First of all apologies for a couple of newsletters which I was unable to write due to having contracted Covid-19 and being hospitalised. The debilitating effects of the virus affected me severely. Composing a sentence (never mind the entire newsletter) was a task of such huge proportions, that I had no choice but to skip a week. I'm well into the recovery stage already and back at the editing desk, ready to bring you news and information as usual. Those of you that follow my personal FaceBook page would have enjoyed the daily snippets and observations from my hospital bed. facebook/trygveroberts
Our next Ben 10 Eco Challenge V4 Tour is filling up. Join us over the Easter weekend for 5 days of heavenly pass driving, adventure, scenery and country style hospitality - far away from the clutches of Covid. Here's the link:
Our Wild Coast Tour in May 2021 remains fully booked.
Our Kouga-Baviaans Tour is also fully booked.
This was our day of high drama where we had to abandon one of our guest's vehicles.
We departed Port St Johns River Lodge by 0830 after a good breakfast and took a quick trip back up to PSJ Airport Road, where we were blessed with reasonably clear weather and the magnificent views over the gates of St John and the Umzimvubu River. We enjoyed a good early morning photo session and Abie got his drone on the wing for some aerial shots.
This was a big day in terms of distance, so we got going back down the mountain, through Port St Johns and on towards the Tutor Ndamase Pass, via Isinuka Poort, Butyabuse Pass and the Mngazi River Pass. Driving on the R61 was mostly a pleasure, other than the speed bumps. The new road is well engineered and safe. We made good time past Thombo village, then ascended the major climb up the Tutor Ndamase Pass, with its impressive gabions and cutbacks. Near the summit, we turned right through a small village at the Ntlaza Mission Hospital, then reversed our direction as we began one of the day's highlights - the Mlengana Pass.
Firstly we wish all of you a healthy 2021 where your travel dreams may be realised.
As we all slowly creep out of the so-called festive season and face the realities of 2021, there are a couple of things that stand out in the headlights.
I spent a week in hospital over Christmas (not any fun at all) after surgery and during that time 2 Covid patients died every night. It only becomes real when you see and hear people you know having contracted the virus and its effects.
Our job is to keep you in a positive mind set and encourage safe travel where possible. So let's get straight into things as we continue our journey down the Wild Coast
We woke to a misty morning with light drizzle. After a good breakfast it was to be the 4th traverse of the Mbotyi Pass, with our first destination being Fraser Falls. We were most grateful to have had our local guide, Armstrong with us, as without him, it would have been very difficult locating the falls in the thick mist. Standing on the lip of the gorge, one could sense the deep wooded ravine below and the sound of the water on the rocks was clear as well, but the visibility was just not up to scratch.
Not to be daunted, we headed further north, turning off into the Magwa Tea Plantations, where we discovered the very attractive Angel Falls - a smaller waterfall on the same river as Fraser Falls. This time the drizzle and mist held back for just long enough for everyone to get good photos and videos.
A U turn took us back to the main gravel road and from there a left turn down the actual factory and the much bigger Magwa Falls. We stopped at the factory gates, whilst Armstrong engaged with the gate guard in Xhosa, who suggested that we return for a factory tour after viewing Magwa Falls.
It's a short drive to the falls, but once again, thick mist rolled in creating an eerie atmosphere. There is nothing to warn drivers that there is a near perpendicular drop of 300m at the end of the road. More than one driver hit the brakes too late, sending their vehicles plummeting into the gorge. One of the car wrecks is still clearly visible from the far bank. Magwa Falls have their own guides and in short order a pair descended the hill, wanting a bite of the cherry. Armstrong had a lengthy indaba with them, but they remained on site looking for a handout of sorts until we left.
Disappointingly, Magwa Falls lay hiden in the thick mist. It was meant to be the highlight of the day. Our guests handled it in fine spirit and soon we were heading back to the tea factory.
Officially named the Dr Lapa Munnik Pass, the Bastervoetpad Pass is located between the summit of the Barkly Pass and Ugie and traverses a southern arm of the Drakensberg along the east-west axis.
- November 2020 edition
Thomas Bain’s final piece of road building, the Swartberg Pass, is very long at 23.8 km and it takes about an hour to drive, excluding stops. You will be treated to a wide variety of incredible scenery, but the pass is not suitable for anyone suffering from acrophobia..
