* Eastern Cape road hazards
* Locusts swarms in the Karoo
* Joubert's Pass
* R392 - Worth a drive
* Saalboom Road
* Otto du Plessis Pass
* Broken bridges
* Passes of the Week
We returned from the Ben 10 Eco Challenge V4 Tour yesterday, still feeling elated from all that fresh air and marvellous scenery. Much of today's newsletter will cover the highlights of the tour. We decided not to publish a newsletter last week due to it being Easter and many of you being away, so today's edition will be a bit longer than normal.
During the thousands of kilometres travelled last week, we had a few close shaves on the roads. All of them were caused by slow moving vehicles turning in front of us with a big speed variance. Other than those three incidents, driver behaviour was fairly good. One of the interesting points we noticed is that in the Eastern Cape, hardly any vehicles drive with their lights on. Even in thick mountain mist this was the norm. When we flashed lights at these vehicles, the response was a friendly flash back in return, but not one of them read the message as intended! There is some road user education required in that province.
The Karoo is looking very good. Many dams are full; rivers are running, vegetation is green and the livestock is looking healthy. The flip-side of that good news, is that massive swarms of locusts have erupted. Between Willowmore in the south and Middelburg in the north, we encountered huge swarms. Driving through those swarms at 120 kph is like driving in a hail storm. It looked like a plague of Biblical proportions. Our Land Cruiser is not a pretty sight after that massacre and we wish the good folks at the car wash lots of fortitude when we drop Big Bertha / Thirsty Kirsty off for a well-deserved clean-up! Anyone who experienced driving through these swarms should check their radiators for damage as well as clean any dead insects from the fins.
Our routing up from Cape Town was via Graaff-Reinet where we overnighted at the Drostdy Hotel. It's above average in terms of price, but then it is a 5 star establishment. The night time temperature was around 27C making for a very pleasant moonlit outdoor dinner and later a walk around the immaculate gardens with their sculptures and fountains. The main building is a delight and serves as a museum, but one that you can use. The attention to detail and maintenance is excellent. In short, you pay your money and you get your goods. We enjoyed dinner with two of our guests also bound for the Ben 10 Tour - Trevor Hall and Dirk Reyskens.
Departing from Graaff-Reinet the next morning, it was a sight to behold seeing the Nkweba Dam (the town's main water supply) with a decent level of water in it. It has been bone dry for a number of years. The original Van Ryneveld's Pass can still be seen on the western side of the dam, which was one of the first road building projects attempted by Andrew Geddes Bain, who first settled in Graaff-Reinet and earned a living as a saddler there, before trying his hand at road construction - an occupation that he would excel at and would become known as the 'Father of South African geology'.
Our route took us over the towering Wapadsberg Pass and on to Cradock. The road was very quiet with maybe 5 vehicles encountered along the entire section. Near Tarkastad there are extensive roadworks, where zero progress has been made since we passed there six months ago. Only the stop-go staff are in attendance. It would seem that the contractor has gone insolvent. Expect this one to take years to reach a successful conclusion as a new contractor has to be found, tenders submitted and so on. It's going to take a long time. Due to the long delays, we would not recommend this route to anyone.
* Roadworks on Bain's Kloof Pass
* Andrew Geddes Bain
* Easter mini lockdown looms
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge
* The mystery of social media
* Road sign project
* Pass of the week
Our contact person at Baseline (the appointed contractors for the refurbishment of the pass) Fanie Visser, is keeping us in the loop in terms of progress. We get many emails each week from followers wanting to know when the pass will reopen. The project is currently on schedule and is expected to reach completion towards August, 2021. This will of course depend on how much the winter rainfall causes delays.
For those campers, swimmers and hikers that enjoy going to Tweede Tol, you can still gain access by approaching via Worcester, Tulbagh or Ceres. It's not possible to approach from Wellington.
