* 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.
* Report back on Day 2 & 3 of the Ben 10
* Dawid se Kop
* Loch bridge & rail reverses
* New England and Wartrail
* Lundean's Nek Pass
* Volunteershoek Pass
* Carlisleshoekspruit Pass
It rained heavily overnight, but the morning was crisp and clear as we set off on day 2. The positive side of the rain was that dust levels were nice and low. There was however and even higher rain forecast for later in the day, so we made the decision to bring our rest day forward and take our group up Dawid se Kop and later to The Castle vulture colony in favour of tackling the challenge passes in dodgy conditions. As things turned out, the forecast was spot on.
We had a more leisurely start at 09.30 and drove along the R393 over the little known Fetcani Pass. One could not be blamed for thinking this pass was named after an Italian immigrant, but the Fetcani were in fact a ferocious Zulu tribe who once passed through here. This tribe, who were descendants of the Masutu and Mangwana tribes, became one of the most feared ethnic groups in the central part of South Africa in the 1800's. They had fled from the marauding army of Chaka, who had also stolen their cattle. With revenge in their hearts, they set out to become very aggressive and warlike, focussing only on winning their skirmishes with other tribes and acquiring cattle. They took no wives and consisted only of young fighting men.
The word Fetcani translates into "Desolators" - which is an accurate description of what they left behind after a raid. Other tribes feared them greatly and the Fetcani's fearsome reputation spread far and wide. They originally settled on land north of the Orange River, but later moved further south and east in their never ending quest to seize cattle. They practised what the British military aptly called a 'scorched earth policy' leaving no-one alive and burned or destroyed others huts and possessions. The British subsequently applied exactly the same policy during the Anglo Boer Wars. This tribe caused headaches not only for King Chaka, but also for the British military forces in the frontier areas.
After a short drive we turned left onto the farm road leading to Sarel Vorster's farm, who had very kindly given our group permission to cross his land. During this drive we spotted a number of antelope at close quarters, mainly Bontebok and Blesbok. The going was slow with many gates having to be opened and closed. Barrie Barnardt at sweep did a sterling job and since he was solo in his vehicle, it meant closing gates was a lot of work. The route took us over streams and through cattle kraals with the gradient gently rising as a sort of 'sagmaker' for what lay ahead.
We had everyone switch to low range for the pull up to the top, once we started on the concrete section. It is as well that the steepest part of this road is paved, as it would be almost impossible getting up there on a loose surface. The pitch reached a steady 1:4 near the top and the views open up dramatically as the summit is reached. There is a fair sized space below the peak, where we parked the convoy and had everyone (well almost everyone) walk the last 400m up the very steep section to arrive at the true summit of 2515m. We took four passengers (who weren't up to the stiff walk) up to the tower with the Land Cruiser.
* Eastern Cape road hazards
* Locusts swarms in the Karoo
* Joubert's Pass
* R392 - Worth a drive
* Saalboom Road
* Otto du Plessis Pass
* Broken bridges
* Passes of the Week
We returned from the Ben 10 Eco Challenge V4 Tour yesterday, still feeling elated from all that fresh air and marvellous scenery. Much of today's newsletter will cover the highlights of the tour. We decided not to publish a newsletter last week due to it being Easter and many of you being away, so today's edition will be a bit longer than normal.
During the thousands of kilometres travelled last week, we had a few close shaves on the roads. All of them were caused by slow moving vehicles turning in front of us with a big speed variance. Other than those three incidents, driver behaviour was fairly good. One of the interesting points we noticed is that in the Eastern Cape, hardly any vehicles drive with their lights on. Even in thick mountain mist this was the norm. When we flashed lights at these vehicles, the response was a friendly flash back in return, but not one of them read the message as intended! There is some road user education required in that province.
The Karoo is looking very good. Many dams are full; rivers are running, vegetation is green and the livestock is looking healthy. The flip-side of that good news, is that massive swarms of locusts have erupted. Between Willowmore in the south and Middelburg in the north, we encountered huge swarms. Driving through those swarms at 120 kph is like driving in a hail storm. It looked like a plague of Biblical proportions. Our Land Cruiser is not a pretty sight after that massacre and we wish the good folks at the car wash lots of fortitude when we drop Big Bertha / Thirsty Kirsty off for a well-deserved clean-up! Anyone who experienced driving through these swarms should check their radiators for damage as well as clean any dead insects from the fins.