- October 2020 edition
* Festive Season message
* Tours update
* Wild Coast Tour - Day 3
* Great South Africans
* South African Cities
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
What an incredible year we have all loved through! It's been a time when we realised how important health and family are. A time of digging deep to survive. A time of empathy with those businesses that didn't make it. A time of reaching out to help others. For most of us, the sooner we can usher in 2021 the better.
However the reality is that Covid 19 is going to be with us for a while and it won't magically disappear. The new everyday words like masks and social distancing have become ingrained in us. Christmas will be different this year. Quieter. Family only.
All has not been bad from this year. We have taken some good lessons out of 2020.
From the team at Mountain Passes South Africa, we are delighted to announce that 2020 saw an exponential growth in readership and social media following. We have doggedly stuck to our recipe of variety, positive news, quality photography and information that is informative, interesting, uplifting and topical. Clearly we offered what a lot of people were looking for.
We thank you for your support and we wish you and your family a wondrous Christmas and a better new year. Travel safe and hang in there!
The Ben 10 V4 Eco Challenge Official Tour is taking place over Easter 2021. We have crafted this tour over the past four years into a fine experience of excitement, relaxation and stunning scenery coupled with a few amazing points of interest, like watching the vulture colony at The Castle.
Ten good reasons why you should do the Ben 10 Eco Challenge
1. Conquer the 10 challenging high altitude passes of the Eastern Cape.
2. Enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see.
3. Discover the fascinating history of the area first hand with an experienced guide.
4. See the vulture colony at The Castle
5. Enjoy the camaraderie of like minded adventure travellers
6. Savour delicious home cooked country food.
7. Enjoy comfortable accommodation each night at the same venue so you can travel light.
8. Test your offroad driving skills in the safety of a group.
9. Discover Rhodes Village
10 Visit the highest pass in South Africa (3001m)
We are running the Ben 10 V4 over the Easter Weekend not only because of the number of holidays involved, but at that time of the year, the worst of the summer storms are over, leaving the region under a carpet of lush greenery, which greatly enhances the already majestic views and makes for impressive photography.
Sign up here: BEN 10 V4 TOUR
WILD COAST TOUR - Day 3
We woke to the sound of gentle surf on the beach at Mbotyi River Lodge. The day was scheduled for a substantial walk to Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock, but it was a free day, so guests could opt for a range of other activities - like bird watching, swimming, canoeing on the lagoon, or simply relaxing in the lovely gardens at the lodge.
We made use of a local guide, Armstrong, to show us the way to the falls. He rode up front with us in the Land Cruiser, as we tackled a rather dubious looking road which later became a proper 4x4 route, as we bounced and slid our way down the escarpment to a tiny hamlet called Lupathana. It took us a full two hours to get there - a distance of just 20 km as the crow flies!
A friend of Armstrong arranged to look after our vehicles for the day at a small fee. In short order our group of about 15 hikers set off to cross the river via some stepping stones, then up the other side through a backpackers bush camp. The day was cool, but humid with the promise of some rain later in the day.
The walk to Waterfall Bluff is undulating and not particularly difficult, but it feels like a lot longer than 4 km when you're doing it! Finally the tone of the surf which been our companion all morning, changed somewhat and around the next bend the fabulous spectacle of Waterfall Bluff awaited. I had seen dozens of photos of the falls, but there is nothing like seeing it up close and personal. The falls consist of a set of three cascades, which are not all visible from the lower viewpoint. A torrent of white water pours out of the jagged rockface directly onto a narrow bay, where the ocean waves compete for supremacy. We spent our lunch break at the falls enjoying this bounty of nature.
After lunch our group split up. Those with more energy, walked another 3 km along the coastline to see Cathedral Rock - a dramatic column of rock with an arch in the centre, which rises up out of the sea. The smaller group which turned back at the waterfall reached Lupathana just as the tide was coming in, accompanied by a steady drizzle. It would be another hour before the rest of group arrived, who had the salty experience of having to wade through the lagoon at waist depth and drive home in wet clothes.
The dinner back at the lodge that night was a festive affair, as guests retold their adventure and swapped photos.
