We recently completed a 2 000km trip to KwaZulu-Natal and back. Thanks to heavy traffic, rain, thick mist in places, stray animals on the road, as well as taxis stopping without warning in the middle of nowhere, it took us eleven hours to reach the Durban area via the Transkei.
The return trip from Royal Natal National Park included overnighting at Ladybrand as well as various stops to see places of interest along the way, as well as a picnic lunch at Golden Gate.
It thus took us about thirteen hours to reach home. Spare a thought for the early travellers whose main mode of transport was the ox-wagon. Their ordinary travelling time would have been about 4km per hour and they would have had to allow time to rest their oxen and give them an opportunity to graze and chew the cud. A similar trip would probably have taken them several weeks to complete!
Typically, ox-wagons were drawn by fourteen to sixteen oxen, each with a name and each carefully paired with another. Each pair would have been placed in a particular order, depending on their strength and character. The wooden yokes across their necks were designed to ensure an even distribution of weight across their shoulders. Those early wagon-drivers knew their animals as well as their loved ones.
As with vehicles today, some wagons were designed for carrying goods and people and others mainly for transporting goods. No clearly marked tar – or dirt – roads for them though. These intrepid travellers had to forge their own way through the veld, across mountain ranges, ford rivers and effect their own repairs.
The terrain was rough and so, to protect the hooves of the trek oxen, special metal shoes were forged to accommodate the split hooves.
The wooden-spoked wagon wheels had a metal rim. As they travelled people had to make use of suitable materials they encountered. The wood of the Wild Peach, for example, was often used for the spokes of the wheels, Knobthorn for the ‘disselboom’, and Wild Olive for the yoke pins. Softer wood had to be found for the brakes.
Travelling is so much easier today!