* 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
A chat about Day 4 of our Wild Coast Tour – “Finding waterfalls in the mist”
Listen to the interview:
* 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.
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.
- Adventure Afrika 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..
- Adventure Afrika October 2020 edition
This pass has an inverted vertical profile typical of a pass that drops down into a river valley. There are 44 bends to contend with, including one hairpin. The pass is the first of three back to back passes that drivers have to negotiate that terminate at Port St Johns.
At 7.2 km it's well above the national average and offers an altitude variance of 180m. The pass is quite steep in places with a maximum gradient of 1:6. Although the R61 is in good shape, there are numerous dangers to contend with, which include dense mountain mists, badly behaving minibus taxis, erratic local driver behaviour which can range between ridiculously fast to frustratingly slow, plus the standard Wild Coast hazards of livestock and pedestrians. Commercial vehicles and even large trucks drive here at high speed.
This section of the R61 should be treated with the utmost caution in any weather and drivers should be alert and drive anticipating these dangers at any time.
All the dangers aside, if you have time to glance up from the road, you will see fabulous scenery, so typical of the Wild Coast. The pass is also the access point to head down to the Ntafufu River estuary where the pristine waters offer some of the best fishing in the area in magnificent settings.
* 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.
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.