Sandstone Heritage Trust - Rail News

RN 100 - A passengers report on Avontuur Adventrurer trip - by David Payling


The Kelway Hotel was comfortable and ensured a good start of the tour for the participants. It is interesting to look back to the Monday in Humewood as few of the passengers had known each other before the tour. By the end of it on the Friday at George most of us were on very friendly terms showing that the atmosphere during the week had been very sociable. On the first night the mayor’s civic reception I Port Elizabeth was very relaxing and pleasant with an interesting buffet. At first the music for the African dancing was rather loudly played and did not allow conversation to flourish. Fortunately the evening became quieter later.

The first railway day was something of a mixed experience with the short Garratt hauled trip to Chelsea and back. This part of the journey was repeated on the following day with the NG15 and might be worth leaving out in future plans? The same was true of the visit to the new harbour which was guided in a rather strange and defensive manner by one of its officials. It gave something of the air of visiting a Ghost Town. In contrast the afternoon visit to the Schotia wild life farm was very interesting with plenty of close up views of the lions and other animals. Some of the photographers however felt that a game drive had little place on a rail tour itinerary. Potjie in the Schotia boma that evening was a delight!

The start of the main tour the following morning showed immediately what the organisers would be up against for the next three days. The false start for the photographers allowed some of them time to scramble down embankments to take up positions up to a quarter of a mile away and slowed the eventual getaway of the train. By the time the photographers had been gathered on to the train the tour was already significantly behind time. This was to be a recurring aspect of the tour and it might be worth considering how a more structured format for photo runpasts could be arranged so that the train could keep better time. This factor will not be mentioned again but it was a significant point as it later caused a refreshment stop to have to be abandoned and for the train eventually to reach Avontuur after darkness had fallen! This of course frustrated the same photographers who had caused the earlier delays!

The braai buffet at Patensie was well received by all that I could overhear. The accommodation was comfortable and interesting, too. On the second day the wonderful scenery in the Gamtoos valley was a delight and was a highlight of the day. The civic reception at the Cultural Centre at Humansdorp was interesting and it was good to see the interest generated in the community as judged by the large number of onlookers at the station. But was this event really relevant to a rail tour? The lunch stop here was probably too long and the afternoon appeared to get off to a late start. Assegaaibos was reached with little daylight remaining. The Tsitsikamma Lodge was a very acceptable overnight stop and the party was well fed and comfortable overnight. It was a pity that such a long road journey was necessary to reach the hotel as it had already been a long day!

The last day was enjoyed by the passengers with the valley scenery becoming more of an upland farming and orchard environment with the steep sides of the valley and its horizon of jagged mountain tops always looming in the background. The long delay at Louterwater for locomotive water was most unfortunate, causing the cancellation of the refreshment stop, the photo stops and an after dark arrival at Avontuur. At Louterwater, with hindsight, there was probably more than enough time to enjoy tea and refreshments. By now many of the passengers had become acquaintances and so there was much conversation on the train, an advantage of tours of this length. My wife managed to have plenty of interesting conversation on the train, although she is not a railway enthusiast.

We were all pretty tired at Avontuur and it was a pity that we arrived after dark for the sake of the crowds of people who had gathered to welcome the train. I believe there was a braai, just as at Assegaaibos. The passengers unfortunately had to board their bus for the rather long journey down the pass to George. It would be well worth restructuring a Langkloof tour in such a way as to allow a daylight end to it at Avontuur. This would very probably involve a fourth day on the train but, in my opinion, would make for a more satisfying experience overall. It would allow time at the end for a proper celebration of the success of the train crew and the chance for the passengers to offer their congratulations. The crew were a real credit to the organisers. Everyone had a smile for the passengers. Unofficial visits to the Tavern were always welcomed by its enthusiastic staff, Bruce and Sandra. The locomotive’s crew and minders all showed themselves to be on top of the situation, even when we grounded the locomotive in the roadway entrance to the orange packing factory. They deserve every congratulation.

All in all the tour was most enjoyable for the passenger. The constantly changing glorious scenery of the valleys and the mastery of the train by its motive power was a great experience. Several people would have signed up immediately for the next tour up the valley!