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Mountain Passes News

The week that was....

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:

  • The first Renault Duster
  • The first GWM bakkie
  • The first Subaru Forester
  • The first M/Benz ML
  • The first broken arm
  • The first pulled leg muscle

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.

[Read more...]

The week that was...

* 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:

  • Moodies Pass
  • Boosmansbos Pass
  • Doringkraal Pass
  • Seekoeigat Pass
  • Wadrift Pass
  • Gysmanshoek Pass
  • Brandrivier Pass
  • Voetpadkloof (Tar)
  • Kruippoort (Tar)
  • Naauwkloof (Tar)
  • Seweweekspoort
  • Bosluiskloof

Day 2 was another pass fest, mostly in the Klein and Groot Swartberg foothills:

  • Huisrivier Pass (Tar)
  • Kruisrivierpoort
  • Huis se Hoogte 
  • Doringkloof Pass
  • Schoemanspoort (Tar)
  • Rust en Vrede Pass
  • Meiringspoort (Tar)
  • Bloupuntrivierpoort
  • Kleinvlei Pass
  • Aapsrivierpoort
  • Kredouw Pass (Tar)
  • Witkranspoort (Tar)

Day 3 was all about quality versus quantity:

  • Swartberg Pass
  • Gamkaskloof Road to Die Hel
  • Elands Pass

Day 4:

  • Coetzeespoort
  • Perdebont Pass
  • Kleinfontein Pass
  • Uitspan Pass
  • Assegaaibosch Pass

We will be running this tour again in 2022. Watch this space.


Towns of South Africa - Loxton

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]

The week that was....

* N1 - the most dangerous road in South Africa

* !Gariep Dam 

* The Bain Legacy (Part 2)

* Podcast

* Pass of the week


N1 - A dangerous road

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 surprise visit to the !Gariep Dam

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. 

The week that was....

* 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


Flower Power

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.


The Bain Legacy (Part 1)

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.

1797-1864:

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. 

The Week that was...

* Trips & Tours

* Top 25 towns in South Africa

* Noupoort

* SA Legends - (Ertjies Bezuidenhout)

* Pass of the Week

* Paraprosdokians


Trips & Tours

All our tours for 2021 are fully booked. We are considering running a Ben 10 Tour in the first half of December.

Send us an email if you are interested.


Top 25 towns in South Africa

According to SAVisas.com, these are the top 25 towns worth visiting. Note that the list is in alphabetical order.

This list is not necessarily the choice of MPSA.

  1. Clanwilliam (Western Cape)
  2. Clarens (Free State)
  3. Coffee Bay (Eastern Cape)
  4. Dullstroom (Mpumalanga)
  5. Franschhoek  (Western Cape)
  6. Gariep Dam (Free State)
  7. Graaff-Reinet  (Eastern Cape)
  8. Greyton  (Western Cape)
  9. Hogsback  (Eastern Cape)
  10. Kakamas (Northern Cape)
  11. Montagu  (Western Cape)
  12. Nieu-Bethesda  (Eastern Cape)
  13. Nieuwoudtville (Northern Cape)
  14. Nottingham Road (KZN)
  15. Pilgrim's Rest (Mpumalanga)
  16. Port St Johns  (Eastern Cape)
  17. Prince Albert (Western Cape)
  18. Riebeek Kasteel  (Western Cape)
  19. Sabie (Mpumalanga)
  20. St.Lucia (KZN)
  21. Sutherland (Northern Cape)
  22. Tulbagh  (Western Cape)
  23. Underberg (KZN)
  24. Villiersdorp  (Western Cape)
  25. Wildernesss (Western Cape)

Noupoort

(Featured Town)

The town of Noupoort was laid out on a portion of the farm Caroluspoort, and was administered by a village management board from 1937 and attained municipal status in 1942.

It revolved principally around the railways and is still used as a traction change-over facility from diesel to electric locomotives on the Noupoort-Bloemfontein line. It was serviced by Midlandia, a locomotive complex a few kilometers to the south of town, especially during the diesel era up to the late 1900s. Nowadays it links up with the electric line to De Aar, part of the main artery for iron ore and manganese exports from the Northern Cape through Port Elizabeth Harbour on the south coast.

(Read more...)

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Mountain Passes South Africa

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.
 

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