The Van Staden’s River west of Port Elizabeth is the boundary of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro and a major landmark in the area. Most people cross the gorge on the N2 in a couple of seconds using the arch bridge while others take their time and drive through the old pass. But where does the name Van Staden’s come from and when were the different bridges built?
Van Staden’s got it’s name from Marthinus van Staden who obtained grazing rights on the farm Kabeljouws a few kilometers from Jeffreys Bay in 1744. From here he moved further east across the Gamtoos River and established himself on a farm by the next river. This being the river that was later called the Van Staden’s River. Marthinus plotted a rudimentary track through the gorge and in 1852 the first crude pass was built. In 1865 a new pass was built but with a drift across the river.
The current pass was constructed in 1938 with a bridge across the river. Up until this time there had not been a bridge but merely a drift. To the right (looking east) of the bridge is the remains of a short bit of tar that may have been where the drift was located. The pass was eventually tarred itself between 1950 and 1953.
Things changed drastically when the arch bridge over the gorge was completed on 12 October 1971. It has a main span of 198 meters and is 125 meters above the gorge. Interestingly the two halves of the arch were constructed simultaneously from both sides.
The Van Stadens River is about 35km west of Port Elizabeth and you can either go over or through it to get to the other side.
The river and original pass was named after one of the area’s pioneer farmers, Marthinus van Staden, who was the first person to plot a basic route through the Van Stadens River Gorge in the 1850’s. In 1867 Thomas Bain was brought in by the Cape Government to rebuild the pass so that ox wagon traffic could safely travel through the pass. In 1868, barely a year later, a massive flood washed away major sections of the pass and bridge, which resulted in a complete rebuild. Over the next eighty years the pass saw regular improvements and widening and it was finally tarred between 1950 and 1953. In 1971 the N2 bridge over the gorge was opened. It took 4 years to complete (1967 – 1971) and is the 1st of 5 large concrete bridges along the N2. The bridge is an arch bridge design with a height of 140 m and a span of 198.1 m. The concrete remains of the original drift over the river can still be seen among the rocks and boulders.
Taking the old road through the pass may take a bit longer than flying along the N2, but its really worth the extra time, especially if you stop at the bottom by the old bridge.
A couple of years ago I got to walk underneath the Van Stadens Bridge for the first time while following one of the trails in the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve in search of a Geocache. A couple of days ago I saw a friend post a similar picture and I decided to go and dig this photo out to post again. Not the usual view of the bridge, is it?
When you’re walking along the trails in the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve you get to see glimpses and different angles of the Van Stadens Bridge all the time. The bridge, over which the N2 highway crosses, was opened on 11 November 1971. The bridge used to be a notorious suicide spot until barriers were set up all along the side of the bridge a couple of years ago.
The Colchester area east of Port Elizabeth was a very busy spot in the mid 1800 and early 1900s, as it had the only pont over the Sundays River on the main road between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. The original pont was washed away in 1874 and a second one in 1875. A bridge was commissioned in 1884 and opened on 5th March 1895. It was called the Mackay Bidge, in honour of John Mackay who’s efforts resulted in its construction. This bridge was constructed entirely of steel and iron brought all the way from Sheffield in England. Due to the elements taking its toll on it, the road across the bridge was closed to traffic a couple of years ago although it can still be accessed on foot.
I received this breathtaking picture of the Apple Express crossing over the Van Stadens Railway Bridge, the highest narrow gauge railway bridge in the world, from fellow Geocacher Graham Chrich yesterday. Graham was in the Van Stadens area for the Rhino Run last weekend and decided to do a couple of Geocaches located in the area. Looking for info on the gorge he came across a post of mine about the railway bridge and it reminded him of a trip they took as a family on the Apple Express when it was still running. As usual the train stopped short of the bridge allowing passengers to walk across before following. This was when he took this picture. How we all long for the Apple Express steam train to run again.