* A bad week for our country
* Klein Karoo Road Trip (Part 2)
* Namaqualand Series (Part 3 - Final)
* Pass of the week
* New passes added this week
At MPSA one of our daily goals is to remain resolutely positive, avoiding politics like the plague, but the avalanche of bad news that has swamped social media platforms this week has been unprecedented. A time when level headed people are looking at the chaos and destruction with utter dismay. Besides the current lockdown which affects our ability to run tours, we now have a bigger monster to deal with - FEAR.
There is widespread fear. People making big ticket item purchases are cancelling orders. Many want to run, but the reality is that in a week or two, all this will calm down. Businesses will begin cleaning up and rebuilding. There have been several interesting scenarios that have come to light. Businessmen, residents, neighbourhood watches, private security companies and (lo and behold) taxi organisations have banded together to help the police and SANDF. There seems to be a new level of bonding that is emerging from the ashes. People who are very determined to keep South Africa alive. We are watching with keen interest. Perhaps this is what was needed as a catalyst for us all to learn hold hands regardless of race, creed or colour.
Rooiberg Lodge served us breakfast in bed! What a treat. By 0830 we had the Jimny packed and ready to hit the gravel. The nice thing about taking the Jimny (instead of the Land Cruiser) is that luggage must by necessity limited to what can be packed inside the little beast. It takes roughly one and a half minutes to pack the vehicle or unpack it. Less is more!
It was Monday 5th July with a blue sky day and cold crisp air making for great photography and videography. We left Rooiberg Lodge and went back over the Assegaaibosch Pass, heading east towards the Rooiberg Pass. A few kilometres east of the Assegaaibosch Pass there is a small fork in the road. We turned right here on this long gravel road (the DR1649) which meanders through some of the most beautiful Klein Karoo landscapes and terminates near Armoed, not far from the R328 close to Oudtshoorn.
Winter is best
Our goal was to take a short-cut to the Robinson Pass which needed our attention to refurbish the summit sign. Instead of a short cut, we uncovered four hidden passes along this road, some of which we have already published. The weather was great and the Klein Karoo was smiling on us. Here's a tip for all you adventure travellers: Drive these routes in winter or early spring. The flowers and especially the aloes are a sight to behold. You have the additional benefit of not being too hot in your vehicle as most of the winter days are clear and sunny. Driving here in summer is another story altogether where 35C temperatures are a regular thing.
The first of the passes for filming was the Uitspan Pass which drops down to cross the Gouritz River over a low level concrete causeway and ascends up the other side of the valley. The name is appropriate enough as it traverses the Uitspan farm. Shortly after completing this pass, the next one makes an appearance - namely the Kleinfontein Pass. What is interesting about this pass is that is actually both a pass and a poort. We filmed it as two separate routes, having to drive the passes first, then turn around to face west, as the sun had already gone past noon causing poor light. Fortunately both are fairly short. Having to drive a pass three times to get good video is quite normal.
Kleinfontein Pass & Poort
Shortly after the Kleinfontein Pass comes the Kleinfontein Poort which is short, winding and magnificent. The entire poort was smothered in bright red aloes and many other flowering succulents.
Some 20 km further we filmed the fourth pass on this route - the Perdebont Pass, where after we emerged onto a tar road at Armoed. Near the end of this gravel section, we passed a massive quarry with many large trucks plying back and forth, causing dangerous dust levels and very poor visibility. All credit to the drivers, each and every one of them stopped their trucks to allow us to pass safely. I was impressed. Fortunately the distance from the quarry to the tar road was fairly short. We turned right and routed south for 9 km to connect with the R328, where we turned right once more, heading for the beautiful and historic Robinson Pass.
This delightful little pass offers a very scenic and pleasant drive amongst isolated farms, with thousands of aloes and amazing succulent plantlife. Even though the traverse is short at just 2.7 km, the pass offers some tight corners and inclines reaching 1:7.
There are a number of passes along this road which make this drive particularly enjoyable for those not in a hurry. The going is slow and there are numerous farm gates that need to be closed behind you.
