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]
Sandwiched between the Krugersdorp Game Reserve in the west and the Blougat Municipal Nature Reserve in the east, is a well known road commonly referred to as the Krugersdorp Hill Climb for its use as a hill climb race track, but officially it's called the Thomas Jackson Road.
It consists of several very tight hairpin bends and decends from the northern end of the Delporton industrial business park down to the Percy Stewart waste water treatment works, losing 76m of altitude in just 1,2 km, resulting in a stiff average gradient of 1:16.
The Krugersdorp Aerodrome is located close to the summit of the road. It's also called the Jack Taylor Airfield and Delportonia Airfield.
A chat about the Gariep Dam and a look at the phenomenal contribution to road construction by the father and son duo of Andrew and Thomas Bain.
Listen to the interview:
Steepways Lane is a short suburban pass on "The Ridge" in Johannesburg. Despite a miniscule elevation variance of just 16m and just over one minute to drive it, the little pass resembles the real thing with tight hairpins and steep gradients that reach 1:6. It connects The Ridge Road in the south with Kallenbach Drive in the north.
On the southerly side and over the ridge are the areas of Cyrildene, Observatory and Morninghill, but these suburbs are not visible to Linksfield as they are hidden behind the Linksfield Ridge. The suburb is located on part of an old Witwatersrand farm called Doornfontein.
In 1910, the area was known as Muller's Plantation and it was many years later and after several attempts, before the land was successfully surveyed. It would be proclaimed as suburb on 8 March 1922 and its name is derived from the word Links and its closeness to the nearby Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club. The suburb was developed by Mr. A.M. Kennedy and Hermann Kallenbach. Kallenbach would build a house on Linksfield Ridge in 1929. The Huddlepark Golf Course and Driving Range borders with Linksfield and Linksfield North.
* 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.
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.