25-Oct-2002 -- The annual Rhodes mountain bike race on 26 October provided me with the perfect excuse to attempt some more Confluences. It is a 1000 km drive from Pretoria down to Rhodes in the Eastern Cape and it is possible to follow 27E most of the way. 31S 27E and 30S 27E were still open and I have also wanted to visit 27S 27E as I had some doubts about the first visit.
But the Confluence that intrigued me most was 31S 28E in the mountains above Rhodes in a blank spot on my road map. I had stayed in a farm house in the vicinity last year (I did not know about the DCP then), and it was difficult enough to reach the farm house. The Confluence is another 20 km further into the mountains, however, and I had some doubts whether it could be reached without launching a major expedition.
A 1:250,000 map that I obtained from the Government Printers actually showed a track running up a valley into the mountains and passing within two kilometres of the Confluence, but it was clear that the last two kilometres would be a serious climb, as the Confluence lies nearly on a peak.
When Ferdi Schenck agreed to be my co-pilot for the weekend, the trip was on. We left Pretoria at four on Friday morning and drove to Barkly East via Bloemfontein, Aliwal North and Lady Grey. From Barkly East we followed the dirt road to Rhodes and turned off towards Achill / Bokspruit. From here we followed the signs for Bokspruit Upper. This track ran up a picturesque valley, became a jeep track and eventually ended at Gateshead Cottage, still 3 km short of the Confluence. By now it was already two o'clock in the afternoon.
There did not seem to be anybody home, but we saw some smoke rising behind the cottage. Just then a caretaker woman arrived and offered us the keys to the cottage, probably thinking that we had rented the cottage for a fishing weekend. The area is well known for trout fishing. She did not speak either Afrikaans or English, but when we indicated that we wanted to proceed up the valley, she made it clear that we would have to walk from there.
We followed the stream southwards up the valley towards the Confluence, which was by now really a gorge, walking along cattle tracks or boulder hopping along the stream bed. After about 1.5 km the valley turned sharply left and we were left staring at a 400 m wall. We managed to find a route up this through the cliffs and then traversed a high plateau for another kilometre or so before reaching the Confluence at four o'clock.
After taking the necessary photos, we decided to follow a different route down, as it seemed more direct. This route ended on top of a waterfall with seemingly no way down. We traversed to the right and were lucky enough to find a gully cutting through the cliffs. We reached our vehicle at 5h30, and managed to get to Rhodes just as the sun set and still in time to enter for the mountain bike race the next day.
Continued at 31S 27E.