* Load shedding affects everyone
* Upcoming Tours
* Road sign refurbishment project
* Wild Coast Stories
* Pass of the Week
It affects all of us and some more than others. Getting newsletters out on time is a frustrating business as they are mailed out in batches of 300 separated by a 10 minute gap. This is to avoid the newsletters being marked as spam by some servers. Often the power will unexpectedly go out smack bang in the middle of a release, causing havoc with our systems. So if you find your newsletter arriving in your inbox at odd times, that's the reason. Thank you Eskom.
At the time of writing this newsletter, there are still some places open. There is just 1 ticket available for the Wild Coast Tour and 2 tickets for the Bedrogfontein Tour. Bookings for the Bedrogfontein Tour close this Sunday. If you want to book, the full itineraries, costs, etc are available via the hyperlinks below:
Other tours in the planning:
We started this project more than a year ago and fit in signage repairs whenever we get a gap between pass filming, video production, admin and tours. We have now covered about 70% of the task at hand. Between cleaning up the 54 MPSA pass summit signs, we also clean up state owned signs as they are on our routes anyway. It's one of our ways of working towards better tourism for the future.
Initially there was a fair amount of resistance to our "Don't put stickers on road signs" campaign, but it seems as if the social media publicity campaign is starting to bear fruit, with many motorcyclists and adventure travellers offering to help us. We now have an army of people working towards the successful conclusion of the project. We could never have done it by ourselves. This is a perfect example of social media working in the right way.
From the 13th to the 16th June we will be temporarily based in Swellendam, which gives us quick access to this month's signage effort. The following signs are on our schedule for cleaning up:
[Ed note: Time and weather were uncooperative on this trip as we were only able to refurbish the signs at Tradouw, Garcia, and Seweweekspoort (2). We did however manage to film two new passes - Voetpadkloof on the R323, and the Brandrivier Pass, a tough gravel pass near the southern end of the Voetpadkloof Pass. We were also able to refilm the Jan Muller Pass as well as Cloete's Pass]
It does open the door of opportunity to run another trip to the Oudtshoorn area to complete that batch of signs.
Our journey along the Wild Coast continues....
Day 7 - Coffee Bay to Kob Inn.
The amazing weather continued as our convoy regrouped for another day of Wild Coast delights. We drove back towards Hole in the Wall, then routed inland following what appeared to be a water pipeline two spoor track through an indigenous forest. This diversion was something of a recce and so began an exceptionally beautiful experience as the track led us in many different directions, all the while remaining within the forest canopy. Shafts of bright sunlight filtered down through the trees creating a surreal atmosphere. The track was however, very rocky and muddy and it was here that Nic Treurnicht's Range Rover copped the first puncture - a sidewall cut. Low profile tyres are not a good idea on these 4x4 routes, but having said that Stephanie Fischer's Land Rover Discovery completed the entire tour without any issues (also on low profiles).
* Upcoming Tours
* A brace of new passes on the tarred R61 between Mthatha and Port St Johns
* Execution Rock
* Guests getting lost
* Mtakatyi River Valley, Mdumbi Pass, Mnenu Pass, Mthatha River Pass
* Coffee Bay, Hole in the Wall
* Dealing with car guards
* Pass of the week
Our next tour is the Bedrogfontein Tour (3rd to 6th July). This thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing tour is a good mix of relaxed game viewing, great points of interest, two long technical passes and of course the anchor of this tour is the Bedrogfontein 4x4 Route which traces the journey of Jan Smuts's commando as he evaded the British troops during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, then ambushed them in a deep kloof on this very route. The historical aspect of this tour is significant.
Tickets are going fast. At time of publishing this newsletter there were 6 places open. Click on the link below for the full itinerary, pricing and terms.
All the final touches and improvements have been added to the next Wild Coast Tour, which is scheduled to take place between the 10th and 20th November, 2021. This tour will be loaded by Friday 11th June and details can be sourced via the same link above.