The rule with farm gates is to leave the gate as you found it. The DR1469 is fairly long drive that takes about 2.5 hours to complete from Van Wyksdorp to Armoed (near the R328). The road is not suitable for normal sedan vehicles but a 4x4 is not mandatory.
Kliphoogte is a minor pass on the Barrydale-MR00322 road, but it should not be taken lightly as there are several dangers lurking on this road to catch unwary drivers. The pass is short at just 2.4 km and displays a classic middle summit profile with an altitude variance of 65m and a maximum gradient of 1:8
The pass falls within the main road between Barrydale and the tarred R323 to the north of Garcia's pass, providing travellers with a lovely, scenic route which is about 50/50 gravel and tar. The road also provides access to the Gysmanshoek Pass (northern end) and the Brandrivier Pass (southern end)
Regardless of which direction you are driving the pass the major bend towards the western side is where things become tricky. The road is poorly engineered on this bend, as not only does it reach its steepest gradient here, but there is reverse camber present as well. To add to this this, the bend is almost always badly corrugated and a loss of traction is highly likely to occur even in a 4WD vehicle. If tyres have not been deflated this corner is waiting for an accident to happen. Slow right down to about 30 kph and gear down.
* Klein Karoo road trip
* Namaqualand - Part 2
* Messelpad Pass
* Goegap Nature Reserve
* Pass of the week
With Covid lockdown restrictions putting a spoke in the proverbial wheel of our Bedrogfontein tour scheduled for last weekend, we decided to make use of the booked out time and do a quick road trip to refurbish some outlying MPSA summit signs and scout a few new passes to add to our database.
The weather played ball as we had three perfect days with clear, sunny weather making the sign repair work less like hot work and the crisp winter air allowed for excellent video and photographic results. We routed from Cape Town via Worcester (and some beautiful waterfalls tumbling down the mountains in the Du Toitskloof Pass) to Robertson, where we took the back road to Bonnievale crossing a swollen Breede River at Rooibrug (Red Bridge) and on to the Stormsvlei Pass, where the deluge of two months ago has caused lots of damage to the road. There are six sections where deep washaways have collapsed the tar. Temporary self-policed stop-go's allow single lane traffic to pass through each section; each of which is only about 50m in length. It's going to be a while before all the repairs are completed.
After a short section along the N2 to Riversdale, we headed north over Garcia's Pass to film a short gravel pass on the Barrydale-Riversdale road called Kliphoogte. From there we headed north to Ladismith and filmed the Naaukloof on the R62 which ends just before the western approach into Ladismith.
Next up was the Huisrivier Pass MPSA sign board, which needed quite a lot of work. Some careless souls used the sign to put a target on with double sided tape (the remnants which required lots of elbow grease to remove), but the sign has been peppered with BB gun damage to the tune of about 40 dents, rendering this sign to the sin-bin and the shooter's big brother unholstered what looks like six shots from a 9mm which have penetrated the sheet metal and left permanent holes. The best we can do is put an oversized patch of 3M brown vinyl over them, which should last upwards of 5 years. We are getting used to this level of wanton vandalism and it no longer is an emotional issue. We just get on with the job and do the best we can with the budget, tools and equipment at hand.
From the Huisrivier Pass we drove to nearby Calitzdorp to refuel the Jimny and then headed over the Rooiberg Pass to refurbish the sign there, finally arriving at our overnight stop (the fabulous gem of the Little Karoo) - the Rooiberg Lodge, where we had our first class dinner served in our thatched chalet in order to comply with Covid regulations. As the sun sets the temperature plummets, but thanks to a decent stack of dry firewood and an indoor fireplace, we could spend the evening at peace with the world (no mobile reception, no sirens, no loud exhausts, no loud music - just the steady chirp of a few goggas).
We will continue with this trip report next week.
We continue with our exploration of Namaqualand as we head into the northern parts. This series is to enlighten prospective visitors to the area. Springtime is without question the best time to visit. We complete our visit to the Namaqua National Park by exiting the area via two really impressive and historically important passes, namely the Wildeperdehoek and Messelpad passes. These two passes are historically bound like twins and were constructed under the supervision of Patrick Fletcher - a very capable roads engineer who seldom gets much recognition.
