* A cold winter
* Trips & Tours
* Signs of the times
* Reflections of my life
* Pass of the Week
* Words of Wisdom
2020 is proving to be what is likely to be the most significantly unusual year for every person on the planet. Our winter weather is also considerably wetter and colder than what we have seen in a very long time, with record wave heights, wind speeds, snow falls and rainfall patterns (in the Western Cape at least).
The frontal system that hit the Western part of South Africa on Sunday afternoon caused plenty of damage to infrastructure and especially radio masts and dishes.
But those damages are insignificant compared to what the Covid 19 pandemic has done to this country's economy.
With the abrupt turnaround by government on leisure travel, it meant we had to postpone our Wild Coast Tour for the second time. We have now moved it to November, Our guests almost without exception have been supportive and understanding.
We are launching our new Swartberg 2020 Tour today and you are the first to see the details. This 5 day tour from the 19th to the 24th October, will start in Swellendam and head north to Bosluiskloof via Gysmanshoek and Seweweekspoort, where we will spend two days at Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge. From there we will be driving mainly on gravel to De Rust and north through Meiringspoort and on to Prince Albert. Day 4 we will drive the Swartberg Pass as well as the out and back trip to Die Hel via Elands Pass with an overnight stop at the Calitzdorp Spa. The final day we will tackle the Rooiberg and Assegaaibosch passes and finish at the beautiful Rooiberg Lodge. This tour is suitable for 4x2 vehicles with reasonable ground clearance as well as soft roaders. Book online here:
Our refurbishment of 54 road signs in the Western Cape has highlighted a number of issues. It's an expensive and time consuming exercise, exacerbated by vandalism, which includes graffitii, bullet holes, stone throwing, scratching, stickers, spray paint and more. One of the first tasks we have undertaken is to tackle and correct the subculture of defacing road signs, which is considered quite acceptable in many spheres of society.
* Cape of Storms
* How to refurbish roadsigns 101
* Tales from the Karoo
* Featured pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
Cape of Storms
The third and most powerful of the major frontal systems this winter is scheduled to arrive in Cape Town today. Big snowfalls, gale force winds and heavy rain have been forecast. The system is forecast to reach as far north as Namibia. Expect snow on passes above 1000m altitude as well as road closures from Thursday till Monday.
If you're a storm-chaser, get your wellies and foul-weather gear and make sure your camera is waterproof. We'd love to see your pictures.
Road Signs - An education
We ran up the first set of decals to refurbish the first of the summit signs of 54 passes in the Western Cape. I thought this would be an easy and pleasant task, getting me out the office and into nature where I am happiest, but I was in for a big surprise. Those road signs that we all take for granted involve a lot more effort to maintain than what most people think. They are very much bigger when you're standing 1m away. They are also subjects of much abuse. Illegal stickers, graffiti, bullet holes, malicious damage, rocks thrown at them. In short, they do not look pristine for long and require regular maintenance. The signs have been up for about 10 years.
I made up a pack list of gear I thought I would need - decals, scissors, marking pens, masking tape, methylated spirits, spray on soap, rags, bucket, fresh water, utility knife, ladder, safety vest and a whole lot more. For the first experiment, I knew it would take me longer than I expected.
First the whole sign had to be washed down. Then all non-official stickers had to be removed. Some of them were very stubborn and required a gas gun to heat-soften them. Glue residue is removed with meths and elbow grease. The thought did occur to me to send all the businesses that pasted decals on the signs an invoice for removal and cleaning! The surface is a spray painted brown surface. Removing old decals with a blade damages the spraypaint. You have to work very, very carefully.
The weather has to be good as well. Any mist, fog or rain and the decals will not adhere properly.
Then came the repair of the bullet holes. There were 10 holes clean through the metal (Chromadek) and many other others that were not powerful enough to pierce the metal, but enough to make a big dent. My original idea of filling the holes and then covering the front side with the brown vinyl was hopelessly optimistic. That would have been far too time consuming, impractical and expensive, so the holes are simply covered with a slightly oversized square of vinyl. The results are actually quite satisfactory.
[Read more lower down...]
