fbpx

Mountain Passes News

The week that was

* Tours updates

* Swartberg Tour report back

* Old Postal Route closed

* Great South Africans 

* South African cities

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Trips & Tours (2020)

Atlantis Sand Training Day - 13th December (4 tickets available).

Book online

We have a wonderful tour programme lined up for 2021. Some of our popular tours will be repeated and some news ones are being created. We've listened to YOUR suggestions. The new tours will be published soon.


Swartberg Tour Report back

Day Zero: 19th October. Our rendezvous point for the start of the tour was the lovely Rotterdam Boutique Hotel. This old establishment has been lovingly restored and is located on a working cattle farm just outside the hamlet of Buffeljagsrivier, near Swellendam. A museum 'Die Waenhuis' is in close proximity to the Fraser-Jones suites with its burbling fountains and enormous rooms. We travel a lot, but those rooms were the size of a small house. 

We had 10 vehicles on the tour, including two non 4WD vehicles. We held our drivers briefing promptly at 1800 on the stoep of the old thatched restaurant to the sound of sprinklers and frogs, nicely topped off with the fragrance of lavender and freshly mowed grass.

After the driver's briefing, Andrew Fraser-Jones (the proprietor) took us over to the museum for a fascinating 20 minute talk covering the history of the area. Dinner was excellent and a strong northerly wind ensured everyone was tucked in nice and early ready for the first day of passes.

Day 1: 20th October. After a hearty farm breakfast, we managed to get the show on the road by 0900. Our first stop was at the so-called Sugar Bridge, just a few kilometres from the hotel. 

Mr Skirrow designed the bridge but died soon after, leaving the actual construction to Mr Atmore. Huge sandstone blocks were used for the piers and the bridge deck was solid teak salvaged from the shipwreck of the 'Robert' at the mouth of the Lourens River in 1847.

Portland cement was not available at that time in South Africa. Traditional local mortar was made from sand and lime but it took a long time to set to full strength, leaving the builders with concerns that the Buffeljagsrivier might flood during the construction phase and wash the new bridge away. So they imported gypsum from France but this set too quickly to allow the accurate placement of the sandstone blocks. To retard the setting time, household sugar was added as an admixture. Hence the bridge earned the nickname of the Sugar Bridge and opened to traffic in 1852. It did its job perfectly well for 101 years when the new road was opened in 1953. 

After a 1 km stint on the busy N2, we detoured off to visit the missionary village of Suurbraak. Our routing then took us up Moodies Pass (named after a magistrate in Heidelberg), then along a magnificent stretch of gravel road all along the foothills of the Langeberg which included the Boosmansbos Pass, Doringkraal Pass, Seekoeigat Pass and Wadrift Pass. The flowers were amazing along the route and we had just one slightly deep water crossing to contend with.

That was just the entree. We had another three major passes to drive. Next up was Gysmanshoek Pass. This pass has very comfortable gradients with only one steep section of about 2 km. The route follows a river valley and the fragrance of proteas and fynbos greets those who drive with their windows open. We took a break at the summit for some photos and tackled the descent.

Our first town stop was Ladismith and like so many places in South Africa, the closures of busineses due to the lockdown was a stark reminder of what our country still has to work through, before things can return to some semblance of normality. Instead of driving along the R62, we drove a picturesque gravel route around the northern end of Ladismith, known as the Hoekoe Valley. One of the interesting points of interest is Stanley's Light. A local gentleman walked up the mountain armed with plastic pipes, a bicycle wheel and dynamo. At the source of the spring near the summit, Oom Stanley built his little water mill which powers the dynamo which in turn lights the bulb in the bicycle lamp. It can be seen from the town at night and its brightness (or lack thereof) is a sure indicator of how much water is flowing down the mountain.

We also stopped in at the old Lutheran Mission Church at Amalienstein for photos and then arrived at the start of one of the main attractions for the day - Seweweekspoort. Just as one enters the poort from the southern side, a small road leads away to the right. It terminates 2 km later at the Tierkloof Dam, which is the main water supply to Zoar and Amalienstein. Its a narrow, deep dam that holds back 45,000 cu.m of fresh water with wall height of 17m.