Our routing up from Cape Town was via Graaff-Reinet where we overnighted at the Drostdy Hotel. It's above average in terms of price, but then it is a 5 star establishment. The night time temperature was around 27C making for a very pleasant moonlit outdoor dinner and later a walk around the immaculate gardens with their sculptures and fountains. The main building is a delight and serves as a museum, but one that you can use. The attention to detail and maintenance is excellent. In short, you pay your money and you get your goods. We enjoyed dinner with two of our guests also bound for the Ben 10 Tour - Trevor Hall and Dirk Reyskens.
Departing from Graaff-Reinet the next morning, it was a sight to behold seeing the Nkweba Dam (the town's main water supply) with a decent level of water in it. It has been bone dry for a number of years. The original Van Ryneveld's Pass can still be seen on the western side of the dam, which was one of the first road building projects attempted by Andrew Geddes Bain, who first settled in Graaff-Reinet and earned a living as a saddler there, before trying his hand at road construction - an occupation that he would excel at and would become known as the 'Father of South African geology'.
Our route took us over the towering Wapadsberg Pass and on to Cradock. The road was very quiet with maybe 5 vehicles encountered along the entire section. Near Tarkastad there are extensive roadworks, where zero progress has been made since we passed there six months ago. Only the stop-go staff are in attendance. It would seem that the contractor has gone insolvent. Expect this one to take years to reach a successful conclusion as a new contractor has to be found, tenders submitted and so on. It's going to take a long time. Due to the long delays, we would not recommend this route to anyone.
* Roadworks on Bain's Kloof Pass
* Andrew Geddes Bain
* Easter mini lockdown looms
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge
* The mystery of social media
* Road sign project
* Pass of the week
Our contact person at Baseline (the appointed contractors for the refurbishment of the pass) Fanie Visser, is keeping us in the loop in terms of progress. We get many emails each week from followers wanting to know when the pass will reopen. The project is currently on schedule and is expected to reach completion towards August, 2021. This will of course depend on how much the winter rainfall causes delays.
For those campers, swimmers and hikers that enjoy going to Tweede Tol, you can still gain access by approaching via Worcester, Tulbagh or Ceres. It's not possible to approach from Wellington.
The pass is a marvellous testament to old school road engineering and an appropriate time to pay our respects to Thomas Bain's father - Andrew Geddes Bain, who was the driving force and master mind behind this amazing mountain pass. He was a South African geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer.
The only child of Alexander Bain and Jean Geddes, both of whom died when Bain was still a young boy, Bain was baptised 11 June 1797 in Thurso, Scotland. He was raised by an aunt who lived near Edinburgh. Here he received a classical education, but no vocational training. In 1816 he emigrated to Cape Town accompanied by his uncle Lieutenant Colonel William Geddes of the 83rd Regiment, who was stationed in the Cape. He married Maria Elizabeth von Backstrom on 16 November 1818 and had 3 sons and 7 daughters.
* Report back on the Kouga-Baviaans Tour
* Ashton Bridge
* Storm damage to the Gamkaskloof road
* Winter tours in the planning
* Tulbagh Earthquake
* Pass of the Week
The Kouga-Baviaans Tour was a marvellous success. We described the route in some detail in last week's newsletter, but some of the 'after the fact' highlights are worth mentioning.
Our convoy was made up of the following vehicles. Not one vehicle had any mechanical problems.
Suzuki Jimny 130 x 1 (2 punctures)
Suzuki Jimny 150 x 1
Suzuki Grand Vitara x 1 (1 puncture)
Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series x 2
Toyota Land Cruiser 105 series x 1
Toyota Prado x 1
Toyota Fortuner x 1
Toyota Hilux D/Cab x 1
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport x 1
Land Rover Discovery x 1
Ford Ranger Raptor x 1
Nissan Navara x 1
Day 1 involved a circular loop with an out and back 4x4 section thrown in for good measure. The weather was magnificent as we pulled up at Nico Ferreira's farmstead, where we were made to feel very welcome. Nico has advanced Parkinson's and is busy selling portions of the farm to make ends meet. His farm Kleinrivier uses the name Kouga Wilderness to attract visitors. There are cottages, camping facilities, a wedding venue, hiking trails and 4x4 routes on offer.
