In this newsletter we continue with our story on the Swartberg Classic Tour. This chapter deals with the drive from the Meiringspoort to Prince Albert.
Meet the heroine of our tour - Liesel Fowler. Always bright and happy, Liesel was one of the guests who took the walk up to the waterfall in Meiringspoort. She slipped and fell awkwardly, breaking her arm. This happened at 3.30 in the afternoon. Her husband David, whisked her off to Oudtshoorn where she received excellent medical treatment. By 7.30 pm the Fowlers were back at our overnight venue to rejoin the tour.
In this newsletter we continue with our story on the Swartberg Classic Tour. This chapter deals with the drive from the Koos Raubenheimer Dam to Meiringspoort via De Rust.
Rust-en-Vrede Waterfall is hidden among the bracken-clad heights; therefore a walk over little bridges is required along the mountain trail. You are inspired by the beautiful wild flowers that bloom in great profusion alongside the path while far below amidst ferns and undergrowth, a powerful river ripples over rocky edges.
This scenic and peaceful trail ends in great reward. Collected at your feet is the sparkling pool that originated from a spring high up in the mountains. Rust-en-Vrede is a safe sanctuary for indigenous plant and animal life; definitely a precious asset of the Klein Karoo and Cango Valley.
On previous tours we always found this facility gated and locked, but on this tour it was open, so we decided it would be a good place to have our lunch break under the shade of the tall trees. Elation quickly turned to disappointment when the gate guard asked for R100 per vehicle.
"We will only be here for half an hour" I explained in suiwer Afrikaans, and my offer to negotiate a fairer price was met with a resolute shaking of the head. So if Oudtshoorn Municipality can take note: Perhaps your fee is fine for anyone wanting to spend the day there, but a one price fits all policy is costing your facility in lost revenue. Have three rates: Full day, half day or one hour, priced at say R100; R50 and R10 per vehicle.
Instead, we parked our convoy near the entrance gates and enjoyed our lunch in the balmy sunshine of 36C.
A peaceful pass
Immediately after the Rust en Vrede Waterfall and picnic area, the start of the pass of the same name begins.
South Africa and especially the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo) has some of the finest gravel roads for the purpose of eco-tourism. With the popularity of the GPS, these minor roads are just waiting to be discovered.
In this newsletter we continue with our story on the Swartberg Classic Tour. This chapter deals with the drive from the Nelsrivier Dam to the De Rust.
After passing the Calitzdorp (Nelsrivier) Dam, the road turns more towards the east and follows a long, narrow and convoluted valley. Along this old road there are fine examples of old Karoo style architecture and many farm stays and B&B's on offer. This valley is well watered and surprisingly lush, considering it's in the heart of the Klein Karoo.
There are many low level stream crossings and dense bush, requiring diligent driving and always remember to keep well left on the blind corners, as some of the locals drive a little too fast and occupy more than half of the road!
The valley has its own micro-climate which supports plenty of small scale farming. It seems to have attracted artistic types as there are several art galleries along the route. It's the sort of road where you want to stop often and linger a while. A road for the less hurried traveler.
The P1706 route offers far superior scenery to the well known R62 tourist route - especially the straight and often boring section between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. This back road offers multiple options and several small passes, each distinctly different to the other. The Kruisrivierpoort is the first of these passes when driving from west to east.
In this newsletter we continue with our story on the Swartberg Classic Tour. This chapter deals with the drive from Bosch Luys Kloof to the Nelsrivier Dam via Calitzdorp.
Day 2 of the tour dawned warm and sunny, the temperature would later rise to 36C. With the customary radio checks done we bade farewell to the lovely Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge and ascended the Bosluiskloof Pass with the sun behind us, but the one thing there was no shortage of was dust! Throughout the tour dust caused the convoy to spread over a large distance. This requires regular stops by the lead vehicle to allow the convoy to regroup to ensure clear comms.
It's always interesting how different a pass feels driving it in the opposite direction. Bosluiskloof and Seweweekspoort were prime examples. The latter took some time as our guests were stopping to take photos - lots of them - in the perfect early morning light.