The rough gravel surfaced Wildeperdehoek Pass forms part of the Caracal Eco Route in the Namaqua National Park, with the the grassy flats of Namaqualand lying to the west and glimpses of the coast beyond. The 4,8 km pass is around 120 years old and has reasonable average gradients of 1:20
('Wildeperdehoek' roughly translates as 'wild horses corner'.) This pass is not suitable for vehicles lacking ground clearance. The pass was originally named Wildepaardehoek in the old Dutch style, but is today more commonly referred to in the Afrikaans version. This pass should be viewed in tandem with the Messelpad Pass . Some locals also refer to this pass as the Bandietpas, which translates into Convict's Pass which points to the labour used in the pass's construction.
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* Bedrogfontein Tour postponed
* Namaqua National Park
* Wild Coast Tour 2021 - Day 9 / Final
* RIP Ed Johnson
* Pass of the week
* New passes
We had no choice but to postpone this tour to remain compliant with Covid regulations. We will make an announcement in 2 week's time after Mr. Ramaphosa advises whether restrictions will be eased, remain the same or increase. We have set aside two possible future dates for this tour as follows: July 24th to 27th or August 21st to 24th. At the time of publishing this newsletter there is still one place open. Book online here: BEDROGFONTEIN ONLINE BOOKINGS
As drenching rains soak the Western and Northern Cape, it brings with it the promise of magnificent wild flowers in August and September. Now is the time to start planning your trip. Today we will be exploring Namaqualand and featuring some it’s best sites worth visiting.
The first town one reaches from the south is Garies. Current population is approximately 1500. The Letterklip provincial heritage site is situated just west of town. The unique rock formation was fortified by dry stone walling; it was occupied from 1901 to 1902 by British forces during the Anglo-Boer War. Various regimental badges and officers' names are engraved in the rockface. There is a hotel and guest house in the village offering clean and comfortable accommodation at reasonable prices.
Garies started as a religious centre when a Dutch Reformed Church was established on the farm Goedeverwagting in 1845. It was initially named after the farm. Just before the formation of the Union of South Africa, Prime Minister John X Merriman (1908–1910), approved the name change to its present name, Garies (or Th’aries), which is a Khoisan for the grass growing along dry river beds in the area. In the Khoekhoen language/gari-s means 'couch-grass'.
This long gravel route forms an interesting option for off-road explorers who want to drive Gysmanshoek Pass as well as this one. At 15.5 km it's a fairly long drive which takes almost an hour due to the state of the road and the 7 farm gates which must be closed behind you.
This is a road for less hurried traveller. You will be spoilt with fine scenery, technical driving and a feeling of isolation. If you're short of time, rather give this one a miss.
The route traverses four farms and sports 70 bends corners and curves, ranging from easy all the way through to extremely tight. There are at least two corners with arcs greater than 120 degrees.
We recommend driving the route with at least one other vehicle in case of an emergency or breakdown, as you are unlikely to see another vehicle on this route the entire day.
* Trips and Tours
* Delays on Bain's Kloof Pass
* Wild Coast Tour Day 8
* Collywobbles and Mbashe Bam
* Pass of the Week
The next tour coming up is the Bedrogfontein Tour from July 3rd to 6th. A three day expedition over some of the most spectacular and tricky gravel passes in the Addo area, including the Zuurberg Pass, Doringnek Pass, Paardepoort and the Bedrogfontein Pass and 4x4 route where Oom Jannie Smuts gave the British a good lesson in bush warfare during the Battle of Bedrogfontein. There is still one spot open. Bookings close this Friday.
The next Wild Coast Tour (Nov 10th to 20th) is fully booked.
We are holding back on tours scheduled for August until we know which way the Covid 3 land lies.
The contractor (Baseline) doing the upgrading work on the historical Bain's Kloof Pass, have hit a number of snags, which will result in the previous reopening date of November 2021, being rescheduled to March 2022. During the Christmas break, the pass will be opened to the general public from Dec 17th 2021 to Jan 5th 2022. So if you've been missing a drive over the old pass, head out that way over the Christmas holidays. In the meantime, you can always take a cyber drive of the pass here:
Bain's Kloof Pass.
