Latest News! 23rd August, 2018

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The unmistakable profile of the Kompasberg near Nieu Bethesda The unmistakable profile of the Kompasberg near Nieu Bethesda - Photo: Ganora Guest farm

The Owl Route

You've heard of the Whale Route, the Wine Route, the Fynbos Route and many others, but how about doing the Owl Route? This week we head off to the Eastern Cape to introduce you to a wonderful gravel pass that is both remote and impressive. It will leave you with a wonderful sense of peace and solitude and you won't get lost as the very distinctive shape of the aptly named Kompasberg will be there to guide you.

The sleepy Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda is the destination and offers a fascinating place to rediscover your sense of inner peace. [More lower down]

Tankwa Tour

Another exciting venture taking shape for Western Cape readers is a three day trip through the Tankwa Karoo where we will offer limited spaces for visitors to drive with us as we refilm some of the classic passes with our new high-tech cameras and talk you through each pass via our crystal clear VHF radio sets.

The three day trip will include the Gannaga and Ouberg passes and at least 18 other passes and will include two overnight stays in lodges. The tour will include a stargazing event on the Saturday evening in Sutherland.

This trip is scheduled for mid September, but whilst a 4x4 is not a prerequisite, you will need a high clearance vehicle.

We are busy securing accommodation and pricing. We will have space to take 9 vehicles with us. The tour will also be detailed on our Facebook page.

Anyone interested in securing a spot should contact us via email or call 083 658 8888. [More lower down]

You can now book your place on the Tankwa Tour online on the MPSA Shop page.

Email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

*The MPSA Shop has a separate login system to that of the main MPSA website. It does not require creating a user account in advance. (It does not require logging in, during your first purchase)
During a first purchase, your account will be auto-created, using the email you supply at checkout.

Exploring the old Transkei

And speaking of trips and travels, we are heading off to the Eastern Cape, where we have a big filming trip planned for mid October, with over 40 passes in our sights including some exciting new ones in the old Transkei. We will be filming mostly between the coast and the zone approximately 150 km inland with our turnaround point point being the KZN border. Exploring these passes on Google Earth reveals vast canyons with stunning scenery and complex navigation over muddy and potholed roads. This promises to be our most ambitious filming expedition to date. More news will follow closer to the time. We are also going to try and coordinate a live radio interview whilst we pass through East London on October 14th. Watch this space.

Readers Choice:

For the next 3 weeks we publish a collection of pass stories by Tom Cowell. Here is Chapter 1.

My original intention was to comment on the Witkop Pass my wife and I did recently in the Lephalele (Ellisras) district.  Whilst this is a gem of a pass I thought for now rather to set the scene and give, what I think, some interesting background on how we came to be there.  

Ever since I was tall enough to stand on the back seat of my Dad’s Studebaker and gaze out the back window I’ve been what my wife calls a 'mountain pass junkie'.

 As a child our annual holidays were spent in Plettenberg Bay where Granny and Grandpa had a farm where they grew salad ingredients for the Beacon Isle hotel. Travelling from  the Reef our route to and from the area included either, Meirings Poort, Outeniqua, Montagu or Prince Alfred’s passes.  In those days Meirings Poort was still a dirt track and Outeniqua had not yet been upgraded. Travelling down Montague pass we often had to stop to allow the brakes to cool.

Back at school for the start of the new year term, it was usual for teacher to get us to share with the class what we did over the Christmas holidays.  I was always convinced my teachers had never driven, walked or ridden a mountain pass before and those that perhaps had found it difficult sharing my unusual enthusiasm for that stuff.

Whilst doing my extended military service in the navy at Simonstown,  and if not at sea, I was usually bumming a lift to the mountain passes in the area. The Cape has some of the most interesting and beautiful passes on the planet but most sailors not owning motor cars are severely disadvantaged in appreciating anything much further from the dock yards. My wife and I married soon after me leaving the navy and at every opportunity have lugged our camp gear all over South Africa and beyond our borders to Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia & Botswana soaking in any pass on the way.

[Be sure to read the next instalment of this story where the author meets up with Chris Barnard on a mountain pass. Ed.]

The Owl Route promises to be a hoot

Nieu Bethesda has some interesting and peculiar geographical features. Unlike most South African villages, this one does not provide a through road to the next town, but is rather a final terminus that three different roads lead to. It's the end of the road - the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A lovely, timeless and slightly abstract village with wide streets, beautiful trees - all cocooned into a small, but fertile valley surrounded by rugged mountains.

It also has a perpetual freshwater spring that provides enough water for the village via a system of leiwater canals, but it's not just the geograhical features that make this town unique, it is also the residents who have made the village so unique, not least of which is artist Helen Martin's legacy - the Owl House Museum.

There are other famous writers, poets, playwrights and artists that live here too where the quiet shady streets ooze country charm and serenity. It really is a place worth visiting and there are no ATM machines, garages or internet cafes to distract you from just being. Sound good? Then take the big gravel pass off the N9 north of Graaff Reinet and work your way around the Kompasberg in an anti-clockwise direction over steep necks and narrow valleys and approach Nieu Bethesda via the road less travelled.

For those who don't like gravel travel, you can make use of the tarred Rubidgekloof Pass and for the real back road enthusiasts, there's another approach from the north-west via Michielshoogte (but watch out for kudus on this road at any time of day!). Each approach is different and has it's own allure, but it is the Witnek Pass which is our favourite. Take the cyber drive with us as we filmed this pass on a cold, wet late autumn day. The page also features a village tour of Nieu Bethesda.

* * * * *   W I T N E K     P A S S   * * * * *

Upgraded videos added this week:

Bothmaskloof Pass - an easy, but attractive pass on the R46 with history dating back to 1661.

Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "The period of greatest gain in knowledge and experience is the most difficult period in one's life." ~ Dalai Lama

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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.

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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