* State of Disaster
* Tours updates
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge (Day 2 & 3)
* Dawid se Kop
* The Castle Vulture Colony
* Jouberts Pass
* Railway History
* Pass of the week
* New videos and passes added
There are some odd things going on in government circles where the decision is all but fait accompli to end the State of Disaster (an appropriate play on words) on April 15th, but they are also tampering with the National Health Act to change it so that the government will still retain the ability and powers of controlling the population with the same powers as per the state of disaster. So the change is merely smoke and mirrors. More importantly is that discrimination of unvaccinated people should also come to an end and for the economy to return to normality as soon as possible. Covid-19 has dealt a heavy blow to thousands of businesses and seriously affected the economy.
Tourism and hospitality were first in line victims of Covid and now that the pandemic is virtually over, the sector can now finally get back into gear and start rebuilding.
Tickets are still available for upcoming tours. Details available here:
We had a heavy rain forecast for the day, so we moved the rest day into place and allowed our guests to sleep in a little later. At breakfast time I noticed that the cloud cover was higher than the Sentech towers on Dawid se Kop (2500m) and thought it was worth the risk of driving up there, before the rain settled in for the day. Despite it being the rest day we had an almost full turnout for the excursion, with the notable absentee being Marco who had the very legitimate excuse of having a new set of tyres fitted at Supa Quick in Elliot. It's worth mentioning the owner of Supa Quick was ready, willing and able to open his shop for Marco on a Sunday. Give that man a Bells and please support his business.
We left Mountain Shadows Hotel at 09.30 and drove the little known Fetcani Pass on the R396 towards Mosheshes Ford. After about 8 km we arrived at the turn-off to Sarel Vorster's lovely farm. We signed the register at the farm (we had made prior arrangements for the visit) and soon got into the swing of opening and closing farm gates, making sure no livestock escaped into the adjacent fields.
Soon we arrived at the foot of one of the steepest roads in the area. It doesn't have a name other than the service road to the Sentech Towers at Dawid se Kop. The steepest parts are concreted or strip concreted where the gradients get extremely steep, to the point that 2nd gear low range is required to make it up the last bits where it gets as steep as 1:3. The traction is however very good, but even so, drivers have to keep their wits about them as the road is narrow.
This interesting pass was built by the military in the 1980's and provides a safe all-weather pass for technicians to service the microwave and other towers at the summit point, where seven distinct peaks are known as the Seven Sisters. The quality of the road, although narrow, is very good with cuttings, good drainage and camber included in the construction. The views are spectacular for want of a better superlative and as there is to all intents and purposes no traffic, the area is wild and remote, despite its proximity to nearby Wellington and Paarl. Wildlife abounds with antelope and leopards being seen fairly often.
Statistically it's impressive too gaining 500m of altitude over 6 km, which produces an average gradient of 1:12, but the steeper sections ramp up to 1:5. Traction is good, except when there is snow around, in which case a 4WD vehicle is mandatory. The road is controlled by Cape Nature, Telkom, SA Government and private land owners and is restricted. We have added it to our database so the public can get a feel of what it's like via our video.
We chat about days 2 & 3 of the recent Ben 10 Eco Challenge which includes Dawid se Kop, The Castle Vulture Colony, Jouberts Pass and the Otto du Plessis Pass.
Listen to the interview:
* Out & About
* Trips & Tours
* Ben 10 V5 Tour - Day 1
* Pass of the week
Covid is on its way out. Travel restrictions have been lifted and this will create a surge in bookings - especially by international travellers. The travel and tourism sector of the economy is amongst those the most badly affected by the pandemic. For many the easing of restrictions has come too late and for those remaining, we hope there is now finally some light at the end of the tunnel. It has without doubt changed the way South Africans are thinking about travel as can be attested by the high levels of bookings on MPSA tours, which precluded PCR tests and other similar off-putting requirements. We are just waiting for Lesotho to come to the party to drop those requirements as well, when a new tour to Lesotho by MPSA will be on the cards.