* Signs of the times
* Winter weather
* The importance of social media in brand building
* Trips & Tours and the Covid spoke in the wheel
* Reflections - The day of the turkey
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
Signs of the times
Our cover photo shows one of the 162 official road signs which now fall under the auspices of Mountain Passes South Africa. The first recce trip has already taken place where dimensions were recorded for the reinstatement of any damaged signs, removal of graffiti and repairs of the inevitable bullet holes so common in South Africa. The project will commence as early as next week as we take charge of this project and with a long term vision, we could possibly even cover the whole of South Africa. Next time you arrive at one of those tourist board signs, you will see our name on them (with pride). Please don't shoot the signs guys - SLM (Sign Lives Matter!)
The Western Cape got slammed by another potent cold front with wind speeds exceeding 80 kph and wave heights that reached 9m. Uprooted trees, localised flooding and property damage were all sacrifices that had to be made to record a 4% increase in dam levels in the province. Snowfalls were recorded right across the high mountains of South Africa and Lesotho. The Swartberg range was pummelled by this storm resulting in the temporary closure of the Swartberg Pass, but traffic is flowing again as road repair crews are hard at work sorting the road out.
Our social media pages keep us very busy. We have just whizzed through the 32,000 followers mark. Since lockdown started, we seem to have found a new popularity amongst the public, who seek out uplifting, positive posts. We don't pay for these posts. The growth is entirely organic. To put this into perspective, we will typically post between 4 to 8 times per day or approximately every 2 hours. Each photo or video we post has to be checked for authenticity, quality and suitability for our audience.
After a post has been published, it has to be constantly moderated for spam attacks, politically motivated comments or troll type comments. Our total time spent on Facebook (excluding Instagram) can easily reach up to 5 hours per day. A typical day's post views will be around 50,000. So in a month that figure will reach 1,5 million views. Over a year that translates to 18 million. These social media pages are the feeder system driving traffic to our website - so now you know why we put so much effort into it. The viewing public know what they want to see and clearly we are meeting those needs based on our current growth rate of 1000 new followers every week.
For start-up business that think they can launch a Facebook presence on a budget, be warned that once you are in the loop of spending money on promoted paid posts, it will very quickly fall flat if you don't carry on spending. Organic growth is the way to go. Trust me on this.
Trips & Tours
Planning tours in these uncertain times has proven to be very difficult. Part of the problem comes in the interpretation of the lockdown regulations. On any one regulation there can be as many as five different interpretations, with each one claiming to be the "official" one. In essence, it means any tours planned after August 1st when we presume inter-provincial travel will be allowed, must have a plan B in terms of alternative dates. Having to have a double set of dates, essentially means we can't plan tours for the second set of dates, so effectively our tours frequency is reduced by 50%.
With our Wild Coast Tour looming in early August, we are waiting with bated breath for news of the relaxation of inter-provincial travel. This tour remains fully booked. All of the guests that booked and cancelled because of Covid 19 fears will receive 100% credit.
The Ben 10 Tour, which is scheduled for mid-September still has one ticket open. The Ben 10 Tours are always enjoyable providing a heady mix of challenging driving, beautiful scenery and camaraderie. Full information and bookings can be done online on this link. BEN 10 V3 TOUR.
Reflections of my life
Cookhouse, Eastern Cape , South Africa 1953.
The year of the Turkey.
A lot of things went down in that illustrious year in the dusty streets of the hot Karoo dorpie when I was 4 years old. My aunt, Elaine Watson, had given her brother (my father) a turkey to fatten up for our Christmas dinner. My father had very basic carpentry skills, but he managed to fashion a small structure against the side of the house, with a rickety chicken mesh wire door with a wooden toggle as a lock. Inside lived a very ugly and scary bird, considerably bigger than what I was at the time.
Needless to say, we kids were fascinated with the turkey and I recall spending a lot of time staring at the monster, becoming braver each week. Over time, the turkey and I became soul mates as I had my daily chat with him as he gobbled down his ration of mealies.
* Trips and Tours
* Reflections of my life
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
At MPSA HQ in Cape Town, our offices have suddenly burst into life with a surge in inquiries on tours and the various services we offer. It's wonderful to see the tide turning. From the fearful masses with masks, there is a definite change of mind-set taking place. People want to travel again. People are tired of living in fear. Tired of the isolation.They want their lives back again.
