* Trips and Tours
* Delays on Bain's Kloof Pass
* Wild Coast Tour Day 8
* Collywobbles and Mbashe Bam
* Pass of the Week
The next tour coming up is the Bedrogfontein Tour from July 3rd to 6th. A three day expedition over some of the most spectacular and tricky gravel passes in the Addo area, including the Zuurberg Pass, Doringnek Pass, Paardepoort and the Bedrogfontein Pass and 4x4 route where Oom Jannie Smuts gave the British a good lesson in bush warfare during the Battle of Bedrogfontein. There is still one spot open. Bookings close this Friday.
The next Wild Coast Tour (Nov 10th to 20th) is fully booked.
We are holding back on tours scheduled for August until we know which way the Covid 3 land lies.
The contractor (Baseline) doing the upgrading work on the historical Bain's Kloof Pass, have hit a number of snags, which will result in the previous reopening date of November 2021, being rescheduled to March 2022. During the Christmas break, the pass will be opened to the general public from Dec 17th 2021 to Jan 5th 2022. So if you've been missing a drive over the old pass, head out that way over the Christmas holidays. In the meantime, you can always take a cyber drive of the pass here:
Bain's Kloof Pass.
Our second last day of the tour dawned calm and sunny making for perfect conditions for vulture spotting. A visit to the vulture colony at Cobbywobbles is always a very popular part of the itinerary, but it can be a long day, so we requested an earlier start and had the convoy on the road by 08h30.
Before long we were in Willowvale where some of the vehicles needed to refuel. Our routing followed the R349 down the Shixini River Valley. This has always been a typical Transkei minor road of little economic importance, but some major roadworks are currently underway rebuilding this road into what looks like, will be a major tarred road. But why - and where does it go to? Careful studies of the maps show no possible reason for such a major expense. However, it will most certainly make the journey from Willowvale to Collywobbles a lot faster than it currently is.
The going was slow negotiating all the stop-go's and detours around the new roadworks as we saw some impressive new bridges under construction. Our route headed NNE as we dropped down into the beautiful Nqabara River Valley, before climbing up some very steep hills with incredible views, as we steadily made progress towards Collywobbles.
* 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.
* 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!”
* Friendly Matat & Magical Mbotyi
* Filming of Ramatselitso's Pass
* Cry the beloved railway (Part 1)
* Crossing the Karringmelkspruit
* Podcast - A chat about days 2 and 3 of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge
* Pass of the week
As you read this newsletter we are already based in Matatiele, which is our rendezvous point for the Wild Coast 2021 Tour. The minimum temperatures hover between -1C and 3C at this time of here, so its a cold start to the tour, but by the time we reach Mbotyi at the coast, the maximum/minimum temperatures improve a lot to 23C/14C on average. We base ourselves at Resthaven Guest House for the first 2 days of the tour, where our hosts, Philip & Elrita Rawlins move heaven and earth to ensure our group is comfortable, well fed and happy.
We will be filming Ramatselitso's Pass before the tour starts. This pass has evaded our attentions for almost 8 years and persistently given us the bird mainly due to unsuitable weather. We last drove this pass in 2012 when it was a seriously challenging 4x4 route. Since then the steeper parts have been concrete paved which should make our camera work a lot easier.
The area has had a very wet summer and autumn, so we are expecting plenty of slipping and sliding on this tour as well as a number of bridgeless river crossings to contend with. Our routing tomorrow takes us up to Mountain Lake high above Matatiele as well as a visit to the Mariazell Mission, which is always a big hit with our guests.
On Saturday we say farewell to friendly Matat and head south on gravel via the Nungi Pass and Colonanek both which offer sublime high altitude scenery. We then do a short section on the N2 before turning south to Tabankulu and on to the magnificent Mzintlava Pass, which will be the highlight of the day. We will dodge the taxis, dogs, goats and cattle in Lusikisiki and descend all the way to the coast at Mbotyi, where we will spend two nights and includes a hike to Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock.
Along the mountainous border of Lesotho, between Aliwal North and Barkly East, ran what was arguably the most scenic branch railway line in South Africa. Railway enthusiasts also know the line for the famous set of eight reverses (or switchbacks) that negotiate the difficult terrain of the Witteberge in the southern foothills of the Drakensberg. Although relatively short in length, its overall construction period was unduly long (28 years), spanning from March 1903 to December 1930, and included the puzzling abandonment of an essentially completed and particularly striking section. What circumstances interfered? Because of conflicting explanations, and other questions, a group of five civil engineers visited the disused line during October 2012, seeking answers to their questions. Comprising what came to be known as the 2012 Barkly East Railway Reverses Tour (BERRT), the participants offer these findings, hoping other engineers and enthusiasts will visit this remarkable branch line in a magnificent part of South Africa.
