. 

Deciding not to visit the now empty, but still starkly beautiful Gamkapoort Dam down the road, we head back to our chalet and have lunch on our sun-soaked deck before setting off to take on the 'To Hell ‘n Gone Trail'.

As I experienced when I last tackled this trail about six years back in a Toyota Prado, it's the first few kilometres of this there-and-back drive that demands your attention. Unlike that occasion, when I was unable to disconnect the Prado's beeping 'Park Assist' function, the mu-X doesn't protest at all, and we thoroughly enjoy the varied surfaces and occasional rocky and rutted challenges of this up-and-over alpine track. What we hadn't remembered to collect at reception, though, is a key for the locked farm gate; just over a kilometre from our destination: the viewpoint into the western side of 'Die Hel' (Gamkaspoort). 

isuzu mu-x,4x4 trail
The mu-X on a rise en-route to one of the reserve's "Big Five" view-sites. Image: Nick Yell


So like the Gamka's 'klowers' of old, we decide to leg it to 'Die Leer', the steeply stepped trail into the kloof that had officials and other visitors to this isolated valley cursing with effort. It was, in fact, the local cattle inspector of the 1920s, Piet Botha, who had to make many trips up and down 'Die Leer' on a donkey in the height of summer to dip sheep there, who first labelled this well-hidden valley 'Die Hel', a moniker which has stuck to this day.  

When we get to the edge of Gamkaspoort, we take in the full moon rising above the swathe of vegetation covering the valley's floor — we agree: this is as far from hell as you can get. 

Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve
The upmarket chalets at Bosch Luys Kloof blend into their surrounds. Image: Nick Yell

Trail notes 

Where it is: 
Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve is 32 kilometres from Route 62 via Seweweekspoort and Bosluiskloof Pass. 

Trail stats: 
While there are three trails: Ox-wagon route (11.9km — Grade 5); Shepherd's Trail (12 km — Grade 3+) and the To Hell 'n Gone Trail (21km — Grade 2+); due to destructive rains earlier in the year only the To Hell 'n Gone Trail is fully doable.

Time taken:
It took us about 2.5 hours, but allow 3 hours to savour the views. 

Terrain:
Mostly rocky and rutted tracks with some sections of gravel and hard sand.
Tyre Pressure recommended: I ran ours at 1.8 bars in front and 2.0 bars at the back. 
Ground clearance: 215 mm should do it. 

Vehicle used:
2020 Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4x4 AT6.
Power: 130kW 
Torque: 380Nm
Ground clearance if mu-X: 230mm
Approach angle: 24°
Departure angle: 25.1°
Wading depth: 600mm
Fuel consumption (achieved): 9.0-litres/100km
Diff-lock: Eaton M-Locker;
Price: R698 200.  

Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve
Contact:
023 581 5046, email: boschkloofpnr@telkomsa.net or visit their website: www.boschluyskloof.co.za
Costs: Luxury self-catering accommodation at R800 p.p.pn and R250 per vehicle for each 4x4 route driven. 
Setting and 4x4 experience: 8.5/10 

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