* 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.
* Tours and trips
* Swartberg Classic Tour bookings open
* Wild Coast Tour (one place available)
* Cape Talk interview
* Bedrogfontein Tour (Part 2)
* Pass of the Week
* New videos uploaded
Our newest tour has just been launched - The Swartberg Classic (10th to 14th October). It's a four day journey covering 39 mountain passes (big and small) including all the famous ones, like Gysmanshoek, Seweweekspoort, Bosluiskloof, Huisrivier, Meiringspoort, Swartberg, Gamkaskloof, Elands Pass, and Die Hel. We have carefully selected excellent accommodation and meals (4 star) at the various overnight venues, to ensure guests have a first class experience both on and off the roads. (More details lower down...)
We have had a cancellation for this previously fully booked tour, so here's an opportunity to join us for a ten day adventure down the Wild Coast from Matatiele to Chintsa. All accommodation and two meals per day are arranged in first class accommodation venues with beautiful views, where you will be pampered. The tour includes walking excursions to Waterfall Bluff, Cathedral Rock, Magwa Falls, Hole in the Wall and much more.
(Late edit: Sorry, this ticket has just been sold)
We have been waiting for 10 years to get an interview on 567 Cape Talk and finally, through a twist of fate, things fell rapidly into place. One of the producers at Cape Talk contacted us via email requesting information on the (now famous) Ashton Bridge. They wanted to do an interview with one of the engineers. We helped them out with names, contacts and phone numbers. I gently dropped a hint about doing a live interview on passes for them. That seemed to work and a week later we had an official invitation to do a 15 minute slot. The interview proved to be very popular with the listeners and the show was extended from 15 minutes to an hour. Next step is to arrange a regular slot on the subject of once per fortnight or month. Watch this space!
(Link to the podcast is displayed lower down...)
The second day of the Bedrogfontein Tour was a "free" day where guests could go to the Addo Elephant National Park and enjoy the game viewing at their own pace. Those with fortitude and patience were rewarded with good game sightings. Your scribe had little luck and gave up after two hours and headed over to the entrance gate of the Kabouga section of the park, to pave the way for a smooth process for our convoy for the next morning.
That evening back at base, photos and war stories were swapped around the cosy fireplace at our lodge as the staff prepared a delicious traditional braai for our group. It gets cold at Kirkwood after the sun sets (in winter anyway) and soon the mercury hovered at the 5C mark, sending guests scuttling off for hot showers, warm beds and heaters.
The final day of the tour dawned calmly and with perfectly clear weather. It was as well that I had done the prep work at the Kabouga gate the day before, as the young lady on duty had used our convoy driving sheet to put the whole convoy onto one permit. The entire signing in process took less than 20 minutes and we were on our way, heading west down the first long valley.
(See more lower down...)
* It's officially spring
* Self Drive or take a tour
* Weather synopsis
* Bedrogfontein Trip Report (Part 1)
* Pass of the week
The never ending debate of when spring starts is once again upon us. It is September 1st, or September 21st or September 22nd? Whatever version suits you, make sure you get our into the fresh air and enjoy nature's bounty. With all the winter snows and good rains, you have a wide variety of options to choose from.
You can visit Namaqualand and watch the desert transform into a wild palette of colourful flowers, or tackle the Tankwa with its succulents and mountain scenery, or if you enjoy the cold, head up to Sutherland where you will still be guaranteed some icy nights and magnificent starry, starry nights (with deference to Don McClean). There's the Garden Route, the Wild Coast, the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga or a game reserve in Limpopo or North West Province, or maybe head for the warmer climes of Durban. As the Covid Delta wave starts receding, now is a good time to catch a breath of fresh South African air.
Let's start off with a look at the wild weather of the last month and more specifically the last week, when record quantities of snow fell over most of the high lying areas of South Africa, sending temperatures plummeting to new record lows. The Western Cape which laboured heavily under a serious drought just two years ago, now sports a regional dam level figure of 100%.
Other provinces are less fortunate, with the southern part of the Eastern Cape remaining in the grip of a long drought. This includes large sections of interior and the Karoo, Baviaanskloof, Sundays River Valley, Port Elizabeth and even as far as East London. The main storage dam for the citrus producing area of the Gamtoos Valley only has 5.2% water according to the DWAF.
The good snowfalls auger well for snow-melt run-off in Lesotho and into the Katse Dam and ultimately into the Vaal Dam. The weather systems will always remain unpredictable. Many people are suggesting that the current weather is merely a result of global warming and that we had better get used to it.
We seem to have an uncanny knack of planning our tours in good weather windows. There is absolutely no way that we can plan things that well, but it's good to know that we get it right most of the time. Our group of 9 vehicles congregated at the lovely Kronenhoff Manor guest lodge in Kirkwood. A little tip when visiting Addo - The accommodation is very much more affordable in Kirkwood than the town of Addo and its only 25 km further from the park.
