This week we cover Part 3 of Michell's Pass near Ceres and its important role in the economic development of the region.
Listen to the interview:
* Signs of the times
* Winter weather
* The importance of social media in brand building
* Trips & Tours and the Covid spoke in the wheel
* Reflections - The day of the turkey
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
Signs of the times
Our cover photo shows one of the 162 official road signs which now fall under the auspices of Mountain Passes South Africa. The first recce trip has already taken place where dimensions were recorded for the reinstatement of any damaged signs, removal of graffiti and repairs of the inevitable bullet holes so common in South Africa. The project will commence as early as next week as we take charge of this project and with a long term vision, we could possibly even cover the whole of South Africa. Next time you arrive at one of those tourist board signs, you will see our name on them (with pride). Please don't shoot the signs guys - SLM (Sign Lives Matter!)
The Western Cape got slammed by another potent cold front with wind speeds exceeding 80 kph and wave heights that reached 9m. Uprooted trees, localised flooding and property damage were all sacrifices that had to be made to record a 4% increase in dam levels in the province. Snowfalls were recorded right across the high mountains of South Africa and Lesotho. The Swartberg range was pummelled by this storm resulting in the temporary closure of the Swartberg Pass, but traffic is flowing again as road repair crews are hard at work sorting the road out.
Our social media pages keep us very busy. We have just whizzed through the 32,000 followers mark. Since lockdown started, we seem to have found a new popularity amongst the public, who seek out uplifting, positive posts. We don't pay for these posts. The growth is entirely organic. To put this into perspective, we will typically post between 4 to 8 times per day or approximately every 2 hours. Each photo or video we post has to be checked for authenticity, quality and suitability for our audience.
After a post has been published, it has to be constantly moderated for spam attacks, politically motivated comments or troll type comments. Our total time spent on Facebook (excluding Instagram) can easily reach up to 5 hours per day. A typical day's post views will be around 50,000. So in a month that figure will reach 1,5 million views. Over a year that translates to 18 million. These social media pages are the feeder system driving traffic to our website - so now you know why we put so much effort into it. The viewing public know what they want to see and clearly we are meeting those needs based on our current growth rate of 1000 new followers every week.
For start-up business that think they can launch a Facebook presence on a budget, be warned that once you are in the loop of spending money on promoted paid posts, it will very quickly fall flat if you don't carry on spending. Organic growth is the way to go. Trust me on this.
Trips & Tours
Planning tours in these uncertain times has proven to be very difficult. Part of the problem comes in the interpretation of the lockdown regulations. On any one regulation there can be as many as five different interpretations, with each one claiming to be the "official" one. In essence, it means any tours planned after August 1st when we presume inter-provincial travel will be allowed, must have a plan B in terms of alternative dates. Having to have a double set of dates, essentially means we can't plan tours for the second set of dates, so effectively our tours frequency is reduced by 50%.
With our Wild Coast Tour looming in early August, we are waiting with bated breath for news of the relaxation of inter-provincial travel. This tour remains fully booked. All of the guests that booked and cancelled because of Covid 19 fears will receive 100% credit.
The Ben 10 Tour, which is scheduled for mid-September still has one ticket open. The Ben 10 Tours are always enjoyable providing a heady mix of challenging driving, beautiful scenery and camaraderie. Full information and bookings can be done online on this link. BEN 10 V3 TOUR.
Reflections of my life
Cookhouse, Eastern Cape , South Africa 1953.
The year of the Turkey.
A lot of things went down in that illustrious year in the dusty streets of the hot Karoo dorpie when I was 4 years old. My aunt, Elaine Watson, had given her brother (my father) a turkey to fatten up for our Christmas dinner. My father had very basic carpentry skills, but he managed to fashion a small structure against the side of the house, with a rickety chicken mesh wire door with a wooden toggle as a lock. Inside lived a very ugly and scary bird, considerably bigger than what I was at the time.
Needless to say, we kids were fascinated with the turkey and I recall spending a lot of time staring at the monster, becoming braver each week. Over time, the turkey and I became soul mates as I had my daily chat with him as he gobbled down his ration of mealies.
* Trips and Tours
* Reflections of my life
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
At MPSA HQ in Cape Town, our offices have suddenly burst into life with a surge in inquiries on tours and the various services we offer. It's wonderful to see the tide turning. From the fearful masses with masks, there is a definite change of mind-set taking place. People want to travel again. People are tired of living in fear. Tired of the isolation.They want their lives back again.
We have had one cancellation for our Ben 10 V3 Tour in mid September, so if you would like to drive the challenge in the safety of a group and enjoy the incredible scenery, camaraderie and fun of this tour, you can read up on all the details as well as sign up on this link: BEN 10 V3 TOUR. As an indicator of the popularity of the tour, two of the places have been booked by guests who have done the Ben 10 V2 tour. Yes, it's that good.
We are working on a few day tours over the November/December period, including a tour that will be able to be driven in a normal car.