Beautiful Western Cape autumn weather coupled with a long weekend presented a few opportunities to get out and explore. We decided to upgrade our video footage on the Du Toitskloof Pass (N1), so set aside Saturday 19th March for the task. Most people have no idea how tricky it is filming a major mountain pass. Du Toitskloof Pass is specifically difficult due to the fact that it runs along the east-west axis. Then there is the big lighting adaptation as the tunnel is entered and exited, coupled with heavy traffic. We have filmed this pass no less than six times, seldom achieving a stellar result. The current version is quite good, other than the remnants of a bug on the camera lens, which created a soft orange blur on the video. There is only a small time frame where the lighting is OK for the whole pass and that is from 11h45 to 12h15. Any time out of that slot, creates heavy shadows or over exposure.
There is a road leading away up the mountainside near the summit of the old Du Toitskloof Pass, barred by a sturdy locked gate. I have always wondered about that road. Since I was going to film the Du Toitskloof Pass, I decided to follow up on a long standing offer of a friend, Kuba Miszewski (yes he is Polish), to organise access for the day. I picked Kuba up mid morning from his cottage in the mountains on the slopes of the Hawequa Mountains in Wellington. Kuba does voluntary work for Mountain Rescue and is intimately familiar with the terrain. He took me up a dodgy jeep track through pine plantations, to join the R101 at the old pass' summit point. Various snippets of valuable information was pointed out by Kuba - like the old manganese mine and some of the original pylon bases for the aerial cableway - as we headed east to Rawsonville to our turnaround point to film the N1 Du Toitskloof Pass from east to west. We started filming exactly at 11h45.
After filming the pass (which went very well), we returned to the summit point via the R101 filming panoramics of the Hugospoort Viaduct as well as the tunnel entrance point. We turned off the R101 and accessed the narrow tarred road via the locked gates. Looking at the tamper-proof system on those gates, I reckon it will take a Houdini of sorts to work their way opening all those catches and locks, coupled with electronic access codes via Cape Nature.
* Trips & Tours
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge report back
* Pass of the week
It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of one of our guests, who had a vehicle accident on the N1 on his way home after the Ben 10 V5 Tour. Peter Pienaar was a passenger with his friend, Bob Selman. For both of them the tour was an off-road adventure of note. They were both funny and full of beans throughout the tour and enjoyed themselves immensely. After the tour, their plan was to drive from Rhodes to Beaufort West for a sleepover, then arrive home in Cape Town the following day. On arrival in Beaufort West they were unable to find accommodation, so they decided to push straight through to Cape Town. Peter sent his wife an SMS to that effect.
They took turns driving and at 01.30 near Touws River, Peter fell asleep behind the wheel. The vehicle left the road and crashed into a donga. Bob (85) was badly injured with broken ribs, sternum and collar bone, internal injuries and injuries to his hands. Peter was shaken but OK. In the pitch darkness he scrambled up the embankment to wave down a passing truck for help. The driver didn't see him and Peter was killed instantly. We extend our condolences to Peter's wife, Joan, and his extended family and friends. May he rest in peace.
Bob was taken to the Medi Clinic in Worcester where he remains at the time of writing. We wish him a speedy recovery.
I invited Peter to drive up front with me in the Land Cruiser during the TTT as there were many gates to open. He gladly took up the offer and I spent a wonderful two and a half hours getting to know Peter. He knew his wife, Joan, for 54 years. Peter shared some funny and personal moments of his life with me. The hurt still lies deep to think that was the last I would ever see of him.
We've had two cancellations for each of the Wild Coast Tours. Bring a friend and come and enjoy a fabulous Wild Coast adventure.
Next Tour is in May (4th to 15th) - Wild Coast Pondoland Tour (2 places available)
16th to 24th May - Wild Coast Mbashe Tour (2 places available)
10th to 15th July - Swartberg Classic Tour (1 place available)
Our 5th Ben 10 Challenge was simply epic. If you wanted adventure, stunning scenery, technical driving and no dust, then this was the tour to be on. We had rain on every day of the tour, which kept the mud factor high and everyone on their toes. It also completely eliminated the dust factor. Six punctures, multiple recoveries, deep water crossings and lots of road building kept everyone busy in a good sort of way.
We chat about the final day of the recent Wild Coast V3 Tour, and the soty of how the Ben 10 Eco Challenge was born and its evolution.
