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The ‘poor’ man’s game drive

I hereby christen thee Emlanjeni,” I intoned as I poured a few drops of beer onto the crown my girlfriend’s recently acquired Australian bush hat, before gulping down the rest to wash cloying red Eastern Cape dust from my mouth.

Said girlfriend – aka Rosemariè – looked on, her own frosty Black Label clutched to her bosom.

It had been a lot of fun (she said) but, I could see from her white knuckles and the knowledge of having covered the route many times before, that driving the road Sunshine Coast locals refer to as “the poor man’s game drive” (PMGD) is not for sissies.

At least she got to do it when it was dry … and in a new Land Rover Discovery Sport.

I did it a couple of years ago on a laden motorcycle after a rainy spell: the road surface is mainly clay and slippery as snot when wet – bad enough on four wheels, a nightmare on two.

This, incidentally, was the main road between Alexandria (and, by extension, Gqeberha) and Port Alfred before the Boesmans (of which more later) and Kariega Rivers were spanned.

With apologies to sports writers and commentators, this is a game drive of two halves, bisected by the R343 that runs from Kenton-on-Sea to Grahamstown.

The eastern section branches off to the left from the road to Southwell, while the western (also known as the Emlanjeni road) continues on the other side of the R343 before coming out on the R72 near Alexandria.

The entire PMGD isn’t very long but can take quite a few hours to traverse depending on conditions and sightings.

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The road surface is slippery as snot when wet

It is a public road, so access is free. As with any game drive, you’re never guaranteed of seeing wildlife but, with the road flanked by Sibuya and Kariega private game reserves as well as the Ghio or Ngciyo (Khoi for “place of water”) Wetland Nature Reserve.

The name Emlanjeni is an isiXhosa word and means “at the river”. Emlanjeni was a small private game reserve on the Boesmans and its claim to fame was that it was the first in the area – before being absorbed by Kariega – and the first to stock rhino and buffalo.

The Ghio floodplain, which you enter after crossing a low concrete bridge, is a wonderful spot for bird watching and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to elephants from the Kariega herds drinking and bathing right next to the road.

My most spectacular sighting was of a female leopard strolling down the fenceline (on the inside, in case you’re wondering) with two cubs.

Part of the charm of the poor man’s game drive is that a major regional river runs through each section: the Kariega on the Sibuya half, and the Boesmans on Emlanjeni.

Herewith the naming niggle: the popular coastal holiday town is generally referred to as Bushman’s River Mouth or just “Bushman’s” but – as regional tourism head Jo Wilmot points out – the actual Bushman’s River is in KwaZulu-Natal.

The one in the Eastern Cape is Boesmans, and spelled without the apostrophe.

There is no access to the Boesmans River from the road but there is a lovely spot to stop for drinks at the causeway that fords the Kariega on the SouthwellSibuya section.

I mentioned in passing after a day-trip to Sibuya last September that the road that borders on the large section of reserve that is home to its lion population is a favourite for mountain-bikers.

Many cyclists have received the fright of their lives when they see over-large feral puddy-tats peering hungrily at them through the fence.

There are warnings along the route (“Quiet. Beware lions.”) but, as we all know, cyclists ignore roadsigns as a matter of course. Both sections of the PMGD are monitored and patrolled by antipoaching units.

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