The R339 is a stretch connecting Knysna and Uniondale, and one of those scenic South African alternative roads forcing you to slow down, take in the scenery and pause before you start speaking in wows and exclamation marks. The Outeniqua Forest’s ferns and giant yellowwoods greet you with a green hand; splashes of pink and white proteas guide the way and the road winds up and over mountain ridges, through passes and into a hidden hamlet.
Slow down, take in the scenery and pause.
Wow. Exclamation mark. Wow. Exclamation mark. And another exclamation mark for emphasis and another for dramatic effect.
“The degree of slowness is directionally proportional to the intensity of memory.
― Milan Kundera
Stops to make along the R339
Buckle up. From Knysna to Route 62, the R339 is only 75 km, but don’t be fooled by its short distance or think it is a quick way to get to the other side. It’s not; it is best you set a few hours aside. Apart from a bumpy road and a mountain pass that will have you livin’ on a prayer as you hope for no oncoming traffic around the curvy bends, there are numerous sights to see and stops to make along the way.
The gravel sections of the road – also known as the whole stretch – doesn’t require any technical 4×4 handling skills, just a good and healthy dose of logic, a bit of a high clearance and expecting the unexpected, especially around those bends of the Prince Alfred pass once you leave De Vlugt (if you’re coming from Knysna).
The Prince Alfred pass is known as one of best masterpieces ever built by Thomas Bain, construction started in 1860 and it was completed in 1867. The full distance of the pass is 68.5 km and it is the longest publicly accessible mountain pass as well as the second oldest unaltered pass in South Africa. The powerful Isuzu KB with its 3.0-litre DTEQ turbocharged diesel did not disappoint and I effortlessly went from one sharp corner to the next blind corner, with steep overhanging cliffs, towering rock faces and waterfalls here and there next to the road. The highest point of the pass is 1038 m and there is a narrow (only 1 km) section where you pass the same river seven times via small concrete bridges, definitely an upgrade from the original stinkwood beams which carried traffic over to the other side for the first 40 years.
When it rains it pours and this pass can get very muddy and slippery. Caution should always be taken, drive at a slow speed, expect the unexpected, let out lil’ hoot around the sharp bends and don’t be a hell driver who just makes clouds of dust as you go (hell drivers and risk takers are extremely common during the December period).
Don’t miss out on
The R339 (from Knysna to the R62 connection) can be divided into a few different sections; first you will be covered by a canopy of green in the Outeniqua Forest, then you’ll gain some height as you’re surrounded by a selection of fynbos flowers, you’ll move on to mountain vistas, reach De Vlugt, make your way to the Langkloof via the last stretch of the Prince Alfred Pass and enjoy more scenic vistas before you reach the R62.
There are numerous things to discover along the R339, especially in the Diepwalle region with its Forest Museum, Tea Garden and the San Ambroso Church which was built for the Italians in 1881. Keep in mind that the drive up to the Spitzkop view point is a steep one. You can also shop for indigenous trees at the nursery at Diepwalle and do one of the hiking trails, aptly named Elephant Walks, starting at Diepwalle.
Eat on the R339
There are two restaurants en route. Diepwalle Tea Garden is situated in an old Victorian house built in 1894 and started out as a community upliftment project by women from the area, you can find light meals and heavenly cakes/tarts at the tea garden. Angie’s G-Spot is a restaurant in De Vlugt and when you arrive a sign greets you that says, “Hot beer, lousy food, bad service” – fortunately they don’t live up to that promise and they greet you with a smile and hearty meals.
Plaaskind Farm Stall is your one-stop-shop for preserves, gifts and homemade goodness.
Sleep on the R339
If you feel like staying over and extending your time on the R339 you’ll find various accommodation along the way such as SANParks’ Diepwalle tented camps/camp sites, Keurbooms River Game Trails (wooden chalets, farm house and camp sites), Outeniqua Trout Lodge (wooden lodges, teepee tents, house) and Angie’s G-Spot (tented camps/camp sites).
4×4 opportunities you’ll find on the R399
Secrets of the Knysna Forest
This 5 hour self-guided trail through the Diepwalle and Gouna forests will take you back to a time where elephants roamed and forest trains toiled; they say the sound of woodcutters’ axes still echoes to this day. There are 10 stops of cultural interest and significance along the way like the forest museum, a big tree and an old forester’s house. Get your map here.
Rooted in time
Bhejane Tours obtained special permission from SANParks to explore a special section of the forest (that is off limits to anyone other than SANParks and forestry vehicles) on a guided self-drive trip that you can do in your own vehicle (R400 per person) or you can be a passenger in one of Bhejane’s vehicles (R500 per person). This trail unlocks some of the forest’s best kept secrets, such as the 7-year disappearance of a helicopter that was discovered not too long ago.
Burchell’s Ox wagon Trail
The Burchell’s Ox wagon Trail, situated in the Pietersrivier Nature Reserve, traces the route pioneered by botanist W J Burchell with an ox wagon in 1814. The route is not for the faint-hearted and the four-day trail, with spots to sleep along the way, passes through an indigenous forest, steep rocky inclines and river crossings. It is best to call ahead and ask whether or not the trail is open and passable as it is overgrown in some sections (Katot Meyer, 044 272 0014).
Keurbooms River Game Trails
If you stay over at Keurbooms River Game Trails, opt for a self-drive game trail across the Keurbooms landscapes. Keurbooms River Game Trails was once upon a time a hunting farm but now, thanks to the current owners’ devotion, it is now a sanctuary for animals in an eco-friendly, harmonious environment where you can see eland, waterbuck, Burchell’s zebra, nyala, springbok, gemsbok, blue wildebeest and many more.
If you need more off-road action you can also try the 4×4 routes on Louvain Guest Farm, not too far from the R339, in the area of Herold just off the R62.
Know before you go on the R339
There are no fuel stations along the way.
Signal is touch and go and in De Vlugt there is none.
Those bumps will feel extra bumpy in a vehicle with a low ground clearance; if the area had lots of rain it is best to be on the safe side and put your trust in a trusty 4×4.
Isuzu Driving Academy
No one wants a viral video to be their claim to fame… you know, the kind of video that shows a 4×4 floating in the ocean, tumbling down a down a dune or speeding towards a water crossing and then completely disappearing in a brown milkshake of mud and a sprinkle of I-should-not-have-done-that.
While your vehicle is capable, it is irresponsible to think that your 4×4 can do anything and everything; some terrain has the ability to strip the best of the best of its dignity. And I’m not just talking about the vehicle’s dignity; having confidence in your vehicle is good – if you know your vehicle – but over-inflated confidence, an influx of adrenalin and a terrain you’re not familiar with can cause damage to your vehicle and even worse, yourself.
The Isuzu Off-Road Academy will provide you with in-depth off-road training; with that knowledge and a bit of practice to get comfortable with the vehicle’s capabilities and your handling skills, you will be able to make some sound decisions when you come face to face with an obstacle. You can use your own 4×4 or use the academy’s new Isuzu KB double cab 4x4s and experienced guides and instructors will accompany you and lead the way. Click here to read more about the Isuzu Driving Academy.