Tjoekepaf, here comes the Apple Express

A busy schedule, working till just before Christmas and all kinds of other excuses led to us only being able to go on the Apple Express on the last weekend it was running in January.  And it seems I placed the photos in a folder to edit and totally forgot to do so.  
After nearly 8 years of inactivity, the first fase of the Apple Express’ comeback took place in December with a partnership between the operator, the municipality and Transnet.  The interest in the train was unbelievable and even though it only did a short trip up to the airport and back to Kings Beach, something like 6000 people went on the trip during the season.  The process is on the go to get everything in place and back on track on a more permanent basis and to make this little historic steam train a more regular sight again.   

3 minutes by train from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth

When last have you been on a train?  It’s something most of us don’t get to do and I really think it’s leaving  gap in our lives.  And to think it’s something our parents probably did quite often when they were young.  Alan Straton of MyPE took the train from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth and condensed the 45 minute trip in 3 minutes.  I loved it when I saw it and just had to share. 

The unused railway line

The Avontuur Railway, better known as the Apple Express narrow gauge line, was built between 1890 and 1906 to link the fruit growing Langkloof with Port Elizabeth.  The line doesn’t just cross the highest narrow gauge railway bridge in the world, but at 285 km is also said to be the longest narrow gauge line in the world.  So sad to see it not being used and falling further and further into disrepair.

Last Beetle off the Uitenhage line

The last South African-made Volkswagen Beetle came off the production line on 18 January 1979 and went straight into the Volkswagen museum which later became the VW AutoPavilion.  The metallic bronze Beetle was the last of 288 353 built at Uitenhage plant 1951.  The car only had 200km on the clock when a vehicle carrier overturned on the way back from a show in Cape Town in 2006, destroying nine of the AutoPavilion’s most important historic cars, including this one.  It was decided though to painstakingly recreate the car (recreate and not restore as the body was totally written off) using as many parts of the original as possible.  The car is one of the exhibits in the VW AutoPavilion’s collection which can be viewed when visiting this awesome museum in Uitenhage.

I flew in a helicopter

 I’m not a regular flyer.  The first time I got to fly was in a Jac (similar to a Harvard), a flight I would never forget as the pilot did two rolls with this very nervous and acrophobic passenger in the back.  Since then I have become a lot better and over the last seven years got to fly a couple of times a year on passenger planes both around South Africa and internationally.  All that said, I still haven’t been up in a small plane again and have never had the opportunity to go up in a helicopter.  I did a hot air balloon once, but never a helicopter.  That was until a couple of weeks ago.  I went to Cradock for a meeting and stayed at the excellent Tuishuise.  Lisa and David of Tuishuise invited me along for a late afternoon visit to a nearby game farm and while there Mike, the owner, asked if the guys wanted to go for a quick flip in his helicopter around the farm with him.  Well, lets see. We thought about it for probably a quarter of a second…. if that long.
Twenty minutes later we were up in the air and I was taking selfies. 
Ok, just one as proof that I was there. 
My camera was a bit slow to get any animal pics in the fading light, but the landscapes were irresistible.  The sun was setting behind us and coloured the clouds on the horizon beautifully.
We also turned around just in time to see the sun set over the Karoo landscape in the west.  What more do you want.  But the experience was nearly over and we were heading back.

As the wind had come up while we were in the air, Mike dropped David and I off in the veld and took the helicopter in solo to land on the landing pad next to the chopper shed.  Oh man, what an experience.  One I will cherish and remember as much as the “flipping” Jac flight. 

The static Albatross

Every day a number of commercial and private planes take off and land at the Port Elizabeth Airport, but outside the airport there are two planes that just hang around, not going anywhere.  The one is a Piaggio P.166, a twin-engine pusher-type utility aircraft developed by the Italian aircraft manufacturer Piaggio Aero.  In the South African military the aircraft is known as the Albatross and was used by the South African Air force from 1969 to 1993.

Bus station art

Everybody who has taken the bus into town and gotten on or off in the downtown bus station would remember how dark and dodgy it used to be.  Since it’s been opened up as part of the Strand Street and Route 67 redevelopments things have changed a bit and its a lot more open and lighter.

Adding even more colour and cheerfulness to the area is the Route 67 Bus Station Mural by 4BlindMice celebrating public transport and the daily journeys undertaken by the people of Port Elizabeth.  There’s even a figure in the painting that looks like Riaan Cruywagen.  Wonder if it was on purpose.

Driving on the dunes at Brakkeduine

Boys will be boys and when it comes to boys and their 4×4 toys there is no stopping them.  When the South African government banned driving on beaches both the angling and 4×4 fraternities took a big knock.  The anglers couldn’t go as far along the beaches as they used to or had to find overland shortcuts while the 4×4 okes had to stick to mountain trails and off road paths.  There is one place I know of where the boys can test their toys and sand driving skills though.  Brakkeduine close to Oyster Bay (and St Francis Bay) in the Eastern Cape. 
Brakkeduine offers a beautiful grassed campsite on the banks of a dam with a long slippery slide and zipline into the water.  But it’s the natural inland dune field that attracts 4×4 enthusiasts to Brakkeduine.  They offer guided trips following a set route with drivers given the opportunity to test their skills going up and down the dunes either on the straight or around turns, pushing their vehicles to the max. 
The trips are led by experienced 4×4 drivers who know the dunes like the back of their hands and will show the way to approach each “obstacle” first before the others attempt it.  They come prepared to assist if anything happens, anything being a wheel popping off the rim or getting stuck on top of the dune like the one on the picture above.

I’m not a huge 4×4 enthusiast and don’t own a 4×4, but we have camped at Brakkeduin on two occasions and both times I tagged along on a trip into the dunes.  I may not have had a chance to drive the route, but I had lots of fun taking photographs of it. 

 As the whole group stops at each obstacle it gives the drivers and passengers the opportunity to get out and watch the other vehicles.  The amount of jokes and chirps heard on the trip is amazing as they guys gun each other when they fail an attempt.

The very last stop is at the Rollercoaster where the drivers get a chance to really play on a slightly longer route than the previous obstacles.  If you are into 4×4’ing then Brakkeduine is an experience that you just can’t afford to miss.  Specifically because of the opportunity to drive on dunes.

The Port Elizabeth Railway Station

The Port Elizabeth Railway Station has been around for a while, existing on it’s present location since 1875 when the first line was constructed to Uitenhage about 40 kilometres away.  The original building was designed by the town’s Resident Engineer for Harbour and Public Works, James Bisset.  In 1893 extensive additions were completed, including the cast-iron supported roof of the main concourse, designed by E.J. Sherwood.  It’s a pity that rail travel has declined so much over the last few year which also means less people get to see the station.