* Trips & Tours
* Signage clean up (the good, the bad and the ugly)
* South Africa's most frequently sighted ghosts
* Pass of the week
* Tail piece
As this newsletter hits the ether, we will be driving in the Kouga Wilderness with our guests on the Kouga Baviaans Tour, which was adequately described in last week's newsletter. For most of this tour we don't have cell reception, so report backs on social media will be limited.
The autumn season is a busy time for tours and also a perfect time of year to get out into the country. We have had a cancellation for our Ben 10 V4 Tour (March 31st to April 5th - Easter weekend). Anyone eager to take up that ticket can book online here:
BEN 10 V4 TOUR BOOKINGS.
It wasn't until I physically started with the road-sign campaign in person, that I realised the extent of the vandalism. Every sign that we clean, we photograph every individual sticker and then make contact with the companies, clubs and tour groups and appeal to them to refrain from the bad habit. Mostly we are met with positive responses, so we are encouraged and motivated to carry on with the good work.
[More lower down]
* Level 1 at last!
* Trips & Tours
* Steytlerville - a Karoo gem
* Pass of the Week
* New pass added
The reduction to Level 1 lockdown is a signal that this is the start of the revival of tourism. The damage done to small businesses in particular has been devastating, with countless of them having closed down and will unlikely ever recover again. We've heard of families losing their homes, vehicles and possessions as the strong arm of financial institutions do what they do, regardless of empathy. As we drive around South Africa, it's in the small towns where the aftermath of Covid is the most obvious. In many cases more than 50% of small businesses have closed down. The million dollar question is "Was it worth it?"
Yet, human beings are resilient and those with courage, will stand up, dust themselves off and rebuild their lives. When you plan your next road trip, please consider supporting small businesses. Each one of them supports a family.
Next week we depart on our Kouga-Baviaans Tour. The tour starts in Joubertina, which is also the principal town in the Langkloof. It's located on the Wabooms River, some 50 km north-west of Assegaaibos, 70 km south-east of Avontuur and 213 km from Port Elizabeth. Joubertina was founded and introduced into the Langkloof community in 1907. Having secured a portion of the farm Onzer, in between the villages of Krakeel and Twee Riviere (both founded in 1765), a property development was launched there under the initiative of the Dutch Reformed Church. As the sale of erven around a newly erected church building gradually got underway in 1907, the future town was named in honour of W A Joubert, minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Uniondale between 1878 and 1893. The town has a station on the narrow gauge Avontuur Railway.
Our routing takes us through the Kouga Wilderness where we drive a two spoor track high up into the mountains to an amazing view-site with a lunch break spent on the shady banks of the Kleinrivier. We drive a circular route which includes two stunning gravel passes - the Kouga-Kleinrivier Pass and the Brakkloof Pass. We end up back at our starting point to enjoy the wonderful farm fresh food at Die Kraaltjie, which is our base for the first two nights.
The next morning we say farewell to the Langkloof as we head east on the R62, where the tar gives way to gravel once we turn off at Kareedouw and head west along one of the most enchanting gravel roads that include the Suuranysberg Pass, the Kouga River Pass, Moordenaarskloof and Meidenek, which brings us Rob le Roux's hidden gem - the Baviaans Lodge. This is a very remote lodge hidden amongst the trees at the bottom of a narrow valley, filled with wildlife, rock art, history and natural beauty. If you're looking for a marvellous getaway for a few days, you can contact Rob on 083 491 1009 on Whats App only. Leave a message and he'll call you back. Rob is a walking encyclopaedia on the area and will take you to the best rock pools, waterfalls and San art. There are 4 cottages to let and the food at the lodge is delicious.
From the lodge we begin the major traverse of the Kouga Mountains. It starts with a big climb and ends almost an hour later at the top of the first mountain range. The hillsides are smothered in proteas, whilst cycads grow naturally on the higher slopes. At the top of this climb we visit the crash site where Katot Meyer (a tough character and serious local naturalist) once lost his Land Rover down this krantz by forgetting to engage the handbrake. The story really comes to life when you're standing on the same spot and can experience the steepness of the terrain.
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.