Featured pass of the week
This week we head off to the north-western corner of Mpumalanga into the that geological wonderland known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt, where the ancient mountains deliver the richest minerals as diverse as asbestos and gold. But it's is the amazing scenery that attracts the adventurous traveller to this beautiful part of South Africa, tucked into the Makonjwa Mountains forming the border between South Africa and Swaziland.
One of Mpumalanga's best kept secrets is the Songimvelo Nature Reserve which hosts waterfalls, forests, mountains and valleys with swift flowing rivers where the flora and fauna are as diverse as the minerals locked into the surrounding rocks. A winding gravel road descends from the R40 off the Bulembu Pass down towards Badplaas via an old ghost town known as the Msauli Village. [More lower down]
Koringberg to Rusty Gate
Many of our readers send us pass suggestions. We investigate each and every one of them and often ask that reader to join us on the filming expedition once we've decided to add their pass suggestion to our database. Over the past two weeks we have filmed the Koringberg Pass near Moorreesburg as well as a new pass between the Helderstroom Valley and Theewaterskloof Dam, which will both be featured over the next few weeks, so there's plenty to look forward to for those of you that enjoy these remote routes that we uncover. Both of these are highly recommended.
We are back in the Western Cape this week with our featured pass pass being a major gravel pass peppered with sharp corners, very steep gradients and breathtaking Cederberg scenery. I recall the first time I ever drove this route back in 1988 in a VW Kombi on a very wet and cold winter's day. I fell in love with this road and have been back so many times, I've lost count. To be honest, I would rank this as my personal favourite gravel road. It plays host to a number of excellent passes, depending on your approach. On the southern side there are Michells, Gydo, Katbakkies, Peerboomskloof and Blinkberg passes. To the north there are Uitkyk, Kromrivier, Nieuwoudts, Pakhuis, Kouberg, Hoek se Berg and Eselbank passes. (More lower down)
Pretty strange (The grammar police are roaming)
We're quite relaxed about grammar in general but this week we would like to focus on one of the most abused words in the English language and maybe we can have an influence on at least 100,000 people by creating an awareness - and from there it can grow. Everytime I hear it being misused, I cringe. The word is "pretty." Most of us have become so anaesthetised to it's misuse that we are not even aware of what we are saying in everyday language. Remember the complete and total abuse of the word "like" just a few years ago? "I'm (like) going to the movies (like)"
Synonyms for pretty are: Attractive, lovely, good-looking, nice-looking, fetching, prepossessing, appealing, charming, delightful, nice, engaging, pleasing.
But these days 'pretty' is used to describe pretty much anything (see what I mean!). More lower down.....
The filming of the Mariepskop Pass right on the Mpumalanga/Limpopo border formed part of a week long filming trip bedevilled with heavy cloud, mountain mists and copious quantities of rain. Juggling rain showers with our filming schedule was never going to be an easy task and an entire day was set aside to film the second biggest altitude gaining pass (of 1100m) in South Africa. Just getting to the pass requires good planning and lots of spare time.
Based in Graskop, we first had to descend to the Lowveld via Kowyn's Pass with its old but futuristic tunnel design and multitude of potholes, as we headed towards a large and impressive dam - the Injaka dam, which provides water to the Bushbuckridge region.
Perhaps the most dangerous part of the Mariepskop Pass is navigating the numerous hazards on the southern approach road - the R40. It straddles a huge suburban area of mixed economic housing ranging from simple shacks to multistoried mansions - all falling under the universal name of Bushbuckridge.
This 35 km long drive to reach the Mariepskop turn-off is not for the faint-hearted. You have to pay radar-like attention to everything going on around you with taxis, slow cars, fast cars, trucks, buses, cattle, goats, dogs and pedestrians all adding to the alarming number of obstacles on the roadway. Traffic officers appear everywhere with radar traps and road blocks being the norm on any day of the week. In short, this is a rather chaotic place, that has new shopping centres popping up all over the show, so clearly there is investment and enough money around to make the place as busy as it is. [More lower down]
Good weather - Bad weather
The huge frontal storm system that hit the Western Cape on Sunday brought with it plummeting temperatures, widespread snow from the Cederberg all the way to the Drakensberg and of course, lots of rain. Water levels in the dams of the drought stricken Western Cape have risen steadily since June and are now at 50,3% and climbing as rivers flow strongly through the catchment areas of the major dams like Theewaterskloof. Level 6B water restrictions remain in place in Cape Town and are unlikely to be lifted until a figure of 85% is achieved and only then will there be a gradual reduction in the level of restriction. It seems unlikely that Cape Town will be entirely free of water restrictions for the next 5 years.
In Sutherland the mercury dropped to minus 8 on Tuesday night. The infamous "Vries jou gat af" weekend was planned two weeks too early! A number of passes were closed between Sunday and Monday, which included the Theronsberg and Swaarmoed passes in the Western Cape and the Lootsberg Pass in the Eastern Cape.
The old Du Toitskloof Pass on the R101 is one of the best places to go waterfall chasing. With grim weather in the forecast last Sunday, we took the trusty Land Cruiser (plus the cameras just in case) and decided to see if we could film some of the waterfalls. Our previous highest count in the kloof was around 40. To say the weather was wild was putting things mildly as torrents of rain and gale force winds raged over the mountains. We counted and logged 147 proper waterfalls, although some of them were quite small, there were many much higher up the crags that we had never seen before. Dense clouds and heavy rain, prevented any photography, but the drive was something to behold. Despite the heavy traffic this is the place to go during or just after a storm if you want to see waterfalls.
Pass of the Week
This week we take you into the heart of the Cederberg to one of the oldest farms in the area, where recent changes to the infrastructure have breathed new life into this well known tourist farm, which has been servicing the needs of hikers, backpackers, climbers and campers for almost 80 years. [More lower down]
Beauty right in front of you
One of the problems with main routes (those with the N prefixes) are that they are almost always frenetically busy and those who ply these routes become caught up in the general traffic behaviour whether they like it or not.
Yet, there are some magnificent passes and poorts on our main routes. A good example is Du Toit's Kloof Pass on the N1 or Van Reenens Pass on the N3. There are many more examples and our featured pass today is one of those gems (on the busy R539 in Mpumalanga) that are often ignored, until you slow down and start looking around.
Today we take a drive along the 20 km Schoemanskloof west of Nelspruit, where we uncover some wonderful places to visit and history that you will find fascinating. In the summer months the kloof is lined with the pink flowering Kapok trees. We have a look at the origins of the trees and how useful they have been to modern man. [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.