The pass is a marvellous testament to old school road engineering and an appropriate time to pay our respects to Thomas Bain's father - Andrew Geddes Bain, who was the driving force and master mind behind this amazing mountain pass. He was a South African geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer.
The only child of Alexander Bain and Jean Geddes, both of whom died when Bain was still a young boy, Bain was baptised 11 June 1797 in Thurso, Scotland. He was raised by an aunt who lived near Edinburgh. Here he received a classical education, but no vocational training. In 1816 he emigrated to Cape Town accompanied by his uncle Lieutenant Colonel William Geddes of the 83rd Regiment, who was stationed in the Cape. He married Maria Elizabeth von Backstrom on 16 November 1818 and had 3 sons and 7 daughters.
* Report back on the Kouga-Baviaans Tour
* Ashton Bridge
* Storm damage to the Gamkaskloof road
* Winter tours in the planning
* Tulbagh Earthquake
* Pass of the Week
The Kouga-Baviaans Tour was a marvellous success. We described the route in some detail in last week's newsletter, but some of the 'after the fact' highlights are worth mentioning.
Our convoy was made up of the following vehicles. Not one vehicle had any mechanical problems.
Suzuki Jimny 130 x 1 (2 punctures)
Suzuki Jimny 150 x 1
Suzuki Grand Vitara x 1 (1 puncture)
Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series x 2
Toyota Land Cruiser 105 series x 1
Toyota Prado x 1
Toyota Fortuner x 1
Toyota Hilux D/Cab x 1
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport x 1
Land Rover Discovery x 1
Ford Ranger Raptor x 1
Nissan Navara x 1
Day 1 involved a circular loop with an out and back 4x4 section thrown in for good measure. The weather was magnificent as we pulled up at Nico Ferreira's farmstead, where we were made to feel very welcome. Nico has advanced Parkinson's and is busy selling portions of the farm to make ends meet. His farm Kleinrivier uses the name Kouga Wilderness to attract visitors. There are cottages, camping facilities, a wedding venue, hiking trails and 4x4 routes on offer.
* Trips & Tours
* Signage clean up (the good, the bad and the ugly)
* South Africa's most frequently sighted ghosts
* Pass of the week
* Tail piece
As this newsletter hits the ether, we will be driving in the Kouga Wilderness with our guests on the Kouga Baviaans Tour, which was adequately described in last week's newsletter. For most of this tour we don't have cell reception, so report backs on social media will be limited.
The autumn season is a busy time for tours and also a perfect time of year to get out into the country. We have had a cancellation for our Ben 10 V4 Tour (March 31st to April 5th - Easter weekend). Anyone eager to take up that ticket can book online here:
BEN 10 V4 TOUR BOOKINGS.
It wasn't until I physically started with the road-sign campaign in person, that I realised the extent of the vandalism. Every sign that we clean, we photograph every individual sticker and then make contact with the companies, clubs and tour groups and appeal to them to refrain from the bad habit. Mostly we are met with positive responses, so we are encouraged and motivated to carry on with the good work.
[More lower down]
* Level 1 at last!
* Trips & Tours
* Steytlerville - a Karoo gem
* Pass of the Week
* New pass added
The reduction to Level 1 lockdown is a signal that this is the start of the revival of tourism. The damage done to small businesses in particular has been devastating, with countless of them having closed down and will unlikely ever recover again. We've heard of families losing their homes, vehicles and possessions as the strong arm of financial institutions do what they do, regardless of empathy. As we drive around South Africa, it's in the small towns where the aftermath of Covid is the most obvious. In many cases more than 50% of small businesses have closed down. The million dollar question is "Was it worth it?"
Yet, human beings are resilient and those with courage, will stand up, dust themselves off and rebuild their lives. When you plan your next road trip, please consider supporting small businesses. Each one of them supports a family.
