The week that was and still is!
* Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!
* Trips & Tours
* Thomas Bain Heritage Tour report back
* South African History - Chapter 9
* Featured pass of the week
* New passes added this week
* Words of wisdom
Brrrrr! Up in Gautengaleng temperatures today have plummeted to below zero, with decent snowfalls being recorded on all the major mountain ranges from the Hexriver mountains in the west to the Drakensberg in the east. Lesotho really got clobbered with the main route (A1) to Afriski being closed on Monday. Each year the snow draws visitors in their thousands and as always we issue a cautionary about snow driving. South Africans in general have little or zero snow driving experience. It is different to any other type of off-road driving, so think carefully before you rush out to experience the snow in your brand new 4x4.
1. Don't travel alone
2. Go prepared for an emergency. Pack blankets, dry clothes, beanies, gloves, emergency food, hire a satellite phone, record emergency assist numbers.
3. Know your limitations. Just because you are in a 4WD vehicle does not make you invincible. Think ahead.
4. Invest in snow chains and know how to fit them.
5. Be aware of the dangers of black ice (rhime ice) on tar. No traction means its like driving a vehicle on ice skates. Steering makes no difference. Your vehicle will slide in a straight line down the easiest route (which is usually down a cliff).
The expression 'cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey' is not rude at all. It comes from the days of the big sailing ships that carried cannons. The iron cannon balls were stacked in pyramids on a brass plate (brass to prevent the iron balls from rusting). This plate was called a "monkey" by the mariners. When the ship sailed into very cold weather, the iron cannon balls would contract faster than the brass and would end up popping off the monkey and around the deck. Thus the expression. There are a number of sources that claim this story to be "twak" but it sounds very plausible, so we'll roll with it for now!
August 9th -11th & 23rd - 25th: We are offering 2 tours during August. One in the Cederberg (23rd-25th) and the other up north in Limpopo Province ober the long weekend (9th to 11th). Check our shop and tours page later this week for more details. Bookings have just opened for the Cederberg Classic Tour.
September 21st to 24th The Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour - 4 places left.
September 27th to 29th The Lesotho-Sani Tour - 1 place left.
October or November - Wild Coast Tour - A multiple day tour taking you places you can only dream of and taking in some of SA's biggest gravel passes. Details will be published soon.
Thomas Bain Heritage Tour - Every tour we do, seems to be 'the best tour ever' and this one certainly felt like it deserved that tag. We met in the dreamy village of Wilderness and soon had our group kitted out with radios. During the introductions one of our guests introduced himself as Andre "I'm an undercover agent for SARS" That would set the tone of humour for the next three and a half days. [More lower down...]
Another absolute winner, but the week before the tour showed alarming weather forecasts. As always the show goes on regardless of the weather. With a major frontal storm scheduled to arrive over Cape Town on Friday and Saturday, with gale force winds and bitterly cold temperatures forecast of 1C for Willowmore, we sent out an urgent bulletin to our guests to come well prepared for bad weather.
The reality was a beautiful, sunny and warm morning of around 22C on day 1 rising to 25C later in the day with the Saturday and Sunday being cooler, but very pleasant and certainly nowhere near the 1C predicted. Water levels in the Baviaanskloof were quite acceptable and all our vehicles (which included two Suzuki Jimnys) made it through the route without any problems or mishaps. Over the next few weeks we will bring you several instalments of the highlights of this tour. This is another tour which we will definitely repeat again.
The final day of the Swartberg Tour involved a repeat of the Elands Pass and the Gamkaskloof but in the opposite direction. It's so interesting that a pass looks completely different when driving it in the opposite direction and at a different time of day. We were at the Teeberg viewsite by 10.30 and then tackled those magnificent switchbacks down Mullerskloof past Droewaterval and the Wall of Fire. Our weather was unseasonably good with the only damper being the dust (if you'll pardon the oxymoron).
A brief stop at Prince Albert for fuel and figs (in that order) saw us back on the road on the way to the magnificent geology waiting for us in Meiringspoort and a short stop at the famous waterfall with its 9m deep pool. After De Rust we cut west all along the foothills of the Swartberg mountains (mainly to avoid all the roadworks on the Oudtshoorn/De Rust road) along a delightful gravel road that included the Rust & Vrede Pass. It connected us with the main road to the Cango Caves and Schoemanspoort and then back towards Calitzdorp on the old cement road and on to tackle the Rooiberg Pass.
