* Winter has arrived with a wham!
* Waterfall Bluff/Cathedral Rock - Day of the Ticks
* Fraser and Angel Falls
* Magwa Falls
* The winding road to Port St Johns
* Mngazi River Mouth
* PSJ Airport drag races
Winter has arrived right on schedule with good snowfalls over the Drakensberg, Lesotho and as far south as the Swartberg. Temperatures have plummeted and heavy rains have fallen along the Wild Coast - in some places more than 200mm in 48 hours. It would seem the weather gods smiled on us as our Wild Coast Tour slotted in between two rainy spells, providing us with 10 clear, sunny days. It pays to be connected!
Part of doing these off the beaten track tours is dealing with bad weather, road hazards, mud and dust. Although we had sublime weather, some of the roads had that talcum powder like dust that hangs in the air for ages, and more so if there is no wind. It's a small price to pay for one of the best adventure tours available in South Africa.
Day 3 dawned sunny, but with a fresh south westerly breeze. This was the day we were scheduled to forsake the joys and comforts of our 4x4's and climb aboard Shank's Pony for a healthy hike to Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock. First we had to drive the two hour loop from Mbotyi to Lupathana where the hike begins. This is the shorter of the 2 options, with the longer being directly from Mbotyi up the coast to the waterfall - a 14 km hike one way!
The drive to Lupathana is in itself something of an adventure and it was on this road that one of the Suzuki Jimnys chose the wrong driving line and ended up getting stuck - good and solid. With the help of Jeff Ashbolt and Rodney Buchan, the little Jimny was soon recovered, with only the driver's ego being a little dented.
We use a local guide (Armstrong) to guide the group for the day for two reasons. It puts some cash flow back into the local economy and feeds one extended family for more than 2 months. Adding a local guide to the mix, is also most enjoyable for our guests who appreciate the genuine warmth and friendliness of the locals as well his intimate knowledge of the area. Armstrong is a wiry little guy, but man, is he strong! He has a handshake like a vice-grip. He is also a provincial level fisherman and offers guided fishing trips. He supplements his income by selling his catches to the local hotels, lodges and guest houses as well as own consumption.
* Wild Coast - Prologue
* Mountain Lake Nature Reserve
* Mariazell Mission
* Day 2 - Matat to Mbotyi
* Pass of the week
It's something of a culture shock arriving back in a big city with its traffic congestion, sirens and shopping malls after spending two weeks in the Wild Coast. This tour was without doubt our most successful ever, thanks to an exceptionally nice bunch of guests (with some real characters which we will get to a bit later), brilliant weather and hospitable locals. But let's start at the beginning. Our guests ranged from age 51 to 75 (evenly spread between male and female) and included 80% repeat business, which is always a good sign that we are doing most things right, most of the time. Everyone arrived in Matatiele on Thursday, 13th May ready for the big adventure.
Our routing up from Cape Town took us via the R60 via Robertson, Ashton (where that big arched bridge is scheduled to be moved sideways on August 18th), Swellendam, Riversdale - up Garcia's Pass to Ladismith, Calitzdorp, Oudtshoorn, De Rust, Uniondale, Willowmore, Graaff Reinet - over the Wapadsberg Pass arriving in Cradock around 5.30pm where we overnighted at the Victoria Hotel. This must be one of the best hospitality deals in South Africa in large, well appointed and comfortable suites with excellent food to boot. One thing you can rest assured of on this tour is that you will return home at least 2 kg heavier!
The next day, after meeting up with our sweep (Philip Wantling) we drove to Tarkastad (where the roadworks are still static) and on to Queenstown, following the R470 via Lady Frere, Cala, Elliot, Maclear and finally Matatiele where Resthaven Guest House's owners, Elrita and Philip Rawlins were waiting to welcome us. We arrived a day early as the next day we had kept open to film Ramatselito's Pass just north of Matat.
On Wednesday 12th Philip Wantling and I took the Cruiser up to the border post at Rama's Nek (Ramatselitso's Nek) and filmed the big pass with its majestic views and steep gradients in perfect weather. This pass will be produced and indexed onto the MPSA site in the next 10 days.
Once the guests started arriving, it was registration, radio fitments and tyre deflation. We always have one or two people who are reluctant to deflate their tyres and on this tour there were a few non-believers. We never insist on tyre deflation, so those who want to drive on hard tyres have to suffer the consequences of the Transkei roads!
