Latest News! 9th November, 2017

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Views over Prince Alfred's Pass from the Spitskop view-site Views over Prince Alfred's Pass from the Spitskop view-site - Photo: Trygve Roberts

Opus Magnum

Our featured pass today is not only Thomas Bain's greatest work and the longest publicly accessible pass in South Africa at 68,5 km, but it has also turned out to be our Opus Magnum. We returned to the Garden Route in October to refilm this magnificent pass from end to end including the short, stiff climb up to Spitskop. It took almost 400 man hours to edit the video footage and package it into 14 bite sized videos of 5 mins each. We have just completed this massive project and our pleased to present this work to you today. More lower down.....

A Chistmas Gift

If you're looking for a gifting idea for Christmas (or any special occassion) that is different, unique and will give the recipient 12 months of pleasure, yet won't cost you much, we have introduced a gift voucher for a 1 year subscription to MPSA which you can buy for a deserving friend or family member. More lower down.....

Understanding the basics of GPS navigation

Many drivers struggle with the concept of GPS coordinates, so this week we are giving a GPS 101 course for the benefit of all who struggle with the mysteries of latitude and longitude. Navigation started with mariners in the 1400's and it has developed over hundreds of years. The globe was devided up into vertical lines (like the segments of an orange). These are called lines of longitude and determines where you are around the globe from east to west (or vice versa). Once you know where you are in that dimension, the other figure you need to know is on a north-south basis. These are symmetric lines as if you were lopping slices off the orange from top to bottom. These are called lines of latitude. More lower down.....



Gift someone you care about..... 

Gift Voucher MPSAAn affordable and thoughtful gift that won't break the bankSpend R200 and send someone a gift voucher that will make them think about (and appreciate) you for a full year. The concept was suggested by one of our readers (as are many of the innovative ideas on this website). The process is quite simple. Go to our online shop which is accessed directly from the website via the SHOP & TOURS menu button. Click on the GIFT VOUCHER icon and follow the simple steps. Our outomated system will deliver the voucher directly to the recipient together with a message from you and it will explain how to redeem the voucher, which will allow access to the site. Lekker, ne! 


GPS 101


GPS location formatsHigh end GPS menu shows multiple choices of format selections / Photo: Trygve Roberts

As time moved on and the centuries passed, the skill of navigation became more precise and today we have this wonderful little gadget called a GPS. It reads signals from a range of orbiting satellites to pinpoint exactly where you are on the earths surface, but there are limitations (like inside a tunnel or a basement of a building or a deeply wooded forest). The first smart folk who figured out how to plot positions, based on the earth's relative position to the stars and the sun, came up the concept of degrees, which they subdivided into minutes and then more finely into seconds.

Confusingly they used the same terms as time, rather than distance, but essentially one degree sub-divides into 60 minutes and one minute sub-devides into 60 seconds (similar to time). Today we have a whole range of variable formats of reading latitude and longitude - a good GPS will have around  30 options to choose from. It is very important to know the format of the map that you are using, when you plot waypoints as the conversion from one format to the other is not simple at all and can lead to major navigational errors if you don't know what you're doing.

With a website like ours, we had to decide right from the start which option to use and easily the easiest option is the Decimal Degrees (DD) option, as it circumvents all the fiddly maths associated with minutes and seconds.  The short explanation below was compiled by our Johannesburg based associate, Mike Leicester.

Some of our viewers become confused by the varying formats of GPS coordinates that are used by different maps and GPS devices, so here is a brief explanation of how these work.  

Let us use as an example the summit coordinates of the Long Tom Pass in Mpumalanga. On the MPSA website, the coordinates are shown as: -  

S25.140870 E30.607091  

This is called the Decimal Degrees (DD) format, and is used consistently on all of our pass pages. If you plug the coordinates as shown above into the search bar on Google Maps or Google Earth, it will always indicate the correct position.  

But other online maps and route planning software packages sometimes don’t accept coordinates in this form. The problem is the “S” and the “E” as shown above. The requirement for these maps is that a mathematical symbol be used instead. What is confusing is that the “+” symbol is never used, only the “-“ symbol. Coordinates north of the equator are considered positive, as are coordinates east of the Prime Meridian. So in this format, the coordinates above would look like this: -  

-25.140870 30.607091  

But there are two other formats which are commonly used as well. The first of these is the Degrees & Decimal Minutes (DDM) format. There is no easy way to convert the DD format into the DDM format, other than by using an online converter. In this format, the example coordinates would look like this: -  

S25 08.4522 E30 36.4255  

The third format, and perhaps the most widely used of the three, is the old Degrees, Minutes & Seconds (DMS) format. Again using our example, the coordinates would be displayed as follows: -  

S25 08 27.13 E30 36 25.53  

or -25 08 27.13  30 36 25.53  

or S25°08'27.13" E30°36'25.53"  

All of the formats shown above will always indicate the same geographical position, but as you can see, you cannot easily mentally convert from one format to another. 

Your GPS device will most probably allow you to use any of the three formats, so change the settings to reflect the format that you are most comfortable with. We strongly recommend that you use the DD format, because this will allow you to copy coordinates directly from our pass pages without having to do any conversion.

Featured pass of the week

The Prince Alfred's Pass is jam-packed with useful information, history, a wide selection of photos and more importantly the 14 videos which cover the entire 68,5 km from Avontuur on the R62 all the way through mountains, forests and kloofs to end at the N2 just east of Knysna.

Set yourself an hour and a quarter to watch the full video set and longer if you want to read the text. This is our largest single body of work we have ever produced and is unlikely to ever to superseded. If you have not yet driven this amazing and historical gravel pass, this video set will prepare you well for what to expect. If you've done the trip before, then you can relive every breathtaking kilometre and learn about all the things you never even knew about - from how the Tiekieliefie bend got its name to advice on ascending the Spitskop view site and a LOT more. This is one of our five permanently open pages on the website, so you can forward the link to a friend who might not yet be a subscriber.

Enjoy the production and feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page in the DISQUS section or hop onto our Face Book page and have your say there. Speaking of Vleisbook (the Spur's version), we have just reached another milestone with 15,000 likes and followers. The social media phenomenon continues to baffle and amaze us and provides the conduit for many new pass fans to access the main MPSA website and discover the fascinating world of our passes and poorts.

Next week we will be doing a review of the new GoPro Hero6 Black action camera.


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Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Where there is a will, there is a way. If there is a chance in a million that you can do something, anything, to keep what you want from ending, do it. Pry the door open or, if need be, wedge your foot in that door and keep it open.” ~ Pauline Kael 

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Mountain Passes South Africa

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.

Master Orientation Map

Master Orientation Map 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.

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