When you say ‘Bloukrans’ all minds immediately jump to the thought of adrenalin - one, two, three bungeeee - but below the screams of the Bloukrans bridge lies a road that’s been nearly inaccessible for more than a decade.
Back in the day, the Tsitsikamma Mountains were seen as an impassible option for a road and the only way to get from George to Port Elizabeth (and vice versa) was over the Outeniqua Mountains and via the Langkloof. But Thomas Bain – the engineering brain behind more than 20 of South Africa’s mountain passes – had a motto that ‘nothing is impossible’ and was adamant to find a suitable way to connect Port Elizabeth with Plettenberg Bay and beyond. Despite the steep slopes and unstable shale, Bain and his team persevered and the Bloukrans Pass, with its intense 135-degree hairpin bend, carried traffic until the wide road of the N2 and its arch bridge with a length of 451m, became the modern-day road.
The Bloukrans Pass became the alternative for travellers who preferred to travel on the old Cape Road (R102), the unconventional road for those who wanted to venture off the beaten path and see what’s beneath the Bloukrans Bridge and it was always a rightfully safe option for travellers who didn’t want to fork out the tollgate fees.
That was until heavy rains and accompanying floods from November 2007 caused rock falls and damage to the road.
The Bloukrans Pass was closed.
An alternative road was no longer an option, which was unfortunate but understandable due to the extensive damage.
Traffic was forced to travel on the N2 and forced to pay the toll fee. Those who travelled to (or lived in) Nature’s Valley from Port Elizabeth still had to pay the full amount, even though they only used about 14 km of the N2 before they could connect to the older R102 alternative again.
The Bloukrans River separates the Eastern Cape and Western Cape and as a result of the damage of 2007, only half of road was repaired.
It was the half belonging to the Western Cape.
The other half (Eastern Cape territory) stayed abysmal with debris of rocks and trees blocking the majority of the road.
It’s been more than a decade and the Bloukrans Pass is still closed.
If you enter the pass from the Eastern Cape’s side and make your way around the barrier of soil (that’s been there for such a long time that it has grown its own new biome of negligence) it looks as if you are driving towards a deserted destination where urban legends of horror movies might originate from.
Around the corners you honk your horn just in case another curious traveller is attempting to travel on the closed road from the western side.
And what was once a two-lane road has now 31% of the left lane left and 32% of the right lane left with a faded white line here and there.
But then you reach the sign that says ‘Welcome to the Western Cape’ and the road turns into a car advertisement where you see the vehicle gliding effortlessly around the twists and turns with a forest canopy above and a fern bed below; wide roads, clean and well-maintained.
It has been more than a decade and the difference is still as big as day and night.
And it is a disgrace.
It is a disgrace that has been ignored by the Eastern Cape Department of Transport, Roads and Public Works despite the fact that it is a major tourism route, and despite the fact that there is no other alternative and that after a decade of damage, motorists are still forced to pay the toll gate fees. And no, the Langkloof Road (Route 62) is not an alternative, albeit beautiful, it is a detour.
In 2013, the MEC for Transport, Roads and Public Works, Thandiswa Marawu, was asked whether her department had plans to carry out maintenance on this road but the answer was that the Bloukrans pass was “only really suitable as a scenic tourism route rather than a viable alternative route”.
But what about the possibilities of this route? What about job opportunities? The Bloukrans Pass connects travellers with another historic and scenic road, the Grootrivier Pass, which leads to Nature’s Valley, a Garden Route destination often overlooked and ignored by many. And regardless of the fact that motorists are entitled to drive on the longer, older and toll-free roads, what about the fact that if something should ever happen to - or on - the Bloukrans Bridge that the alternative thoroughfare is closed indefinitely?
The Bloukrans Pass is one of South Africa’s most respected passes and is 6.75 km in length.
Is it too much to ask to just clean up just half of the pass?
By not changing a single thing to the road surface and by just removing rocks and fallen trees, the condition of the Eastern Cape’s side of the pass will already look impressively better.
Is it too much to ask to care?
The National Budget speech for the 2018/19 financial year will be delivered on Wednesday, 21 February 2018. One can only hope that half of the Bloukrans pass is up for discussion in the coming years.
Anje Rautenbach is the writer behind the blog Going Somewhere Slowly, find her Facebook, Twitter or on Instagram!