With only 3 vehicles being new to MPSA tours out of the 13, the group gelled very quickly and the Mad Medics from Jhb in their low slung Land Rover Discovery XS, immediately set the tone with zany humour and much giggling and laughter, which would continue throughout the tour. It proved to be infectious as soon the whole group were laughing.
Convoy make-up: Toyota Land Cruisers 100/105 series x 2, Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series x 1, Toyota Prado x 1, Toyota Land Cruiser 70 series x 1,Land Rover Discovery 3 x 1, Range Rover x 1, Suzuki Jimny x 2, Mitsubishi Pajero x 1, Nissan Patrol x 1, Nissan Navara x 1, Jeep Wrangler x 1.
We had a leisurely start of 9 am scheduled for the day. Philip Rawlins rode up front with me in the Cruiser and provided expert local commentary over the radios. We climbed almost 500m in altitude up the mountains to the south of Matatiele with sweeping views over the Drakensberg in the far distance to arrive at Mountain Lake.
This beautiful lake has crystal clear spring fed water and is quite big at 1,6 km long and about 800m wide. The depth is reputed to be about 8m. The waters are only used when the main dam lower down the mountain runs low. Fishing is popular up at the lake but make sure you have a permit. One of the Mad Medics team, Stuart Miller, was quick to strip down and take a dive into the lake, which is chilly at this time of year, but the mad medics were big on swimming as we got to know them throughout the tour.
* Wild Coast Tour
* Bedrogfontein Tour planned for June 2021
* Cry the Beloved Railway (Part 2)
* Crossing the Kraai River
* Pass of the Week
As you read this newsletter we are driving from Coffee Bay to Kob Inn as part of our Wild Coast 2021 Tour. We will, as always, provide a full account of the whole adventure on our return. We seem to have packaged exactly the right amount of fun, relaxation, exercise and adrenaline that meets our client's needs as this tour was fully booked shortly after we launched it and we've had a long list of names on the waiting list.
As soon as we're back, we will be launching our upgraded Bedrogfontein Tour scheduled for June, which includes a fine balance of technical driving, jaw-dropping scenery as well as a day in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we use the convenience of being connected by radio, which allows the grouop to spread out over the park and call each other when there is a good game sighting.
The highlight of this tour is of course the Bedrogfontein 4x4 Route, where we visit the actual battle site where Jan Smuts' commando won a decisive battle against the British forces. The route is varied and packed with game like warthogs, kudu and other antelope. The dates of this tour will be announced soon.
(If you missed part 1 you can simply scroll back to last week's newsletter to catch up)
CROSSING THE KRAAI RIVER
Twice crossed by the railway line, the West Kraai River crossing is 27 km from Aliwal North. At the time of its construction, it required a fairly substantial bridge, which could only be completed about six months after the completion of the rest of the section. (Pre-dating the production of structural steel in South Africa, bridges had to be imported from overseas, mostly Britain, which incurred long delays.)
In March 1925 the original bridge was washed away, cutting New England off , and there ensued a series of three hastily erected temporary bridges, but they in turn were also washed away. On June 25, after a rail interruption of more than three months, a fourth temporary bridge restored regular service. During the first part of the interruption, there were no locomotives on the Barkly East side of the break, and some goods (mostly coal and mealie-meal) had to be transported by trolley.
May brought more rain, and the mountains were white with snow. Supplies of food, coal and paraffin ran very low in Barkly East. Before its foundations were damaged, the third temporary bridge remained in service just long enough to allow two engines to cross to the Barkly East side of the break. Passengers had to cross the river in a boat at their own risk and goods were hauled across the river using two aerial wire cables. Partial service was thus restored. One year later, in March 1926, the fourth temporary bridge was washed away and finally a permanent bridge was constructed by 30 July 1926. In exasperation the local newspaper (Barkly East Reporter) cried: “The whole affair has been a glaring example of how not to do things!”
* Friendly Matat & Magical Mbotyi
* Filming of Ramatselitso's Pass
* Cry the beloved railway (Part 1)
* Crossing the Karringmelkspruit
* Podcast - A chat about days 2 and 3 of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge
* Pass of the week
As you read this newsletter we are already based in Matatiele, which is our rendezvous point for the Wild Coast 2021 Tour. The minimum temperatures hover between -1C and 3C at this time of here, so its a cold start to the tour, but by the time we reach Mbotyi at the coast, the maximum/minimum temperatures improve a lot to 23C/14C on average. We base ourselves at Resthaven Guest House for the first 2 days of the tour, where our hosts, Philip & Elrita Rawlins move heaven and earth to ensure our group is comfortable, well fed and happy.