We normally stop under the dam wall and enjoy a lunch break, but the authorities have since decided to padlock the gate. This is no doubt due to bad behaviour by certain individuals. What a pity. There is a large flat area just before the gate, which can accommodate ten or more vehicles, so we made good use of that.

Seweweekspoort never disappoints, but driving it after 1500 on a sunny day provides lots of glare from the front and does not show off its beauty to maximum effect. We always make provision for this and ensure that we when we drive back through the poort, it is in the morning with the light from behind.

Our last pass of the day was Bosluiskloof. Every time we take guests down this pass, there is always a sense of disbelief at the raw and rugged nature of this road and the achingly dry valley it provides access to.

We arrived right on schedule, ready to enjoy the excellent hospitality at Bosch Luys Kloof lodge. A magnificent Karoo sunset provided a perfect setting for happy hour on the pool deck with a warm and windless evening. The food at the lodge is very good and our band of travellers hit the sack tired and happy, looking forward to the next day, which was a 'free' day to be spent as they wished inside the reserve. More on that next week.

The week that was....

* Tours Updates

* Swartberg Tour summary

* Ben 10 V3 Tour - Day 5 / Finale

* Great South Africans - Series #6

* Cities of South Africa - Series #7

* Podcast - A day with the vultures

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Trips & Tours


Wild Coast Adventure Tour - 12th to 21st November (Fully booked) 

Mpumalanga Highveld Tour - 23rd to 25th November (5 tickets available)

Atlantis Sand Training Day - 13th December (4 tickets available).

Book online

We are working on our program for next year and will publish dates of the new tours as soon as we have finalised matters.


Swartberg Tour - Report back

This thoroughly enjoyable tour deserves a detailed story on its own, which will take place over the next few weeks, but here is a short summary. The single most impressive item on this tour was the astonishing volume and variety of wild-flowers. The weather ranged from distinctly cool on the first day to a blistering 51C in Prince Albert on the 3rd day. The mercury dropped to 35C by 10 pm that night,

The day we visited the Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) was achingly painful to see the deeply wooded valley left in a charred and ashen state with no wildlife or birds present. The remaining family at Fonteinplaas are still there, licking their wounds and trying to rise above the double tragedy of the fire and Covid 19. Annatjie Joubert was there in person and spoke to us about the day of the fire - Christmas Day 2019 - when the valley caught fire and they still don't know how is started. All their guest cottages and the campsite went up in flames. Her son was standing on the roof wetting down the thatch of the restaurant as the flames raged around them. And finally it was time to stand on the lawn and pray. Suddenly there was a change in wind direction and the flames retreated up towards Elands Pass. Their home and the restaurant were spared.

Klipspringer family commonly seen on the road to Die Hel / Photo: Marius KrijtPlease go and visit. Take in the ashes and devastation. Have a meal and a drink there. If ever there was a family that needs our collective support, it is there in Die Hel. They have rebuilt three of the cottages as well as the campsite already. These are good South African people that need our support. More news next week.

 

Ben 10 V3 Tour - Day 5 (Finale)

After the rest day on the Sunday, we had a long day ahead of us which promised lots of action. The weather was perfect and our convoy left base at 08.30 sharp. Our routing took us along the R393 northwards over the Fetcani Pass. We took the shortcut to Rhodes over the Bokspruit Pass and arrived at Rhodes within an hour, where we paid a visit to the Rhodes Hotel, which is busy being revamped in preparation for the new grand opening.

The old hotel is an interesting place packed with antiques and one of the nicest pubs I've seen in a long time. We'll keep you posted on developments via these newsletters. It will certainly add a big attraction to anyone wanting to visit the village, which was hammered by a lack of tourism during lockdown.