Listen to the interview:
* Ben 10 V5 Eco Challenge
* Trips & Tours
* Focus on the Du Toitskloof Pass
* Pass of the week
The Ben 10 V5 Eco Challenge was completed yesterday. By next week we will start producing the stories and action of how things went. As you read this newsletter we will be on the road travelling back from Rhodes for our overnight stop in Wilderness and then back to our HQ in Cape Town tomorrow.
If you fancy joining us for a tour, you can review what's available with full itineraries and pricing on our Shop & Tours page here:
Du Toitskloof Pass is located in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, on the regional route R101 between Paarl and Worcester. It was initially an animal track where a road was built around the time of World War II, including a 200m tunnel still in use today. Since the opening of the 3,9 km Huguenot Tunnel in 1988, the pass no longer forms part of the N1 national road and was renumbered as R101.
Originally 48 km long, the pass climbed to 820 metres. The Huguenot Tunnel, opened in 1988, is the largest curved structure in South Africa and shortens the road by 11 kilometres and is operated as a toll road. There is an impressive viaduct on the Paarl approach side, known as the Hugospoort Viaduct. It has gained some notoriety for being highly dangerous during periods of strong to gale force south easterly winds, which have the capacity to turn large trucks over. Similarly any high sided unladen delivery trucks as well as caravans have suffered this fate many times since it opened to traffic.
The surrounding peaks often sport a covering of snow and the Mountain Club of South Africa has huts in the area. Du Toits Peak is the highest mountain at 1,995 metres.
Prior to 1825, farmers used the pass to get to the interior beyond. Another pass became the better route and in 1845, the route over the Bainskloof Pass was constructed, named after engineer Andrew Geddes Bain.
* Goodbye Covid, hello Ukraine
* Trips & Tours
* The Ben 10 Story
* Pass of the week.
It's something of a relief that Covid-19, which has completely dominated and saturated most media platforms for the last two years, (to the point of irritating absurdity) is finally on the wane - and fast too. In many (civilized) countries around the world, Covid has been officially declared pandemic non-grata - no more masks; no more PCR tests, no more proof of vaccinations. Poof! Just like that. It makes one wonder?
However, the Russian story now dominating the world press is quite scary and suddenly South Africa seems to be one of the safest places in the world. The irony!
We are leaving this morning on our 5th Ben 10 Eco Challenge official tour. Looking at the weather forecast for the area, we are going to be doing some slipping & sliding. The Ben 10 never fails to attract adventurers and this year is no exception with the tour being fully booked. We have amended the routes and have taken advantage of the reopening of the Rhodes Hotel which allows us to spend two nights there, thereby shortening the distances considerably. We will provide a blow by blow account of all the action in the weeks to follow.
We still have two places available on the Wild Coast Tours in May as well as two places on the Swartberg Tour in July. Use the links below to review the itineraries and pricing:
WILD COAST TOUR V4 PONDOLAND (6th - 15th May)
WILD COAST TOUR V5 MBASHE (16th - 24th May)
SWARTBERG CLASSIC 2022 (10th - 15th July)
2016 - Whilst planning the filming of the big high altitude passes in the Eastern Cape Highlands in 2015, we were approached by one of the partners of Tiffindell, Lew Campbell. He wanted to attract more visitors to the ski resort and invited us to film the rugged two spoor track up to the summit. At that stage it had no name, but the summit peak bore the name of Ben MacDhui - originally named after a peak in the Scottish Highlands. The obvious choice of name had to be the Ben MacDhui Pass.
We formulated an agreement that if the pass was to be indexed into the MPSA database, that the public would be allowed free access to the pass, subject to each guest signing an indemnity form, but no access would be allowed during the prime snow season (June to August) as the track ran across the ski slope. Later Tiffindell bulldozed a separate track that allowed access to the pass without having to cross the ski slope.
This pass should not be confused with the Skurweberg Pass in Mpumalanga. This is a more sedate pass, almost a country road really, that climbs up to the summit and descends down the other side and runs along the east-west axis. At 12.5 km it's on the long side and sports 22 bends, corners and curves of which only two are sharp at 90 degrees. Its mild gradients hide the considerable altitude gain of 341m where the steepest sections measure out at 1:7.
The pass is located 33 km to the north-west of Vryheid in KZN and is easily accessible via the tarred R33 route. It forms a connecting farm road with Utrecht some 35 km to the west. The pass is doable in any vehicle in fair weather.
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.