* Adam Kok's epic journey
* Pass of the week
This is a story about a family’s incredible journey. It’s also about a moving frontier of love, deception and violence.
A hint of its inner boundary is given in the Historical Atlas of South Africa by EA Walker, published in 1922. From Hondeklip Bay to Burgersdorp is a shaded area: “The Colony’s Northern Frontier, 1798-1824.” In this area during the 18th century lived Boer farmers, /Xam hunters, Khoekhoen pastoralists, slaves, runaways and fugitives from colonial justice – all cooperating, squabbling, cohabiting and, from time to time, killing each other.
As settlers with greater firepower claimed more and more land, the shaded area was pushed ever northwards. Within it was a polyglot of pastoral people who came to be known simply as ‘Bastaards’. They would be led by the Kok family and theirs was to be a journey that would make the Great Trek look like a brief adventure.
Around 1710 a son was born to a female slave and an unidentified Dutchman and named Adam Kok. While still in his 20s he gathered around him a band of men displaced from their lands by Boer inroads or were evading conscription into the colonial commandos. Adam married his beloved Donna Gogosathe, the Goringhaiqua daughter of a Khoi chief (from where the name Griqua would later be derived) and began farming beyond the colonial frontier just north of what is now Piketberg.
Having links to both the colony and Khoi tribes to the north, he and his fellow Bastaards formed a convenient buffer, which the Cape authorities recognised by awarding him a staff of office and the title of Kaptyn. This didn’t stop Boers moving up the west coast, forcing Kok and his people to trek across the Cederberg and Kamiesberg into the vastness of the Central Karoo, then northwards to the banks of the Orange River.
Griqua encampment at Klaarwater
Adam’s son, Cornelius, met John Phillip of the London Missionary Society and was baptised in about 1800. It wasn’t long before Christianity had spread to the entire Bastaard nation.
The society had established a mission beside some springs and named it Klaarwater (clear water). Calling people bastards didn’t sit well with the missionaries. Following their urgings, the Bastaards approved the name Griqua and the mission village was renamed Griquatown.
Life in mid-19th century Griquatown was not easy. There were cattle raids and skirmishes by Ndebele, Koranna, Bergenaars and San bands, and demands by the Colony for commando duty. In addition, internal power struggles resulted in a rebellion and a shift by the Kok clan to Campbell.
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge - Report back (Day 5)
* Bottelnek Valley & Pass
* Bastervoetpad - A challenging drive
* Technical driving over tricky obstacles
* Valetta farm
* Passes of the Week
Monday 5th April dawned crisp and clear with the convoy ready to roll at 0800 sharp. There was an air of anticipation as this was the final day of the challenge and the infamous Bastervoetpad Pass lay in wait for us. We did our standard 10 km tyre arm-up drill, then turned right off the R58 about halfway to Barkly East, onto a minor gravel road labelled Bottelnek (P2895). This road routes first into the east for a long drive up the Bottelnek Valley, then ascends steeply to the summit of the Bottelnek Pass, which is followed by a moderate descent into the west, where the road later intersects with the R393.
The 5,1 km long pass has an altitude variance of 193 metres to summit at 2204m ASL producing an average gradient of 1:26 with the steepest sections being at 1:5. In wet weather non 4WD vehicles will have traction issues. It snows regularly on this pass during winter and the usual snow-driving cautionaries apply. Although this pass can be driven in a normal sedan, we would rather recommend a high clearance vehicle and definitely a 4x4 in rainy or muddy conditions. Currently this is the pass that replaces the Ben MacDhui Pass until such time that particular situation has resolved itself.
Regardless of which direction you drive this pass, you are in for a visual treat at either end, as the access roads take the traveller through some beautiful Eastern Cape landscapes of swiftly flowing rivers, green grass covered hillsides, towering mountains with spectacular sandstone outcrops in weird and wonderful shapes, with tall poplar trees and evergreens lining the road side. It's as if time has stood still here. The access road can get very muddy during the rainy season so non 4WD vehicles are more likely to get stuck than on the pass itself.
The access road, which is about 9 km long, passes through several farms on its path eastwards, including Redbrook, Rosehill. Sonskyn and finally Singleton. There are some beautiful examples of old sandstone sheds, homes and outbuildings reflecting the austere, but practical Scottish settler influence. Horses, cattle, sheep and goats are frequently found on the roadway but the going is normally slower than 25 kph, which allows ample time to stop timeously. The Bottelnekspruit Valley road also offers some fabulous sandstone formations.
The drive up the valley and the pass presented no problems for any of our group, as we stopped at the summit to enjoy the sunny weather and wide vistas. Challenge pass #9 had just been completed, but Bastervoetpad was waiting.
