Latest News! 16th August, 2018

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The Heyshope Dam delivers some whoppers! The Heyshope Dam delivers some whoppers! - Photo: Vryheid Herald

This week we head off to the bustling metropolis of Dirkiesdorp in the southern part of Mpumalanga, where the grass grows green in the summer and the cosmos lines the road-side in spring.

It is here too that some remarkable South African history can be uncovered and where real earthy characters like Swart Dirk Uys, Koos Bybel, Piet Italeni, Jannie Gyselaar, Kruppel Koos, Piet Hlobane and Vaal Piet seem unlikely characters from some forgotten novel.

We unpack the story of Swart Dirk Uys, his lovely daughter Sannie and an unlikely suitor in the form of a young Imperial French prince, whose flourishing relationship was cut short by the Zulus. Swart Dirk Uys is considered to be the founding father of one of South Africa's most succesful cattle breeds - the Drakensberger.

[Read more lower down]

Snow falling on Cedars

Not only is that a name of good film, but snow has fallen over a wide part of South Africa - even on the bluegums! Tiffindell recorded over 20cm of snow - one of the best snowfalls in a long time. The benefit of snow is that it releases water at a slow rate, which is much more beneficial to the earth than normal rainfall, allowing for superior uitilisation. It also fires up the spirit of adventure in most South Africans, but in general terms most of us have little or no snow driving experience. It's best to tackle snow drives with good preparation and if you're really heading off into the thick stuff, a set of snow chains is a sensible purchase - and of course the knowledge of how to fit them.

According to Snow Report, last week snow started falling in the north of Lesotho in the Maluti Mountains (Afriski area) during the early hours of Thursday morning. By sunrise on Thursday, there was light snow all across the Drakensberg from the north to the south, mainly on the Lesotho side, with some flurries in the southern KZN areas north of Kokstad and around Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. [Read more lower down]

On Thursday night, snowfalls intensified in Lesotho and the Eastern Cape Drakensberg. Barkly East and Lady Grey also received some snow including the entire area around Rhodes and Wartrail. Good falls were reported on the Lootsberg Pass as well as further south in the Eastern Cape over places like Hogsback, the Amatola Mountains and  even as far inland as the Sneeuberge outside Graaff-Reinet.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Western Cape, has seen steady increases in dam levels with the latest readings being at 58,8% for the Cape Metropole area - a long way ahead of last year's figure of 30,9%. With only a few weeks left of the rainfall season left, it seems unlikely that the magical figure of 85% will be realised. Water restrictions will remain in force for the present time.

Opportunity to join our film crew at Eureka City Pass

Our Jhb filming team are planning on filming the unique Eureka City Pass in Mpumalanga from the 7-9th September. This will be a 2 to 3 day excursion and promises to be filled with fabulous scenery, adventure and astounding history plus of course good food and socialising. You will need a high clearance 4x4 with low range to complete the event. Other passes will be included in the trip inbound and outbound. There are limited spaces available. For more information contact Mike Leicester at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Part 3 of Peter Sulivans mountain pass story

On our way back to Johannesburg from Plett, my partner airily declared she had found a shorter route than going through Knysna and George, we should just take the R330 to Willowmore …Ha! Mostly on gravel or sand or clay, it had a billion bends, was startlingly beautiful, saw a famous tree, took us a lot longer, but certainly worth the ride.

This is the famous Prince Alfred’s Pass between Knysna and Uniondale. “Probably Thomas Bain's greatest work. Not only an extremely long pass, it presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders. At 68,5 km it is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use” the website says.

“The pass is Thomas Bain's Opus Magnum - a work of monumental proportions carried out with rudimentary equipment and convict labour, but with science, ingenuity and Bain's "can do" attitude making it all possible. Bain constructed 29 passes mainly in the Cape colony in his lifetime. This pass epitomises all of his unique touches, but especially his exceptional dry walling method of construction.

“His famous dry-walling method of construction to support roads on mountain faces, involved breaking large rocks up by means of fire, followed by cold water, to create manageable triangular pieces. These would then be stacked up at an inward tilting angle of 15 degrees and backfilled from the top. “The more backfill added, the stronger retaining walls became, utilising scientific principles of friction and cohesion. Many kilometres of his original walling still support this road. Many sections have been declared a national monument. Bain's contribution to South Africa as a developing nation was profound.”

Remarkably, if you want to see this pass in all its glory you can watch a 14-part video on the website, taking an hour-and-a-half, a lot less time than we took driving it. Seeing the retaining walls shoring up the road on which you travel and knowing they were built more than a century ago with just broken stones is amazing and humbling.

I am now more educated about passes. I know Wildehondskloofhoogte Pass has the longest name, Ping Pong cuttings the oddest, that there are six Langkloof and six Rooiberg and four Ouberg passes, and that Grey’s Pass in Cape Town is the shortest at 97 meters.

Clearly, I have much to learn. But a big thank you to Mr Bain for his hard work and my enlightenment.

[Ed.Note ~ Send in your mountain story and we will publish the best ones. EMail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

Dirkiesdorp is located just south of the impressive Heyshope Dam which is well known for large-mouth bass fishing. Despite having about 120 km of shoreline from which to fish, Heyshope Dam's favourite fishing spots are only accessible by boat. To show just how small Dirkiesdorp is, this is what Wikipedia have to say about it: "Dirkiesdorp is a town in Gert Sibande District Municipality in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa" - and that's it!

The dam is fairly large in size with a surface measuring 50km² and a shoreline of 120 km. Fish include large-mouth bass, carp, and yellowfish. Guided fishing trips with local fly fishermen are easily arranged, and are certainly recommended as the dam's unpredictable weather can be unsafe for those who are not familiar with the region. Cyber drive this lovely gravel pass by clicking the link below.

* * * * *   W A T E R V A L    P A S S    * * * * *

Upgraded videos added this week:
Bloukrans Pass (R355) - filmed on a muddy, wet day in 2013
Leeurivierhoogte (R60) - an easy scenic pass close to Swellendam
Bakoondhoogte (R60) - forms a back to back pass with Leeuriviershoogte (above)
Remhoogte (R60) - the third and biggest of a trio of passes on the R60 near Ashton

Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young" ~ Henry Ford

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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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