Cookhouse, Eastern Cape - 1954
(A chapter from a proposed book currently being written by your editor)
My first bottling plant. A true story unearthed from the dust of the Karoo. This photo shows the neighbour’s two kids, Brian and Edith Brandsten posing with me (far right). I think I was the only fair haired kid in the entire Karoo. I stood out like a sore thumb.
We discuss the history of Michells Pass south of Ceres and its importance in the development of the region.
Listen to the interview:
* Wicked winter weather
* MPSA is growing
* Snow drive
* Tours update
* NEW! Swartberg Tour 2020
* Another story from 1958
* Pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
Wicked Winter Weather
The frontal system that was our opening paragraph in last week's newsletter, deserved more than that. It delivered tons of snow. All the high mountains were draped in thick snow from the Cederberg to the Drakensberg. Temperatures plummeted with Johannesburg logging sub-zero temperatures. We used a gap between the two frontal systems to take a drive out to Ceres to capture some photos and videos of the action.
We have taken over the website and assets of Cape Mountain Passes. All those brown tourist boards displaying the vital statistics of 54 passes in the Western Cape will now be managed by MPSA, which includes the urls capemountainpasses.co.za, capemountainroutes.co.za and tablemountainroutes.co.za. The owner, Rod Douglas, of this long standing project has retired and gifted the project to us to ensure the hard work that went into the project will continue to be utilised by the public. We will start by cleaning up all the signs at the pass summit points - getting rid of the graffiti and patching the bullet holes and adding the MPSA signage. We will incorporate the CMP signage into our logo. There is also an entire geocaching section that goes with the project.
New logo and headers
Our new logo and page headers are now live on the website. We think they are a nice improvement. Thanks to Lisa for the creative artwork and Jacques for the technical stuff.
Ceres Snow Drive
Our routing did not disappoint. We drove over the old Du Toitskloof Pass where we saw some beautiful waterfalls, all flowing strongly. Along the stretch on the Worcester side of the tunnel the peaks were all dusted in snow, making for majestic photography.
Perhaps the best scenery was to be enjoyed just north of the Hex River Poort where the quilt-work of winter draped vineyards formed a perfect setting against a backdrop of snow capped mountains under a cobalt blue sky. We ran a short video over the scene, which has enjoyed an impressive view tally of 51000 views (at the time of writing).
There was surprisingly little snow on the Hex River Pass, but the Matroosberg mountains were under a thick layer of snow. We drove on to the junction of the N1 and the R46, where the road was closed and a traffic officer sat in his vehicle just behind the cones. Fully expecting to be turned away, we approached to ask permission to drive through to Ceres only to find the driver snuggled up and asleep. So we drove around the cones and along the R46 enjoying the ice cold Karooscapes topped off with white peaks in every direction.
At the junction of the R46 and the R355 we came across a second road block, but decided to rather take the short cut along the gravel road through the Matjiesrivier farm (a public road) and from there up the Bo Swaarmoed Pass where we arrived at the real snow fields. It was such a pretty sight.
The farm at the summit of the Bo Swaarmoed Pass is appropriately called Laastedrif. The plateau between this farm and the Klondike cherry farm is mostly above the 1200m contour line and there was more snow than what we've seen in any winter over the last decade. A few families had taken the time to play in the snow with toboggans and snowmen were being built at various points along the road.
We decided to retrace our route back to the Matjiesrivier farm and turn left to re-join the R46 at the foot of the Hottentots Kloof Pass, where the signboard incorrectly reads 'Theronsberg Pass'. There was surprisingly little snow along the road-side, but the mountains looked stunning. We got some great pics near the summit - one of which generated 58,000 views. The coldest temperature we measured was at the Erfdeel farm where the reading was 4C.
[More lower down]
* Weather, storms, rain and snow
* Trips & Tours Update
* True stories from the Karoo
* Podcast - Bloukrans Pass Part 2
* Pass of the week
* Positive motivational message
As I'm compiling this week's newsletter, the north-wester is gusting well over 30 knots with heavy rain squalls causing localised flooding in Cape Town. Snow has begun falling in the high mountains from Matroosberg to Sutherland and more snow is forecast for the Swartberg. It is after all winter and the rains are most welcome. Particularly the Eastern Cape is seriously in need of rain and reports coming in show the Vaal Dam has dropped to below the 50% level with the dry winter season still looming. The hectic weather makes a pleasant change of topic to all the conspiracy theories that continue to dominate the social media platforms.
Trips & Tours
We are anticipating that Level 3 will end towards the end of June and Level 1 should arrive towards the end of July. Our Wild Coast Tour arrangements are in full swing with packing lists and route maps having gone out today. We had a flurry of cancellations (mostly Covid 19 fears) and quickly resold two of the places, but we still have two tickets going begging. If you want to join us for 10 glorious days of Wild Coast exploration, there's still time to get on board.
