Mountain Passes News

Each Thursday we tempt you to cyber drive South Africa. Unleash your sense of adventure or simply go on a scenic drive. There is something for everyone in this vast land of ours. One of our readers suggested a listing of easy gravel passes to drive. We've given that some thought and come to understand that one man's easy is another's difficult, so we might be stepping in where angels fear to tread. Perhaps those decisions are best left to the individuals taste.

In similar vein, this website is widely used by the motorcycling fraternity and we have had many requests to provide a route rating for motorcyclists within our Fact File system. Once again, after a lot of deliberation, we are reluctant to make judgements on the degree of difficulty of a road, due to the wide range of skills within that motorcycling fraternity. Ratings are probably best also left alone. We just thought we would explain the rationale behind these decisions.

This week we head into the much loved Cederberg in the Western Cape to drive the Grootrivierhoogte Pass, which can get hairy for front-wheel drive cars during rainy weather. This pass is very steep and climbs incessantly through multiple bends. It's a classic and one of our favourites. We move from there into the old Transkei to discover a real gem - South Africa's newest pass. A surprising find in this rural part of the Eastern Cape. A big, modern tarred, multi-lane pass with a viaduct. It makes a good read even if you cant get there. This pass was sent in by one of the engineers who worked on the project, Johan Thiart.

We complete our journey with a visit to our second unofficial Langeberg pass, following on from last weeks traverse of the Boosmansbos Pass. 

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South African mountain passes are a never ending source of intrigue with some astonishing history, as our forefathers tried to tame this vast sub-continent. This week we take a look at the ghost town of Bowes Dorp in Namaqualand and discover a bizarre connection with the Faberge business name. These interesting stories and anecdotes come from our  readers, and as is the case this week, we publish the story straight from the horses mouth, so to speak. Chris Boyle did the honours.

We are currently working hard on many of the reader submissions. John Irvine submiited the Bedrogsfontein Pass, which turned out to be more than just a pass, but an entire one day offroad route through pristine and varying landscapes. It was only when we were doing the Google earth plot of this road, that we realised we had actually driven it many years earlier - long before the passes project was conceived.Take a day off and drive this one, but you will need a 4WD vehicle with low range.

Finally we divert to the Southern Cape, where we recently uncovered four unofficial passes. This was the day we had Dr. Graham Ross with us to ensure we had an engineer onboard, to pass comment on these lovely passes, which we will feature one by one over the next few weeks. It would seem that the Western Cape had far too many passes for the authorities to officially give names to.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

What a week and lots of news to share! On the down side a spate of horrific traffic accidents involving heavy duty vehicles have claimed many innocent lives. The Alberton incident involved as many as 50 vehicles with many fatalities and serious injuries. All of these accidents can be blamed on either unroadworthy vehicles or speed and driver error. We urge everyone to drive defensively.

Fuel price down
The good news is that the price of oil is the lowest it has been for a very long time at $88US per barrel. That equates into another fuel price reduction, despite our weak currency. And that in turn equates into more passes to drive!

So what's in a barrel?
On the topic of the oil price, have you ever wondered why that commodity is measured in barrels? What is a barrel and why is this term used? It goes back to the 1800's when oil was first tapped from the earth in the US and was sold in old wine barrels of various sizes. In the USA the industry eventually decided to standardise the size of a barrel at 42 gallons (about 160 litres). And so the system spread world-wide and the term "per barrel" has remained as part of our daily lives. Odd how certain things just never went metric. Another example is gold, which is sold in "fine ounces". So what exactly is the difference between a fine ounce and a normal ounce? And why should it not be sold in milligrams?

Master Pass South Africa?
We have a new feature for you this week which has just been launched. Under our EXTREME PASSES listings, you will find a new category, called MOST POPULAR PASSES. This is based on the number of page views received and the plan is to audit the figures once per year. Newer passes added more recently will obviously have a lower score and those added in 2012 will naturally be higher. It does show a clear trend though and we were more than surprised to find a really out of the way, remote pass right on top of this list with over 14,000 page views! It is the Studtis Poort in the Baviaanskloof, which has firmly claimed the No.1 stakes by our readers. It beats Gamkaskloof (2nd), Swartberg Pass (3rd) and Sani Pass (4th) quite comfortably by more than 4000 page views. There are a few other surprises there as well. Visit the page (we've made it easy for you - just click the blue hyperlink above), and see where your favourite pass ranks in the national stakes.

Try our Trivia Quiz on Facebook
Our FaceBook page has wizzed through the 2000 "Likes" mark and continues to enjoy popularity.You can access our Facebook page directly from the Home Page. We run a weekly fun quiz to test your geography knowledge. Our last post enjoyed 39,000 hits with visitors from around the globe.

Where to this week?
This week our main pass feature is the stunning Steenbras Mountain Road at Gordons Bay on the False Bay coastline. We pay tribute to another remarkable engineer, Ronnie Fisk, who designed and plotted his 'convenience road', wearing out a brand new pair of army boots during the survey work.

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We have had a hugely positive response to the six page article in the SA4x4 magazine (October issue) causing our website and Facebook hits to spike sharply. As they say, the show goes on, and this week we introduce you to some old standards as well as some off the beaten track discoveries.

As far back as 1863 the main road between Laingsburg and Prince Albert ran through a rugged valley separated by the Swartberg and Elandsberg ranges. The much underrated Adam de Smidt, who spent most of his adult life in the shadow of his famous brother in law, Thomas Bain, won the contract to build not only the Seweweekspoort pass, but also the Bosluiskloof Pass. We feature this as our No.1 pass this week, not only for its rugged grandeur and long history, but also that as a passenger in our vehicle on that day of filming, we had the honour of having Dr. Graham Ross with us - who at the ripe old age of 90 mandhandled our truck over the Bosluiskloof Pass, whilst we did the filming. We used the opportunity to tap into Graham's extraordinary wealth of road building knowledge.

Our other two passes range from the far north in Limpopo near the Alpine like village of Haenertsburg, across to Free State's beautiful Golden Gate Highlands National Park via the Lichens Pass.

The offroad magazine SA4x4 produced a six page colour feature on this website in their October edition. It starts on page 74 and tells the story behind the website - how it germinated and grew into what it is today. The article also features some of our best photo's of the last few years. Get your copy!

This week we head off to some smaller, lesser known, but no less interesting mountain passes. Lying just to the west of the N7 between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam is the tarred and charming Haarwegskloof Pass. Not many people even know of this pass. It also offers a much nicer alternative to the never ending Stop/Go's on the N7 at the moment (and probably for the next 2 or 3 years). This road later becomes gravel and takes you down the Kransvleikloof Pass to rejoin the N7 right next to the Clanwiliam Dam.

The Free State only has 6 official passes and we are currently working on a very interesting pass which runs right next to the Lesotho border, submitted by a reader, but that one will only go live in a week or two. In the meantime, we head off to the historic brownstone town of Clarens, which is one of the gateways to Lesotho, as well as to the beautiful Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The pass in question is the Noupoortsnek, just outside Clarens.

Finally, it would appear that Mike's Pass in KZN is no longer drivable in your own vehicle, but you can book a trip on one of the reserve's vehicles (min 4 persons) who will take you on a guided tour of this stunning pass. Details are on the pass page.  It's a humdinger!

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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.

Master Orientation Map

Master Orientation Map 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.

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