[More lower down...]
* Winter has arrived
* Great Swartberg Tour
* SA History - Chapter 7
* Podcast of the week
* Featured pass of the week
* New passes added this week
* Thought for the day
Whilst massive amounts of arctic ice are breaking off the northern polar cap following unseasonably warm weather in Europe - causing some hectic weather systems, South Africa is experiencing very cold weather with many towns recording temperatures below freezing over the past 10 days, not least of which is Sutherland, dropping to minus 7C.
Snowfalls have been reported across large tracts of the Drakensberg, the Malutis, the Swartberg and the Hexrivier mountains (and Matroosberg) in the Western Cape. Before you venture off to drive in the snow, remember that without traction your vehicle is nothing more than a slippery sled. Don't drive alone; know your limitations.
(the story continues...)
The Elands Pass looks interesting when you look at it on Google Earth and most of the photos are impressive, but when you see it with your own eyes for the first time, suddenly all the dimensions click in a like a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is depth at a level that a camera cannot capture. The sheer scale of the slopes down into the valley sharpens the senses as the road can be seen worming its way down the mountain in a series of switchbacks, but it is directly below your view-point that the road disappears out of your field of view - and that is where the mind starts playing tricks and the imagination kicks in.
We scan the road ahead and there are no vehicles ascending. Our 11 vehicle convoy starts the descent. Passing vehicles on this pass is not easy and the best places are on the hairpin bends at their widest points. Before we reach the first hairpin, someone in the convoy radios that there is a vehicle ascending. The rule of the road is that ascending vehicles have the right of way, but trying to move 11 vehicles out of the way is just impossible.
We reach the first hairpin and wait for the ascending vehicle, but it doesn't arrive. The driver had noticed our convoy coming down the pass and he decided to wait at a slight widening in the road but out of our field of view. After about 5 minutes it became apparent that there was a problem. We sent someone down on foot and asked the ascending driver to proceed up to where we were waiting, where we had left enough space for him to pull off the road. There is nothing to replace common courtesy and manners when dealing with situations like this. [More lower down...]
The southern ascent of the Swartberg Pass is such an eye opener for first time drivers. The smooth and wide tarmac of the R328 suddenly gives way to gravel just after Cobus se Gat as a sign warns that no caravans or heavy vehicles are allowed. Some tight hairpins appear fairly soon followed by a long sinuous pull up past some old ruins, reputed to be where Bain housed his convict gangs.
The altitude goes up steadily and then that magical moment happens when one gets the first glimpses of those towering hand packed stone walls - Thomas Bain's trademark construction signature. The road narrows and swings sharply to the left through a crook in the mountain and the gradient gets steeper. At the apex of the next right hand bend a brown sign announces that this spot is called 'Skelmdraai'. No-one really knows where the name originates from, but it is more than likely to do with the band of convict labourers. With some careful parking we manage to get the whole convoy off the road and get our first group photo done - quite an exercise getting 22 people to muster in one spot!.
The views of the Little Karoo to the south are amazing - a full sweep of 180 degrees over a patchwork quilt of orchards and fields with another big mountain range as a backdrop. The weather is glorious as the guests revel in the majesty of the Swartberg, but the sun is heading towards Cape Town and we need to move on as we still have a long, tough drive ahead of us.
Soon we are up and over the Swartberg past the sticker plastered signboard "Die Top" - clearly those allocating names had run out of enthusiasm and creative genius with that name, but then again, I suppose less is often more. [More lower down...]
* Great Swartberg Tour - Part 3
* The social media phenomenon
* South African History - Part 5
* Featured pass of the week
Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge is the kind of place you say "I wish we could stay a day longer"
The sense of timelessness is palpable as our group wake up to another perfect late autumn morning after a good night's rest. The biggest problem on the tours is over-eating and not getting enough exercise. The full breakfast is taken with the patio doors open as a young kudu bull wanders through the gardens a few metres away. What a heavenly place.
It's time to hit the road and soon our big convoy is rumbling up the Bosluiskloof Pass. It looks completely different in the ascending mode with the early morning sun making for wonderful photographic opportunities. The roads are as dusty as ever and our convoy soon stretches out to the standard 7 km from front to back. [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.