Day twelve - Kokstad,
14th October 2007

I left Kokstad early with Milner Snell. We explored the famous Ongeluksnek pass today - the route that  nearly destroyed the Griqua spirit in the early 1860s.

We arrived in Kokstad and met Vivian and Barbara Haviside who were taking us in their four wheel drive. Barbara's parents once owned a farm in the Ongeluksnek valley - it was taken away in the late 1970s as part of the homeland policy brought in by the white South African government.

The farmhouse today is a wreck and once fertile lands carrying thousands of acres of maize now stand unused - but Vivian is trying to enter into community agreements with the new African landlords to use the lands in a win-win situation.

Video right: an extraordinary flight using Google Earth to demonstrate the rugged terrain and back breaking route taken by the Griqua in the early 1860s when they came down the dangerous Ongeluks Nek Pass seen in the images below taken about 150 years later. (Use full screen for best results).

Barbara and Vivian come into the Ongeluksnek valley most weekends so they no the place and the new farm owners very well- this soon became apparent as we stopped off at various farms and he chatted to the African men and who now lived in the white farmhouses.

The trip up the Ongeluksnek pass was simply amazing and this classic - image right - of the "loo with a view" sets off the beauty of the place. I was so lucky - a fire two months earlier, rain the day before and clear skies today created a perfect formula for photography. Never had the Ongeluksnek looked so stunning.

Composite image of Ongeluksnek pass from half way up looking back down.

After passing through the border post on the South African side I took some photos - the road becomes impassable just a few hundred metres beyond this checkpoint - how the Griqua came down this pass with ox wagons defeats me! The slopes are near vertical in parts!

We then returned to the Kenira stream below and had lunch while a few locals fished nearby.

It was then off to Queen's Mercy where a decree by Queen Victoria in the late 1800s saw two waring African tribes separated by the Ongeluksnek valley - thus the name Queen's Mercy.

Vivian took me to his hidden place he appropriately calls "Gods' Window" - click on image below the comment below to get a proper idea of how amazing the scenery is.

Comment received from Mamello Letsekha below in late June 2010....

Good Day,

This is just a token of appreciation for the footage and exposure to our small town called Matatiele on the Ongeluksnek Project.

It shows such a wonderful,beautiful scenery ,landscape.No matter how low the life looks like there ,I would like to say "We are Blessed " with nature.I am a girl brought up from that area,near Mariazell Mission.I am currently working in Johannesburg and there is a Nature Reserve at Ongeluksnek that has been opened however so far there is no wildlife only indigenous plants (still in process)as I was advised by the previous Reserve Manager.I wish you could return and experience that with the beauty of wildlife once added,and tranquility of the area.

However this was just to say "Thank you" for putting us further on a map,it is highly appreciated.

Kind Regards

Composite image of view of Ongeluksnek Valley taken from "God's Window"

Then back to Matatiele and, as the sunset, back to Kokstad... for an early night as tomorrow I am off to Grahamstown.  

On the road to Matatiele

Leaving Kokstad

Droewige Toestand valley
with Mt Currie at back

On the road to Matatiele

Matatiele from the

Haviside's deck

On the road to


The oldest school in the region

Ongeluksnek valley -

deserted white farms

Queen's Mercy where Adam
Kok confronted Nehemiah

Amazing views... lands where

Vivian wants to cultivate

2 brothers and 3 sisters
(in the berg)

More deserted white farmhouses

The old Haviside farmhouse

now a crumbling shell

Vivian and Barbera Haviside
with Milner Snell

"Black occupation" and the
house goes to ruin

Ongeluksnek Valley


No plumbing so an
outside dunny

Bushman paintings

Amazing scenery

Where Vivian would like

to establish a B&B

The site of the spring where

the Griqua first rested.

Illegal hunting of game with
dogs is common now.

Rare flock of Crested

The Cranes in flight

The scenery just gets

more beautiful



The amazing Mariazell mission

The Mariazell Cross in the
foothills of Ongeluksnek

The Mariazell Mission

The wall of the Drakensberg

Loo with a view

The hills start getting steeper

and become mountainous

Imagine taking an oxwagon
across these slopes

Looking back down
towards the valley

S African border post

Guards stamp my book

The Ongeluks Nek Pass -
click pic to see more

In nomansland on the way
to Lesotho

This route is still used by
cattle rustlers

That's the valley to the left
of the border post

The road soon becomes

The road soon becomes

A lone man walks up the

pass with his horse

Coming back to S Africa

The amazing views

Group photo

Chele and Scott at Ongeluksnek 
border post

Chele and Barbera

Beautiful Chele looking "cool"

Coming back into the

Ongeluksnek valley

My stamped book

Lunch by the Kenira river

The Mariazell church tower

The Maria zell Mission is a beautiful place steeped in history. For years it has been the sanctuary for African orphans providing food and education.

On 1st June 2009 Father Ernst Plöchl (seen right) was murdered at the mission... the report reads as follows
A venerated, elderly Cistercian missionary from Upper Austria who had dedicated the last forty years of his life to building up a rural mission in the Griqualand region of South Africa near Kokstad, was found murdered there on Sunday. Authorities said Father Ernst Plöchl, 78, born in Neumarkt im Mühlkreis in the Austrian district of Freistadt, was killed under circumstances which remain murky. He was either shot to death or strangled, and it’s also not known if anything was stolen or what the actual motive may have been.The priest was widely admired in his hometown for his dedication to try and uplift the poor. A memorial mass is planned in his Austrian hometown on Friday.

A group of friends from Austria has already boarded a flight to South Africa for Plöchl’s mission, known as the "Maria Zell", to investigate the murder, and also to bring his body back to Austria for burial. Information initially given by the South African authorities was confusing: it was at first announced that he had been shot, while the word later was that he had been strangled. His religious order announced Monday that he would be brought back to Austria and buried in his native country.

Father Plöchl, right, was found dead on Sunday morning at his lonely outpost of Maria Zell mission, said Father Andreas Rohring, a spokesman for the Mariannhill order. He spoke to Austria's APA news agency. The elderly priest’s murder sent immediate shockwaves throughout Austria, as the ‘socially very engaged’ priest was a much-loved figure in his home country. A memorial mass will be held for him on Friday at Neumarkt-im-Mühlkreis, his home town, where he is much loved for his dedication to help the poor in South Africa.

The Marianhill missions were founded in South Africa in 1882 by the Rev. Francis Pfanner, then prior of the Trappist (Reformed Cistercian) Monastery of Maria-stern (Bosnia). He landed at Port Elizabeth with thirty-one companions in July, 1880, and settled in a place he called Dunbrody, after an old Irish monastery. This he had to abandon in 1882; and at the solicitation of the late Bishop Jolivet, O.M.I., transferred his community to Mariannhil.

An amazing church!

To ring the bells

The interior of  the

church - all handmade

All the stonework

was handcrafted

Above Mariazell

A backpackers

The view from the site of

the cross above Mariazell

The crypt and the

natural stone towers

Clouds break the light

Views from the site

of the big cross

national anthem for Scott

Scott at the site of the cross

More views

On the road to Queen's Mercy

The "drinking hole" at

Queen's Mercy

Enjoying the view at "God's

Window" above Ongeluksnek

Bustard bird

All telephone wires now stolen

More beautiful late

afternoon scenery

Coming back to Matatiele

On the road to


Return to Scott Balson's 2007 book tour