* Dingaan's Day
* Tour bookings open for 2022
* Wild Coast V3 Tour - Day 1
* Swartberg Classic Tour - Teeberg to Elands Pass
* Pass of the week
I was born on this day 72 years ago and amongst the many nicknames I endured as a kid (thanks to my unpronounceable Norwegian first name) was Dingaan or Dingane. Those were the days where the public holiday was known as 'Day of the Vow' or more colloquially 'Dingaan's Day'.
The Battle of Blood River (16 December 1838) was fought on the banks of the Ncome River, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, between 464 Voortrekkers, led by Andries Pretorius, and an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Zulu. Estimations of casualties amounted to over 3,000 of King Dingane's soldiers dead, including two Zulu princes competing with Prince Mpande for the Zulu throne. Three Voortrekker commando members were lightly wounded, including Pretorius.
The year 1838 was the most difficult period for the Voortrekkers since they left the Cape Colony, till the end of the Great Trek. They faced many difficulties and much bloodshed before they found freedom and a safe homeland in their Republic of Natalia. This was only achieved after defeating the Zulu Kingdom, namely the Battle of Blood River, which took place on Sunday 16 December 1838. This battle would not have taken place if the Zulu King honoured the agreement that he made with the Voortrekkers to live together peacefully. The Zulu king knew that they outnumbered the Voortrekkers and decided to overthrow them and that lead to the Battle of Blood River.
The story is unimaginably frightening on both sides of the fence and despite efforts at changing the name to Day of Reconciliation, the history remains indelibly etched into our minds.
Despite the latest wave of Covid (Omicron), bookings for our two Wild Coast Tours have been brisk. These waves generally last 60 to 75 days, so will have safely passed by the time the tours are scheduled to take place. We have 2 places available on the Pondoland V4 Tour and 3 places on the Mbashe V5 Tour. Come and join us for ultimate Wild Coast adventure tour which is a mix of excitement, fun, relaxation, amazing scenery, waterfalls, mountains, forests, valleys and exquisite beaches - all topped off with good accommodation and quality meals. You'll return home revived and ready to face the world again.
WILD COAST TOUR V4 PONDOLAND
WILD COAST TOUR V5 MBASHE
Resthaven Guest House in Matatiele was once again selected as our starting point for a number of reasons. (a) It allows immediate access to four wonderful gravel passes on the way to the first coastal overnight venue at Mbotyi. (b) It provides the perfect opportunity to visit the Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve, Mariazell Mission and Mountain Lake and (c) It's run by Philip and Elrita Rawlins who together provide excellent accommodation and sublime home cooked meals. Of all the venues our guests rated on this tour Resthaven came up with the overall best score. Now you know!
* Wild Coast Tour (Prologue)
* Two new Wild Coast Tours
* Swartberg Tour (Teeberg to Die Hel)
* Pass of the Week
The V3 designation is that this was the 3rd version. Each year we review every aspect of the tour and we always listen to comments from our guests. We then formalise that feedback in the form of a short survey and give all the venues our honest and transparent feedback. It's important to remember that almost all the venues along the Wild Coast are very old establishments - mainly they are family owned busineses - and all of them got whacked really hard these past two years with very little income. As a result maintenance in some of them was below par, but as we said at the opening drivers briefing: "Don't sweat the small stuff"
Having a formal review system is an excellent means to gather valuable information where we can ask the relevant hotels to pay attention to specific items. Our aim is to uplift and support them, rather than go somewhere else.
This tour was the longest tour we have undertaken to date. Borne from that, we had some fresh ideas about the Wild Coast and how MPSA could better meet the needs of it's clients. Considering the popularity of the Wild Coast Tours, we came up with the concept of offering four Wild Coast Tours each year (two in May and two in November). By halving the distances travelled and doubling the leisure days, we have come up with a unique set of tours which will offer a number of excellent solutions.
As a taster, here are the basic itineraries:
This new tour will start in Matatiele and end in Coffee Bay, exploring the vast, rugged beauty of the untouched, pristine Wild Coast which is still as magnificent as it was 150 years ago.
We will be spending 2 to 3 nights at most of the overnight stops, allowing for a leisurely pace, with opt-out options for the ladies at some of the venues – like spa treatments, or just a relaxing lazy day on the beach.
* Back in civilization
* Wild Coast Tour Overview
* Two new Wild Coast Tours launched
* Garden Route Floods
* Swartberg Tour - Prince Albert to Teeberg
* Pass of the Week
It takes a few days for the euphoria to wear off. The Wild Coast mud has been washed off the cars and dirty clothes have kept the Speed Queen humming for hours on end. Arriving back in Cape Town after two days of drenching rain was a mixture of relief and disappointment. After spending almost two weeks in the quiet back roads of the Transkei, the speed and urgency of traffic on the N1 and N2 comes as something of a culture shock. But I suppose you cant appreciate the one without the other.
Our return from the Wild Coast created a personal flashback to March 2020 on our Kouga-Baviaans Tour where we only found out about Covid 19 when we reached Patensie several days later. A local farmer broke the bad news to us. On this trip we arrived home to Omicron. Same story; different variant (and it's not a VW!)
We arrived back in Cape Town two days ago, after completing our most successful Wild Coast Tour to date. We made a number of changes to the agenda, routing and venues which added a lot more adventure. The weather was extremely kind to us as we only had a few minutes of light rain on two of the 10 days. That's actually very good considering it's right in the rainy season.
There were punctures. Six of them in total - of which 4 were sidewall cuts; one was a conventional puncture which was sorted out with a can of Holts Tyre Weld and the sixth one was a mag rim which cracked , causing the tyre to debead. We learned a lot on this tour and we now will ask owners with 4x4's that have roof top tents to rather remove them as the height clearance on all the forest drives is an issue. For future trips we will also recommend two spare wheels (if possible). After you've had the first sidewall cut, you don't have to drive with your heart in your mouth for the rest of the trip.
All 13 vehicles completed the tour successfully. Other than the punctures, there were no mechanical issues at all. We tried a number of new venues on this tour (some were fantastic; others not so good) and we initiated a guest review survey, allowing our guests to rate each of the venues with respect to service, food and accommodation. Once the numbers were averaged out, it gave us a sound idea of how to tackle issues on future trips and to guide the hotels and lodges we use, to improve standards in a transparent and practical fashion.
We will be providing you with a detailed trip report over the following weeks.
We have just launched the V4 and V5 Wild Coast Tours this week, opting for a new format which we think will meet the needs of our guests very well. In short the tours have less driving and more leisure time as this is what most of our guests want. The Wild Coast Tour V4 - (Pondoland) will run from the 6th to the 15th May, 2022, whilst the Wild Coast Tour V5 (Mbashe) will run from the 16th the 25th May 2022.
The changes allow for each of the tours to run over 8 days/9 nights with substantially more leisure time. Guests who want to do both tours back to back will be in for a 17 day Wild Coast extravaganza.
Check out the details of each tour via the links below:
Our trip back last Monday (22nd) from Knysna to Cape Town took place during the peak of the floods in George. We resisted the urge to take a "look-see" and headed directly for the N2. Evidence of the volume of rain became evident as we traversed the Kaaiman's Pass just west of Wilderness.
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]
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.