Latest News! 31st May, 2018

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Descending the narrow, steep and rocky Karretjies Pass Descending the narrow, steep and rocky Karretjies Pass - Photo: Trygve Roberts

When delivering the post was a real job

The story goes that postal deliveries between Wupperthal and the Tankwa Karoo were done by a lady on horseback in the late 1800's. She must have been a character of note as riding that route is definitely not for sissies, with blistering hot summers and ice cold winters (including occassional snow). We say: "Give that girl a Bells!"

This old postal route still exists today and can be driven by the public in suitably equipped 4WD vehicles and with the appropriate permissions. We drove this wonderful route last Sunday and opened it to guests to experience how we do the filming and come up with the final product which you see on this website. We take a look at some of the highlights of the trip in this news release, but this is not our featured pass of the week, as the videos still have to be produced (about 700 Gb worth of footage!)


Over the Bonnet

Our featured pass is a real gem and provides fascinating history dating back to the original gold rush in the old ZAR. We head off to Graskop and take a very winding pass past old gold mines - through lush vegetation, dotted with Kiepersol trees and stories of murder, mayhem and the folly of man's greed.

More lower down.....


The Old Postal Route

But first let's visit the Old Postal Route (OPR). The route is about 60 km in length and includes two impressive gravel passes - both starting with a K - The Kraaiberg and Karretjies passes. The passes occur at either end of the route, leaving the bulk of the route traversing a high altitude summit area with weirdly shaped Cederberg sandstone formations carved out by the wind and rain over the millenia.

We started at 10h00 in the beautiful Biedouw Valley which will be a blaze of wild flowers in a month or two. With six vehicles in our group, we anticipated a 5 to 6 hour trip, but we managed it in 4 hours without a single problem occuring. The Kraaiberg Pass (which is already documented on this website) is an instant eye-opener with some very steep gradients with an eagles perspective over the Biedouw Valley. The pass has several very sharp hairpin bends and a stop at the summit reveals endless vistas of ridge upon ridge of mountains.

After about 15 km the road passes right through a private farmstead. The farmer welcomed our group and treated us to a one hour tour of how Rooibos tea is processed. This was a wonderful experience learning about this unique South African product which is shipped world wide. Another proudly South African story. Rooibos only grows in a limited area around Clanwilliam in soft, white sandy soil. The popularity of the brew has increased locally and worldwide and is today considered to be one the healthiest teas one can drink. The demand has of course led to a profitable farming business with the final product attaining prices around R60 per kg.

The beauty is in the detail. This little plant measured just 30mm from end to end / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Most of the route after the farm was fairly easy Grade 1 driving, with the odd tricky section, requiring a change down to low range on the odd occasion. A devastating fire had swept through the mountains a few weeks earlier, leaving the area (including most of the timber fence posts) burnt to the ground.

Despite the rugged and bleak looking terrain, the mountains hold a lot of water, but few people know where to find it.

With not a soul in sight and completely devoid of any buildings, telephone poles, electricity pylons or any man made structures, this place leaves you wondering about the meaning of life. The views to the east over the Tankwa Karoo are so big, it's impossible to capture in a photo.

The descent in the east is trickier than the western ascent. The powerful Doring River (and it's many tributaries), which are only active in the wetter winter season, have carved a series of V-shaped canyons out of the mountain plateau and at one spot, the track runs close enough to a canyon rim to provide a spectacular view into the north-east. But be careful on the unguarded drop-offs.

The final drop down to the river valley is via the oddly named Karretjies Pass, which is rough, steep and narrow and certainly raises one's pulse a notch or two with near vertical drop offs. The final obstacle is the crossing of the Doring River which can range from bone dry to a raging torrent of white water, depending on the time of year. In our instance the levels were on the low side and never got deeper than about 300mm.

The river is crossed via a series of stable, flat rocks, but we strongly advise that it should be walked first to ascertain the correct path, which involves a dog leg manouvre and there is one spot on the right hand side where there is a substantial drop of 1 metre into a deep pool. Do not attempt this route between June and November as not being able to clear the river, would mean a very long trip back to the start.

It is also advisable to take sufficient fuel with and maybe a spare 20 litres in a jerrycan just in case, as the nearest place to refuel at the end point is another 110 km away (Calvinia). Closest refuelling points near the western start are Op die Berg and Clanwilliam, where it is advisable to top up your tank.

We will be producing a highlights package of the route within the next 2 weeks.

The concept of taking guests along on filming trips appears to be highly successful and we will be expanding this into the Johannesburg region soon with a weekend trip planned to drive the Eureka City Pass. Watch this space.

Pass of the Week

Winding its way laboriously between Graskop and Sabie is the Bonnet Pass, named after a small peak near the Graskop side. A working mine still operates at the summit ridge and the maze of gravel roads that radiate off the pass offer countless opportunities to explore the never ending forests and plantations that cover the hills and valleys.

The pass ends at Pilgrims Rest which offers numerous points of interest including the old Joubert's Bridge and a visit to the cemetry is a must where the young ages of those that perished in their seach for gold becomes evident by the dates on the tombstones. It's also fascinating to see where all these prospectors came from around the globe, including Canada, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England. We have a separate video covering Pilgrims Rest at the bottom of the page, where we deal with some of the current contentious issues around tourism.

But don't take this pass lightly as it's peppered with sharp corners, thick mountain mists, thick vegetation (which obscures your view), lots of traffic, including logging and mining trucks, minibus taxis and of course there are the omnipresent Mpumalanga potholes. Driving the roads of Mpumalanga are specifically hazardous as it's quite common to find an oncoming vehicle on the wrong side of the road as they attempt to avoid the potholes. Stay sharp!


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Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall" ~ Anonymous 

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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

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