For our 3rd Wild Coast Tour, we have increased the tour from 9 to 10 days to allow for shorter travel distances and more leisure time for beach walks, swimming, photography, canoeing and more. We have also added in several new accomodation venues, which include Mngazi River Bungalows, The Haven and Wavecrest, but other favourites remain like Mbotyi River Lodge, Ocean View Hotel, Kob Inn and Crawfords Beach Cottages. This tour will more than likely be fully booked within a week, so if you were keen on attending, make sure to go online on Friday and secure your place.
We continue with our story along the Wild Coast.
The day dawned with the promise of another day of perfect weather. We had arranged this trip in what was probably the best weather window of the year (and unlikely to ever be repeated again), but all that clear dry weather plays host to lots of dust. We were hoping for a nice cross wind to help clear the dust away quickly, but no such luck. Very fine particles of dust like talcum powder hung in the air, causing our convoy to stretch up to 5 km from front to back. That in turn, impacts negatively on the clarity of radio comms. The secret is to find a happy balance.
We left Port St Johns River Lodge at 08.30 after a hearty breakfast with all vehicles having full tanks of fuel. The two Jimny drivers were a little nervous about their limited range, but we carried 20 litres of spare fuel for them in the Land Cruiser, should one of them not make the destination from a fuel point of view. As things turned out, the concerns were in vain.
We drove along the newly reconstructed R61 route towards Mthatha, via a string of passes, which included the Isinuka Poort, Butyabuse Pass, Mngazi River Pass and the Tutor Ndamase Pass, before leaving the tar for the Mlengana Pass, with its famous Execution Rock.
At the main viewpoint we had the great pleasure of watching a flock of African Harrier Hawks soaring below and above us. Execution Rock is an impressive slab of rock. It rises up out of the surrounding hills in 100m vertical cliff faces. It's a really impressive sight, but as impressive as it is, the real story is not nearly as dramatic as the name suggests. Some white colonial cartographer had heard a story about a Xhosa king who executed his enemies by throwing them off a rock. Scouting the area, when he saw this mountain, he (not unreasonably) assumed it was the place where the executions took place. The real place is much further down the Mngazi River Valley and is not nearly as impressive. That first map noting it as Execution Rock stuck and remains to this day having been copied and recopied by many more cartographers after the first 'myth-take'
We reconnected with the R61 near the foot of the Tutor Ndamase Pass and back-tracked to the village of Thombo, where we turned right, still on tar, heading for the Isilimela Mission. There were many rivers crossed, with the first being the Mngazana River. We left the tar near Mpande and took an interesting detour towards the coast past the 18m high Big Jump Falls (which we never saw).
* Winter has arrived with a wham!
* Waterfall Bluff/Cathedral Rock - Day of the Ticks
* Fraser and Angel Falls
* Magwa Falls
* The winding road to Port St Johns
* Mngazi River Mouth
* PSJ Airport drag races
Winter has arrived right on schedule with good snowfalls over the Drakensberg, Lesotho and as far south as the Swartberg. Temperatures have plummeted and heavy rains have fallen along the Wild Coast - in some places more than 200mm in 48 hours. It would seem the weather gods smiled on us as our Wild Coast Tour slotted in between two rainy spells, providing us with 10 clear, sunny days. It pays to be connected!
Part of doing these off the beaten track tours is dealing with bad weather, road hazards, mud and dust. Although we had sublime weather, some of the roads had that talcum powder like dust that hangs in the air for ages, and more so if there is no wind. It's a small price to pay for one of the best adventure tours available in South Africa.
Day 3 dawned sunny, but with a fresh south westerly breeze. This was the day we were scheduled to forsake the joys and comforts of our 4x4's and climb aboard Shank's Pony for a healthy hike to Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock. First we had to drive the two hour loop from Mbotyi to Lupathana where the hike begins. This is the shorter of the 2 options, with the longer being directly from Mbotyi up the coast to the waterfall - a 14 km hike one way!