Once back at the R62 we hooked a left (east) to drive the tarred Huisrivier Pass. The 13,4 km long Huisrivier pass lies on the R62 between two valleys in the Little Karoo between the towns of Ladismith in the west and Calitzdorp in the east.
It has 39 bends, corners and curves packed into that distance, which requires vigilant driving. Not only is this a fairly long pass, but it has many sharp corners and exceptionally attractive scenery. Many lovely rest areas have been provided by the road builders.
This pass is unique in that its geology is unusually unstable (shale) and several pioneering engineering techniques had to be applied to successfully build a safe all-weather pass. The pass, which includes three river crossings, is not particularly steep, where the engineers have managed to limit the steepest gradients to a fairly comfortable 1:10.
This week we continue with our report back on the Swartberg Classic Tour.
Our journey continues from the summit of the Gysmanshoek Pass.
At the northern end of the Gysmanshoek Pass, we connected with a good gravel road and drove east to the tarred R323, where we visited the Muiskraal farm. Anyone who has ever driven the R323 will instantly recognize the entrance gates which are very distinctive.
The pass to the south of the farm (Muiskraal Pass) leads up to the summit of the much more famous Garcia's Pass. It was getting hot so we made use of the shade inside the Muiskraal farm stall, where we made the farmer's day as our guests bought armfuls of olives, preserves, jams, juices and dried fruit. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!
The olive oil tanks are in the same building and if you enjoy cooking with olive oil, we recommend you stop here as the prices are very good and the quality excellent. We had decided to omit the slow drive over the Brandrivier Pass to make up time and continued on to Ladismith via the Voetpadkloof, Kruippoort and Naauwkloof passes, the latter which delivers perfect views of the cleft peak, known as Towerkop.
From Ladismith our routing took us to the settlements of Zoar and Amalienstein, where we stopped at the old church for a leg stretch and some photos. The mercury had crept up to 33C and the vehicle air conditioners were working hard. The second highlight of the day beckoned - the incredible Seweweekspoort.
Just as one enters the poort after the second bridge, a small two spoor track leads away into the bush. It heads up to the Tierkloof Dam. The spot is particularly attractive as the contorted and twisted Cape Fold mountains confine the narrow kloof and the river that flows along its little valley.
The road winds over the river three times over neatly constructed causeways smothered on either side by dense riverine vegetation, then levels off, revealing the dam wall, which towers over the road. If you're feeling energetic, you can climb the "stairs" all the way to the top to enjoy the views, but be warned it's very steep. The dam is narrow and deep (like well-designed dams should be) and provides fresh potable water to Zoar and Amalienstein.
We are dedicating our newsletter to a full report back on the recent Swartberg Classic Tour.
Overview: This is no doubt our most successful tour ever. This morning we bade farewell to 22 new converts into the MPSA family with friendships bonded in dust and tears of elation and happiness.
There were a number of firsts on this tour:
Our rendezvous point was at the unique Rotterdam Boutique Hotel, just outside the village of Buffejagsrivier, itself about 8 km east of Swellendam. There is plenty of fascinating history in this area, which we will examine in a moment.
The Rotterdam farm is a working dairy farm set in verdant fields, with the Langeberg Mountains standing sentinel to the north. The property is immaculate. From the moment you turn in at the elegant gate, one gets the impression of laid back order. Four energetic Border Collies and two friendly Rotweillers greet one at reception, demanding some affection before the formalities of checking in are dealt with.
The homestead consists of the original and very old farm building (De Oudehuis) where the reception, kitchen, dining room and bar is located. The height of the doors is lower than normal as was typical of buildings from the 1700 and 1800's when the population was shorter.
A little to the east is the elegant Fraser-Jones Suites. It's a double storey building with olde-worlde charm oozing out of every nook and cranny. The rooms are enormous; bigger than the average small house in South Africa and appointed to 4 star quality. Fountains trimmed off with lavender and lush lawns make for a pleasing vista.
In the next building to the south is a small thatched building housing the museum. We will give you more info on that lower down. A little further is a slightly more modern thatched building, which is the owner's residence.
