It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the Rugby World Cup. We wish the Springboks success for the remaining matches and hope to see them in the final.
2019 has flown by and been packed with challenges. Perhaps the biggest progress we have made is in the presentation of our tours. In the space of just over a year when we launched our first day tours, these have quickly evolved into multiple day tours, where we have tried to find a happy balance between driving passes, enjoying scenery, adding in points of interest and providing our guests with affordable but quality accommodation and food. Every tour has been fully booked so we must be doing something right.
Our final tour of the year is the Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour (22nd to 24th November) - a three day tour through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in South Africa, coupled with game viewing, wonderful accommodation and some technical driving to keep everyone on their toes. You will need to have a 4x4 vehicle with low range. We have 5 tickets left on this tour.
Final arrangements and accommodation bookings have been concluded. Here is a foretaste of what's on offer:
Thursday 21st November: Meet at 1800 at our guest lodge in the citrus farming town of Kirkwood for meet & greet, radio fitment, happy hour and drivers briefing followed by dinner.
Friday 22nd November: 08h30 Tour starts with a traverse over the Olifantskop Pass, then the gravel fun starts as we loop westwards to drive the challenging Zuurberg Pass from north to south with a lunch stop at the Zuurberg Mountain Inn. After lunch we tackle the Doringnek Pass and return to Kirkwood.
Saturday 23rd November: An easy day entirely within the Addo Elephant National Park with free driving included.
Sunday 24th November: We save the best for last as the Bedrogfontein 4x4 route will be driven. This is generally a Grade 1 to 2 drive (weather dependent) and will take the whole day to complete with a return leg to Kirkwood via the Darlington Dam and Paardepoort. Final night Chappies awards and celebrations.
Monday 25th November: Depart for home after breakfast.
Online bookings can be done here: BEDROGFONTEIN-ZUURBERG TOUR
If you want to review driving conditions for the two big gravel passes, here are the links to watch the videos:
Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour (Chapter 3)
We continue with the story where we left off 2 weeks ago at the summit of Lundean's Nek Pass. What was immediately noticeable as we started the ascent, was that the SAPS anti stock theft unit buildings had been abandoned. Either stock theft has ceased or SAPS have not found it financially viable to operate the unit any longer.
The northern descent of Lundean's Nek Pass is one of the best drives you will experience anywhere in South Africa. The condition of the road is generally reasonable, so there is time to enjoy the scenery. The road winds its way from the 2162m high summit towards the Telle River via a series of loops and switchbacks. Beautiful black streaked sandstone formations keep the road company as streams and waterfalls come into view with each new change of direction. Here you can see the influence of the Basotho lifestyle and similar to Lesotho, the herders wear a blanket with stick and gumboots being the standard attire. Their dogs all looks the same - a type of long haired Anatolian sheep-dog. Sheep and cattle appear often but the 20 kph speed makes avoiding them easy. [More lower down]
What's inside ?
* Doing the Ben 10 on foot
* Pass of the Week
* New passes added
* Words of Wisdom
Tours: Our Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour is around the corner (22nd to 24th November). If you own a 4x4 with low range, this tour will tick all the boxes. We have 5 places open at time of writing. Bookings can be done here: Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour.
Throwing down the gauntlet
A few weeks ago I met a remarkable young man from Pretoria at the Mountain Shadows Hotel in the heart of Ben 10 Country. He was there to attempt to be the first runner to complete the Ben 10. Coincidentally we were at the same hotel with our second MPSA group tour of the challenge. Jaco Pretorius (aged 45) is tall, lean and clearly very fit. He quietly approached me in the food queue to introduce himself. Today we bring you his story, the planning, the toughness, the elation and the prize. There will be more trail runners after him, but this man was the first. It's one heck of an achievement to complete the challenge in 4 days on foot.
Our newsletter this week is devoted entirely to Jaco's story, so sit back relax and read on. Next week, the newsletter will resume the format you are accustomed to. Here is Jaco's story:
"Our Challenge preparation started early in 2019, when a colleague, Dirk, and I started talking about doing the challenge. I’ve only been in the area once (April 2018) when I drove via Rhodes over Lundean’s and Naudes Nek on my way to Maclear. This was enough to wet my appetite for this beautiful part of South Africa.
Our early thoughts were to do the challenge over 6 days, as running those passes could be rather tough. Dirk and his son, Christo, would do it on the motorcycles, and I would attempt to run it. By May 2019, we had entered on the www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za website, and the real preparation had to start. We had targeted the long weekend in September as the best week to try to do it. This would then also be ideal preparation for my first Skyrun100 race happening mid-November in the same area.
A lot of “google mapping” and reading on the passes happened between May and July to work out the optimum route, and we agreed to commit by August, as we could not delay the booking of accommodation any further.