Next week we depart on our Kouga-Baviaans Tour. The tour starts in Joubertina, which is also the principal town in the Langkloof. It's located on the Wabooms River, some 50 km north-west of Assegaaibos, 70 km south-east of Avontuur and 213 km from Port Elizabeth. Joubertina was founded and introduced into the Langkloof community in 1907. Having secured a portion of the farm Onzer, in between the villages of Krakeel and Twee Riviere (both founded in 1765), a property development was launched there under the initiative of the Dutch Reformed Church. As the sale of erven around a newly erected church building gradually got underway in 1907, the future town was named in honour of W A Joubert, minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Uniondale between 1878 and 1893. The town has a station on the narrow gauge Avontuur Railway.
Our routing takes us through the Kouga Wilderness where we drive a two spoor track high up into the mountains to an amazing view-site with a lunch break spent on the shady banks of the Kleinrivier. We drive a circular route which includes two stunning gravel passes - the Kouga-Kleinrivier Pass and the Brakkloof Pass. We end up back at our starting point to enjoy the wonderful farm fresh food at Die Kraaltjie, which is our base for the first two nights.
The next morning we say farewell to the Langkloof as we head east on the R62, where the tar gives way to gravel once we turn off at Kareedouw and head west along one of the most enchanting gravel roads that include the Suuranysberg Pass, the Kouga River Pass, Moordenaarskloof and Meidenek, which brings us Rob le Roux's hidden gem - the Baviaans Lodge. This is a very remote lodge hidden amongst the trees at the bottom of a narrow valley, filled with wildlife, rock art, history and natural beauty. If you're looking for a marvellous getaway for a few days, you can contact Rob on 083 491 1009 on Whats App only. Leave a message and he'll call you back. Rob is a walking encyclopaedia on the area and will take you to the best rock pools, waterfalls and San art. There are 4 cottages to let and the food at the lodge is delicious.
From the lodge we begin the major traverse of the Kouga Mountains. It starts with a big climb and ends almost an hour later at the top of the first mountain range. The hillsides are smothered in proteas, whilst cycads grow naturally on the higher slopes. At the top of this climb we visit the crash site where Katot Meyer (a tough character and serious local naturalist) once lost his Land Rover down this krantz by forgetting to engage the handbrake. The story really comes to life when you're standing on the same spot and can experience the steepness of the terrain.
* Changes in tourism
* Great South Africans
* Visible policing
* Reinstating Road Signs
* Pass of the week
Covid 19 has changed the face of tourism. It's going to be a long time before things return to what they were before. For those businesses that catered only for the overseas market, it's going to a major adjustment trying to capture the local market, which is tough and demanding when it comes to value for money. Those businesses that have always aimed at the local market will benefit from increased bookings from South Africans who can no longer travel overseas and are now rediscovering South Africa. Every business in the tourism sector will need to adapt and innovate.
We believe this trend is here to stay for a long time. With all the hoops and hurdles one has to jump through on an overseas trip, a local trip is just so much more attractive.
Born in Johannesburg, Player was educated at St. John’s College, Johannesburg, South Africa and served in the 6th Armoured Division attached to the American 5th Army in Italy 1944–46.
His conservation career started with the Natal Parks Board in 1952 and whilst Warden of the Umfolozi Game Reserve, he spearheaded two key initiatives:
Dr. Player was the Founder of the Wilderness Leadership School, which still runs the original wilderness trails to this day.
This led to the formation of the Wild Foundation, the Wilderness Foundation SA, Wilderness Foundation UK, Magqubu Ntombela Foundation not to mention the World Wilderness Congresses, first convened in 1977.
Amongst many orders and awards he counts Knight of the Order of the Golden Ark and the Decoration for Meritorious Service (the highest Republic of South African civilian award).
He was the recipient of two honorary doctorates:
Player died on 30 November 2014 of a stroke. He was the brother of professional golfer Gary Player.