The drive to Lupathana is in itself something of an adventure and it was on this road that one of the Suzuki Jimnys chose the wrong driving line and ended up getting stuck - good and solid. With the help of Jeff Ashbolt and Rodney Buchan, the little Jimny was soon recovered, with only the driver's ego being a little dented.
We use a local guide (Armstrong) to guide the group for the day for two reasons. It puts some cash flow back into the local economy and feeds one extended family for more than 2 months. Adding a local guide to the mix, is also most enjoyable for our guests who appreciate the genuine warmth and friendliness of the locals as well his intimate knowledge of the area. Armstrong is a wiry little guy, but man, is he strong! He has a handshake like a vice-grip. He is also a provincial level fisherman and offers guided fishing trips. He supplements his income by selling his catches to the local hotels, lodges and guest houses as well as own consumption.
The Toleni Pass is named after the village and river that it traverses. It's located on the busy N2 route roughly 19 km to the south east of Butterworth. The pass is 6.8 km in length and displays an altitude variance of 244m with a maximum altitude at its northern summit of 720m ASL.
The road is well engineered and modern with 13 bends.corners and curves to contend with. As is the case with many of the passes in this part of the Eastern Cape, drivers need to be aware of livestoick on the road (this is particularly hazardous at night). Other hazards include minibus taxis, very slow moving traffic as well as very fast traffic. Mountain mists are also common here, which adds another element of danger.
Stick to the speed limits or slower and watch out for rampant barrier line infringements
Following the gorgeous rock pool shortly after the Paarde Vley section, the road rises from the 11th km mark over a small neck and then begins descending once again down a narrower section of the kloof (just over 1 km wide). Immediately to your left (south), you will get a good view of the towering Kariegasberg with a summit of 2 053 m.
- Adventure Afrika Issue 8 2021 edition
Gamkaskloof is surrounded by the Swartberg Nature Reserve and winds through 37 km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass. It ends in the Gamkaskloof – reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).
- Adventure Afrika May/June 2021 edition
* Wild Coast - Prologue
* Mountain Lake Nature Reserve
* Mariazell Mission
* Day 2 - Matat to Mbotyi
* Pass of the week
It's something of a culture shock arriving back in a big city with its traffic congestion, sirens and shopping malls after spending two weeks in the Wild Coast. This tour was without doubt our most successful ever, thanks to an exceptionally nice bunch of guests (with some real characters which we will get to a bit later), brilliant weather and hospitable locals. But let's start at the beginning. Our guests ranged from age 51 to 75 (evenly spread between male and female) and included 80% repeat business, which is always a good sign that we are doing most things right, most of the time. Everyone arrived in Matatiele on Thursday, 13th May ready for the big adventure.
Our routing up from Cape Town took us via the R60 via Robertson, Ashton (where that big arched bridge is scheduled to be moved sideways on August 18th), Swellendam, Riversdale - up Garcia's Pass to Ladismith, Calitzdorp, Oudtshoorn, De Rust, Uniondale, Willowmore, Graaff Reinet - over the Wapadsberg Pass arriving in Cradock around 5.30pm where we overnighted at the Victoria Hotel. This must be one of the best hospitality deals in South Africa in large, well appointed and comfortable suites with excellent food to boot. One thing you can rest assured of on this tour is that you will return home at least 2 kg heavier!
The next day, after meeting up with our sweep (Philip Wantling) we drove to Tarkastad (where the roadworks are still static) and on to Queenstown, following the R470 via Lady Frere, Cala, Elliot, Maclear and finally Matatiele where Resthaven Guest House's owners, Elrita and Philip Rawlins were waiting to welcome us. We arrived a day early as the next day we had kept open to film Ramatselito's Pass just north of Matat.
On Wednesday 12th Philip Wantling and I took the Cruiser up to the border post at Rama's Nek (Ramatselitso's Nek) and filmed the big pass with its majestic views and steep gradients in perfect weather. This pass will be produced and indexed onto the MPSA site in the next 10 days.
Once the guests started arriving, it was registration, radio fitments and tyre deflation. We always have one or two people who are reluctant to deflate their tyres and on this tour there were a few non-believers. We never insist on tyre deflation, so those who want to drive on hard tyres have to suffer the consequences of the Transkei roads!
