* Western Cape drought broken
* Tours update
* Road signage and vandalism
* History of Du Toitskloof Pass
* Bloukrans Pass completely closed
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
At the time of writing this newsletter, average dam levels for the City of Cape Town were at 77.4% after three major cold fronts swept in, bringing heavy downpours, snow and gale force winds. Even Namibia and Namqualand were drenched, promising a good showing of wild-flowers during August and September (if our government allows us to travel!) It seems the drought in the Western Cape is now finally broken. The Eastern Cape did get some rain, but not nearly enough.
August: All tours cancelled or postponed due to Covid travel restrictions.
September: Ben 10 V3 Tour - Fully booked
October: Swartberg 2020 Tour - 3 tickets left. Click here to book.
November: Wild Coast Tour - Fully booked
Signage refursbishment project
Progress is slow, as time and good weather windows permit. As always with new projects, the learning curve is steep. An extraordinary amount of interest has developed from our social media postings about road sign vandalism and particularly so amongst the biking fraternity. We are starting things off with an education programme. The best way to connect with a biker is to ask him how he would feel if we pasted an MPSA sticker on his bike without his permission. The response is predictable - Outrage!
"Then how come you think it's OK to put a sticker on our signboards?"
That brings the point home instantly. We are connecting with all the major biking clubs in South Africa to get the point across and a national biking magazine will be doing a feature on the issue as well. It's a start and hopefully within a few years we will have a better culture amongst adventure travellers to not deface road signs.
A number of interesting options have arisen as suggested by readers and followers - some of that well worth considering and one of the Rotary Clubs are interested in assisting as well.
Closure of the Bloukrans Pass on the R102
We posted a photo on our Facebook page of the new concrete blocks which now completely block access to the old Bloukrans Pass - one of Thomas Bain's early construction projects and clearly a much loved pass by the greater South African public. The post attracted 28,700 views and 204 comments. It would seem that the new measures are a combination of ensuring Covid 19 inter provincial travel is controlled and some of the comments suggest that smugglers are using the old pass to evade the road block on the N2. Others feel the Eastern Cape roads department is to blame, as the eastern half of the pass lies in that province, whilst the better maintained western half lies within the Western Cape. The Bloukrans River forms the actual provincial border.
It will remain to be seen if the concrete blocks are removed after Covid 19. Like so many things at the moment, conspiracy theories abound. One thing is for certain, the old pass is a much loved part of South African history.
The pass can still be driven from the eastern side, but when you reach the western end, you will have to retrace your route back to the start. Please understand that if anything happens to you or your vehicle, you will have no insurance cover or claim against the relevant roads authority as the pass is officially closed.
History - Du Toitskloof Pass and the manganese mine. (Sent in by Kuba Miszewski)
This interesting article provides an insight into some of the history around Du Toitskoof Pass.
It was written by Peter E. Spargo from Rondebosch, Cape Town in 1999.
Although the Western Cape is not generally considered a mining area, over the centuries, there have in fact been a remarkable number of mining ventures in the area. Thus at one time or another gold, silver, tin, manganese and tungsten mines have all operated in the region – honestly or fraudulently! Amongst the most fascinating of these mines have been those devoted to the extraction of manganese – and none more than that in Du Toit’s Kloof.
Manganese has been known since at least the first century of the Christian era and for the last few centuries has been used on a small scale for operations such as decolourising glass, while its oxide was later used in the production of chlorine. As a result it has long been sought by prospectors and it is therefore somewhat surprising, that the metal, whose ores are so widely distributed throughout the Western Cape, should not have aroused more comment earlier in the Colony’s history. However, in the early-1870’s a substantial deposit of manganese ore was discovered in Du Toit’s Kloof above the point where the Molenaars River joins Du Toit’s Kloof Stream, i.e. near the old original road tunnel, up above to the right as you face Worcester direction. It is not clear who the original discoverer was of the deposit, but we know that by the mid-1870’s a substantial mining operation was underway on the site.
[More lower down]
* 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.
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.