De Vlugt, Garden Route

Roughly halfway along Prince Alfred Pass (R339), as it descends to meet the river, is the historical hamlet of De Vlugt. Also know as Die Vlug, De Vlugt is what remains of the dwellings of Andrew Geddes Bain and his son, Thomas, their outbuildings and the concentration camp that housed the 270 or so convicts who laboured to build the pass under their instruction during the five years it took them to complete the pass in the early1860s.

Bain began his task on the Knysna side of the pass, widening the tracks of elephant through the forest, before setting up camp midway, in the poort along the banks of the Keurbooms River, to continue the demanding task of pass building.

Little has changed in De Vlugt since then. The only nod to globalisation is a Telkom telephone, on one side of the road, and a Tea Garden that offers coffee and melktert, bottled fruit, jams, tea, scones and hand-painted ornaments on the other. Otherwise the peaceful hamlet remains undisturbed.

In this stretch of the pass life is about as slow as it is going to get off the beaten track in South Africa. Baine's cottage still has original yellowwood floors, the kitchen a large Aga stove, and there is no electricity.

There are a couple of reasons to stay here:

Burchell's Track, a 4X4 route that follows Burchell's ox wagon trail through the kloof; a real pioneer track hewn by William John Burchell, the botanist, in the hectares of fynbos to the west of De Vlugt. Burchell travelled from Skuurbeknek to Romanskraal, Jaggakamma and Knoetskraal before linking up with the Paardekop trail to Plettenberg Bay.

It was only in 1998 when a fire destroyed hectares of fynbos between Pietersrivier farm and De Vlugt that the tracks made by his wagon were revealed. Burchell's Track is run by local Katot Meyer, with the help of Middle Keurbooms Conservancy and CapeNature.

Look out for hand-painted maps of the trail in the old cottage at De Vlugt, if you want to follow the trail that Burchell carved with his wagon. Interestingly: he had the wheelbase deliberately narrowed to enable him to navigate the narrow sections, which makes it steering wheel-gripping at times.

And you can overnight in Thomas Bain's house.

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