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Mountain Passes News

The journey continues

In this newsletter we continue with our story on the Swartberg Classic Tour. This chapter deals with the drive from Bosch Luys Kloof to the Nelsrivier Dam via Calitzdorp.


Totsiens Bosch Luys Kloof

Day 2 of the tour dawned warm and sunny, the temperature would later rise to 36C. With the customary radio checks done we bade farewell to the lovely Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge and ascended the Bosluiskloof Pass with the sun behind us, but the one thing there was no shortage of was dust! Throughout the tour dust caused the convoy to spread over a large distance. This requires regular stops by the lead vehicle to allow the convoy to regroup to ensure clear comms.

It's always interesting how different a pass feels driving it in the opposite direction. Bosluiskloof and Seweweekspoort were prime examples. The latter took some time as our guests were stopping to take photos - lots of them - in the perfect early morning light.

Hello Huisrivier

Once back at the R62 we hooked a left (east) to drive the tarred Huisrivier Pass. The 13,4 km long Huisrivier pass lies on the R62 between two valleys in the Little Karoo between the towns of Ladismith in the west and Calitzdorp in the east.

It has 39 bends, corners and curves packed into that distance, which requires vigilant driving. Not only is this a fairly long pass, but it has many sharp corners and exceptionally attractive scenery. Many lovely rest areas have been provided by the road builders.

This pass is unique in that its geology is unusually unstable (shale) and several pioneering engineering techniques had to be applied to successfully build a safe all-weather pass. The pass, which includes three river crossings, is not particularly steep, where the engineers have managed to limit the steepest gradients to a fairly comfortable 1:10.

(Read more...)

The week that was...

This week we continue with our report back on the Swartberg Classic Tour.

Our journey continues from the summit of the Gysmanshoek Pass.

At the northern end of the Gysmanshoek Pass, we connected with a good gravel road and drove east to the tarred R323, where we visited the Muiskraal farm. Anyone who has ever driven the R323 will instantly recognize the entrance gates which are very distinctive. 

The pass to the south of the farm (Muiskraal Pass) leads up to the summit of the much more famous Garcia's Pass. It was getting hot so we made use of the shade inside the Muiskraal farm stall, where we made the farmer's day as our guests bought armfuls of olives, preserves, jams, juices and dried fruit. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!

The olive oil tanks are in the same building and if you enjoy cooking with olive oil, we recommend you stop here as the prices are very good and the quality excellent. We had decided to omit the slow drive over the Brandrivier Pass to make up time and continued on to Ladismith via the Voetpadkloof, Kruippoort and Naauwkloof passes, the latter which delivers perfect views of the cleft peak, known as Towerkop.

From Ladismith our routing took us to the settlements of Zoar and Amalienstein, where we stopped at the old church for a leg stretch and some photos. The mercury had crept up to 33C and the vehicle air conditioners were working hard. The second highlight of the day beckoned - the incredible Seweweekspoort.

Just as one enters the poort after the second bridge, a small two spoor track leads away into the bush. It heads up to the Tierkloof Dam. The spot is particularly attractive as the contorted and twisted Cape Fold mountains confine the narrow kloof and the river that flows along its little valley.

Tierkloof Dam

The road winds over the river three times over neatly constructed causeways smothered on either side by dense riverine vegetation, then levels off, revealing the dam wall, which towers over the road. If you're feeling energetic, you can climb the "stairs" all the way to the top to enjoy the views, but be warned it's very steep. The dam is narrow and deep (like well-designed dams should be) and provides fresh potable water to Zoar and Amalienstein.

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The week that was....

We are dedicating our newsletter to a full report back on the recent Swartberg Classic Tour. 

Overview: This is no doubt our most successful tour ever. This morning we bade farewell to 22 new converts into the MPSA family with friendships bonded in dust and tears of elation and happiness.


There were a number of firsts on this tour:

  • The first Renault Duster
  • The first GWM bakkie
  • The first Subaru Forester
  • The first M/Benz ML
  • The first broken arm
  • The first pulled leg muscle

Our rendezvous point was at the unique Rotterdam Boutique Hotel, just outside the village of Buffejagsrivier, itself about 8 km east of Swellendam. There is plenty of fascinating history in this area, which we will examine in a moment.

The Rotterdam farm is a working dairy farm set in verdant fields, with the Langeberg Mountains standing sentinel to the north. The property is immaculate. From the moment you turn in at the elegant gate, one gets the impression of laid back order. Four energetic Border Collies and two friendly Rotweillers greet one at reception, demanding some affection before the formalities of checking in are dealt with.

The homestead consists of the original and very old farm building (De Oudehuis) where the reception, kitchen, dining room and bar is located. The height of the doors is lower than normal as was typical of buildings from the 1700 and 1800's when the population was shorter.

A little to the east is the elegant Fraser-Jones Suites. It's a double storey building with olde-worlde charm oozing out of every nook and cranny. The rooms are enormous; bigger than the average small house in South Africa and appointed to 4 star quality. Fountains trimmed off with lavender and lush lawns make for a pleasing vista.

In the next building to the south is a small thatched building housing the museum. We will give you more info on that lower down. A little further is a slightly more modern thatched building, which is the owner's residence.

Our guests arrived on time and soon we had all the two way radios fitted and tyres deflated in preparation for the gravel roads. The driver's briefing took place on schedule at 1800 where the route for the next day was explained, personal folders, maps and name tags handed out.

After our driver's briefing, farm owner and host Andy Fraser-Jones gave us a fascinating talk and tour in the family "trophy room" and regaled us with stories of his parents, both who were excellent pilots and of course, much of the little museum is dedicated to the exploits of racing driver Ian Fraser-Jones. 

