News of a bakkie that drove down a cliff off Naude's Nek Pass last week reached us quite quickly. We were contacted by Die Burger newspaper for our opinion on how dangerous the pass was, but we assured them that the pass was really not dangerous at all in fair weather. It appears that the 71 year old driver had plenty of experience and was driving carefully. The vehicle behind him, who was videoing the trip, stated that there were no brake lights or skid marks - the vehicle simply missed the turn and went straight over the cliff, falling some 100m and killing both occupants. It is our opinion that the driver more than likely had a heart attack or brain aneurism. Further information indicates that the incident did not occur on the pass itself, but on a side road leading to a farm. Our condolences to the family.
This newsletter was produced from our mobile office at Wilderness National Park - a place of natural beauty and tranquility. It is here that we find the inspiration to create new tours, fresh innovative concepts and recharge our 'mojo' batteries. It was at this very campsite back in 2012 that the first concept of Mountain Passes South Africa germinated - almost by accident.
The purchase of a GoPro video camera was where it all started. Idle minds are not necessarily a bad thing, as a thorough exploration of the User Guide prompted me to try out various ideas how I could maximise on the rather large sum of money laid out on the device.
Hiking, diving, climbing, and mountain bike videos were all quite disappointing, so onto the car it went and with surprisingly good results. I then wondered what I could film from the car and that's where the Eureka moment arrived. Nearby Whites Road was the first pass that I experimented with and here we are seven years later and the tally now stands at 888.
At the time I envisioned a compact website featuring just the Cape's best passes, but that idea was soon scrapped when people started asking about Sani Pass, Long Tom Pass and other major passes all over South Africa. The concept was amended and redesigned to cope with this bigger vision.
So the inevitable question is "What will we do when we have all 1100 passes filmed and documented"?
The reality is that early passes need to be refilmed and the work and progress never stops.
* 2020 has begun. The party's over.
* New tours in the making
* Refliming a classic in the Cederberg
* Featured pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
By the time you read this newsletter it will be fait accompli being back to work/ back to school. Hope you are all ready and recharged to deal with the first month of the year and the first year of the new decade. Year end is always a rational time to step back a few paces and look at your life, make some alterations and more importantly implement them.
As mentioned in our previous newsletter, we have kept the renewal subscriptions down to an increase of just R10 in an effort to encourage our subscribers to enjoy our offerings for another year. We are convinced that if renewals were automated, that many more would be happy to renew. How this works is that our accounts system sends you an email advising that your subscription is due and will automatically be charged to your card. If you don't want to renew, you reply and say no. For many busy people the hassle of having to log on, go through the process of completing forms, completing card details is often just too much hassle. We believe that an auto-renewal process will be well received by most of our subscribers.
Dealing with EFT renewals will bring some new challenges, but we are investigating ways to resolve some of the issues. We will advise as and when the new process will be ready and it will be voluntary to switch to the new system.
You might notice that we have changed the look of our Home Page. The Latest News page which was always imbedded at the bottom of the home page has now been miniaturised and moved to the top of the page where the space is shared with the featured pass of the week. We think this is a more user friendly format. We hope you do too.
Our mobile office will be based in Wilderness for the next two weeks, where we will find the inspiration to dream up exciting new adventures for 2020. These will be displayed on our shop page as soon as possible. One of the routes we will be exploring next week is a 4x4 route over the Swartberg range, which starts off the Swartberg Pass and ends near Klaarstroom. If we are happy with the route, it could be included in a new tour. Watch this space.
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* The festive season is over - it's back to work!
* Report back on the final leg of our recent Lesotho Tour.
* Podcast - Listen to a talk on the impact of social media
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
Back to work!
The silly season is over. We hope your waistline coped with the onslaught, but more seriously that you managed to survive the roads. We haven't received official accident figures yet and it's not our station to report on bad news, so I'm sure you will hear the statistics on the main stream news channels.
Lesotho Tour - the adventure continues
Driving past the Letseng mine is similar to the mines on the Witwatersrand, except the man made mountains are grey instead of cream coloured. Once past Letseng there is a long and steady descent to the main town in the area.
Mokhotlong is located in the mountainous north-eastern part of Lesotho. The name is a Sesotho word which means "Place of the Bald Ibis". Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest point in southern Africa, is found near the town.
Mokhotlong’s role as a police post first brought people to this part of Lesotho in 1905, and it developed into a trading centre for the Highlands region. However, it was preserved from major development by its remote location. Not until 1947 was radio contact established with Maseru, the capital city. An air strip was built and a road cleared through the town to link Mokhotlong with the rest of Lesotho, but even so, it continued to be outfitted with provisions and supplies by pack mules from South Africa via Sani Pass.
