We discuss the charms of the R396 route in the Eastern Cape and visit one of the 5 passes in its length - the Barker’s Nek Pass.
Listen to the interview:
Like the Great Fish River Pass, this pass can easily slip by unnoticed as one travels over the beautifully built N2 highway between Peddie and King William's Town. It's actually a fairly big pass and is long by national standards at 12.3 km displaying an altitude variance of 145m.
It only has 16 bends, corners and curves and none of them are dangerous. The pass is suitable for all traffic, but do be cautious when the mountain mists roll in, which can reduce visibility down to just a few metres. The locals don't seem to worry about this and carry on driving at high speeds. This presents the only real danger on this pass and of course, the possibility of finding livestock on the road.
* Unlocking lockdown
* Baviaanskloof Tour - Finale
* Pass of the week
* New passes
Today marks the official end of the initial 5 week lockdown. For most of us it's been an almost surreal experience. The days all feel the same; we are sleeping longer; having frustrating dreams; worrying about our investments and business plans; the safety of our families. We are not experts at this, but we would like to suggest that one should not be overly absorbed in the news hype and information overload we are all being bombarded with. Just take things one day at a time. Some things will take longer than others to normalise. Keep yourself busy with positive activities. Exercise. Eat healthy food.
From Patensie there is a long and winding gravel road that runs west to east behind the first ridge of mountains, known locally as the Elandsvlei Road. It serves many farms along the northern valley between the first two mountain ranges and is approximately 80 km in length and eventually terminates in Uitenhage. The first rise in elevation is via the Geelhoutboom Pass, which we briefly described in last week's newsletter.
Right at the summit, a very minor jeep track cuts away sharply to the left. This is the start of the western approach to the Antoniesberg Pass. It was cool with steady drizzle, which the aftermath of the previous night's heavy rain showers, leaving us with a soggy and wet route. Some of our guests had never driven a 4x4 in mud before, so the day would be an exciting one for them, learning new skills by the minute.
After opening and closing the first gate which is located about 200m from the turn-off we were on our way into the west - destination being the Antoniesberg Pass. The track follows a long ridge of hills, generally keeping to the spine of each with slight undulations, but mainly sticking to elevations between 600m & 800m. Low dark clouds and intermittent drizzle meant we were somewhat deprived of the magnificent scenery on view along both sides of the track.
To the left (south) there are birds eye views of the Baviaanskloof which we had traversed the previous day and to the right the Winterberg and impressive Cockscomb mountains rear ever upward and into the cloud base. The main peak of the latter range looks very similar to a roosters 'comb' hence the name.
(More lower down)
This short and steep little pass is close to the tarred R56 route between Matatiele and Cedarville and can be driven in any vehicle in fair weather. It's just 3.2 km long and climbs 131m to summit at 1672m ASL from where you can enjoy excellent vistas in peace and quiet due to the very low traffic volume on this road. During adverse weather this little pass could become very challenging, so in snow or after or during heavy rain, it's best avoided unless you have a 4WD vehicle.
If you intend continuing further, make sure you've done your navigational homework well, as after the southern end of the pass, the road forks, and forks again and then there are multiple intersections which will get the average driver horribly lost, due to becoming disoriented. Very few of the roads are adequately signposted but most do have administrative numbers (Not that that's going to prevent you getting lost!). Exit routes must be carefully planned on Google Earth or Google Maps and each intersection noted and mapped.
The nearby village of Cedarville was established in 1912 and has been an orphan village for much of its history. It was included in the old Cape Province until 1978, when it was handed over to Natal and then again in 2006 it was handed over to the Eastern Cape - probably the only town or village in South Africa to hold that record.
The final chapter of the story of Harry Wolhuter – lion attack survivor and SA’s bravest game ranger.
Listen to the interview:
The week that was
* Lockdown woes
* Kouga Tour - The final leg
* Podcast - Harry Wolhuter / the lion slayer
* Pass of the week
* Upgraded passes added
* Words of wisdom
So the days melt into each other and it's easy to forget which day of the week it is. We're sleeping longer. There's no traffic noise. No sirens. No burglar alarms. But enough is enough. It's time to shake up this torpor of business inactivity. The garage has been cleaned. All the odd jobs are completed. We need to become productive citizens again.
The national lockdown has affected each and every one of us in different ways. At the time of writing, we are all waiting with bated breath to see what the next step is going to be and exactly when our lives will return to normal. With the oil price in the US being at 1 cent per barrel, it's a sure sign that the world is not in a happy place right now, as uncertainty makes people keep their wallets and purses firmly closed.
We appeal to all of you to support small busineses wherever possible. These are entrepreneurs trying to feed their families and pay their bills. The big corporations can see a few months through, but small businesses with cash flow problems can easily fail. They are going to need your support for the next year or two as we all try and claw our way back towards some level of normalcy.
The world will get over the Corona virus. Surround yourself with positivity and now is a great time to plan a trip - or book a tour. We have considered introducing a number of 1 day tours which will be affordable and of course, since you are in your own car, you are technically in isolation. We are working hard on putting together a new set of one day specials. Due to the obvious distance limitations, these will be restricted to the Western Cape at this stage. We will release more details after April 30th.
It rained all night with the storm peaking at 05h00 with some wild gusts and heavy downpours. Our sweep driver, Philip, who had experienced brake failure two days before, had risen early and driven through to Patensie to get his Navara’s brake problem sorted out, but there was no workshop in the village with the spares or requisite skills, so he continued through to Humansdorp, where he was ably assisted.
The Woodhead’s and Lenahan’s had also risen early, each needing to get back home to attend to business and other matters, so intrusively invaded into our plans by Mr. Corona.