We have had one cancellation for our Ben 10 V3 Tour in mid September, so if you would like to drive the challenge in the safety of a group and enjoy the incredible scenery, camaraderie and fun of this tour, you can read up on all the details as well as sign up on this link: BEN 10 V3 TOUR. As an indicator of the popularity of the tour, two of the places have been booked by guests who have done the Ben 10 V2 tour. Yes, it's that good.
We are working on a few day tours over the November/December period, including a tour that will be able to be driven in a normal car.
Cookhouse, Eastern Cape - 1954
(A chapter from a proposed book currently being written by your editor)
My first bottling plant. A true story unearthed from the dust of the Karoo. This photo shows the neighbour’s two kids, Brian and Edith Brandsten posing with me (far right). I think I was the only fair haired kid in the entire Karoo. I stood out like a sore thumb.
* Wicked winter weather
* MPSA is growing
* Snow drive
* Tours update
* NEW! Swartberg Tour 2020
* Another story from 1958
* Pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
Wicked Winter Weather
The frontal system that was our opening paragraph in last week's newsletter, deserved more than that. It delivered tons of snow. All the high mountains were draped in thick snow from the Cederberg to the Drakensberg. Temperatures plummeted with Johannesburg logging sub-zero temperatures. We used a gap between the two frontal systems to take a drive out to Ceres to capture some photos and videos of the action.
We have taken over the website and assets of Cape Mountain Passes. All those brown tourist boards displaying the vital statistics of 54 passes in the Western Cape will now be managed by MPSA, which includes the urls capemountainpasses.co.za, capemountainroutes.co.za and tablemountainroutes.co.za. The owner, Rod Douglas, of this long standing project has retired and gifted the project to us to ensure the hard work that went into the project will continue to be utilised by the public. We will start by cleaning up all the signs at the pass summit points - getting rid of the graffiti and patching the bullet holes and adding the MPSA signage. We will incorporate the CMP signage into our logo. There is also an entire geocaching section that goes with the project.
New logo and headers
Our new logo and page headers are now live on the website. We think they are a nice improvement. Thanks to Lisa for the creative artwork and Jacques for the technical stuff.
Ceres Snow Drive
Our routing did not disappoint. We drove over the old Du Toitskloof Pass where we saw some beautiful waterfalls, all flowing strongly. Along the stretch on the Worcester side of the tunnel the peaks were all dusted in snow, making for majestic photography.
Perhaps the best scenery was to be enjoyed just north of the Hex River Poort where the quilt-work of winter draped vineyards formed a perfect setting against a backdrop of snow capped mountains under a cobalt blue sky. We ran a short video over the scene, which has enjoyed an impressive view tally of 51000 views (at the time of writing).
There was surprisingly little snow on the Hex River Pass, but the Matroosberg mountains were under a thick layer of snow. We drove on to the junction of the N1 and the R46, where the road was closed and a traffic officer sat in his vehicle just behind the cones. Fully expecting to be turned away, we approached to ask permission to drive through to Ceres only to find the driver snuggled up and asleep. So we drove around the cones and along the R46 enjoying the ice cold Karooscapes topped off with white peaks in every direction.
At the junction of the R46 and the R355 we came across a second road block, but decided to rather take the short cut along the gravel road through the Matjiesrivier farm (a public road) and from there up the Bo Swaarmoed Pass where we arrived at the real snow fields. It was such a pretty sight.
The farm at the summit of the Bo Swaarmoed Pass is appropriately called Laastedrif. The plateau between this farm and the Klondike cherry farm is mostly above the 1200m contour line and there was more snow than what we've seen in any winter over the last decade. A few families had taken the time to play in the snow with toboggans and snowmen were being built at various points along the road.
We decided to retrace our route back to the Matjiesrivier farm and turn left to re-join the R46 at the foot of the Hottentots Kloof Pass, where the signboard incorrectly reads 'Theronsberg Pass'. There was surprisingly little snow along the road-side, but the mountains looked stunning. We got some great pics near the summit - one of which generated 58,000 views. The coldest temperature we measured was at the Erfdeel farm where the reading was 4C.
[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.