Our convoy rumbled on to reach the 14th pass of the tour - the Kotisephola Pass (or Black Mountain Pass).
This is a mega pass by any standards. It's very long at 32 km and displays an altitude variance of 1066m. With a summit height of 3244m ASL, headaches and nose bleeds might be experienced by travellers from the coast who have not had time to acclimatise.
Packed into that length is a total of 139 bends, corners and curves of which 8 have angles in excess of 90 degrees and of those, 6 are hairpin bends, all of which occur on the south-eastern section of the pass. The pass is subject to lots of snow in winter and ice on the roadway will make things highly dangerous, even for 4WD vehicles. Chatting over the two way radios we recalled driving this pass in 2012 whilst construction was underway and the very odd sight of seeing Chinese trucks and road building equipment as well as Chinese nationals doing the manual labour. We never saw a single local employed on these projects.
Rumours abounded at the time of the Chinese labourers being convicts. After completing their "sentence" it was said that they were then free to live in Lesotho as free men but were not allowed to return to China. Whether any of these stories were fact or fiction, we do not know. But what we do know is that the time it took to drive the pass then and now was about 80% shorter. The roads are actually excellent and a real pleasure to drive on.
It didn't take long and we arrived at the Lesotho border post at the summit of the Sani Pass. We stopped in at the highest pub in Africa for a bit of refreshment. We could not have wished for more perfect weather and for your scribe this was the first time ever traversing this iconic pass in clear weather. What a treat.
High on the Drakensberg escarpment, on the border between South Africa and Lesotho, Sani Mountain Lodge (previously known as Sani Top Chalets) offers comfortable accommodation beneath a sea of stars at night and breathtaking landscapes during the day. Sani Mountain Lodge boasts stunning views, cosy fires, adventure, and great hospitality. [More lower down...]
A chat about the impact of social media on a business as well as a wrap on Bedrogfontein Route.
Listen to the interview:
* New Year's message
* Lesotho Tour (Chapter 7)
* Bedrogfontein Tour (Chapter 4)
* Pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
From the team at Mountain Passes South Africa, we wish you a year of health, happiness and of course - travel. The year ahead is filled with the promise of exciting challenges and it's so often one's attitude that makes all the difference when it comes to achieving goals. So don't go on a diet, but rather make a lifestyle change so that it's permanent. Don't procrastinate, for as we all know a 'draadsitter' is not a cool person. Make decisions. Do those trips. Live your dreams. Take risks. Apologise. Forgive. Dream. Love and respect your fellow man/woman.
Each January we review our pricing on goods and services and adjust where applicable. We are exceptionally conscious of retaining our current subscribers and to reinforce that we are only increasing our 12-month subscription renewals by R10. This brings renewals to just R280. The rate for new subscribers will be R350 for the 12-month subscription, and for those choosing the 6 month option, it will be R250.
We have expanded our gifting options to include coffee mugs, T shirts, Golf shirts, caps and Gift Vouchers. For those that have completed the Ben 10 Eco Challenge, we have a separate range of souvinier gear.
This newsletter will be published every fortnight in future as opposed to once per week, but will retain the same format that you are accustomed to.
The third day of the tour saw a perfect 'blue sky' day with no wind and pleasant temperatures. Our convoy rolled out of the new Oxbow Lodge bang on time and headed south-east to tackle the 11th pass of the tour - the Mahlasela Pass. Not many people know this, but this pass is the highest pass in Lesotho at 3279m ASL with a big ascent of 740m. Once again it was a question of having to engage 1st gear to get up some of the steeper sections in the oxygen starved air. It's another long pass at just under 18 km with magnificent scenery.
As the pass is completed Afriski Resort makes its appearance. We were doing good time, so we popped in at Afriski for a look around. Situated in the heart of the Maluti Mountains, this luxury resort caters to every taste and offers the perfect escape for sport and outdoor enthusiasts, corporate parties as well as families. With a selection of accommodation options, as well as a range of on-site facilities and restaurants, Afriski has everything needed for the perfect mountain getaway. In summer, ambitious mountain goats explore the peaks in pursuit of a wide range of outdoor endeavours. The resort welcomes mountain bikers, trail-runners, hikers, fly fishermen as well as enduro and off-road enthusiasts. Multiple trails, paths and streams await discovery. When the seasons turn and the cold descends, the ski slopes come to life, and log fires in the evening provide time to unwind, kick back and relax. [More lower down...]
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A discussion on the final day of the Lesotho-Sani Tour including some major high altitude passes as well as the Sani Pass itself.