In the meantime the rest of our convoy, now reduced down to just 5 vehicles, left at 09h00 for the start of our last day. A fairly long day which would end at Steytlerville.
But first we had the pleasure of starting our day with a west-east traverse of the beautiful Grootrivierpoort. The road is virtually flat for most of the distance, but there are many corners, which force a slower speed, which is a good thing, as the scenery in the poort is simply magnificent. Near vertical cliffs tower almost 300m up into the sky, hemming the road and the river into the confined kloof. Low clouds allow shafts of sunlight to illuminate the forests and mountains, setting a grand spectacle. The road dips in and out of dense riverine bush as the Grootrivier flows lazily eastward in a broad, brown band in the middle of it all.
Vervet monkeys and bushbuck dart furtively into the bush as our convoy rumbles slowly by. The Grootrivierpoort was one of Thomas Bain’s final road building projects and it’s wonderful to see the road still being used, and it's virtually unaltered 135 years later. Of interest is that the road between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town through the Baviaanskloof is the shortest routing between the two cities, but definitely not the fastest!
As we exit the poort, the view opens up over the Gamtoos River Valley. Here there are citrus orchards by their hundreds of thousands. It is also the point where the Grootrivier and Kouga River form a confluence and the name changes to Gamtoos. It’s only when one drives through this valley that the size and scope of the citrus industry here hits home. Packing sheds and muddy tractor trailer combinations bustle between the farms and the old narrow gauge railway, now forlornly overgrown, crosses our road, which had quietly changed from gravel to patchy tar.
* Corona Corona Corona
* Tours update
* Kouga Tour Chapter 5
* Pass of the week
* New pass added
* Words of wisdom
I'm sure like all of you, we are getting tired of reading about Corona/Covid 19. I tend to sit back and watch what develops on social media and to the astute observer, a lot can be read between the lines. There have even been several really positive things that have come out of the mess.
On our Facebook page we ran a post asking people to name one thing positive that the pandemic had created in their lives. The response was overwhelming and heart-warming to say the least, with the winning comment coming from a young wife: "I have my husband back from working overseas and my daughter is home from boarding school" That is special.
On the far side of the scale is the so-called 'egg challenge'. The challenge appears to be popular with a certain group of the population, but appears to have no purpose other than to be silly. The lockdown boredom has set in, it would seem.
Mainstream and social media remains awash with wildly conflicting opinions, mostly written by highly qualified professors, each one contradicting the other. Speculation and conspiracy theories abound, leaving the average Joe and especially those that are gullible, to want to reach for the panic button.
One of the most bizarre of these conspiracy theories is that the Covid-19 virus was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan, China and spread around the world intentionally to provide a distraction for the surreptitious installation of 5G towers, through which the superpowers will be able to control and spy on us. The scary thing is how many people worldwide actually believe this.
From our perspective, we try and sort the wheat from the chaff and keep our feet firmly on the ground, as we try and plan the way ahead, particularly in respect of our tours.
Right, on to reality.....
We have rescheduled our Wild Coast Tour to August 6th - 15th by which time things should have settled down sufficiently for us to run an enjoyable tour in early spring. We are just awaiting confirmation from all the hotels, but are expecting them all to cooperate fully.
Today would have marked the final day of our Ben 10 V3 Tour which we were forced to postpone (due to Covid 19). We have rescheduled this tour to September 23rd to 28th.
After a pleasant 40 minutes enjoying a light lunch break at the Doodsklip picnic site, we tackled the next pass - the Holgat Pass. Realistically the Holgat and Combrink's Pass together form one long pass separated by a 6 km long plateau in the middle. We have never found out why the ascent and descent have two separate names.
The Holgat Pass is easily the tougher of the two. It's tough because well-meaning road repair crews have (over several decades) decided to improve traction for non 4WD vehicles by laying cement strips along the climb. These have broken up over time and been repaired several times, with the net result is that the road is most uncomfortable to drive on. The steep gradient, which would normally be driven in low range for better control at low speeds, now has to be driven in high range to avoid axle windup on the hard surfaces. In short, it's a mess, but the magnificent scenery nullifies all of the above as the convoy doddles up the pass, all the while enjoying, proteas and fynbos in abundance interspersed with jaw dropping scenery.
[More lower down]
Howison's Poort (also spelled as Howieson's Poort) is a well known cave like rock shelter halfway up a cliff in the poort. It has considerable archeological signiificance. The 8.8 km long poort bisects the mountains through dense forests and plantations just to the south-west of Grahamstown on the N2 national road.
The poort has more pass like statistics and descends a respectable 300m producing an average gradient of 1:29. The road is nicely engineered with correctly banked corners and double lanes for overtaking along most of its length. There are only 10 bends along the poort, all of them insignificant in terms of speed reduction, except for the first one right near the summit which has a turning angle of 150 degrees and it's quite sharp as well.
Grahamstown has an astonishing amount of 1820 Settler history and is of course, the seat of higher learning in the area, at the well known Rhodes University.
This major pass is located on the N2 national route between Grahamstown and King William's Town. It's 21 km long and has an altitude variance of 528m. The road is beautifully engineered to the point that at times drivers don't even realize they are on a major pass. There are surprisingly few bends on this pass and none of them exceed a radius of 80 degrees. One can maintain a steady speed throughout.
That said, there is time to enjoy the scenery and please note that the speed limit changes between 80 and 100 kph along several sections. As the case with all passes on national routes, increased traffic volumes create their own hazards and this pass carries plenty of heavy duty trucks, so be aware that if you end up behind one of these slow moving vehicles on the uphill sections, that you need to exercise patience and wait for a break in the barrier lines.
Cautionary: The road has no overtaking lanes on the ascents. Be aware of minibus taxis and courier delivery vehicles who regularly flaunt the regulations.
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.