His archives and legacy are owned and managed by his nephew Marc Player, who has initiated several projects including books (Into the River of Life) a feature-length movie, a TV series built around Operation Rhino and the PLAYER INDABA which seeks global "PLAYERS' to raise funds to fight the extension of various threatened animal species.
The famous movie director and producer Howard Hawks, wanted a movie about people who catch animals in Africa for zoos, a dangerous profession with exciting scenes the likes of which had never been seen on-screen before. The name of his blockbuster movie is Hatari!, starring John Wayne. Hawks increased his knowledge on animal catching from the humane work of Dr.Player. In 1952 South Africa was disastrously embarked to eliminate all large wild animals to protect livestock, and only 300 white rhinos survived. Player then started his famed rhino catching technique to relocate and save the white rhinos. Player’s humane project was called Operation Rhino and the renowned film documentary named Operation Rhino was produced. Hawks studied this film documentary repeatedly to help incorporate aspects of it into his film Hatari!.
In June 1964, Player appeared on the panel show To Tell the Truth as himself, highlighting his role as warden of Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park and his work protecting white rhinos. Host Bud Collyer noted that scenes of white rhinos shown at the beginning of the episode were from Ivan Tors' movie Rhino!, released a few weeks earlier, and for which Player acted as a technical advisor.
* Trips & Tours
* Road-sign vandalism
* Wild Coast Tour 2020 - Final chapter
* Great South Africans
* South African Cities
* Pass of the week
We've had a few Covid related cancellations for our tours but all the tickets have already been taken up by new clients.
For those waiting for our winter schedule, we are working on it and will soon be publishing the new tours.
As we are steadily making progress revamping the 54 pass summit information boards that we inherited when we took over Cape Mountain Passes, the level of vandalism on some of them (especially along the more popular tourist routes) is appalling. There are levels of vandalism that we now categorize for the sign boards:
1. Wilful damage to the sign which include bullet holes, vehicles being rammed into the signs, and rocks thrown at the signs.
2. Names and messages that are scratched into the brown painted background with any available sharp object.
3. Spray-painted or hand painted graffiti
We have been actively appealing to all the motorcycle groups to have a rethink about their sub-culture of leaving a mark on everything. (This started in the USA and is now universally entrenched in biker culture) The campaign is starting to bear fruit, but there are still bikers who feel it is their right to put stickers wherever they want. One such motorcycle group is Proudly Meerkat, where the founder/owner/chairman is actively encouraging his members to add new stickers to our signs as fast as we remove them. It is extraordinary to come across people with this level of mindset.
Our appeal to all our members, is to remove as many stickers as you can, from any road-sign, regardless whether it is a state sign or one of ours. We are trying to create a culture of masikhane and to make South Africa a more beautiful place for all tourists (both local and foreign).
We have reached the halfway mark already and are currently working in the Garden Route, where we have refurbished the following signs: Montagu Pass, Outeniqua Pass, Kaaimans River Pass, Kaaimansgat Pass, Silver River Pass, Touw River Pass, Hoogekraal Pass, Karatara Pass and Homtini Pass.
Kob Inn to Trennerys
The drive out to Trennerys was via Willowvale, then south west over the Kobonqaba Pass and on to the village of Kentane. This village was the scene of a number of skirmishes between the British forces and the Xhosa. 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 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.
* Trips & Tours
* Wild Coast Tour report back (Day 7)
* Montagu Pass in a rally car (reader submission)
* Great South Africans (Series)
* South African Cities (Series)
* Pass of the week
Circular Route from Kob Inn to Collywobbles and Mbashe River Dam Wall returning via a northerly option to Kob Inn.
We got the convoy rolling a little after 0830 and headed back up the main gravel road to Willowvale. The biggest mistake most people make touring the Wild Coast is to estimate time based on distance on a map. It invariably takes much longer than planned. We turned off the main road at Willowvale to cross the Shixini River gorge via a scenic pass (still to be processed and filmed by MPSA) and traversed village after village as we did the (by now familiar) split fork, split fork type navigation eventually arriving at the ridge to the south of the Mbashe River gorge, at an area known as The Collywobbles. I was very glad I had plotted the route meticulously before the tour.
