* Unlocking lockdown
* Baviaanskloof Tour - Finale
* Pass of the week
* New passes
Today marks the official end of the initial 5 week lockdown. For most of us it's been an almost surreal experience. The days all feel the same; we are sleeping longer; having frustrating dreams; worrying about our investments and business plans; the safety of our families. We are not experts at this, but we would like to suggest that one should not be overly absorbed in the news hype and information overload we are all being bombarded with. Just take things one day at a time. Some things will take longer than others to normalise. Keep yourself busy with positive activities. Exercise. Eat healthy food.
From Patensie there is a long and winding gravel road that runs west to east behind the first ridge of mountains, known locally as the Elandsvlei Road. It serves many farms along the northern valley between the first two mountain ranges and is approximately 80 km in length and eventually terminates in Uitenhage. The first rise in elevation is via the Geelhoutboom Pass, which we briefly described in last week's newsletter.
Right at the summit, a very minor jeep track cuts away sharply to the left. This is the start of the western approach to the Antoniesberg Pass. It was cool with steady drizzle, which the aftermath of the previous night's heavy rain showers, leaving us with a soggy and wet route. Some of our guests had never driven a 4x4 in mud before, so the day would be an exciting one for them, learning new skills by the minute.
After opening and closing the first gate which is located about 200m from the turn-off we were on our way into the west - destination being the Antoniesberg Pass. The track follows a long ridge of hills, generally keeping to the spine of each with slight undulations, but mainly sticking to elevations between 600m & 800m. Low dark clouds and intermittent drizzle meant we were somewhat deprived of the magnificent scenery on view along both sides of the track.
To the left (south) there are birds eye views of the Baviaanskloof which we had traversed the previous day and to the right the Winterberg and impressive Cockscomb mountains rear ever upward and into the cloud base. The main peak of the latter range looks very similar to a roosters 'comb' hence the name.
(More lower down)
The week that was
* Lockdown woes
* Kouga Tour - The final leg
* Podcast - Harry Wolhuter / the lion slayer
* Pass of the week
* Upgraded passes added
* Words of wisdom
So the days melt into each other and it's easy to forget which day of the week it is. We're sleeping longer. There's no traffic noise. No sirens. No burglar alarms. But enough is enough. It's time to shake up this torpor of business inactivity. The garage has been cleaned. All the odd jobs are completed. We need to become productive citizens again.
The national lockdown has affected each and every one of us in different ways. At the time of writing, we are all waiting with bated breath to see what the next step is going to be and exactly when our lives will return to normal. With the oil price in the US being at 1 cent per barrel, it's a sure sign that the world is not in a happy place right now, as uncertainty makes people keep their wallets and purses firmly closed.
We appeal to all of you to support small busineses wherever possible. These are entrepreneurs trying to feed their families and pay their bills. The big corporations can see a few months through, but small businesses with cash flow problems can easily fail. They are going to need your support for the next year or two as we all try and claw our way back towards some level of normalcy.
The world will get over the Corona virus. Surround yourself with positivity and now is a great time to plan a trip - or book a tour. We have considered introducing a number of 1 day tours which will be affordable and of course, since you are in your own car, you are technically in isolation. We are working hard on putting together a new set of one day specials. Due to the obvious distance limitations, these will be restricted to the Western Cape at this stage. We will release more details after April 30th.
It rained all night with the storm peaking at 05h00 with some wild gusts and heavy downpours. Our sweep driver, Philip, who had experienced brake failure two days before, had risen early and driven through to Patensie to get his Navara’s brake problem sorted out, but there was no workshop in the village with the spares or requisite skills, so he continued through to Humansdorp, where he was ably assisted.
The Woodhead’s and Lenahan’s had also risen early, each needing to get back home to attend to business and other matters, so intrusively invaded into our plans by Mr. Corona.
In the meantime the rest of our convoy, now reduced down to just 5 vehicles, left at 09h00 for the start of our last day. A fairly long day which would end at Steytlerville.
But first we had the pleasure of starting our day with a west-east traverse of the beautiful Grootrivierpoort. The road is virtually flat for most of the distance, but there are many corners, which force a slower speed, which is a good thing, as the scenery in the poort is simply magnificent. Near vertical cliffs tower almost 300m up into the sky, hemming the road and the river into the confined kloof. Low clouds allow shafts of sunlight to illuminate the forests and mountains, setting a grand spectacle. The road dips in and out of dense riverine bush as the Grootrivier flows lazily eastward in a broad, brown band in the middle of it all.
Vervet monkeys and bushbuck dart furtively into the bush as our convoy rumbles slowly by. The Grootrivierpoort was one of Thomas Bain’s final road building projects and it’s wonderful to see the road still being used, and it's virtually unaltered 135 years later. Of interest is that the road between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town through the Baviaanskloof is the shortest routing between the two cities, but definitely not the fastest!
