If you know the upland country halfway between Rhodes and Maclear, where the Naude’s Nek Pass touches the clouds, then you know some of the best trout country on this fine planet. It is high altitude grassland – cold, sparse and remote, threaded throughout with mountain streams, all swift and clear and full of the promise of trout. It also happens that some of the better stillwaters in South Africa is found here.
Vrederus can be reached via Maclear, through 60 km of magnificent countryside, as one twists and turns up steep gravel roads through valleys, past gorges, over plateaus and through pine forests. Otherwise you can travel the 60 km from Rhodes to Vrederus via the famous Naude’s Neck Pass (marked out by Donie Naude’s great grandfather and his horse about 100 years ago). With regard to accessibility, most vehicles will get there, provided they are not too low slung. A 4x4 will be an advantage when the roads are wet and slippery in the rainy season.
Vrederus is situated just under 1 900 m above sea level and the water remains cold throughout the year, to the benefit of the trout. The main lake is shallow and has extensive weed beds that ensure plentiful food for the trout, which can grow to good size. It offers the fly fisherman a number of different approaches that can be changed to suit your own tastes and desires. Apart from the deeper water at the dam wall, one of the most productive areas is the network of channels at the inflow to the lake. These channels chart the course of the stream before the lake was flooded and are easy to trace throug the weed encrusted shallows. Most people fish from the bank or from float tubes. Shore wading is less popular, not least because of the muddy lake bed, but can yield good results. When wading from the bank or fishing from the tube it is sometimes possible to sight fish to rising fish with some considerable success. A small boat is provided, but the little electric motor struggles in even the softest of breezes.
There is an additional small lake about a kilometre away that has been stocked with browns only and some substantial fish have reportedly been caught there. This lake is less often frequented by fly fisherman, so reports are inconsitent.
The Friendly N6 route runs between Bloemfontein and East London, connecting the provinces of the Free State and the Eastern Cape. Aliwal North is at the border of the 2 provinces. South Africa is famous for horizons that stretch for kilometres, so wide open spaces and endless skies are a traveller’s constant companions on the N6. The route takes one through about 600km of peaceful, diverse and beautiful land, giving one a sense of just how vast the country really is.
The N6’s attractions include everything from sea to snow, interspersed with charming towns. These are only slightly off the beaten highway, and are intriguing and pleasant places to explore. In the Free State, Bethulie and Zastron are within easy travelling distance of the N6, while Reddersburg, Smithfield and Rouxville are main stops along the route.
In the Eastern Cape the towns of Dordrecht, Molteno, Elliot, Rhodes, Burgersdorp, Barkly East and Lady Grey are all worthwhile diversions for curious travellers with time on their hands. For those sticking to the highway, Aliwal North, Jamestown, Queenstown, Cathcart and Stutterheim are along the route. These provide a sufficient diversity of interests and activities for guests. The highway is also relatively close to the Gariep Dam, Oviston and Hogsback Nature Reserves.
Sprawling sheep farms are probably the most obvious and frequent feature of the landscape, but the area is rich in cultural significance and interest. Apart from San (or Bushman) history and rock art, there are also interesting museums and art galleries, and fine local arts and crafts. The route’s proximity to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho means that Basotho culture is an important and unique influence on the culture of the area. Xhosa culture is proudly and strongly entrenched in the Eastern Cape.
The hills and towns of this area were witness to the Great Trek. This was the migration of the ‘Trekboers’ from the Eastern Cape across the Gariep River, (previously the Orange River) further into the central interior. It is often mentioned as an example of Afrikaner rebellion, perseverance and endurance. This same Afrikaner resilience cost Britain an unanticipated £190 million in the South African (or Anglo-Boer) War, which is commemorated at many sites and towns along the N6 route.
Travelling south to East London from Aliwal North, tourists are afforded a majestic view of the Maluti mountains of Lesotho, as well as a sample of the Great Karoo in Stutterheim and Queenstown. East London itself is a lovely city which really lives up to the ‘friendly’ N6 brand. It has some interesting tangible links to prehistory: the East London Museum displays the last remaining dodo egg, as well as the body of a coelacanth, one of the oldest species on the planet. This fish was thought to be extinct until one was found alive on a fishing boat in the East London harbour in 1938.
When to go
Relax and rejuvenate in Aliwal North’s hot springs and appreciate its beautiful old buildings.
The Kologha Forest and the Kubisi Indigenous State Forests are less than 10km from Stutterheim. Large swathes of ancient indigenous forest are home to yellowwoods, ironwoods, white stinkwoods, Cape holly and Cape chestnuts with montane grassland cresting the slopes. Six well-marked forest trails, from 3-17km long, start and end at the Kologha Picnic site. They lead to waterfalls and good trout fishing and birdwatching spots. Rare birds found here include the endangered Cape parrot, grey-crowned crane and white-starred robin. Mountain biking and horse riding are allowed on certain trails. Maps are available at the forest kiosk.
The Thomas River Historical Village is in the Amathole mountain region on the 31 000ha Thomas River Conservancy between Stutterheim and Cathcart on the N6 highway. The area was named after Thomas Bentley, a deserter from the Van Der Kemps Missionary who was shot dead with an arrow while crossing the river. The conservancy offers a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, hiking, rock art talks and trails, fishing, birding, and paintball. The village dates back to the 1870s, has a popular restaurant and houses museums themed on wagons, rock art, pubs and vintage motor cars. Tel: +27 45 843 1504.
Mgwali Cultural Village near Stutterheim showcases Xhosa culture, with crafts and traditional food on sale.
Tiffindell Ski and Alpine Resort near the picturesque village of Rhodes is South Africa’s only ski resort. It offers snow adventures on the slopes of Ben McDhui, the tallest mountain in the Eastern Cape.
Lady Grey and Cathcart are quaint, peaceful towns to visit. There is a Cape vulture sanctuary 12km from Lady Grey at the Karringmelkspruit gorge. Cathcart is known for its wildflowers, San rock art, excellent hang-gliding launch sites, fishing, birdwatching and adventure activities.
Malaria-free game viewing is possible at the Lawrence De Lange Nature and the Longhill Nature Reserve near Queenstown, as well as at Tsolwana Game Reserve near Tarkastad. Big 5 game viewing is possible at the Mpongo and Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserves, both within 35km of East London.
At the N6 route’s end, East London, visit the Python Park and Lion Park, the Queen’s Park Zoo, the East London museum and the aquarium. Enjoy the shopping, restaurants and, of course, surf the waves. The Calgary Transport Museum (5km north of East London on the N6) has a quaint collection of carts, wagons and buggies. It is open daily from 09h00 to 16h30.