Our second last day of the tour dawned calm and sunny making for perfect conditions for vulture spotting. A visit to the vulture colony at Cobbywobbles is always a very popular part of the itinerary, but it can be a long day, so we requested an earlier start and had the convoy on the road by 08h30.
Before long we were in Willowvale where some of the vehicles needed to refuel. Our routing followed the R349 down the Shixini River Valley. This has always been a typical Transkei minor road of little economic importance, but some major roadworks are currently underway rebuilding this road into what looks like, will be a major tarred road. But why - and where does it go to? Careful studies of the maps show no possible reason for such a major expense. However, it will most certainly make the journey from Willowvale to Collywobbles a lot faster than it currently is.
The going was slow negotiating all the stop-go's and detours around the new roadworks as we saw some impressive new bridges under construction. Our route headed NNE as we dropped down into the beautiful Nqabara River Valley, before climbing up some very steep hills with incredible views, as we steadily made progress towards Collywobbles.
This scenic poort winds its way along the Brandrivier flood plain, mainly keeping on the western side. Like all poorts, this one too is subject to frequent flooding. The altitude variance along this poort is minor, making it a great poort to cycle. The R323 carries very little traffic, making this drive relaxing and enjoyable as the cuttings reveal the local geology as the road passes by a number of attractive Karoo farms.
The road has no paved safety shoulders and has 12 easy bends, corners and curves.
* Load shedding affects everyone
* Upcoming Tours
* Road sign refurbishment project
* Wild Coast Stories
* Pass of the Week
It affects all of us and some more than others. Getting newsletters out on time is a frustrating business as they are mailed out in batches of 300 separated by a 10 minute gap. This is to avoid the newsletters being marked as spam by some servers. Often the power will unexpectedly go out smack bang in the middle of a release, causing havoc with our systems. So if you find your newsletter arriving in your inbox at odd times, that's the reason. Thank you Eskom.
At the time of writing this newsletter, there are still some places open. There is just 1 ticket available for the Wild Coast Tour and 2 tickets for the Bedrogfontein Tour. Bookings for the Bedrogfontein Tour close this Sunday. If you want to book, the full itineraries, costs, etc are available via the hyperlinks below:
Other tours in the planning:
We started this project more than a year ago and fit in signage repairs whenever we get a gap between pass filming, video production, admin and tours. We have now covered about 70% of the task at hand. Between cleaning up the 54 MPSA pass summit signs, we also clean up state owned signs as they are on our routes anyway. It's one of our ways of working towards better tourism for the future.
Initially there was a fair amount of resistance to our "Don't put stickers on road signs" campaign, but it seems as if the social media publicity campaign is starting to bear fruit, with many motorcyclists and adventure travellers offering to help us. We now have an army of people working towards the successful conclusion of the project. We could never have done it by ourselves. This is a perfect example of social media working in the right way.
From the 13th to the 16th June we will be temporarily based in Swellendam, which gives us quick access to this month's signage effort. The following signs are on our schedule for cleaning up:
[Ed note: Time and weather were uncooperative on this trip as we were only able to refurbish the signs at Tradouw, Garcia, and Seweweekspoort (2). We did however manage to film two new passes - Voetpadkloof on the R323, and the Brandrivier Pass, a tough gravel pass near the southern end of the Voetpadkloof Pass. We were also able to refilm the Jan Muller Pass as well as Cloete's Pass]
It does open the door of opportunity to run another trip to the Oudtshoorn area to complete that batch of signs.
Our journey along the Wild Coast continues....
Day 7 - Coffee Bay to Kob Inn.
