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....)
Eastern Cape Highlands - the mecca of high altitude gravel passes
This news release comes to you whilst both the filming teams are very busy in Mpumalanga trying to peg down the 37 passes on our to do list. Whilst we are up in the forested mountains of Mpumalanga testing our skills against the elements and the back-roads, we take you off to a really remote, but stunning gravel pass in the Eastern Cape Highlands. This off the beaten track would not be out of place to be included in the Ben 10 Challenge. It offers breathtaking scenery, in a remote and wild setting with some technical driving added to the mix, which makes it a winner. (More lower down....)
Michel's Pass (Hogsback)
For the past 10 years or so, this pass (which could at one stage be driven in a Morris Minor), literally fell off the map, as local authorities completely disregarded and neglected it. Like so many minor roads in rural South Africa, it gradually became branded as a 4x4 route - a natural process of road deterioration marketed to the off-road fraternity as a tourist attraction. The road got worse and worse and eventually a major rockfall blocked the road completely. Infestations of black wattle formed a tunnel over the road, spoiling the fantastic views on offer. (More lower down.....)
In the path of the old sheep trekkers.
This week we introduce you to a remote gravel pass that was probably once a sheep trekking route as far back as the 1700's. It parallels the Hottentotskloof and Theronsberg passes north of Ceres in the Western Cape and offers a slow but exceptionally scenic drive along a long kloof, where you will see wild animals, spectacular scenery and quite possibly a pair of black eagles that roost in the lofty crags.
The route involves opening and closing farm gates and in the winter season, there will be many stream crossings across low drifts without any bridges. The route traverses several farms, one of which has been abandoned and stands forlornly alone without human occupation - a stark reminder of just how tough farming can be. (More lower down)
Eastern Cape Highlands update
In our last news release we reported storm damage to both Lundin's Nek and Jouberts passes. The latest reports trickling in appear to indicate that a local taxi operator in the Telle bridge area has forged a way through the rockfalls on Lundin's Nek and created a semblance of a driveable road through the northern sector. A number of vehicles have also driven over Jouberts Pass, but not without some difficulties and some vehicles have got stuck to the point of requiring assistance. If you are heading that way to do the Ben 10 Eco Challenge, please approach these two passes with due diligence and preferably not alone.
A bridge too far
It is the year 1915. The attractive dressed stone, single arch bridge that straddles the amber waters of the Keur River in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains between George and Oudtshoorn is one of the most popular places for locals to visit for a break in their journey. The lushly wooded valley is filled with birdsong and the gentle sound of water burbling over the stones and boulders creates a place of timeless tranquility. But on a fateful day in that year a drama involving a murder and a suicide unfolded at the bridge.
John Cooper of Oudtshoorn was in love with Alice Lee of Somerset East (both had spouses and children). After a three day lover's tryst at the George Hotel, they set out for Oudtshoorn. Their journey ended at the Keur River bridge. Mrs. Lee was found with her long hair down and in disarray, one arm of her coat was almost ripped off. Near her lay John Cooper. Within reach of his hand was a recently fired revolver. In Cooper's car were letters for his wife and eldest son.
Witnesses recounted that some nights when young men raced down the pass on their bicycles, they saw Cooper and his mistress gliding half a meter above the road. Theunis Muller and Izak Theron were two Georgians who swore that they saw the ghosts more than once. The George & Knysna Herald newspaper reported that Mr Cooper shot Mrs Lee and then shot himself. (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.