The museum at Rotterdam is a carefully curated collection of artefacts, memorabilia and prizes won by the late Mr. Ian John Fraser-Jones. He was one of the first and only South African racing drivers to take part in the Grand prix from 1950-1960. He led a full life and left a true legacy that is shared in this beautifully established private family museum.

Andy's wife, Anneke, toiled away in the kitchen to produce a fine meal for our group (24 people) which was enjoyed in the Oudehuis, after which it was a weary group who wound their way to their rooms under starry skies, before load-shedding arrived at 22h00. Most were asleep in short order to the sounds of rural silence.

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The week that was...

* Swartberg Classic Tour

* Towns of South Africa - Loxton

* Pass of the week

* New passes added


As you read this newsletter, we will have just finished the Swartberg Classic Tour. This was the third version of this tour and with each new version, we adapt and change the tour to make it more interesting and enjoyable. Over the next few weeks we will be reporting back on the tour with photos and write-ups.

This tour started in the village of Buffelsjagrivier near Swellendam. On the first day we drove the following passes:

  • Moodies Pass
  • Boosmansbos Pass
  • Doringkraal Pass
  • Seekoeigat Pass
  • Wadrift Pass
  • Gysmanshoek Pass
  • Brandrivier Pass
  • Voetpadkloof (Tar)
  • Kruippoort (Tar)
  • Naauwkloof (Tar)
  • Seweweekspoort
  • Bosluiskloof

Day 2 was another pass fest, mostly in the Klein and Groot Swartberg foothills:

  • Huisrivier Pass (Tar)
  • Kruisrivierpoort
  • Huis se Hoogte 
  • Doringkloof Pass
  • Schoemanspoort (Tar)
  • Rust en Vrede Pass
  • Meiringspoort (Tar)
  • Bloupuntrivierpoort
  • Kleinvlei Pass
  • Aapsrivierpoort
  • Kredouw Pass (Tar)
  • Witkranspoort (Tar)

Day 3 was all about quality versus quantity:

  • Swartberg Pass
  • Gamkaskloof Road to Die Hel
  • Elands Pass

Day 4:

  • Coetzeespoort
  • Perdebont Pass
  • Kleinfontein Pass
  • Uitspan Pass
  • Assegaaibosch Pass

We will be running this tour again in 2022. Watch this space.


Towns of South Africa - Loxton

Loxton is a town in the Karoo region of South Africa's Northern Cape province. It is in one of the major wool-producing and one of the largest garlic-producing areas in South Africa.With a population of 1,053 in 2011, the area is quiet and sparsely populated. Afrikaans is the most widely spoken language in the town.

[More lower down]

The week that was....

* N1 - the most dangerous road in South Africa

* !Gariep Dam 

* The Bain Legacy (Part 2)

* Podcast

* Pass of the week


N1 - A dangerous road

Having just returned from a return trip by car from Cape Town to Jhb, I thought a little introspection was needed as to what makes this road statistically so dangerous. Having spent 24 hours solid driving in harsh cross-winds in a Suzuki Jimny, between fighting to keep the little 4x4 upright, I had time for some analysis.

The road is generally in a good condition with safety shoulders adding an important margin of safety in avoiding head-on collisions (the main culprit). From Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, most of the N1 is a double laned dual carriageway and presents no serious dangers.

That brings us back to the core of the dangers - very long, straight sections of two way traffic between Colesberg and Laingsburg create boredom and lots of frustration. Most of the trucks (accounting for almost 75% of the traffic) trundle along at 80 kph. This is the biggest factor causing frustration amongst normal cars that tend to travel at the maximum speed limit of 120 kph. Eventually drivers start taking ever greater risks trying to pass the trucks and that's where the wheels literally come off.

The (expensive) solution is to have dedicated truck lanes. There are of course other factors like driver fatigue, unroadworthy vehicles and excessive speed that contribute to the skull and crossbones imagery.


A surprise visit to the !Gariep Dam

A forced business trip up to Jhb by car, allowed me the opportunity to visit the !Gapiep Dam - a destination I have always wanted to visit, but somehow never found the time. What a pleasant surprise! Hidden amongst the flat topped koppies of the Free State is the largest stretch of inland freshwater in South Africa.

As we arrived it looked like a scene from the Greek Islands, with yachts anchored in quiet little bays behind hills with a vast lake stretching away as far as the eye can see. Gariep Dam is actually the official name of the town which sprung up during the construction phase when some 3500 people worked on the construction site. Today it is the newest town in South Africa and is home to about 1800 people. It also plays host to a yacht club and a beautiful campsite and  caravan park.

The Gariep Dam, on its commission in 1971, was originally named the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam after Hendrik Verwoerd, the Prime Minister before and after 31 May 1961, when the country changed from the Union of South Africa to the Republic of South Africa. However, after the end of apartheid, the Verwoerd name was considered unsuitable. The name was officially changed to Gariep Dam on 4 October 1996. 

Gariep is Khoekhoe for "river", the original name of the Orange River

It is in a gorge at the entrance to the Ruigte Valley some 5 kilometres east of Norvalspont. The dam crest is some 1300m above sea level. The wall is 88 m high and has a crest length of 914 m and contains approximately 1.73 million m³ of concrete. The Gariep Dam is the largest storage reservoir in South Africa. In South African English, 'dam' refers both to the structure and the water volume it retains. Gariep Dam has a total storage capacity of approximately 5,340,000 megalitres and a surface area of more than 370 square kilometres when full. The hydro-electrical power station houses four 90 MW generators. The dam if more than 100 km in length. 

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