The Van Staden’s River gorge road bridges

Van Standen’s Groge with the arch bridge crossing it

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?

The arch bridge, pass bridge and the remains of the original crossing can all be seen in this photo

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.

Under Van Stadens bridge

It’s a weird feeling standing under the Van Stadens bridge. It’s not an angle many see it from and you get a much better idea of the size and magnitude of the bridge when you are underneath it. Then add the “kadoef kadoef” as the cars and trucks pass overhead. Definitely a weird feeling.

It’s an easy walk to get below the bridge from the bridge lookout picnic spot so you don’t have to do one of the longer trails to get to it. Go for it and go and check it out.

The Van Stadens Bridge

Last Saturday we went for a walk at the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve and followed the River Walk up to the point where you walk under the Van Stadens Bridge. It truly is a sight from below, but I think I’ll keep that photo for a second post.

The bridge was completed on 12 October 1971 and stretches 198m across the gorge and is 125m at its highest point. The bridge was designed by Italian engineers and the two halves of the arch were constructed simultaneously from both sides. As one walks up next to the bridge on the northern side there is a cement block that was used as the point from where all the measurements were done.

A CCTV system was installed in 2005 with a 2,7m high steel mesh pedestrian barrier constructed on both sides of the bridge in 2013 to deter suicide jumpers. You aren’t allowed to stop on the bridge to enjoy the view, but you can view the bridge from the bottom of the Van Stadens Pass as well as from the wildflower reserve.

Protea raindrops in Van Stadens

On Sunday we decided to swing by the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve west of Port Elizabeth. The reserve really is one of my favorite nature reserves around the city, but it’s also home to a huge amount of Geocaches, some that was still awaiting me to turn them into smileys on my map. There was a drizzle falling all morning so jumping in and out of the car at every cache meant that I was soaked after a while. It was well worth it though as I didn’t only get to find a couple of caches, but to also how beautiful the raindrops looked on the spiderwebs and proteas in bloom

The Van Stadens Bridges

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.

Van Stadens bird hide

Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve’s bird hide

The 600 ha Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve is located about 35km west of Port Elizabeth. The reserve stretches from the Van Stadens mountain to the coast and its main purpose is to protect the area’s unique indigenous Fynbos vegetation. It’s always worth popping into the reserve because there’s always some type of protea in bloom. But Van Stadens isn’t just about vegetation and views of the Van Stadens gorge, it also boasts a birding list with 149 bird species and one of the best spots for twitchers to hang out and keep an eye out for our feathered friends is the reserve’s bird hide. The hide is the proud handy work of the Friends of Van Stadens, a group of volunteers who have helped out with the running of the Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve since 2007.

I’m back… after a hiatus of 2 years

A magnificent King Protea in the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve

It’s been two years since I’ve stopped blogging. What I initially intended to be a three week break was extended to two months and then became an indefinite postponement. My mojo was gone. In fact I didn’t even take photos anymore. My camera gathered dust and my writing skills became rusty. The last two years have been funny actually. I started losing concentration, thought I developed ADD and frankly, also lost a lot of my sense of humour. A visit to the doctor to get something for my “ADD” and I walked out of there with something for depression. Depression? Me? Really?

Then came Covid-19. I was seriously stressed in the week or so before lock down and then in the first two weeks at home. But I think between the meds kicking in and my body and mind getting the opportunity to start settling down I started thinking about my hobbies again. I started working on my landscape model which I haven’t done in probably close to 3 years and the last three weeks seriously started to think about getting back into blogging. When I initially started blogging 12 years ago I did it for the love of travel and sharing the places I went to with my friends and everybody willing to look. Somewhere I lost focus and started worrying about other bloggers too much and why I wasn’t making money or being recognised by the industry. I put too much pressure on myself on what I thought other people wanted me to post rather than what I wanted to post.

So here I am, back in action, but with a couple of changes. I have merged my two blogs, The Firefly Photo Files and Port Elizabeth Daily Photo, into one called Firefly the Travel Guy. The blog still incorporates PEDP so the content will consist of a combination of a lot of Port Elizabeth and Eastern Cape stuff with content from further afield when I get the chance to travel. I have also moved away from the Blogspot platform to WordPress. The new blog address is https://fireflythetravelguy.travel.blog and the domain names http://www.fireflyafrica.co.za and http://www.portelizabethdailyphoto.co.za will be redirected to this blog shortly.

For my first post back I have decided to post a King Protea from the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve. Van Stadens is one of the best spots to see flowering proteas and other fynbos species close to Port Elizabeth right through the year. It offers so may hiking, mountain biking and picnic options and you can drive through a big part of the reserve if you are unable to walk. Two other trails you can see a lot of fynbos on are the Fynbos Trail at Schoenies and the Grysbok Trail on the NMU campus.