With only 3 vehicles being new to MPSA tours out of the 13, the group gelled very quickly and the Mad Medics from Jhb in their low slung Land Rover Discovery XS, immediately set the tone with zany humour and much giggling and laughter, which would continue throughout the tour. It proved to be infectious as soon the whole group were laughing.
Convoy make-up: Toyota Land Cruisers 100/105 series x 2, Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series x 1, Toyota Prado x 1, Toyota Land Cruiser 70 series x 1,Land Rover Discovery 3 x 1, Range Rover x 1, Suzuki Jimny x 2, Mitsubishi Pajero x 1, Nissan Patrol x 1, Nissan Navara x 1, Jeep Wrangler x 1.
We had a leisurely start of 9 am scheduled for the day. Philip Rawlins rode up front with me in the Cruiser and provided expert local commentary over the radios. We climbed almost 500m in altitude up the mountains to the south of Matatiele with sweeping views over the Drakensberg in the far distance to arrive at Mountain Lake.
This beautiful lake has crystal clear spring fed water and is quite big at 1,6 km long and about 800m wide. The depth is reputed to be about 8m. The waters are only used when the main dam lower down the mountain runs low. Fishing is popular up at the lake but make sure you have a permit. One of the Mad Medics team, Stuart Miller, was quick to strip down and take a dive into the lake, which is chilly at this time of year, but the mad medics were big on swimming as we got to know them throughout the tour.
* Wild Coast Tour
* Bedrogfontein Tour planned for June 2021
* Cry the Beloved Railway (Part 2)
* Crossing the Kraai River
* Pass of the Week
As you read this newsletter we are driving from Coffee Bay to Kob Inn as part of our Wild Coast 2021 Tour. We will, as always, provide a full account of the whole adventure on our return. We seem to have packaged exactly the right amount of fun, relaxation, exercise and adrenaline that meets our client's needs as this tour was fully booked shortly after we launched it and we've had a long list of names on the waiting list.
As soon as we're back, we will be launching our upgraded Bedrogfontein Tour scheduled for June, which includes a fine balance of technical driving, jaw-dropping scenery as well as a day in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we use the convenience of being connected by radio, which allows the grouop to spread out over the park and call each other when there is a good game sighting.
The highlight of this tour is of course the Bedrogfontein 4x4 Route, where we visit the actual battle site where Jan Smuts' commando won a decisive battle against the British forces. The route is varied and packed with game like warthogs, kudu and other antelope. The dates of this tour will be announced soon.
(If you missed part 1 you can simply scroll back to last week's newsletter to catch up)
CROSSING THE KRAAI RIVER
Twice crossed by the railway line, the West Kraai River crossing is 27 km from Aliwal North. At the time of its construction, it required a fairly substantial bridge, which could only be completed about six months after the completion of the rest of the section. (Pre-dating the production of structural steel in South Africa, bridges had to be imported from overseas, mostly Britain, which incurred long delays.)
In March 1925 the original bridge was washed away, cutting New England off , and there ensued a series of three hastily erected temporary bridges, but they in turn were also washed away. On June 25, after a rail interruption of more than three months, a fourth temporary bridge restored regular service. During the first part of the interruption, there were no locomotives on the Barkly East side of the break, and some goods (mostly coal and mealie-meal) had to be transported by trolley.
May brought more rain, and the mountains were white with snow. Supplies of food, coal and paraffin ran very low in Barkly East. Before its foundations were damaged, the third temporary bridge remained in service just long enough to allow two engines to cross to the Barkly East side of the break. Passengers had to cross the river in a boat at their own risk and goods were hauled across the river using two aerial wire cables. Partial service was thus restored. One year later, in March 1926, the fourth temporary bridge was washed away and finally a permanent bridge was constructed by 30 July 1926. In exasperation the local newspaper (Barkly East Reporter) cried: “The whole affair has been a glaring example of how not to do things!”
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.