Britstown in the news
This week we are heading off to one of the most unlikely places to find a mountain pass - the small village of Britstown in the Northern Cape, where we head about 40 km south east of the town to locate the unusually named Sebico Pass. The area is better known for it's vast, flat plains of endless Karooscapes, but here and there we find a gem and our featured pass today is certainly something different - and not for the average sedan vehicle either. More lower down....
Complexities of filming 4x4 routes
In the early days of the MPSA project, most of the passes that we filmed were on fairly decent roads. We started filming with a GoPro HERO 1 and switched to a HERO 3 BLACK in 2015 and in December 2017, we upgraded once more to a GoPro HERO 6 BLACK. This latest GoPro delivers really punchy footage that is crystal clear, with better colour saturation, but perhaps the biggest plus is the ability to remotely activate its stabiliser function. On normal tar roads and good gravel roads, the stabiliser function is not really required, but on the rougher roads and especially on 4x4 routes, this extra function makes a huge difference to the quality of the video. It even handles severe corrugations with aplomb! More lower down.....
SWARTBERG PASS REVISITED
For some time we had been planning a complete refilming of the Swartberg Pass. The problem is always finding a suitable weather window, which takes careful planning and being in the right place at the right time. We managed to get all those components to jigsaw together on Sunday, the 11th of February, 2018. We always try to film passes that run along the north/south axis from the northern side for optimum lighting. Our old 2012 video was filmed the other way round, so it meant that the entire page had to be rewritten. During the reconstruction of the page, it needed to kept open as it's the second most popular page on the website with over 70,000 views to date.
WESTERN CAPE GOVERNMENT AWARD
At a gala function at the Bay Hotel in Camps bay, Cape Town last Saturday, Mountain Passes South Africa were nominated and won the award in the category 'Substantial Contribution to Geographical Place Names'. Government recognition plays a pivotal role in our goal to attain national status as the leading organisation in all matters pertaining to mountain passes. The opportunities to expand our footprint and get noticed by SA Tourism are now considerably advanced.
On the first anniversary of our subscription system, we were watching the statistics with interest to see what the conversion rate would be. Whilst we will only have a complete picture by the end of March, the February numbers have been hugely encouraging, with only one person not renewing. This puts our current renewal rate at above 99%. We would like to thank each and every one of you for the ongoing support of this project and can assure everyone that we have a lot of fresh material on the way in 2018. Our standards will continue to improve and the quality of the research that we publish will remain of the best quality. We currently have subscribers from as far afield as USA, Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and Lesotho, but the vast majority come from South Africa. Many expatriats find solace in the website by being able to watch the videos of real South African places and it seems it fills their 'longing for home tank'
LIVE ON AIR
Subscribers that live in the Border/East London region can tune in to Wild Coast Radio on 98.6 MHz every Monday at 3.30pm where we give a 10 minute mountain pass talk on the 'Berg en Daal' slot. These informal chats cover various interesting passes all over South Africa. The station has promised to supply us with the podcasts, which we will publish on our 'In the Media' page on the website so that everyone can listen to them.
A man amongst men
Our admiration for the remarkable road engineer, Thomas Bain, never dims. His fame and life achievements are worth the respect of the entire nation for the enormous contribution that not only his roads, but also his bridges, railway lines and water reservoirs contributed to the economic progress of the Cape region - from Namaqualand in the north to Port Elizabeth in the east and most of the area in between. This one man devoted his life to South Africa and it's people.
Today we have a look at one his major passes - the 26,4 km long Pakhuis Pass, near Clanwilliam, which we refilmed over a double video set, replacing our 1st generation 2012 videos. We've also upgraded the page and added in fresh information and some new photos. More lower down.......
Ben 10 Eco Challenge update
The 23rd person to complete the Ben 10 is a young lady, Kirstin Arnold, who unlocked the magic of the passes in an old Land Rover Defender. What makes this somewhat different is that she carted her Jack Russell (with the unusual name of "The Edge") along for the adventure. We asked her to pen some of her personal insights of her adventure for you to enjoy. More lower down.
Renewals are streaming in and have kept our admins very busy. Some of our subscribers have sent in the funds, without completing the renewal form. This effectively means our system is unable to auto-match the payment with your name, so if you have renewed and not completed the renewal form, there might be an issue with your access. We have isolated most of those manually and contacted subscribers with a "how to" email. If you are one of those who have paid the renewal but not completed the renewal registration form, please do so via this link: https://www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za/members/renew.html
Today's news release takes us to the mountain range between Calitzdorp and Ladismith in the Western Cape, where the Huisrivier Pass mostly hides in the shadows of it's main competitors in this pass rich area. Those are the Swartberg Pass, Meiringspoort and Seweweekspoort. Many travellers don't appreciate the quality of the engineering on the Huisrivier Pass, but read on as we unpack the 200 year old story behind this big pass.
The year 1951 saw an energetic young road engineer by the name of Graham Ross, climbing the rocky slopes of the pass as a new all weather road was planned between the two Klein Karoo towns. Theodolites and Abney levels were carefully carted around the mountains as obstacle after obstacle challenged the engineers. It took almost ten years to complete the final planning.
Prior to the new road, the shortest route between the two towns was via a grizzly poort named Caledon Poort - a narrow and dangerous traverse through a steep sided gorge of towering sandstone cliffs, which proved to be hard on wagons as well as the oxen that pulled them. After some 80 years, the dry river bed was littered with broken wheels and oxen bones - a testament to just how tough the route was. But the great flood of 1885 completely devastated the route (as well as Meiringspoort) and left the road planners with the issue of planning a new road up and over the mountains, rather than through the shorter poort route. More lower down.....
Where to from here?
Every now and then we come across a pass, which appears to be insignificant when we do our initial research on Google Earth, but when we get there, we are sometimes gobsmacked - as was the case a few weeks ago, when Mike Leicester toured through the achingly barren north-western part of South Africa.
Lying within 15 km of the best known landmark in that area (which is the Witsand Nature Reserve with its impeccable dune fields), is a fairly short but exceptionally rugged pass that works its way up and over a neck in the mountains. There is a point as one approaches from the southern side, where the cutline of the road can be seen higher up the mountain slope and it appears impossibly steep from that angle. Enough to make you stop abruptly and say out loud: "WHAAAT?!" And steep it is, with a 400m long section reaching a gut wrenching gradient of 1:3. This is our featured pass today.
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.