We will be filming Ramatselitso's Pass before the tour starts. This pass has evaded our attentions for almost 8 years and persistently given us the bird mainly due to unsuitable weather. We last drove this pass in 2012 when it was a seriously challenging 4x4 route. Since then the steeper parts have been concrete paved which should make our camera work a lot easier.
The area has had a very wet summer and autumn, so we are expecting plenty of slipping and sliding on this tour as well as a number of bridgeless river crossings to contend with. Our routing tomorrow takes us up to Mountain Lake high above Matatiele as well as a visit to the Mariazell Mission, which is always a big hit with our guests.
On Saturday we say farewell to friendly Matat and head south on gravel via the Nungi Pass and Colonanek both which offer sublime high altitude scenery. We then do a short section on the N2 before turning south to Tabankulu and on to the magnificent Mzintlava Pass, which will be the highlight of the day. We will dodge the taxis, dogs, goats and cattle in Lusikisiki and descend all the way to the coast at Mbotyi, where we will spend two nights and includes a hike to Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock.
Along the mountainous border of Lesotho, between Aliwal North and Barkly East, ran what was arguably the most scenic branch railway line in South Africa. Railway enthusiasts also know the line for the famous set of eight reverses (or switchbacks) that negotiate the difficult terrain of the Witteberge in the southern foothills of the Drakensberg. Although relatively short in length, its overall construction period was unduly long (28 years), spanning from March 1903 to December 1930, and included the puzzling abandonment of an essentially completed and particularly striking section. What circumstances interfered? Because of conflicting explanations, and other questions, a group of five civil engineers visited the disused line during October 2012, seeking answers to their questions. Comprising what came to be known as the 2012 Barkly East Railway Reverses Tour (BERRT), the participants offer these findings, hoping other engineers and enthusiasts will visit this remarkable branch line in a magnificent part of South Africa.
* Adam Kok's epic journey
* Pass of the week
This is a story about a family’s incredible journey. It’s also about a moving frontier of love, deception and violence.
A hint of its inner boundary is given in the Historical Atlas of South Africa by EA Walker, published in 1922. From Hondeklip Bay to Burgersdorp is a shaded area: “The Colony’s Northern Frontier, 1798-1824.” In this area during the 18th century lived Boer farmers, /Xam hunters, Khoekhoen pastoralists, slaves, runaways and fugitives from colonial justice – all cooperating, squabbling, cohabiting and, from time to time, killing each other.
As settlers with greater firepower claimed more and more land, the shaded area was pushed ever northwards. Within it was a polyglot of pastoral people who came to be known simply as ‘Bastaards’. They would be led by the Kok family and theirs was to be a journey that would make the Great Trek look like a brief adventure.
Around 1710 a son was born to a female slave and an unidentified Dutchman and named Adam Kok. While still in his 20s he gathered around him a band of men displaced from their lands by Boer inroads or were evading conscription into the colonial commandos. Adam married his beloved Donna Gogosathe, the Goringhaiqua daughter of a Khoi chief (from where the name Griqua would later be derived) and began farming beyond the colonial frontier just north of what is now Piketberg.
Having links to both the colony and Khoi tribes to the north, he and his fellow Bastaards formed a convenient buffer, which the Cape authorities recognised by awarding him a staff of office and the title of Kaptyn. This didn’t stop Boers moving up the west coast, forcing Kok and his people to trek across the Cederberg and Kamiesberg into the vastness of the Central Karoo, then northwards to the banks of the Orange River.
Griqua encampment at Klaarwater
Adam’s son, Cornelius, met John Phillip of the London Missionary Society and was baptised in about 1800. It wasn’t long before Christianity had spread to the entire Bastaard nation.
The society had established a mission beside some springs and named it Klaarwater (clear water). Calling people bastards didn’t sit well with the missionaries. Following their urgings, the Bastaards approved the name Griqua and the mission village was renamed Griquatown.
Life in mid-19th century Griquatown was not easy. There were cattle raids and skirmishes by Ndebele, Koranna, Bergenaars and San bands, and demands by the Colony for commando duty. In addition, internal power struggles resulted in a rebellion and a shift by the Kok clan to Campbell.
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.