4×4-trek creates excitement with river crossings between Eastern Cape and Free State
After their daunting journey from Post Retief over the Winterberg mountain range to Aliwal North the 4×4 commemorative “trek”, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Great Trek (1835-1838), yesterday (Thursday, 19 September) crossed the two big rivers between the Eastern Cape and the Free State province.
The group, consisting of 34 people, left Post Retief, close to Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape, on Tuesday and followed the route of the trek leader Piet Retief to the Gariep River (or Great River, as it was known back then).
On the outskirts of Aliwal North the 4×4 “trek leader” Gerhard Groenewald attempted to cross the river in his Toyota Hilux, kitted with dedicated off-road accessories from 4×4 Megaworld. The modern “ox wagon” used all the horsepower it could muster to negotiate its way through the flowing stream. In low range 4×4 the vehicle waded from sandbank to sandbank until it reached the opposite side.
Groenewald’s first attempt, the Wrangler-tyres on the Hilux churning to find grip in the murky waters and water splashing over its bows, was successful, but a second attempt (for the TV crew) did not go according to plan.
Close to the opposite bank the vehicle beached itself, and it had to be recovered using ropes tied to another vehicle to lodge it free from its sandy prison. Safely on the other side, the convoy continued on its journey through the flat Free State terrain.
The group faced a further challenge – crossing the Caledon River – and this turned out to be as spectacular as the first river crossing. The biggest obstacle was a high, sandy wall next to the river bed. The Goodyear off-road tyres had to be deflated to give the heavy vehicles any chance of climbing the steep incline.
With their engines growling at peak revs the 4×4’s stormed the incline. With sand spraying in all directions they charged up the wall, and only modern technology (such as differential locks) ensured they could successfully negotiate this obstacle.
The convoy of eight 4×4 vehicles then headed for Smithfield and then set course for Bloemfontein. As the group entered Maselspoort, their overnight destination, they were welcomed by a massive dust storm engulfing the City of Flowers.
“The crossing of the Gariep and Caledon Rivers again highlighted the challenges faced by Retief and other erstwhile trek parties,” said Groenewald. “If it is so difficult to cross a river with the most modern vehicle technology available, one can only imagine how bad it must have been for them.
“While it took us a couple of hours to get across, it took the original trekkers days, if not weeks, to get their wagons, families and livestock across, piece by piece. It is actually amazing that they managed to do this,” he added.
Chief executive of the Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations (FAK) Dr Danie Langner said that after experiencing the river crossings first hand it is clear why the different trek groupings decided to call a temporary halt in the Free State.
“The energy, effort and sheer will power they had to muster to cross the big rivers definitely took its toll. One can understand why they decided to stay in the Free State, at least temporarily. It was during this time that Retief joined up with the groups and immediately exerted his leadership and influence,” Langner said.
Today the 4×4-group, under the guidance of the FAK, will visit Maroka’s Hoek near Thaba Nchu and this afternoon (20 September) they will attend the official Centenary celebrations for the Women’s Monument in Bloemfontein. Tomorrow the trek will depart to visit Vegkop site close to Heilbron.
The commemorative trek is supported Klipbokkop 4×4 Academy, 4×4 Megaworld (camping and other 4×4 gear), Goodyear (tyres, as well as support from its countrywide Hi-Q dealer network) Jurgens Trailers (off-road trailers) and National Luna (lighting and portable fridges).