Our guests arrived on time and soon we had all the two way radios fitted and tyres deflated in preparation for the gravel roads. The driver's briefing took place on schedule at 1800 where the route for the next day was explained, personal folders, maps and name tags handed out.
After our driver's briefing, farm owner and host Andy Fraser-Jones gave us a fascinating talk and tour in the family "trophy room" and regaled us with stories of his parents, both who were excellent pilots and of course, much of the little museum is dedicated to the exploits of racing driver Ian Fraser-Jones.
The museum at Rotterdam is a carefully curated collection of artefacts, memorabilia and prizes won by the late Mr. Ian John Fraser-Jones. He was one of the first and only South African racing drivers to take part in the Grand prix from 1950-1960. He led a full life and left a true legacy that is shared in this beautifully established private family museum.
Andy's wife, Anneke, toiled away in the kitchen to produce a fine meal for our group (24 people) which was enjoyed in the Oudehuis, after which it was a weary group who wound their way to their rooms under starry skies, before load-shedding arrived at 22h00. Most were asleep in short order to the sounds of rural silence.
* Swartberg Classic Tour
* Towns of South Africa - Loxton
* Pass of the week
* New passes added
As you read this newsletter, we will have just finished the Swartberg Classic Tour. This was the third version of this tour and with each new version, we adapt and change the tour to make it more interesting and enjoyable. Over the next few weeks we will be reporting back on the tour with photos and write-ups.
This tour started in the village of Buffelsjagrivier near Swellendam. On the first day we drove the following passes:
Day 2 was another pass fest, mostly in the Klein and Groot Swartberg foothills:
Day 3 was all about quality versus quantity:
We will be running this tour again in 2022. Watch this space.
Loxton is a town in the Karoo region of South Africa's Northern Cape province. It is in one of the major wool-producing and one of the largest garlic-producing areas in South Africa.With a population of 1,053 in 2011, the area is quiet and sparsely populated. Afrikaans is the most widely spoken language in the town.
[More lower down]
* N1 - the most dangerous road in South Africa
* !Gariep Dam
* The Bain Legacy (Part 2)
* Pass of the week
Having just returned from a return trip by car from Cape Town to Jhb, I thought a little introspection was needed as to what makes this road statistically so dangerous. Having spent 24 hours solid driving in harsh cross-winds in a Suzuki Jimny, between fighting to keep the little 4x4 upright, I had time for some analysis.
The road is generally in a good condition with safety shoulders adding an important margin of safety in avoiding head-on collisions (the main culprit). From Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, most of the N1 is a double laned dual carriageway and presents no serious dangers.
That brings us back to the core of the dangers - very long, straight sections of two way traffic between Colesberg and Laingsburg create boredom and lots of frustration. Most of the trucks (accounting for almost 75% of the traffic) trundle along at 80 kph. This is the biggest factor causing frustration amongst normal cars that tend to travel at the maximum speed limit of 120 kph. Eventually drivers start taking ever greater risks trying to pass the trucks and that's where the wheels literally come off.
The (expensive) solution is to have dedicated truck lanes. There are of course other factors like driver fatigue, unroadworthy vehicles and excessive speed that contribute to the skull and crossbones imagery.
A forced business trip up to Jhb by car, allowed me the opportunity to visit the !Gapiep Dam - a destination I have always wanted to visit, but somehow never found the time. What a pleasant surprise! Hidden amongst the flat topped koppies of the Free State is the largest stretch of inland freshwater in South Africa.
As we arrived it looked like a scene from the Greek Islands, with yachts anchored in quiet little bays behind hills with a vast lake stretching away as far as the eye can see. Gariep Dam is actually the official name of the town which sprung up during the construction phase when some 3500 people worked on the construction site. Today it is the newest town in South Africa and is home to about 1800 people. It also plays host to a yacht club and a beautiful campsite and caravan park.
The Gariep Dam, on its commission in 1971, was originally named the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam after Hendrik Verwoerd, the Prime Minister before and after 31 May 1961, when the country changed from the Union of South Africa to the Republic of South Africa. However, after the end of apartheid, the Verwoerd name was considered unsuitable. The name was officially changed to Gariep Dam on 4 October 1996.