The main building is charming inside and out and oozes comfort and style from a bygone era. The roof structure in particular is fascinating as it has a very steep pitch with triple the number of battens of a conventional slate roof. Our evenings were spent around a fire which added to the perpetually relaxed vibe. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with air-conditioning and widescreen TV's in each room with free Wifi.
* Bedrogfontein Tour report back
* Focus on Montagu
* Ashton Arch bridge
* Pass of the week
We returned back to base yesterday after an enormously successful tour. Everything went right starting with fabulous weather. Each day was perfect - blue skies, no wind and midday temperatures in the mid-twenties. The early mornings and evenings were cool with the mercury dropping to 3C, but nothing that a hot shower and an electric blanket couldn't overcome. Our accommodation was at the Kronenhoff Manor in Kirkwood. The service levels were excellent, the food was great and our group were very well looked after, down to the last detail. A highly recommended venue.
Two vehicles experienced side-wall cuts, including the lead vehicle. It seems like Murphy's Law dictates that sidewall cuts only occur in new tyres! In both cases it was the left-rear tyre. Fortunately the damage was discovered at a level spot where changing the wheel wasn't too difficult. We will do a more detailed report over the next two weeks, as we download photos and videos and get all our ducks in a row to make up a good story.
Montagu was cut off from the main trek routes due to the seemingly impenetrable nature of Cogmans Kloof. It wasn't until Thomas Bain built the pass and the tunnel that trade began to develop in the area. In 1841 Montagu was laid out on the farm Uitvlucht and in 1852 John Montagu, the Colonial Secretary of the Cape, visited the infant town. In 1855 the first school was opened and two years later a contract was signed for the building of a church designed by George Burkett.
By 1873 the Montagu Hot Springs began charging a fee for the use of the baths. Their use obviously goes back to time immemorial, with traces of early man found in the nearby caves. The importance of the baths to the general public is reflected in the conditions written into the title deeds:
That the outspan place and thoroughfare as laid down on the diagram shall remain free that the grant now made the public shall not be excluded from the benefits derived from a Hot Springs situated within the Limits of this land, but on the contrary, have the right of using the said Springs as a Hot Bath and that it shall be optional with them, should the proprietor hereafter construct suitable accommodation on the spot, to avail themselves there or not, as they may think proper; that all roads leading to the bath shall remain free, that the said public frequenting said bath shall be allowed to Outspan on this land, but the cattle shall not, unless with the consent of the grantee or his successors, remain longer that twenty four hours on his land.
* Tourism breathes again
* Back to driving school
* Focus on Ladybrand
* Pass of the Week
* Silly questions
In a nutshell, the Boks won the rugby series, the hysteria around the riots in KZN has mostly disappeared from the mainstream media, Covid continues to be the main (depressing) topic, the wild flower explosion is happening in Namaqualand, Cederberg and the West Coast; it's still unseasonably cold; most dams are full in the winter rainfall regions and tourism has breathed another gasp of fresh air as we slowly ease out of season 3 - the Delta variant.
A few basic 4x4 tips for beginners and intermediates:
As SUV and bakkie ownership has increased, so has the amount of off-highway recreation. There is no special license required to drive off-road, even though there are many different techniques and practices involved. There does exist an often unspoken etiquette that is practised by old-school four-wheelers, which developed not just so that everyone can get along on the trail, but primarily for safety considerations.
With the availability of trail-ready 4x4’s, both in the traditional 4x4 mould and outside of it, the slow and steady progression of four-wheeling initiation through involvement and camaraderie has been bypassed. The honour-by-association process misses the chance to be taught by the enthusiastic guy who just bought his first real 4x4.
* Bedrogfontein Tour (last round!)
* Namaqualand is calling.
* Heidelberg, Gauteng.
* Pass of the week
* Silly questions
We are closing bookings this Friday (6th August), so why not grab the opportunity and join us on this fabulous tour which offers a smorgasbord of interesting experiences. We will be driving the historical and technically challenging Zuurberg Pass on the first day, where the views will blow your mind. An entire day is dedicated to touring around the Addo Elephant National Park, but this takes place in your own time and pace, but we remain in radio contact throughout to share the best game viewing opportunities. The highlight of this tour is the Bedrogfontein 4x4 route, which is all within the extensions of the Addo National Park. The history of this route is incredible and we will see old abandoned ox-wagons and other artefacts from the second Anglo Boer War.