This tour will include some amazing highlights, like a visit to the Mariazell Mission with its own hydro-electric plant; a traverse of the 39 km long Mzintlava Pass; two days at Mbotyi River Lodge; Magwa Falls; Waterfall Bluff; Eagles Nest at Port St Johns; Execution Rock; Hole in the Wall; Dwesa Nature Reserve; Kob Inn; Shipwrecks; The Collywobbles; Vulture viewing; Nonqwowase's Pools; a seafood fest at Trennerys; ferry over the Great Kei. Book online here WILD COAST TOUR
Our Ben 10 Eco Challenge V3 Tour has been rescheduled for mid September and we also have 2 tickets available. The Ben 10 Tour is more than just driving challenging mountain passes. We visit some of the most beautiful and rugged places imaginable in the highlands that will leave an indelible mark on your memory. Places where ice cold rivers tumble through rugged gorges and vertical waterfalls - where trout make their home to spawn. Villages like Rhodes and Barkly East. Old bridges dating back to the 1800's. Tall conifers standing guard over dramatic mountain slopes. Ask anyone who has done the Ben 10 and you will get an immediate thumbs up. Book online here: BEN 10 V3 TOUR
True Stories from the Karoo
1955 - Longdrop Legends.
We had a toilet like this in Cookhouse. It occupied the furthest corner of the yard. To take this time travel, readers need to fully understand the mechanics of the system. A pit is dug approximately 2m deep and 1,5m square. A shelter is erected over this pit. In our case it was made from corrugated iron. This was secured to the ground with “bloudraad” onto metal pegs - the purpose being that the wind could not blow it over.
[Read more lower down]
We take a visit to Cookhouse way back in 1953 and then have a look at the working conditions when Thomas Bain built the magnificent Bloukrans Pass near Plettenberg Bay.
Listen to the interview:
* Covid Rules and Regulations = Confusion
* Tour tickets availability
* Leisure Wheels Magazine - SA's Big Mama
* Podcast - Cookhouse 1953 / Bloukrans Pass
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
LEVEL 3 OR LEVEL 0?
Each week that passes during lockdown unleashes plenty of drama and this week the North Gauteng High Court decision against the government's application of rules is the main talking point. So will we be skipping Level 2 at the end of June and going to Level 1 or will the machinations of government roll along in stall mode as is the norm? We await these developments with interest.
Planning for our two postponed tours is going full steam ahead and whilst there has been some hesitation and nervousness from some of those that have booked, the majority are very keen to get out there and start enjoying their lives again. Whilst we are taking every possible precaution with our tours, both from a compliancy and safety point of view, the reality is that on a self-drive tour you are already in self isolation for most of the day. The risk of catching the virus is far greater at your local shop or pharmacy.
BEN 10 ECO CHALLENGE V3 TOUR - We have two tickets available. Book online here.
Lockdown has allowed me the luxury of writing a book. These short anecdotal chapters have been released on my personal Facebook page and drawn so many favourable comments, that I have decided to reproduce them in this newsletter. It's a type of autobiography but generally written in a light hearted vein. The first chapter is featured below.
Cookhouse is a small village in the Eastern Cape. My father was transferred there by the government in about 1950 to run the PRD (Provincial Roads Department).
The reality is that Cookhouse was nothing more than the combined prefab houses of the railway workers and the PRD employees; each group being separated by the main railway line. A sort of class separation if you like, with each group believing they were superior to the other. And we didn't mix either. On the outskirts was the township inhabited by the Xhosa locals. All townships in those days were called locations. I still haven’t figured out why. It's even become a part of black language vocabulary and is spelled as "lokshin"
My dad had a Xhosa man who worked in his office, named Frank. He cleaned the office and yard, made the tea and ran errands for the admin office. I still remember him in vivid detail. Frank was one of the kindest humans I have ever met. He was tall and lean with a gentle smile that gave away the wisdom that belied the mundane nature of his employment.
I was 4 years old and Frank used to collect me (the little blonde haired white boy) from our home and put me on the cross bar of his size 28 bicycle and off we would go to his khaya in the 'lokshin' for his lunch break. Frank would gather his family to break bread. I was included in the entire process. Mostly the meals would be ‘pap’ or uhngqusho - a mix of samp and beans. I loved the daily adventure of experiencing an adventure out of town and being accepted without reservation by his family. It seemed like such a long ride and my backside always got sore sitting on the crossbar.
It didn’t take long and I wanted to learn to ride Frank’s bike. I was far too small to ride the bike, so I tried riding it under the cross bar. Needless to say I fell many times arriving home with grazed hands and knees. Frank was incredibly proud of his bicycle and cleaned it daily. When I think back now how he must have winced as each fall I took from that bike, which added scratches at a rapid rate to the shiny black paintwork, I now can understand the intelligent and dignified man that took the time to help raise me (albeit for only two years).
I finally mastered that big bicycle thanks to Frank’s infinite patience.
"Frank - I never got to thank you. Hamba Gahle madala - 65 years later, but never too late."
1954 - The Great Lucky Packet Heist
I had started school that year. As was the way parenting dovetailed with tough economic times, school uniforms were purchased a few sizes too big, so that we could “grow into them”
My father gave me a 10 shilling note which I was to hand in to my school teacher on the first day of the school year, which amount was school fees for the year. [Read more lower down]
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.