|Amid the spell-binding
mountains and forests of the Eastern Cape, a little steam engine,
moving toy-like on its narrow gauge line, has puffed its way into
the hearts of hundreds of tourists. It is the well known Apple
Express, carrying fruit and vegetables from the Langkloof Valley to
the city of Port Elizabeth.
Its story opens in April, 1896, when surveying began for a railway line between Port Elizabeth and the little town of Avontuur (Adventure) in the valley. Construction started in May, 1902, and on December 10, 1906, the new line at last reached its terminus in Avontuur. Among the quaint names of stations along the line such as Emerald Hill, Bog Farm, and Greenbushes, those of Progress and Geduldrivier (Patience River) appear to reflect the feelings of the oldtimers who laid the tracks.
Every Saturday, between June and January, the South African Railways offer a one-day return tripp on this train from Humewood Road Stationto Loerie, 70 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. Steam enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Port Elizabeth to make this unique journey.
The engine, gleaming as of old, chugs through the valleys, pulling its string of coaches with their shining paintwork and comfortable upholstered seats. A spirit of lightheartedness seems to spread among its passengers, turning strangers into friends, bound together by the sheer enjoyment of this unforgettable trip.
Crossing the, world's highest narrow gauge railway bridge at Van Stadenskloof, the train goes on to Summit, 227 metres above sea-level, and then drops 197 metres on the 13-kilometre stretch into the Loerie Valley, named after the magnificent bird which inhabits the bush along the Loerie River. Here the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, against the hazy blue backdrop of the Winterberg range and Cockscomb Peak.
And so, from Loerie, begins the return journey, made equally enjoyable by the many fresh sights to be discovered along the line. When the Apple Express comes to a halt back at Humewood Road Station, each passenger leaves with a happy sense of a day well spent.