Gariep is Khoekhoe for "river", the original name of the Orange River
It is in a gorge at the entrance to the Ruigte Valley some 5 kilometres east of Norvalspont. The dam crest is some 1300m above sea level. The wall is 88 m high and has a crest length of 914 m and contains approximately 1.73 million m³ of concrete. The Gariep Dam is the largest storage reservoir in South Africa. In South African English, 'dam' refers both to the structure and the water volume it retains. Gariep Dam has a total storage capacity of approximately 5,340,000 megalitres and a surface area of more than 370 square kilometres when full. The hydro-electrical power station houses four 90 MW generators. The dam if more than 100 km in length.
* Flower Power
* The Bain Legacy (Part 1)
* Interesting South African Towns
* Podcast - Carliseshoekspruit Pass driven during a flash flood.
* Pass of the week
* New passes added
Although we have not been on a flower tour this year, by all accounts it appears to be a good season so far. Guest Houses, hotels, farm stays and lodges have been heavily supported and for many of those small businesses it has literally been manna from heaven. Even caravan parks and campsites have been fully booked over most of the area where the flowers are in bloom.
For those of you who still intend going, the season is almost over as the warm weather settles in. The further south you explore, the more likely you are to see good displays. The West Coast from Melkbos to Paternoster including the Postberg National Park is a good starting point.
This serialised story deals with the phenomenal contribution to road building of the father and son team of Andrew and Thomas Bain. There are very few complete lists in existence of all the works including railway construction, bridges and other roads (other than passes). The most comprehensive research on this subject that we could find, was that of the late Dr. Graham Ross - a noted 'modern' padmaker himself, who has spent many years of his retirement researching the history of South African roads. Much of what you read here has been adapted from Dr Ross's meticulous research.
Andrew Geddes Bain was born in Thurso Scotland. He was a pioneer engineer and geologist and earned the tag of "Father of South African Geology". He arrived in the Cape in 1816 aged 19, originally as a saddler in Graaff-Reinet, and later set about finding employment in the construction of roads. See the tables below (at the bottom of this page) for his list of passes built. He also built a bridge over the Fish River during that period. Bain Snr. then tackled the Gydo Pass near Ceres (1848) which he did as a side job, whilst constructing the considered masterpiece at that time, the Michells Pass just south of Ceres.
The most famous pass built by Andrew Bain, was of course his opus magnum, which still stands today and named after him - the Bainskloof Pass (1853). He also built the road north out of Graaff-Reinet which included the Lootsberg Pass and a series of smaller passes. His final pass was the Katberg Pass (1854), which he was unable to complete. It was completed by Adam de Smidt.
* Trips & Tours
* Swartberg Classic
* Towns of South Africa
* Pass of the week
COVID LEVEL 2
With the relaxation of lockdown levels nationally, the timing is perfect for booking on a tour and getting out of the cities.
SWARTBERG CLASSIC TOUR (10th to 14th October)
We have four spots available on this tour. Join us for four days and five nights of incredible scenery in and around the Swartberg range. We will take you over passes you've never seen before, through country landscapes that will beguile and captivate you. Escape all the Covid negativity in the fresh country air and celebrate the arrival of summer with us. For the full itinerary, pricing, online booking and other information, take the link: Swartberg Classic Tour 2021
WILD COAST TOUR (10th to 20th November)
The two cancellations which we had, were quickly resold, so this tour is fully booked again. For those who couldn't make it, we will be running another one in the first half of 2022. To ensure you get early notification of tours, it's best to subscribe to the tours notices on our home page.
TOWNS OF SOUTH AFRICA
This week we take a closer look at the town of Burgersfort.
Although it is officially situated in the scenic province of Mpumalanga, Burgersfort is located very close to the Limpopo border too. This part of South Africa is characterised by rolling vistas of unspoilt countryside, lush plantations, and verdant valleys. Picturesque backdrops abound, and make for beautiful holiday photographs and idyllic settings against which to celebrate major events.
Burgersfort is a small town in the Spekboom River Valley, taking maximum advantage of these pretty surrounds. As such, it is home to a plethora of plant species, as well as many birds and other animals. This makes it a delight for outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of all things natural.
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.