VAN STADENS BRIDGE NEAR PORT ELIZABETH : ONCE THE LONGEST BRIDGE IN SOUTH AFRICA
35 kms South of Port Elizabeth on the N2 freeway, lies The Van Staden’s Bridge. It was completed on 12 October 1971 and was the longest concrete arch bridge in South Africa and the sixth longest in the world at that time. It has a main span of 198 metres and is 125 metres above the gorge. The two halves of the bridge were constructed simultaneously from both sides. The bridge offers a fantastic view of the magnificent gorge, which is well worth a visit for visitors to the Eastern Cape on their way to the Garden Route.
Before the N2 freeway was constructed in the 1970’s, the main road from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town twisted and wound down the steep Van Staden’s Gorge offering breath-taking views of the mountains and the magnificent flora, which abounds. At the base of the valley there was a beautiful picnic spot where visitors from Port Elizabeth and surrounding areas would come for a daytime braaivleis. One could look up and see the massive modern bridge soaring above the gorge 125 meters above as the N2 freeway traffic passes above on its way to Cape Town.
In 2005 the area was devastated by serious floods, which caused dangerous rock falls and landslides. The old road was declared unsafe for traffic and was closed to through traffic and so one cannot drive all the way across the old road which winds at the bottom of the gorge.
Unfortunately, the Van Stadens Bridge has become notorious over the years for suicides. As of October 10, 2008 there have been 69 people who have jumped off the bridge and taken their own lives. In recent years public concern has lead to installation of permanent cameras which monitor the walkway over the bridge. These cameras are linked to the local Thornhill police station and police are on permanent standby so that they can rush out to the assistance of potential victims of suicide.
TEXT: R Hift / M Harradine
PHOTOGRAPHS: R Hift and PE Library
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3 October 2012 7:51