Listen to the interview:
* The year that was
* New merchandise
* Lesotho-Sani Tour - the final chapter
* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour - Chapter 3.
* Podcast - Listen to the highlights of the Lesotho Tour
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
This is our final newsletter of 2019, when it's customary for us to take a look at the metaphorical road that we have travelled this year. It is also an opportunity to thank you for your support and encouragement and to wish you the very best of health and happiness for the year ahead.
In February 2019 we turned professional. This was a major decision after having spent the past 45 years running a different business, but everything has turned out better than expected and the additional time we are now able to invest in the MPSA project is bearing fruit.
Our biggest growth has come from the social media side of things where we put a LOT of effort into creating interesting and varied posts. Between Dec 2018 and Dec 2019 we amassed over 10,000 new followers on our Facebook page and the current rate of growth is about 1000 new followers per month. The total at the moment is 23,000 - that number having been reached on Christmas Eve.
Many people ask me why we put so much effort into social media when it doesn't bring in any income. The reason is that we are building MPSA into a national brand. It works on the principle of first having to give, before receiving. Some simple arithmetic shows the following. An average MPSA post is seen by about 3000 people. We post 8 times per day so that makes 24,000 post views a day; 168,000 per week; 722,000 per month and 8,600,000 per year. We have had a Facebook presence since 2013, so that is 60,681,000 post views over that period. Those figures are conservative. It's probably a lot more, but it illustrates what is possible to achieve on a small budget. Building a credible brand is key to having a sustainable business and with the power of social media it is possible, but most new businesses opt for sponsored (paid) posts. Those simply don't have the credibility of organic posts. But we warned it requires consistent and sustained creative effort.
Having said that, moderating the page requires patience, people skills and an enormous amount of time. With the credibility factor comes a level of respect and discipline which most followers abide by and after 7 years everyone knows what is required in terms of keeping the party clean - and especially positive. Now you know!
We enjoyed a very successful year with our tours, with all but 2 of them being fully booked. The tours also consume a huge amount of time - and it's all in the planning and getting the details right so that our clients enjoy a seamless experience. We had our fair share of drama on tours, losing a Land Rover in a flooded river; a motorcycle stranded on top of Bastervoetpad; a broken suspension on the summit of Ben MacDhui; a stranded Jeep with injector issues and several punctures and a few lost tyres. It's all part of the risk and excitement but we dealt with all those issues with aplomb. We will be working very hard over the next two weeks setting up the draft plans for all the tours in 2020, so do remember to come back and check our tours page to see what's on offer. Our return business ratio on our tours reached 70% by November. A sure sign that we are getting the formula right.
Our subscriber base has enjoyed good growth in 2019 and especially pleasing is to see how many subscribers are signing up from overseas. Expats longing for South Africa make up a fair portion of those overseas subscribers. Clients from Europe are especially appreciative of the website, stating that it allows them to plan an extended trip through South Africa and arrive armed with knowledge and confidence.
Brand new merchandise on our shop page is now available. We have introduced a coffee mug into our range (the same one that guests on our tours receive) as well as new T-shirts and Golf shirts specially chosen for fabric suited to travelling. As always our subscribers get a discount. Check out the pics and pricing of the new merchandise at the MPSA Shop.
We were ticking off some of the biggest passes in Lesotho on our second day on tour and still more passes beckoned. Next up was the Moteng Pass.
This major pass is located between the town of Kala in the west and the Afriski Resort in the north in the northern quartile of Lesotho. It has a huge altitude gain of 896m that stretches over a distance of 15.3 km which converts into an average gradient of 1:17, but don't be fooled by that figure as it includes the descent. Most of the ascent from the western approach is between 1:5 and 1:8.
The 91 bends, corners and curves will require your full concentration. Amongst those there are 4 extreme hairpin bends and one full horseshoe. The A1 road is the major route across the northern sector of Lesotho and as such carries a fair volume of traffic including some very large trucks. These need the full width of the road to negotiate the hairpin bends, so be fully aware of this as you proceed along this pass.
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This official pass hardly conforms to the definition of a pass and if you were not aware of it, you would barely notice it as you cruise along the R60 between Ashton and Robertson. The 'pass' only has three gentle bends and climbs just 39m in altitude over 3 km.
It provides access to a number of points of interest in the Robertson Valley, which include the historic Rietvallei Wine Estate and the well known Sheilam Cactus Farm.
The hill is named after a settler farmer in the area - Gideon Francois Malherbe who lived from 1854 to 1922. The farms in the area remain in the Malherbe family to this day.
Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.
We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.