Latest News! 9th August, 2018

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The fascinating history of Villiersdorp The fascinating history of Villiersdorp - Photo: Tafelberg Publishers

Rusty Gate

Onbekendepas, Helderstroom Pass, Theewaterskloof Pass and Elandskloof Pass are all alternative names for the Rusty Gate Pass, named after a farm near the summit of this wonderful traverse of the Donkerhoek Mountains that separate the Theewaterskloof Dam from the Helderstroom Valley near Villiersdorp in the Western Cape.

Today we take a cyber drive over this lovely set of farms amongst proteas, fruit orchards, sparkling dams and pine forests as we uncover yet another gravel road gem. But it is in the research of the area that the real earthy history of South Africa comes to the fore. [More lower down...]

Like a ghost in the night....

Our web-service host is moving the entire MPSA website to a faster, better server this week. By the time this newsletter is published it will all be fait accompli. The transfer to the new server will take place during the early hours of Wednesday morning, and the benefits to you will be a faster site with quicker page downloads. There might be a few gremlins during the switchover, but we are anticipating that most issues should be resolved within 48 hours.

Another innovation is that we are developing a more refined search system with variable parameters, which will make the search function more optimized. We will announce this refinement as soon as it's ready for rollout.

We experienced an issue with one of our old Mailing List providers, which meant that that about a third of our subscribers did not receive last week's newsletter. We apologise for that.

The incident helped accelerate our plans to switch over to a new Mailing List provider, that offers more potential for future growth, and this newsletter email is sent out via this new service. We also took the opportunity to update the look of our newsletter email. We hope you like it.

Ben 10 has gone to sleep

The cold weather, rain and snow seems to have kept all our intrepid Ben 10 Challenge competitors tucked away warmly under their duvets, as we have not seen a single finisher in the past few weeks. Before you know it, spring will be here and all the adventurers will up in the mountains, enjoying the big challenge passes again. Remember entry is free, so sign up and go for an adventure that you will never forget.

Face Book concepts

We are starting to accept quiz photos from our subscribers and FaceBook followers as an idea at gaining fresh ways of learning more about South Africa. If you have an interesting, good quality photo, send it in to us (together with a full description of the answer) and we will select the best ones to feature on our page. Send to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Peter Sullivan's STORY (Chapter 2)

Andrew Geddes Bain was born in Scotland, arrived in the Cape in 1816 aged 19, originally a saddler in Graaff-Reinet, later finding a job in the construction of roads.  Andrew had 11 children, Thomas Charles John Bain, was the second son and the seventh child. (Not to be confused with John Thomas Baines, traveller and explorer and prolific artist who died in Durban in 1875.) In 1854 Thomas married Johanna Hermina de Smidt, they had a long and happy marriage, being devoted to one another and to their thirteen children.

(Much of this information and what follows comes from www.MountainPassesSouthAfrica.co.za. My indebtedness to this source.)

Thomas was essentially a quiet and gentle man, able as his works attest to control large construction crews in remote areas and, when more senior, to guide and control work on a number of sites often hundreds of kilometres apart. He was religious and a teetotaller.He earned the nickname of "the man with the theodolite eye" for his uncanny ability to visualise the perfect routing for a pass with the naked eye.

Thomas made collections of reptilian remains from the Locustrine beds of the Karoo for the British and Cape Museums, reported on mineral resources and discoveries of minerals in the Cape Colony and Free State, discovered new botanical species, collected fossils and artefacts, made copies of pre-historic rock art – and played a variety of musical instruments.

Back to our pass, the Bloukrans.

Thomas Bain relished the challenge of planning a route through both formidable obstacles of the Grootrivier and Bloukrans gorges within the Tsitsikamma forests.

“The Bloukrans Pass is one of the most revered and respected passes in South Africa. It is a sad indictment that this road has been allowed to degenerate into such a state of disrepair that it has now been declared closed to traffic. This pass is surely worthy of National Monument status!” the website says. Hear hear.

It is still a fabulous drive, in a normal car, not a 4X4. Just be careful of hairpin bends, rocks in the road, fallen trees, splashes of water, and crumbling cliff edges.

[Next week we will publish the 3rd and final part of Peter's mountain pass story. Ed.] 

Farm gate etiquette

This often thorny issue raises it's head from time to time. There is no manual written on what is right and wrong. However, a little common sense is usually sufficient to find a happy solution. We offer below some generally accepted guidelines for those of you that wander off the tar roads and wonder how to deal with closed gates.

  1. Look for the small white boards which show the road's administrative number. These are usually affixed to gates and fences. If a road has an official number, it can reasonably be expected to be publicly accessible (but there are exceptions). Any gates found to be closed, should be closed behind you after passing through. A road that links a series of farms is usually publicly accessible, but again there are exceptions (especially if such a road is not a through road - in other words a dead end. In some cases you might find a closed and locked gate (the Klein Koebee Pass is a good example) with a single chain and muliple padlocks - one for each farm owner along the road.
  2. If a minor road has no such administrative number, it is quite possible that it might not be publicly accessible. If there is a sign on a closed (but not locked gate) stating that you are entering private property and that 'trespassers will be prosecuted' it is best to turn around and find another route option (or drive in and stop at the farm and request permission). If you feel that such a sign might have been illegally erected, make an exact note of the location with GPS coordinates and submit your query to the Provinvial Administration offices, if you feel strongly about it. If you decide to drive it regardless and later find out you are wrong, it could lead to unpleasant consequences. Never take the law into your own hands.
  3. If you arrive at a farm gate and it is closed and locked, just leave the way you arrived. Under no circumstances (other than an emergency) should you cut the locks (even if you believe it has been illegally closed). Follow the same procedure after the fact (as in point No. 2)
  4. When driving through private farmland on publicly accessible roads, consider the effects of your dust on the farmer's crops as well as noise levels from your vehicle. Be courteous, considerate and friendly. All adventure travellers need the farmers on our side.
  5. The farmers put food on our tables and their lives are increasingly under threat. Let us all cooperate with them in a manner that is beneficial to everyone. There are very few farmers who close their roads for reasons other than security. Remember that fact when you arrive at a gate that indicates "Private Road/No entry"


A successful and respected French Hugenote farmer, named Pieter de Villiers, bought a farm in the valley near what we today know as the Theewaterskloof Dam in the early 1800's. He successfully persuaded the Cape Parliament to approve the establishment of a village on a part of his farm - and so was born the town of Villiersdorp.

But scandal was to erupt on the farm when one of his daughters fell in love and wanted to marry a farm labourer. His name was Petrus Graaff. After intense discussions the marriage was approved, but subject to the De Villiers name remaining in the marriage - and thus we had De Villiers-Graaff, where one of the sons from this marriage (David) later earned himself a knighthood (baronetcy) and became a wealthy parliamentarian and whose son Sir De Villiers Graaff also went on to become a famous statesman and leader of the official opposition in South Africa - the United Party. And so unfolds another chapter of unfettered South African history.To get more of this story take the link below.....

* * * * *   R U S T Y     G A T E    P A S S   * * * * *


Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Stop worrying about how everything is going to turn out. Live one day at a time" ~ Joel Osteen

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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.

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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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