This rather odd English word dates back a century or more and was used to describe an upset tummy. There is a story that is well documented that Maj-Gen Sir George Pomeroy Colley during a visit to the Eastern Frontier, surveyed this amazing scene of the Mbashe River winding through the hills like a snake and remarked that it gave him the collywobbles. One if his subordinates made the remark: “Look Sir Colley has the wobbles” and the viewpoint earned its name in perpetuity.
We followed the spine of a long ridge offering marvellous views on both sides. Here we pulled off and enjoyed a peaceful lunch break in lovely weather as vultures soared overhead. After lunch we followed this same road as it descended very steeply down to the river. The gradient along the one section reached 1:4, which had been concreted to aid traction. The track terminated right on the banks of the Mbashe River where we had a close up experience of just how big and powerful this river is.
We had to then drive back up the very steep pass and turn north to descend towards the Mbashe Dam wall. This was also a fairly steep and interesting little pass, which ended right at the dam wall. All the sluices were open disgorging water that looked much more like a chocolate milkshake than water. Two local security guards greeted us and waved us through. The dam wall itself is just a little wider than a car. On either end are large steel cylinders painted yellow which determine whether your vehicle will fit on the wall/bridge or not. I noted it had many scuff marks on it, so the cylinders were doing their job!
We crossed first (having the widest vehicle) and the rest of the convoy followed one by one, camera shutters clicking and video cameras whirring. One of the guards as an afterthought, dashed over the wall in ankle deep water to catch up with us, looking for a handout. Someone obliged and so our informal bridge tax was duly paid.
The drive back to Kob Inn was very long and quite tiring, but the scenery remained beautiful. We arrived back at Kob Inn close to 1800 and were delighted to find Jim and Zen Rankin in the pub, having made their way to Kob Inn in their rental Nissan Almera.
At that stage the errant VW Touareg had been collected by lowbed and transferred to the agents in East London. An elated Jim bought everyone in the group a drink to celebrate their reunion with the group and the safe retrieval of their vehicle. It was completely untouched by the locals.
Next Week: Kob Inn to Trennerys / Kei Mouth
* Trips & Tours
* Wild Coast Tour 2020 - Day 6
* Great South Africans
* South African Cities (George)
* Podcast - Finding waterfalls in the mist
* Pass of the Week (the oldest unaltered pass)
* Moment of Mirth (New)
All our tours are fully booked up till the end of May. We are currently working on some new tours for the period June through to September, which will appear on our Shop & Tours page in due course. We have had many requests to repeat our training tours and as a result we will offer these introductory courses over the next 5 months, which will include 1. Basic off-road skills including dealing with ruts, washaways, side slopes, steep inclines/declines and recoveries. 2. Rock climbing techniques for beginners 3. Soft sand driving for novices. Those of you in the Western Cape that missed out on the first series, can now look forward to a repeat of these courses, which will empower you to venture off on your own with new found confidence.
We still have 4 tickets left for the Ben 10 V4 Tour, which takes place over the Easter weekend. With things starting to return to normal, this is a perfect opportunity to unshackle those city chains and Covid lockdown regulations, as you breathe in the crisp mountain air with so much incredible scenery, you will wonder why it took you so long to discover this remote part of South Africa.
You can get all the details, costs and itinerary on this link: BEN 10 V4 TOUR
After solid overnight rain, the next day turned out to be a perfect weather day. We had engaged a local guide by the name of Mzo - a smart, well spoken local young man operating a tourism business in Coffee Bay and surrounds, which included a kayak rental service.