The Bedrogfontein 4x4 trail between the Kabouga and Darlington areas of the Addo Elephant National Park provides breath-taking views and is rich in history. This route was the scene of fierce battles between the British and Boer troops during the Anglo-Boer war. We will visit the cottage where Jan Smuts and his soldiers stayed and where he was in a coma after eating cycad seeds. Rock art paintings are found scattered throughout the area.
The route traverses through a variety of vegetation types, from riverine thicket, to afromontane forest, to fynbos on the peaks and into the arid Nama-Karoo of the Darlington area. This is strictly a 4x4 route and requires a vehicle with good ground clearance and low range. Bedrogfontein translates into Fraud Fountain and refers to a stream that disappears underground only to reappear some kilometres later. The route may only be driven from east to west and takes between 5 and 6 hours excluding stops and any side diversions. It is rated Grade 1 through to 3 and is suitable for intermediate and experienced drivers.
The Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) was proclaimed in 1931 to protect the remaining 11 Addo elephant. The great herds of elephant and other animal species had been all but decimated by hunters over the 1700s and 1800s. In the late 1800s, farmers began to colonise the area around the park, also taking their toll on the elephant population due to competition for water and crops. This conflict reached a head in 1919 when farmers called on the government to exterminate the elephants. The government even appointed a Major Pretorius to shoot the remaining elephants - He killed 114 elephant between 1919 and 1920.
* KZN and Gauteng slowly return to normal
* Bedrogfontein Tour opportunity
* Drama aplenty on the Swartberg Pass
* Matroosberg Nature Reserve 4x4 route closed
* Focus on Vryburg
* Pass of the Week
As the nation slowly recovers from the shock of the riots and looting in KZN and Gauteng, we now move into a phase of rebuilding infrastructure, reopen businesses and more importantly learning to trust one another again and make our nation stronger. There are thousands of unanswered questions, but from our side we welcome the relaxation of the lockdown regulations as the embattled tourism and hospitality sector has to once more rise from the ashes.
We've had a cancellation on our Bedrogfontein Tour with the new dates being confirmed for August 21st to 24th. Anyone interested in enjoying this popular tour can get the full itinerary and pricing via the link below.
BEDROGFONTEIN TOUR ONLINE BOOKINGS
This tour includes a trio of passes on the first day which includes Olifantsnek, Zuurberg and Doringnek with a refreshment stop at the beautiful Zuurberg Mountain Inn. We then spend a full day in the Addo Elephant National Park enjoying some great game viewing and the final day is kept for the best part of the tour as we drive the historical Bedrogfontein Pass. We can only accept 4x4 vehicles, with good ground clearance and low range capabilities. The route varies between Grade 1 and 3.
With the coldest weather in decades having swept over South Africa at least 19 new records in minimum lows and highs have been recorded, this system covered the Swartberg Pass in deep snow and more importantly on the southern side of the mountain where the sun has little effect during winter. The snow soon compacted in a thick layer of ice, creating very dangerous driving conditions.
Snow starved South Africans (and inexperienced to boot) always rush off to see and play in the snow when the snow arrives. This year saw a lot of traffic heading to the pass, but when they got to the pass, the road had been closed by traffic authorities. No problem to our risk-takers, who decided to ignore the road signs and drive the pass regardless. This led to 9 vehicles losing traction on the pass and getting stuck, including a BMW sedan.
All of the drivers and passengers had to be rescued and taken to safety, with their vehicles only being able to be recovered one or two days later. This blatant disregard for rules and regulations is part of how many people think and behave these days. One of the vehicles was occupied by a young couple with a two month old baby. Comments can be viewed on our Facebook page.
We are not at all surprised.
Cape Nature have issued the owners of the Matroosberg Nature Reserve a notice to close the route down beyond the Bokkerievieren fork at the 1280m contour level. As usual this has created an emotional response for those in favour and against the ruling. The farm owners are contesting the decision via the courts. We will have to wait and see what the final result will be and hopefully there will be a compromise where everyone is a winner. We'll keep an eye on things and post when we get news.
It's not often we venture into North-West province simply because there are so few passes there, but in this series we are unpacking the history of some of South Africa's lesser known, but nonetheless fascinating dorpies.
Today we visit North West Province and more specifically, the town of Vryburg. It is situated halfway between Kimberley and Mafikeng, in the Bophirima region of the North West. Often referred to as “South Africa’s Texas”, Vryburg is responsible for the largest beef production in the country. Vryburg is the perfect holiday stopover when road tripping along the N14 or travelling on the railway line that runs from Cape Town to Botswana. Established in 1882, Vryburg is an agricultural and industrial centre that was once used as a concentration camp by the British during the Boer War.
The 2,062 hectare Leon Talijaard Nature Reserve’s gate house is a former Boer War prison, built to house Afrikaner prisoners captured by the British forces. There is a small museum and a plaque that commemorates the prisoners executed here.
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.