Our first challenge pass of the day was Naude's Nek Pass. We stopped at the Naude memorial site at the foot of the pass to appreciate the fantastic work of the Naude family and their influence on the area, not least of which is the fabulous pass that they were instrumental in building. When one considers that the farmers had no education in terms of engineering, the gradients on the pass are actually very comfortable. 

[Read more....]

The week that was

* Trips & Tours

* Ben 10 V3 Tour Day 4 (Series)

* Great South Africans (#5 Series)

* South African Cities (#6 Series)

* Pass of the Week

* Words of Wisdom


Trips & Tours

Swartberg 2020 Tour: As you read this newsletter our tour group will be winding our way through the beautiful Swartberg range. Our Swartberg tours are always popular, so if you missed out on this one, we will be repeating it again in 2021.

Mpumalanga Panorama Tour: Bookings closed

Wild Coast Tour: Fully Booked

Mpumalanga Highveld Tour: 5 places open

Atlantis Sand Training Day: 4 places left.

Book your tour online


Ben 10 V3 Tour Report Back (Day 4)

All or previous Ben 10 Tours were run over 4 days. For the 2020 version we decided to build a spare (contingency) day into the programme in case of bad weather or vehicle breakdowns. We had a loose Plan B plan for this day, in case everything was running smoothly. As things turned out, for most of our guests, the spare day delivered a fantastic adventure.

Geudeon van Zyl is the father of the Ria Reabow, owner of the Mountain Shadows Hotel, which we use as our base for these tours. Geudeon, who is a cattle farmer both locally and in the Free State, happened to be visiting during the time of our tour, and offered to "show us around"- and what a day it turned out to be. 

Some of our guests opted out for the day and took a drive through to Rhodes to check out the local cemetery (a historical hobby of theirs), whilst others revisited their old family farms in the Elliot area. We were minus 3 vehicles for our little excursion. We departed promptly at 08.30 heading for a tall peak visible from the hotel called Dawid se Kop, which stands a respectable 2515m tall and is frequently snow capped in winter. 

Looking at the peak from the southern perspective, it seemed impossible to get up those vertical krantzes, but Geudeon guided us around to the northern side of the peak, all the while regaling us over the radios with fascinating snippets about water arteries in the mountains and the finer points of sheep and cattle farming. We crossed two private farms, which our guide for the day had gone to some trouble to collect keys and permission to cross private land.

[Read more...]

The week that was

* Trips & Tours update

* Ben 10 V3 Tour Day 3 (Series)

* Great South Africans (Series - #4)

* South African Cities (Series #5)

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of Wisdom


Trips & Tours

Mpumalanga Panorama Tour (26th to 30th October) - There are still a few tickets available for this wonderful tour taking in the historic towns and villages as well as the beautiful vistas along the Drakensberg Escarpment. Click here for more info & online bookings.

Wild Coast Tour (12th to 21st November) - Fully booked

Mpumalanga Highveld Tour (23rd to 25th November) Enjoy a leisurely and very affordable tour along the Mpumalanga Highveld guided by Johan Badenhorst. Click here for more info and online bookings.

Atlantis Sand Driving Course (13th December) - Join us for a fun day at Atlantis Dunes, north of Cape Town, as we teach you the fundamentals of soft sand driving. This is the 3rd module of our training programme. Click here to book.

 

Ben 10 V3 Tour report back: (Series - #3)

Friday 26th September: After two back to back tough driving days, we decided to slot in the easiest day of the tour to give our guests a bit of a break. After the usual slap-up breakfast at Mountain Shadows Hotel, we got the convoy on the move heading NNE to Barkly East and an opportunity to top up on fuel. The R58 along this stretch is a pleasure to drive and at 80 kph, there's time to take in all the fabulous scenery and of course there are a number of passes along the way - like the Kraai River Pass, Grondnek and Benjaminshoogte. 

Our route for the day was an anti-clockwise circular route taking in Jouberts Pass, Otto du Plessis Pass and the timeless Barkly Pass for the second time on the tour. Just before reaching Benjaminshoogte (where a number of the old railway reverses are located), we took the long, but scenic gravel alternative to Lady Grey via Joubert's Pass. This lovely drive offers magnificent scenery via a number of old farms, where the Lombardi poplars stand tall against the blue backdrop of towering mountains, where crystal clear streams offer some of the finest fly-fishing in South Africa and where vultures patrol the craggy cliffs for a morsel of food.

