The Oliviershoek Pass via the R74

The R74 is the primary route to the Northern uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage site
The road runs alongside the spectacular Sterkfontein Dam and down the equally spectacular Olivierhoek pass on to the mountains.
For many years this section of the R74 that runs along the dam has fallen into
terrible disrepair but in December 2015 the newly built road was once again opened.
We took the road and like to share our experience.
First stop is the Sterkfontein Dam
The dam is located just outside Harrismith and is part of the Tugela-Vaal Water Project, and located on the Nuwejaarspruit, a tributary of the Wilge River in the upper catchment area of the Vaal River. The dam receives its water via the Tugela-Vaal Project which is a pumped-storage scheme involving the net transfer of up to 630 million m3 of water from KwaZulu-Natal.
Sterkies5
Sterkfontein Dam and all the interesting names
Sandy Bay is the area situated next to the R74
The name Poacher’s Corner keeps us wondering.

The Sterkfontein Dam was commissioned in 1977 and a full supply capacity of
2 616 900 megalitres. It has a surface area of no more than 70 km2. The circumsphere is aproxamitely 102 km. The dam wall contains 17 million m3 of material making it the largest dam wall in South Africa with regard to volume, while the reservoir formed by the dam is the third largest in the country.
Nuwejaarspruit
Nuwejaarsspruit when the sluice gates are open. This Spruit was named by the Voortrekkers during the Trek. They camped at Christmasspruit on 25 December and then moved on to camp at Nuwejaarsspruit (only about 6km apart).
Sterkies
Views over the dam. The Dam is a highly effective reservoir, since it has the depth to store a large amount of water, with very little loss to evaporation.
Sterkies11joberg2c
It comprises of a 93 meters high earth fill embankment 3,050 long with no spillway. 
Thanks to Joburg2c for sharing the photo
Sterkies Nature
The nature reserve is host to some wild animals. It is also a favorite spot for fly fishing.
Sterkies swim Collage
It is also home to the annual Sterkiesswim 3000 m in February 
The next stop is at the vulture restaurant used to be a place where fresh and poison free carcasses were put out to feed the vultures and it contribute to the survival of the birds especially during periods of food scarcity and when young birds fledge.
Sterkies9Vulture-1
Sterkies Endanger
It is home to the endangered Oribi and White Tail Rat, 
the vulnerable De Winton’s long-eared bats, 
the Near-threatened South African Hedgehog and the the Lammergeier
Our next stop is at Kerkenberg.  The site is so named because the Voortrekker’s priest, Erasmus Smit, deemed the cluster of rocks at its base was worthy of a church. The heritage markers that can be visited are the Retief Klip, a stone engraved by the leader’s daughter Deborah on his birthday to commemorate the Boer’s successful land negotiations, and Retief Pass, the old wagon trail used by Piet Retief to descend into KwaZulu-Natal.

Next up is the Kaalvoet vrou. You can read all about the history of this monument on our blog spot. Kaalvoetvrou

 

 A visit in this area will not be complete if you do not take the dirt road to Leon and Elsa. They share a passion for the beauty of the past and have established a farm museum.

 

We returned to the R74 and pass the Driekloof dam

Driekloof dam
Driekloof dam at the bottom
The old sandstone quarry
You will find a little bit more about the quarry and a certain Flip Pieterse
on this blog post
Wild flowers
Old ruin

We continue and reach the summit point of 1758 m above sea level of Oliviershoek Pass and is close to the most southerly arm of the Sterkfontein Dam.
The descent is gentle and enters a wide S-bed which straightens out at the 2 km point.
it is often used as an alternative route to Van Reenen’s Pass but for us it is a scenic alternative to the Northern Drakensberg. Interestingly, and to add a little history to the mix, it was along this area in October 1837, that Piet Retief and his trek party climbed the Drakensberg.

Oliviershoek summit
The view into Kwa-zulu Natal from the summit of Oliviershoek pass.

Thanks you for joining us on this wonderful scenic drive

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

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