This average length pass of 4 km forms a back to back continuous pass with the Umzimvubu Pass on the tarred R61 route between Lusikisiki and Port St Johns. The pass has plenty of corners compressed into those 4 km, so drivers need to be wide awake as the pass traverses three villages - Gemvale, Mdovu and Gcakeni.
Expect pedestrians on the roadway, minibus taxis and the ever present threat of livestock. Some of the locals drive like maniacs, so it's best to let them pass you as quickly as possible. The scenery more than compensates for the Level 3 driving and is typical of the Wild Coast.
Take your time. Stop at the roadside stalls. Support the local crafters and allow the climate and the people to embrace your spirit.
* Tours update
* Wild Coast Tour - Day 2
* Great South Africans
* South African Cities
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days)
April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend)
May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days)
After a short stint on tar, we arrived at Tabankulu. These small rural towns are something of an education and it's best to have a positive mind-set before you get there. It was a Saturday morning, so the village was bustling with energy. Barbeques on open fires next to the franchise shops in the main street; skinny dogs criss-crossing the road looking for a morsel of food; a few bemused looking goats; a small selection of fine Nguni cattle; Toyota Minibus taxis everywhere and then there are the people - all seemingly happy with the chaos around them. It's a real Transkei experience to be savoured and remembered. No-one in the rural Eastern Cape drives with their lights on, so the locals, after seeing this long convoy of vehicles with lights on, no doubt thought we were off to a funeral and due courtesy was given to us.
Just west of the village, there is a fork. The right hand option leads to a marvellous pass, called the Gwangxu Pass, which is currently a dead-end as the bridge at the bottom of the pass has been washed away. Our route took the left hand option to drive the highlight pass of the day - the Mzintlava Pass.
This major gravel pass will enthral and enchant even the most jaded pass hunter. It is long, steep, rough and peppered with 301 bends, corners and curves of which 7 are hairpins and another 29 exceed 90 degrees radius. It achieves top 10 status in two categories as the 5th longest pass and the 7th biggest altitude gaining pass in South Africa. It's named after the Mtzintlava River, which is one of the main tributaries of the Umzimvubu River with which it forms a confluence about 15 km to the south west of the pass.
Initially the road follows the contour line of the mountain, dipping in and out of the ravines, with expansive views to the south over the green hills and valleys of the Wild Coast. It's not long and the road enters a magnificent indigenous forest. It was a hot day and since it was close to lunchtime, we pulled over inside the forest, fully occupying one half of the roadway, to enjoy our lunch break. The forest was alive with birdsong and the sounds of burbling streams. Local vehicles stopped as they passed by greeting us with smiles and waves. Forget about all those preconceived ideas you had about the region. The locals are genuinely friendly.
The road now climbs at a gradient of 1:14 for the next 1,5 km with magnificent views over the Tshumi River valley on the right whilst the dense forests of the Ntabankulu Forest Reserve smother the southern slope of the mountain ahead. A short and steep descent follows, as the road skirts the northern side of another valley and meanders eastwards whilst undulating and descending towards the 15 km mark and the village of Bomvini where there is a very sharp hairpin bend to the right of 160 degrees. At the apex of this hairpin a smaller road leads off into the north-east to the village of Ncetshane.
As far as scenic beauty goes, this pass is below average for the Wild Coast. That does not in any way detract from the other interesting information connected with the pass and the area. The De Villiers Bridge at the lowest point on the pass withstood an impressive flood level of over 10m during the 1970 flood, where its safety railings were bent horizontal by the raging floodwaters. It is still like that today.
The pass has an inverted vertical profile with the lowest point being in the middle of the pass at the crossing of the Kobonqaba River. The pass is 8.2 km long and displays an altitude variance of 195m with the steepest gradients reaching 1:8 on the western side. The Kentani area was the scene of several historical skirmishes between the British and the Xhosa during the 9th Frontier War,
The town of Kentani is often in the news around initiation schools and dubious medical standards with a number of initiates losing their lives each year.
Wild Coast Tour – Prologue, Cathcart, Mountain Lake, Ongeluksnek Wetlands, Mariazell Mission Station
Listen to the interview:
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.