The southern ascent of the Swartberg Pass is such an eye opener for first time drivers. The smooth and wide tarmac of the R328 suddenly gives way to gravel just after Cobus se Gat as a sign warns that no caravans or heavy vehicles are allowed. Some tight hairpins appear fairly soon followed by a long sinuous pull up past some old ruins, reputed to be where Bain housed his convict gangs.
The altitude goes up steadily and then that magical moment happens when one gets the first glimpses of those towering hand packed stone walls - Thomas Bain's trademark construction signature. The road narrows and swings sharply to the left through a crook in the mountain and the gradient gets steeper. At the apex of the next right hand bend a brown sign announces that this spot is called 'Skelmdraai'. No-one really knows where the name originates from, but it is more than likely to do with the band of convict labourers. With some careful parking we manage to get the whole convoy off the road and get our first group photo done - quite an exercise getting 22 people to muster in one spot!.
The views of the Little Karoo to the south are amazing - a full sweep of 180 degrees over a patchwork quilt of orchards and fields with another big mountain range as a backdrop. The weather is glorious as the guests revel in the majesty of the Swartberg, but the sun is heading towards Cape Town and we need to move on as we still have a long, tough drive ahead of us.
Soon we are up and over the Swartberg past the sticker plastered signboard "Die Top" - clearly those allocating names had run out of enthusiasm and creative genius with that name, but then again, I suppose less is often more. [More lower down...]
* Great Swartberg Tour - Part 3
* The social media phenomenon
* South African History - Part 5
* Featured pass of the week
Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge is the kind of place you say "I wish we could stay a day longer"
The sense of timelessness is palpable as our group wake up to another perfect late autumn morning after a good night's rest. The biggest problem on the tours is over-eating and not getting enough exercise. The full breakfast is taken with the patio doors open as a young kudu bull wanders through the gardens a few metres away. What a heavenly place.
It's time to hit the road and soon our big convoy is rumbling up the Bosluiskloof Pass. It looks completely different in the ascending mode with the early morning sun making for wonderful photographic opportunities. The roads are as dusty as ever and our convoy soon stretches out to the standard 7 km from front to back. [More lower down...]
* Great Swartberg Tour - We continue with the story this week that takes us from Buffelspoort Canyon to Bosluiskloof.
* South African History - Chapter 4 - Early Portuguese explorers.
* Our latest upper level ad: Moving up into 7th gear.
* Podcast: A talk covering the first day of the Swartberg Tour. LISTEN
* Lesotho Update
* Pass of the Week: One of our subscribers bravely volunteered to film a few passes for us. This week we feature the first of those passes. Well done Fraser Mackintosh!
(Turn your sound up - the music is beautiful)
Dust on the Wind ~ Kansas.
The Karoo is much drier than we know it. Four years of drought have dried up the rivers and dams. As we left Buffelspoort it was evident that the dust on the roads was not normal. It's like talcum powder. It hangs in the air for many minutes and as there is no wind to blow it away, the dust becomes and ever increasing problem on our tour, with our convoy predictably stretching out to 7 km. [More lower down]
In our news release this week:
* GREAT SWARTBERG TOUR REPORT BACK
* SOUTH AFRICAN HISTORY CHAPTER 3
* PASS OF THE WEEK
* WORDS OF WISDOM
We can say with confidence that this was our best tour ever. The weather was sublime, not to say unusually warm for May and the time-frames ran like clockwork. We always seem to have a great bunch of people on our tours and this one was no exception. Our accommodation was mostly wonderful and the mechanical problems that did occur were of a relatively minor nature. It was 4 days of non-stop magical scenery with the only issue being a lot of dust, but dirt roads will have dust unless it's raining. But let's start at the beginning.....
We left Cape Town for Laingsburg on Thursday 16th to spend our pre-tour evening at the Witteberg Nature Reserve where we shared a meal and some champagne with the reserve owner and our long standing friend ~ Frik Linde. My wife and Frik both had birthdays during that week, hence the champagne! And what better place to celebrate a birthday than under the Karoo stars?
Friday 17th May and day 1 of the Great Swartberg Tour. We were up at 0530 and working our way along the jeep track towards the main control gate at Witteberg, when up ahead in the dark, we picked up the tail lights of another vehicle. We caught up to it as the driver was struggling with the electronic code to open the gate.
A stocky farmer climbed out of his Land Cruiser bakkie and introduced himself as "Hempies Du Toit - Aangename Kennis" In the reflected light from our headlights I immediately recognized the well known ex rugby star. We swapped contact details and now MPSA has driving rights between Witteberg and Anysberg Reserves. What a stroke of pure luck! I can already see a new tour in the planning!
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Today as you read this news release, we are heading up to the Witteberg Nature Reserve to spend the pre-tour evening with our good friend Frik Linde, where we will be having a Karoo style braai under the crisp clear stars. The next morning (Friday 17th) marks the start of our Great Swartberg Tour. Our rendezvous point is the Laingsburg Flood Museum where we will be attending a talk on the great flood of 1981.
Our routing takes us to a national heritage site - Buffelspoort. A 12 km long canyon with near vertical walls of 650m and from there on to the Seweekspoort and Bosluiskloof passes to keep the kudus company at our overnight lodge. The next day we tackle the Swartberg Pass and Gamkaskloof with an overnight stop and group dinner at Fonteinplaas in Die Hel. We have arranged for Annatjie Joubert - (the last true descendant land owner of the original klowers) - to chat to us about the astonishing history.
Our last day includes a visit to Prince Albert, Meiringspoort, and then over the Rooiberg Pass to our final overnight stop at the Rooiberg Lodge. This tour was fully booked in short order and based on its popularity, we will be repeating it in 2020 or even sooner. Watch our FaceBook page for daily updates. (More lower down...)
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.