By early August, after a less than ideal winter for me, I abandoned the thought of running Ben10, as I felt that my fitness level was not where it should be. I told Dirk the news, and he and another colleague, Gerhard, proceeded with their arrangements to do it. Gerhard would be the backup driver in the Ford Ranger, and Dirk and his son would do it on motorcycles. Seeing that they did not have to cater for me, they decided to do the challenge in 3 days, as it required less leave from work.
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The week that was:
* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg bookings open
* Sani Pass update
* Ben 10 Eco-Challenge V2 Tour (Chapter 2)
* SA History (Chapter 22)
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom.
Sani Pass Update
On Sunday 29th September we descended the iconic Sani Pass and for the first time, managed to capture crystal clear footage of the entire descent. Over the next month we will be producing a brand new multiple video set and YOU will be the first to see them.
The condition of the road varies greatly, depending on recent weather systems. Much of the pass has been widened and only a few sections still exist where two vehicles cannot easily pass each other. The road is however very stony and bumpy and it is still necessary to ascend with a 4WD vehicle. Having said that we saw a gent driving up in a 4x2 Ford Ranger, but he had considerable difficulty going up the switchback section - amidst flying stones, dust and lots of wheel spinning. It's really not a clever thing to do.
There is lots of small scale construction happening along the section below the SAPS border control point. New bridges have been built and some are still under construction. Where the road has been widened, the cuttings have been stabilised with shotcrete (gunite) which is unattractive, but cost effective in the long term.
No tarring has taken place at all and at this stage the entire Sani Pass is still gravel. If you are one of those adventurers who wants to drive it whilst gravel, you probably have a two year window to do so.
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As you read this newsletter, the editorial team are still on the road, returning from two back to back tours. This newsletter will take on a slightly different format to our usual newsletter format. There will be no history chapter this week, but next week the history series will continue.
Most of this news letter will be consist of the two tours we have just completed - so let's get straight to the nitty gritty.
Our final tour for 2019 is the Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour towards the end of November. Tickets are selling fast. We have six places left, so if you're keen to join this tour, get your bookings done. You can get full information, pricing etc by using this link: Bedrogfontein Tour Online Bookings.
The Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour involved a two day trip getting to base camp and an overnight stay in Graaff Reinet, where we enjoyed fabulous Karoo cooking at the Polka Restaurant. Make a note of it and be sure to book as it's nearly always fully booked (and we know why!)
Our group consisting of 11 vehicles met at the Mountain Shadows Hotel (another venue which found favour with all our guests), but by 5 pm we received a message from Mark Heaton, stating that his Jeep Cherokee CRDi had developed a diesel injector problem and he had made it as far as Lady Grey and would be unable to participate in the tour. Fortunately we had three vehicles in our convoy without passengers and we were able to offer Mark a ride with Barrie Barnardt (who we later dubbed Barrie die Bek) for his ability to speak rapidly and continuously (and very cleverly). Mark is quietly spoken, so we had a perfect team in the black Ford Ranger Wildtrack.
We then amended our route slightly and collected Mark in Lady Grey the next morning and so the Ben 10 Tour overcame its first curved ball. But there would be more to come. Day 1 included Joubert's Pass, followed by a magnificent scenic drive back to the R58 and then south to the Otto du Plessis Pass. Conditions were strangely warm (32C) but the area is still dry leaving us with a lot of dust which invariably sees the convoy spreading out over 7 km or longer. [More lower down]
* Cederberg Tour - The final chapter
* South African History - WW1
* Pass of the Week
* Words of Wisdom
Click below for all the details and online bookings:
The gravel back road between Clanwilliam and Algeria is probably the most underrated road in the Cederberg. The road twists and turns through a steep and rugged valley with 1000m high mountains on either side. Thick bush interspersed with citrus orchards keep one company as the road heads southwards following the course of the Rondegat River.
Somewhere near the lovely Jamaka campsite, the valley suddenly displayed the mountain slopes smothered in blue flowers as far as one could see - almost to the 700m contour line. Apparently these flowers are typical in the spring after a mountain fire the previous summer. It really was a sight for sore eyes. High up the slopes on the right the scar of the Nieuwoudt Pass (also called the Cederberg Pass) can be seen, which is the more popular route to Algeria from the N7.
Algeria forestry station and campsites took a major hammering in the big fires a few years back, but it's back on track with new chalets and a smart reception area. Algeria is probably the most popular campsite in the Cederberg and early booking is always required.
From Algeria the road has been brick-paved in the last 8 years, in a community employment project which has now included the Uitkyk Pass as well, which makes it a real pleasure to drive with time to enjoy the sensational views looking north towards the Clanwilliam Dam.
We made it back to Mount Ceder exactly according to our ETA, which allowed guests time to relax before another wonderful meal laid on by Mount Ceder. The meal was preceded to an informative chat on the olive industry by the farm owner and the various varieties were tasted. Another perfect, calm, starry night in the Cederberg ensured a sound night's sleep.
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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.