Winding through some of Mpumalanga's breathtaking scenery, the (in)famous Long Tom Pass is one of those "I love to hate you" passes in South Africa. It is 26.2 kilometres long (or even longer depending on where one starts measuring), plus it displays an altitude variance of 671 vertical meters through a complex network of curves as it ascends up the Drakensberg escarpment between Sabie in the east and Lydenburg in the west.
- Adventure Afrika December 2020 edition
* 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.
The Tutor Ndamase Pass is a new pass located on the R61 roughly midway between Port St. Johns and Mthatha. The pass offers exceptional scenery, modern engineering and is a joy to drive, but do watch out for speedbumps, livestock, taxis and pedestrians.
At 7.6 km it's well above the national average and displays an altitude variance of 344m, producing an average gradient of 1:22 with the steepest parts being 1:9.
This is one of the newest passes in the region which has greatly improved the time it takes to travel between the two towns. Current news (March, 2021) is that Port St. Johns is scheduled for a major infrastructure revamp with the Eastern Cape government billing it as South Africa's newest coastal city. We welcome this news as the town is currently in a sorry state.
* 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]
We chat about what level 1 lockdown will mean for the tourism sector and we tap into the history of the Tierkloof Pass, the rail reverses and the Loch Bridge
Listen to the interview:
* 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.