There are a number of interesting and graphic road signs along this road - like Kar Wegspoel Drif. Apparently one of the local farmers and his wife got caught in a flash flood coming home after a day's revelling in Lady Grey and just manged to escape out of their vehicle, before it washed away down the stream. There's another gulley marked 'Car Sump Drift' and one look at the sharp entry angle into the concreted drift easily tells the story that more than one motorist has damaged a sump at this innocuous spot.

The road meanders through valleys, crossing rivers, heading generally northwards, but at the 20 km mark there is an abrupt change of direction into the west and this also marks the start of the eastern climb up Joubert's Pass. This approach is actually quite gentle with fairly easy gradients and the road is mostly in a reasonable condition. 

The week that was

* Trips & Tours

* Ben 10 Tour Day 2 Report back (Series #2)

* Great South Africans (Series #2)

* South African cities (Series #3)

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of Wisdom


Trips & Tours

Swartberg 2020 Tour (19th to 24th October) - All the participants are busy packing for this brand new version of our popular Swartberg Tour. It remains fully booked with no cancellations.

Mpumalanga Panorama Tour (26th to 30th October) - There are still a few tickets available for this wonderful tour taking in the historic towns and villages as well as the beautiful vistas along the Drakensberg Escarpment. Click here for more info & online bookings.

Wild Coast Tour (12th to 21st November) - Fully booked

Mpumalanga Highveld Tour (23rd to 25th November) Enjoy a leisurely and very affordable tour along the Mpumalanga Highveld guided by Johan Badenhorst. Click here for more info and online bookings.

Atlantis Sand Driving Course (13th December) - Join us for a fun day at Atlantis Dunes, north of Cape Town, as we teach you the fundamentals of soft sand driving. This is the 3rd module of our training programme. Click here to book.

Photography Tour: We are working with a photographer in putting together a tour which will be focussed (pun intended) on amateur photographers who are keen on learning how to improve their landscape photography. We are still working on the details, but the tour will include mountain pass driving as part of the package. We will publish more information as soon as we have finalised matters. Let us know per email if you would be interested on such a tour. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 


Ben 10 V3 Tour - Report back

Day 2: The weather forecast for Friday 25th September indicated very strong winds of 90 kph for our area. The nature of mountain passes are such that at the necks where the passes reach the highest point, the wind strength can often be much higher than the forecasted speed. We selected another tough route for the day which often means arriving back at base in the dark. It is a challenge, after all, and part of the adventure is having to deal with the hard yards.

We left the Mountain Shadows Hotel promptly at 08.30 bound for Barkly East where a number of our drivers wanted to top up their tanks, and especially the Jimny's which have a nominal rage of 400 km. Once regrouped we rumbled out of Barkly East and soon turned right towards Loch Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1893 by Joseph Newey (who was responsible for all the sandstone bridges in the area, most of which are still standing firmly) and is one of the last single width stone bridges still in daily use in South Africa.

Photos and videos done, we drove up the Tierkrans Pass and paused halfway up to admire the rail reverses. These clever reverse systems work much like the switchbacks on a hiking trail, with the exception that the train would go forward down one section, then reverse down the next, until it reached the valley floor or plateau. The concept was put forward by a local German woman from Barkly East, who reasoned that the construction of the reverses had to be much cheaper than building tunnels and bridges. It remains one of only three such systems in the world, the others being in Canada and China. 

[Read more...]

COVID-19 Corona Virus South African Resource Portal

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter with News and Updates from Mountain Passes South Africa

Subscribe to our Site

Subscribe for only R395 a year (or R295 for 6 months), and get full access to our website including the videos, the full text of all mountain passes articles, fact-file, interactive map, directions and route files.

Register

 

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.

View Master Orientation Map...