Mzo was supposed to take us to the infamous Mpuzi Caves, where at the height of 'the struggle' the ANC apparently stored weapons. The heavy overnight rain put paid to that part of the excursion as the approach to the caves is tricky even in good weather. Instead Mzo took us to a beautiful view site on the top of a large grass covered hill providing us with a 270 coastal view of Coffee Bay. A few Nguni cattle grazed nearby and in short order some local ladies arrived offering beaded hand-made products for sale. With the major falloff in tourism due to Covid, they seemed almost desperate to do business. Our group supported them handsomely.
Whilst bead trading was in full swing, Abie got his drone airborne for some interesting group photos. From the hilltop we drove through to Hole in the Wall, where Mzo engaged four local Xhosa youngsters to look after our cars. These 'car guards' looked like they would give you grief at the drop of a hat, but Mzo assured us all would be OK.
We took as easy walk to Hole in Wall, where we were blessed with perfect weather and spring low tide. This allowed us to get really close to the famous 'hole'. The mountain hosting the hole is said to be infested with snakes. The photographic opportunities are endless and everyone had a field day taking photos and videos.
On our way back to the Ocean View Hotel, we stopped in the White Clay Pub. We had booked well in advance and it was as well as we would otherwise not have been able to get a table. The food was fabulous and the beer ice cold. The pub sits on a small hill directly overlooking the ocean with tall cliffs rising on either side. We highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the area. It is really excellent.
* Beating Covid
* Tours Update
* Wild Coast 2020 Tour - Day 5
* Great South Africans
* South African Cities
* Pass of the week
* Words of Mirth
I am happy to report that MPSA has survived Covid 19. All of the team (and we all caught the virus thanks to a visit to the local hospital by your scribe) are now almost fully recovered and officially part of the herd. Happy days!
We have four tickets left for your 2021 Ben 10 Tour which takes place over the Easter Weekend. It's a perfect opportunity to get away from the city, Covid and all its negatives and breathe in some fresh mountain air, whilst tackling the technical driving, adventure, amazing scenery and country hospitality. For full details, pricing, itinerary etc, take this link:
The Wild Coast is always full of surprises. After our lunch break not far from the Gologodwini River, we got our convoy going and very soon arrived at the river crossing. The old concrete bridge had been mostly swept away in a flood many years ago and the entrance and exit of the road on either side of the river indicated clearly the correct line to take, leaving the remnants of the old bridge to the left.
Always practising what we preach, we sent the youngest male in our group to walk the river. The honour fell on the shoulders of young Russell Watkins. As the rest of watched, Russell waded in first crossing the proposed right hand track - text book style - whilst using a hiking stick to probe for rocks and holes. The deepest side was on the far side, where the water reached his upper thigh, with the width of the river measuring in at about 30m.
If we decided to turn around, it would have meant a very long drive back to the R61 then up to the N2 and again down to Coffee Bay. It also would mean the group would miss out on the rest of the fabulous passes along our proposed route. I decided to play guinea pig and take the Land Cruiser through the river (a) as a real time test and (b) to give the other drivers some motivation to attempt the crossing. The Cruiser went across effortlessly.
We then coaxed the rest of the drivers across one by one. At that stage we had an audience of locals sitting up on the hill watching the fun amidst much cheering from those that had made it safely across. Our biggest concerns were the two Suzukis - one being a Grand Vitara and the other an old level Jimny 130, but typical of Suzuki, they both crossed successfully. Finally there was one vehicle left. Jim Rankin's VW Touareg.
Jim drove the line perfectly but as the water reached the vehicle's wading depth, the motor cut out. We towed it out with the Defender and then all the mechanical minds started figuring out how to get the vehicle going again. We spent well over an hour there, but the VW stubbornly refused to start.
The decision was made to distribute all the luggage amongst the other vehicles and Jim and Zen Rankin took up passenger seats in one of the other 4x4's. We marked the position on the GPS to ensure the recovery crew would be able to locate it. One of our guests, Tony Nicholas, had a satellite phone which Jim used to call his insurance and the VW agents in East London.
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.