As we exit the poort, the view opens up over the Gamtoos River Valley. Here there are citrus orchards by their hundreds of thousands. It is also the point where the Grootrivier and Kouga River form a confluence and the name changes to Gamtoos. It’s only when one drives through this valley that the size and scope of the citrus industry here hits home. Packing sheds and muddy tractor trailer combinations bustle between the farms and the old narrow gauge railway, now forlornly overgrown, crosses our road, which had quietly changed from gravel to patchy tar.
* Corona Corona Corona
* Tours update
* Kouga Tour Chapter 5
* Pass of the week
* New pass added
* Words of wisdom
I'm sure like all of you, we are getting tired of reading about Corona/Covid 19. I tend to sit back and watch what develops on social media and to the astute observer, a lot can be read between the lines. There have even been several really positive things that have come out of the mess.
On our Facebook page we ran a post asking people to name one thing positive that the pandemic had created in their lives. The response was overwhelming and heart-warming to say the least, with the winning comment coming from a young wife: "I have my husband back from working overseas and my daughter is home from boarding school" That is special.
On the far side of the scale is the so-called 'egg challenge'. The challenge appears to be popular with a certain group of the population, but appears to have no purpose other than to be silly. The lockdown boredom has set in, it would seem.
Mainstream and social media remains awash with wildly conflicting opinions, mostly written by highly qualified professors, each one contradicting the other. Speculation and conspiracy theories abound, leaving the average Joe and especially those that are gullible, to want to reach for the panic button.
One of the most bizarre of these conspiracy theories is that the Covid-19 virus was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan, China and spread around the world intentionally to provide a distraction for the surreptitious installation of 5G towers, through which the superpowers will be able to control and spy on us. The scary thing is how many people worldwide actually believe this.
From our perspective, we try and sort the wheat from the chaff and keep our feet firmly on the ground, as we try and plan the way ahead, particularly in respect of our tours.
Right, on to reality.....
We have rescheduled our Wild Coast Tour to August 6th - 15th by which time things should have settled down sufficiently for us to run an enjoyable tour in early spring. We are just awaiting confirmation from all the hotels, but are expecting them all to cooperate fully.
Today would have marked the final day of our Ben 10 V3 Tour which we were forced to postpone (due to Covid 19). We have rescheduled this tour to September 23rd to 28th.
After a pleasant 40 minutes enjoying a light lunch break at the Doodsklip picnic site, we tackled the next pass - the Holgat Pass. Realistically the Holgat and Combrink's Pass together form one long pass separated by a 6 km long plateau in the middle. We have never found out why the ascent and descent have two separate names.
The Holgat Pass is easily the tougher of the two. It's tough because well-meaning road repair crews have (over several decades) decided to improve traction for non 4WD vehicles by laying cement strips along the climb. These have broken up over time and been repaired several times, with the net result is that the road is most uncomfortable to drive on. The steep gradient, which would normally be driven in low range for better control at low speeds, now has to be driven in high range to avoid axle windup on the hard surfaces. In short, it's a mess, but the magnificent scenery nullifies all of the above as the convoy doddles up the pass, all the while enjoying, proteas and fynbos in abundance interspersed with jaw dropping scenery.
[More lower down]
* Lock Down Stressors - the way forward
* Kouga-Baviaans Explorer Tour - Chapter 4
* Pass of the week
* New passes published
* Motivational Message
Lockdown - the realities set in.
There are so many things we have lived through - each one being touted as the new mega pandemic. And yet this Covid-19 is on a different scale that none of us have ever witnessed before. There are most certainly a few positives to be taken out of it. In a social media bulletin I noted that SA's death rate had actually improved, being the only country in the world to do so, but not because of the virus, but the lack of murders due to lock down. True or false, it did at least raise a wry smile - only in South Africa!
The nation is now facing a dilemma. Which is worse - the pandemic or financial disaster? I suppose sanity will prevail somewhere along the line and it will become necesary to get the economy going again. From our perspective, we are not cancelling any tours, but rather postponing them. The Ben 10 Tour will more than likely be moved to September (we ran a very successful Ben 10 tour in September last year). As soon as we have clarity from government about lockdown ending, we will finalise new dates and publish them here.
We ask those who have booked on tours to not panic. Work with us as we endeavour to meet everyone's needs and requirements. Life will return to normal.
Kouga Baviaans Tour - Chapter 4
Breakfast at Zandvlakte matched the previous night’s dinner. What wonderful hospitality and excellent food. The owner, Piet Kruger, towers above all other humans and has a handshake that crushes city hands effortlessly. Not that he’s trying to do that. He’s a farmer and brute strength is simply part of the genetic makeup.
