We have a jam-packed newsletter today. Forget about the city life and take a cyber drive with us to the distant corners of South Africa.
Never Ending Story
Each Thursday we feature a pass that most South Africans are not familiar with in an effort to bring the passes you don't know about into your living room via your desktop, phone or iPad. No matter how fast we produce passes, new ones get sent in by our readers, leaving that "passes to go" number wallowing around the 125 mark. It's been at that level for two years now, despite producing on average 3 passes per week. South Africa is a huge country with diversified scenery with much of our history on the smaller passes lost in the mists of time. Every story and snippet of folklore gets documented at MPSA and by the time this project reaches maturity, it should be the most comprehensive collection of true Africana available on the internet.
What happens in Sutherland stays in Sutherland
During a filming trip to the Northern Cape in 2014 we were based in Sutherland having dinner at one of the local restaurants, when a stranger approached me and asked me if I was the person behind Mountain Passes South Africa. It turned out he was a tour guide and had a group in the little Karoo town on an astronomy tour. He asked me if I knew which was the shortest pass in South Africa? The answer I told him was Sylvia's Pass in Jhb at 290m.
"No" he corrected me. "It's Grey's Pass in Cape Town. Go and check it out" (said with a huge grin)
It took us four years to get around to that! Last Sunday on a bleak, rainy day in Cape Town (that's something of an oxymoron these days), I packed the GoPro and set off to locate and film the mysterious Grey's Pass. More lower down......
This week we head into northern sector of Mpumalanga where it forms its border with Limpopo province. We take a closer look at an odd little village, whose name has given it almost cult status with modern adventure travellers and especially with the adventure biker groups. You've all heard of Blikkiesfontein, Pofadder, Hotazel and Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, but here is a hamlet with the quirky name of ~Tonteldoos.
It was established in 1883 and populated by poor, but resourceful burghers. The word 'tonteldoos' means tinderbox. While no-one is certain how the village got its unique name, the story goes that the local land surveyor lost his tinder-box in the area whilst surveying the farmlands and the name stuck. Tonteldoos is located in a peaceful valley near Dullstroom, a popular fly fishing destination. It is surrounded by farmlands and the town itself has a pub, a cheese farm, a country kitchen and some places to stay.
The valley is known for having three species of arum lilly including the rare yello arum, and has another rare plant species, the Aloe reitzil. Nearby is a rough and ready gravel pass waiting to test your driving or riding skills. [More lower down.....]
For the next few weeks our focus will remain on Mpumalanga as we start the production process of many new videos. Today's feature is a pass of drama and danger. It has a summit altitude of 1970m ASL and descends 1065m over 27,4 km via 117 bends, corners and curves, of which 8 are full hairpins and a further 12 bends have angles greater than 90 degrees. It ranks as the 3rd biggest altitude gaining pass in SA after Sani and Mariepskop passes and also ranks as the 10th longest pass. In short, don't take this one lightly!
The mountains are prone to heavy mists which can reduce visibility to 3m. Add into that recipe exceptionally heavy rainfall, potholes, badly cambered corners and the big baddy is/are the massive logging trucks that ply this route. We take you through all the do's and don'ts and guide you over the entire route via a brand new 4 piece video set.
We considered ourselves fortunate to have had a sunny day for the trip - a rarity in this part of Mpumalanga. The main player in this huge valley carved out by the Elands River is SAPPI's paper mill at Ngodwana. We explore the good and the bad angles of commercial forestry and the effects on the region. [More lower down....]
We remain in Mpumalanga this week as we explore an interesting gravel pass through one of the original gold prospecting regions near Lydenburg. We take a look at the first private effort at a water conservancy reserve and the wonderfully positive results that one man's vision has brought to improving the state of the rivers in the Kruger National Park, which is arguably South Africa's single biggest tourism attraction. Without water, there is no Kruger!
Mount Anderson Water Reserve (MAWR) is a substantial project named after the tallest peak in the area north of Lydenburg and the mastermind behind the project is Michael Rattray, who'se family previously owned the Mala-Mala Reserve adjoining the Kruger. His vast experience in nature conservation stood him in good stead to establish the MAWR and after just 8 years, the fruits of his labours are already showing much improved water flow and quality.
The river that flows through the MAWR is the well known Spekboom River, which sports two beautiful old stone arched bridges a little further downstream. We also take a look at the history of the road bridge in particular and its involvement in the second Anglo-Boer war. (More lower down...)
Mpumalanga - Province of contrasts
In our news release today, we devote the entire page to Mpumalanga - its pro's and cons - warts and all. It's an honest evaluation of our extensive tour across that province.
Six months of meticulous planning meant nothing, when the fickle Mpumalanga weather threw us many curved balls during last week's filming trip. It's a province of contrasts and we returned to Cape Town with a number of interesting observations and impressions. The first is that Mpumalanga has some of the best roads in South Africa, as well as some of the worst. We travel a LOT and I can confidently report that the R36 is the worst tarred road in South Africa. It's not mathematically possible to count the potholes. It would be better if what is left of the tar was removed altogether. Average speeds on this road are around 30 kph (and that is in a big high clearance 4x4). To be fair, reconstruction of the road has commenced. It is best to avoid this road at all costs.
It's a province with lots of natural assets and the priority of those assets shows in how the province is run. The three main assets are mining, farming and tourism, with the last mentioned being a fairly distant third. From a scenic perspective this province is hard to beat and is reputed to host the most scenic mountain pass in South Africa - the Bulembu Pass (which has not been marketed very well, as most of you have probably not even heard of it) Take this great abundance of natural scenic beauty and counterpoint it with towns which have too much litter lying about and delapidated streets and suddenly one gets a more balanced view.
Planning a pass filming trip
The week we selected to film in Mpumalanga was based on historical weather records. We wanted greenery in our footage with blue skies and of course, no rain. Records showed the third week in April to be perfect for the job, but the weather gods decided otherwise and threw torrential rain-storms and towering cumulus clouds in our path every day, in the process reducing our normal 6 hour filming window down to 2 hours - and sometimes less. (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.