We gave all the drivers a thorough 4x4 pep talk over the radios as we continued on the gravel road section from the Bottelnek Pass to the start of Bastervoetpad. The approach road through some pleasant farmland almost lulls one into a false sense of security. Suddenly a fairly new concrete culvert style bridge signals the start of the drama.
Immediately after the bridge, the road takes a rapid turn for the worse, with large embedded rocks, loose stones and little streams of water creating mud. We had everyone change to low range before the western ascent began. Although the road was really rough, no-one had any issues to be overly concerned about and 25 minutes later we were all standing at the summit enjoying what is probably the best view in South Africa from a motorable mountain pass. We had close to perfect weather as guests gazed over the hills and ravines with the towering Drakensberg marching off towards the left in serried ranks of buttresses interspersed with deep green gullies and ravines.
* Table Mountain blaze
* Report back Ben 10 Eco Challenge Day 4
* Rhodes Village
* Road sign refurbishment
* Naudes Nek Pass
* Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse
* Pass of the week
Last Sunday Cape Town endured a savage mountain fire. Not withstanding the best fire fighting equipment available, a strong south easterly wind played havoc with flare ups and in a similar way that Knysna burnt a few years ago, burning embers were carried to rooftops and buildings. The loss of art and history at UCT is massive and of course that much loved landmark, Mostert's Mill with its attractive thatched roof also burnt to the ground.
On our social media pages we tend to stay away from negativity, but we did publish a photo of the burnt out mill with a short caption. If ever you wondered why bad news sells, then that post proved a point. The highly emotional topic drew comments from far and wide, many of them being ridiculous and blaming politicians for the blaze. It took a lot of moderating for the rest of the day trying to keep those emotional embers damped down.
So here we are just three days later - the wind has died down to a whisper; the fires are under control; a few arrests have been made. The city, Sanparks and other NGO's are going to have to put their heads together and find some solutions. It would seem that the big thorny issue appears to be homeless people. Their numbers have grown enormously since the first lockdown. No-one really wants to deal with it. Its a political hot potato. Shacks and tents are mushrooming up in streets all over the city and many vagrants seek the sanctity of the mountain as a place of safety. They make fires for cooking and warmth. And whoosh!
It always pays to make an early start when attempting the Ben 10 as the distances are fairly long and there are invariably unknown factors that quickly chew up time. Up till this point we had not a single mechanical failure, no punctures and no recoveries. Our team were all driving like pros.
We were on the road punctually at 0800 for our 4th and penultimate day of the tour where our routing would take us up the R393, over the Bokspruit Pass to Rhodes and from there up the Naude's Nek Pass, followed by the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (TTT), then down the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass back to Rhodes and on to Mosheses Ford and Barkly East, returning to our base after roughly 300 km of gravel road driving.
The drive to Rhodes was uneventful and pleasant in the soft early morning light, but we passed two other convoys also doing the challenge passes, requiring a short wait from time to time as vehicles from the different groups became mixed. We stopped in Rhodes for almost an hour to allow our guests to explore the village at their own pace.
The village of Rhodes is the focal point of tourism in this remote and high altitude part of the Eastern Cape. Rhodes exudes a timeless charm and beauty. The Victorian era village dating back to 1880 was declared a national conservation area in 1997. It is surrounded by sparkling rivers and majestic mountains, making it an ideal getaway for adventure lovers and those seeking a break from the stresses of city life. It is the only complete village in SA that is a national monument from end to end.
Amongst the many attractions in Rhodes, one can visit the Rhodes Hotel or the Walkerbout Inn. One can also get accommodation at the Lovedale and Parkade farms, Kinmell Guest Farm, Welgemoed Trout Lodge, Rubicon Flats or the Rhodes Retreat. For those wanting to camp, the village has a well-shaded, but basic caravan park as well.
The town has a range of accommodation options. It is a wonderful place to visit for the adventure set (road running, hiking and mountain biking are big sports here) or just a sleepy, restful and friendly haven for stressed out city folk to rejuvenate their souls. The Walkerbouts Inn proprietor, Ian Walker, is a font of knowledge on the area. If you're a history buff, that's the place to go.
Whilst our sweep, Barrie Barnardt made sure the convoy regrouped timeously, we went ahead in the lead vehicle to resurrect the battered and abused sign board at the Naude's Nek view-site. A sort of pro-bono gift to the state.
Although weather conditions were good, it was a bit chilly and a cool wind was starting to build (mountain pass necks are always windy places). We first had to scrape off every last bit of glue, paint, UV tainted stickers as well as the original decals which were close to being illegible. It took a long time. We had planned on fixing this sign before we left Cape Town and were armed with two canisters of green base spray paint as well as new 3M reflective decals. This is not one of the MPSA sign boards, but based on the state of what it looked like, the Eastern Cape government don't appear to be too interested in refurbishing their signs, so we did it for them.
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.