Henry´s Hiccup in the Mountains of Wilderness

We left you at the end of the last post having an idyllic few days travelling the Garden Route. We had made it to the town of Wilderness, floating on the river in the national park enjoying the peace and quiet, spotting the bird life. All was right with the world.

The next day we decided to drive the Seven Passes road through the mountains towards Knysna, it was Sunday but far from being a day of rest everything went wrong right from the start.

We had driven the road between George and Wilderness three times already and it was becoming a running joke – it rapidly became a lot less funny! The Seven Passes starts at George and meanders through the moutains to Kynsna. It´s supposed to be a beautiful drive and we didn´t want to miss any of it – plus there was a main attraction called ´Big Tree´ just outside George which we wanted to visit – so we headed back down the same road to George, following the sat nav to the start of the moutain pass.

As we approached, however, there were big bollards and signs blocking off the entrance to the pass – flooding had caused land slides and washed out the road. There was no way through. We consulted the map and quickly realised that the only way to get to the Seven Passes was to go back to Wilderness and join it there, just before Big Tree. Rolling our eyes at the prospect of driving that road yet again, we turned around and put our fixed smiles on. At least the road was interesting. Along part of it you can see virgin rain forest crowding in against the tarmac.

And round a sweeping bend we were always treated to the most amazing view of the coastline.

So we couldn´t really complain!

We arrived back in Wilderness and followed the new sat nav route up towards the pass. We turned a corner to find police, fire trucks and barricades – a bus had come off the road and it was closed. Really?? We were beginning to suspect we weren´t destined to drive this particular mountain road!

We pulled over, chatted to the police, consulted the maps, had a tiff over whether to keep trying or give it up and eventually plotted another, tortuous route to Big Tree – agreeing it would be our final attempt.

An hour and a half after first leaving our campsite we were driving past it again having got nowhere! But this time our route was good, no more road closures, we were on our way.

We arrived at Big Tree at around midday. It was warm, the entrance fee to see the tree was small and there was a nice picnic area. It seemed as though our day was back on track…..nope! As we jumped out of the Landrover James stopped and stared at the bonnet. ´Can you smell that?´. We sniffed….oil…..

James popped the bonnet to find oil everywhere. He took a torch and crawled underneath to get a closer look.

The steering box was oozing transmission fluid through its seals and the engine was covered in the highly flammable liquid. Our hearts sank. We have had a steering wobble for about 2 years, before we even left the UK. We´d tried everything and it had improved but was still there. The only possible explanation left was the steering box and that is a big and expensive problem.

A problem which had now come to bite us. James cleaned as much of the transmission fluid up as he could and Google found us a garage 35km away back on the main road where we could buy more fluid to keep the steering box functioning. The guide from the river boat in Wilderness had mentioned a good Landrover specialist in George the day before so we text him for the details which he kindly sent over. We text them and even though it was Sunday they replied and promised to come back to us with prices and timescales the following day.

So that was as much as we could do and we figured we may as well go and see Big Tree whilst we were there!

It was big!

800 years old apparently.

With our newly purchased fluid we were mobile – the steering box could keep going as long as we kept topping it up – it was just a little risky with the flammable liquid leaking all over the engine and a worry as to how often we needed to stop and check it.

It had been a tough day so we decided to finish the Seven Passes, get to Knysna and head straight for a campsite. It was 4:30pm so a tiny bit early but not by much. We got to our chosen campsite – closed. We drove half an hour to a campsite on a farm with excellent reviews – closed. We drove another 10km to a vegan nature lodge – it was open! Thank God! It was dark by now and we had been running out of options – what a day!

The campsite owner was lovely. He sympathised with our troubles but warned us against the Landrover specialist we had contacted – poor reputation for customer service apparently. He gave us contact details for another one, also in George, and even rang them for us. The next morning we had a variety of quotes for different options and decided to drive back to George to go and see them in person.

By lunchtime on Monday we had agreed a course of action and the parts were ordered. The guys at the garage couldn´t have been more helpful – in fact James spent hours chatting to them about all things Landrover and we picked up a few extra bits and bobs which would make things easier for us in the future.

We went for an amazing Turkish lunch in town to celebrate our good fortune then headed back to the campsite on the farm in Wilderness that had been closed on Sunday but was now responding to messages and welcoming us.

The farm was in the middle of nowhere. The campsite was another 2km drive away from the farm. And we were the only people there.

It was bliss, and exactly what we needed.

They had even kindly left us a pile of wood for the fire, which James sorted out for us in no time.

Things were looking up again and we treated ourselves to some good food and a glass of wine by the warm fire. Things seemed so much better than they had only 36 hours ago!

The parts were due to arrive either Tuesday or Wednesday and the garage said they would fit them the day after they came. This is South Africa so we guessed it would be Thursday, or even Friday, before we were needed back in George so after a quick visit to the sumptuous farm shop, we headed off to drive the San Parks route through the national park and forest.

The views were spectacular and the forest very ancient with ferns everywhere.

We spent all morning and early afternoon following the map with breath-taking scenery at every step.

Even when the weather closed in it was still dramatic.

We finished by mid afternoon and headed straight for the Knysna Lagoon for a sunset cruise on the famous John Benn. When we collected our tickets we found they no longer served food on the boat so treated ourselves to a wonderful early dinner overlooking the river.

The cruise itself took us out to the Knynsa Heads and, despite the rain, was lovely, especially as the sun went down.

And once back at the farm campsite, another fire was just what we needed to warm up!

Just as we were settling in our wifi hotspot magically found some internet and my phone burst into life with a number of text messages from the garage telling us the parts had arrived that day and asking us to come in at 8am the following morning. Life was definitely getting back onto our side!

I spent the evening gazing at the multitude of stars over Henry´s roof feeling very lucky to be where we were. You need to look at this photo in a dark room to see what I was seeing!

By the end of the following day all the work was done on Henry, we had sorted laundry, shopping and food and were back at the same campsite for a slap-up braai. We were over €1,600 lighter in the pocket (on top of the new tyres and leisure battery two weeks earlier!) but Henry was running well, our long-term concerns over the steering box were finally behind us, we had a new thermostat to cool the engine quicker than before and a new fuel hose which had also been leaking for a few days. Henry had stopped spewing various liquids all over himself and we were poor but happy!

We couldn´t believe that we had had a huge problem on Sunday in the middle of South Africa where we knew no-where and no-one and had had it fixed and ready to go by Wednesday afternoon!

And we were finally on our way, out of Knysna, away from the damned road between Wilderness and George (which we had now driven 11 times!) and heading for Plettenburg Bay. With our renewed optimism and gratitude for the kindness and helpfulness of everyone we had met, we headed off towards the wilds of the Eastern Cape.

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