The amazing weather continued as our convoy regrouped for another day of Wild Coast delights. We drove back towards Hole in the Wall, then routed inland following what appeared to be a water pipeline two spoor track through an indigenous forest. This diversion was something of a recce and so began an exceptionally beautiful experience as the track led us in many different directions, all the while remaining within the forest canopy. Shafts of bright sunlight filtered down through the trees creating a surreal atmosphere. The track was however, very rocky and muddy and it was here that Nic Treurnicht's Range Rover copped the first puncture - a sidewall cut. Low profile tyres are not a good idea on these 4x4 routes, but having said that Stephanie Fischer's Land Rover Discovery completed the entire tour without any issues (also on low profiles).
* Upcoming Tours
* A brace of new passes on the tarred R61 between Mthatha and Port St Johns
* Execution Rock
* Guests getting lost
* Mtakatyi River Valley, Mdumbi Pass, Mnenu Pass, Mthatha River Pass
* Coffee Bay, Hole in the Wall
* Dealing with car guards
* Pass of the week
Our next tour is the Bedrogfontein Tour (3rd to 6th July). This thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing tour is a good mix of relaxed game viewing, great points of interest, two long technical passes and of course the anchor of this tour is the Bedrogfontein 4x4 Route which traces the journey of Jan Smuts's commando as he evaded the British troops during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, then ambushed them in a deep kloof on this very route. The historical aspect of this tour is significant.
Tickets are going fast. At time of publishing this newsletter there were 6 places open. Click on the link below for the full itinerary, pricing and terms.
All the final touches and improvements have been added to the next Wild Coast Tour, which is scheduled to take place between the 10th and 20th November, 2021. This tour will be loaded by Friday 11th June and details can be sourced via the same link above.
For our 3rd Wild Coast Tour, we have increased the tour from 9 to 10 days to allow for shorter travel distances and more leisure time for beach walks, swimming, photography, canoeing and more. We have also added in several new accomodation venues, which include Mngazi River Bungalows, The Haven and Wavecrest, but other favourites remain like Mbotyi River Lodge, Ocean View Hotel, Kob Inn and Crawfords Beach Cottages. This tour will more than likely be fully booked within a week, so if you were keen on attending, make sure to go online on Friday and secure your place.
We continue with our story along the Wild Coast.
The day dawned with the promise of another day of perfect weather. We had arranged this trip in what was probably the best weather window of the year (and unlikely to ever be repeated again), but all that clear dry weather plays host to lots of dust. We were hoping for a nice cross wind to help clear the dust away quickly, but no such luck. Very fine particles of dust like talcum powder hung in the air, causing our convoy to stretch up to 5 km from front to back. That in turn, impacts negatively on the clarity of radio comms. The secret is to find a happy balance.
We left Port St Johns River Lodge at 08.30 after a hearty breakfast with all vehicles having full tanks of fuel. The two Jimny drivers were a little nervous about their limited range, but we carried 20 litres of spare fuel for them in the Land Cruiser, should one of them not make the destination from a fuel point of view. As things turned out, the concerns were in vain.
We drove along the newly reconstructed R61 route towards Mthatha, via a string of passes, which included the Isinuka Poort, Butyabuse Pass, Mngazi River Pass and the Tutor Ndamase Pass, before leaving the tar for the Mlengana Pass, with its famous Execution Rock.
At the main viewpoint we had the great pleasure of watching a flock of African Harrier Hawks soaring below and above us. Execution Rock is an impressive slab of rock. It rises up out of the surrounding hills in 100m vertical cliff faces. It's a really impressive sight, but as impressive as it is, the real story is not nearly as dramatic as the name suggests. Some white colonial cartographer had heard a story about a Xhosa king who executed his enemies by throwing them off a rock. Scouting the area, when he saw this mountain, he (not unreasonably) assumed it was the place where the executions took place. The real place is much further down the Mngazi River Valley and is not nearly as impressive. That first map noting it as Execution Rock stuck and remains to this day having been copied and recopied by many more cartographers after the first 'myth-take'
We reconnected with the R61 near the foot of the Tutor Ndamase Pass and back-tracked to the village of Thombo, where we turned right, still on tar, heading for the Isilimela Mission. There were many rivers crossed, with the first being the Mngazana River. We left the tar near Mpande and took an interesting detour towards the coast past the 18m high Big Jump Falls (which we never saw).
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.