Our drivers briefing took place on the lawns in from of the Winkeliershuis and Piet, as always, attends the briefings, chipping in here and there with a joke, advice or some or the other anecdote, warming his way into everyone's hearts as only he knows how. We said our farewells and promptly at 09h00, rolled the convoy back onto the gravel road, heading east past Zandvlakte’s lavender fields. This group was very good about being punctual and each day, we departed very close to the scheduled time.
Our sweep, Philip Wantling, was unsuccessful in trying to repair his brakes. I suggested that he leave his Navara at the farm and drive with me in the lead vehicle and I would bring him back to the farm after the tour had ended, armed with the necessary parts which we could obtain at Patensie or Willowmore, but Philip politely refused, stating he was confident he could drive all the passes with only a handbrake. It turned out he was right, although he did later confess to one or two "knyp" moments.
Our destination for the day was Bruintjieskraal in the Cambria Valley and although the distance is relatively short, it is the terrain which makes this an all-day drive. There was much anticipation (and some angst) amongst our novice offroad drivers about the deep water crossing at Smitskraal – something we had been speaking about regularly pre-trip – and today was their big day.
It had rained steadily the whole night, leaving the roads nicely damped down (and dust free) as well as a few puddles for us to splash through. From Zandvlakte to the reserve gates is only about 6 km. The solitary official was very good at his job and had us all signed up and legal in short order. The toilet facilities were spotless. By the way, your Wild Card is persona non grata here. Gate fees were R43 per person and no separate fee for the vehicle.
It was at this stop, whilst waiting for all the paperwork to be completed, that Jenny Lenahan spotted a sidewall cut in their Land Cruiser’s rear tyre. I was summonsed to have a look and we took the decision to rather change the wheel right where we were, where the road was wide and level, rather than being forced to do it later in the day on one of the steep passes. Most of the guys lent a hand and in 15 minutes the job was done.
Every traverse of the Baviaanskloof is unique. Things change year in and year out, where rainfall is the master of the kloof – dictating life in all its forms, including for humans. This trip we were truly blessed with lots of game sightings. Every few minutes someone would chirp on the radio “Just seen a bushbuck” or “Two kudu 3 ‘O Clock at 60 metres” or "Rhino marks!"
What a week that was!
* New beginings - Amazing what lockdown has generated.
* Wild Coast Recce Trip - Getting in and out of trouble.
* Kouga Baviaans Explorer Tour - Chapter 3
* Pass of the week.
* Words of wisdom
In the MPSA editorial office we have had time to adjust and take a major reality check, despite the fact there is still so much uncertainty. We are not even a week into lock-down and still no one knows when they will be going back to work or reopening their businesses. It is a time to be calm and patient. A time to be positive.
The initial surge of Covid-10 laden subject matter saw our website page views dropping below 1000 for the week for the first time in 7 years. And then as if by magic, it (social media) lurched in the opposite direction which saw page views sky-rocketing as the public started reaching out for good news. In a random act of kindness, we opened the website to all for the duration of lock-down. That post (at the time of writing) has had a reach of 32,600 - and all of it is organic.
We broke another record last week in that our FaceBook page gained over a thousand new followers in less than 7 days.
Most people are still bewildered, afraid and unsure. That's to be expected and of course at MPSA we have been able to keep up the good work and have gone out on a limb doing our level best to promote sensible behaviour and our posts have focused on the beautiful side of life, carefully designed to provide a message of sanity where people feel safe and know what they're going to read will be wholesome.
As far as our tours are concerned, we had to postpone our Ben 10 V3 Tour as it fell right within the brackets of the lock-down dates. We will not make a decision on the new dates until we have certainty as to the end dates of the lock-down. We don't want to set new dates and then have to postpone a second time. The moment we have certainty, the new dates will be published here.
The Wild Coast Tour sheduled for mid May is still on track and will only be postponed if lock-down is extended.
* We are revamping some of the artwork, logos and imagery on some of the pages - with a major revamp of the Shop & Tours page.
* We introduced our first guest blogger (in the form of Trevor Hall) who has written an interesting series of short articles with photos which we have released on our Facebook page on a daily basis and in time sequence. If we have positive feedback, we will extend the concept to include new guest writers on a more regular basis.
* Our resident creative Lisa is taking you down memory lane as she revisits our early news releases from 2013, but with a fresh new touch. These will be hyperlinked via our Facebook page. In the meantime here is the first and second issue. We have created this new blog space on our Shop and Tours page.
I'm always looking for short cuts and ways to get off the tarred roads. A quick look at my GPS revealed a dotted track between Trennerys and Kei Mouth which promised to cut off about 40 km of tar road driving. These little excursions often lead to wonderful discoveries that I am able to include in subsequent tours. However not all of them are successful.
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.