Latest News! 21st February, 2019

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Black Rhino at Tswalu Game Reserve Black Rhino at Tswalu Game Reserve - Photo: Tswalu

December to May is a very busy time at Mountain Passes South Africa. As usual we have lots of news to bring you and what better place to start than with our new Great Swartberg Tour. We only created this tour a few days ago and it instantly created a flood of inquiries to the point where the tour is virtually fully booked before we have even launched it. What is does show is that there is a need for multiple day tours where an element of adventure is included. (More lower down)

The move from our old premises to our new offices is close to being complete, with the last few boxes still waiting to be unpacked, but the main engine room is running at full steam ahead. The HQ is now based in Welgemoed, Cape Town, but our email addresses, and phone numbers remain unchanged. 

Our featured pass this week is most unusual in that it is "Ver in die ou Kalahari" but notwithstanding its rugged and remote nature, the area carries with it a fascinating tale of heroes and villians. We unpack the remarkable story of Scotty Smith, who presided in that part of the world many years ago as a diamond smuggler, cattle rustler, conman, jail-breaker and fraudster, yet he had a soft spot for the poor. Our man up north, Mike Leicester, explored the region and researched some startling facts and folklore. (More lower down) 


The Great Swartberg Tour: Our latest and most innovative tour follows the route of the region's severe floods. From Laingsburg in the west we trace a mainly gravel route along the Klein en Groot Swartberg range via 23 passes and poorts - some majestic and grand - others small and rough and some silky smooth, tarred passes.

We will be visiting the Flood Museum in Laingsburg and recalling the devastating flood of 1981 which claimed 143 lives. From there the route will traverse a loop around the mountain where we have gained permission to visit the Buffelspoort Canyon. Several passes will be traversed as we drop in at Ladismith and from there on to the stunning Seweweekspoort, followed by it's sister pass - the Bosluiskloof Pass where we will revel in the luxury of the 4 star Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge as we sip sundowners, watched by grazing kudus.

Day 2 sees our route retrace the two majestic passes of the previous day but in the opposite direction and in different light as we head east over the Huisrivier Pass and through Calitzdorp, where we reconnect with the gravel roads via Coetzees Poort and Huis se Hoogte passes to reach the southern side of the Swartberg Pass - one of the highlights of the day. We then follow the 2 hour drive along the Gamkaskloof and down the vertigo inducing Elands Pass to overnight at Die Hel, where the home cooking of the last of the klowers will be enjoyed at Fonteinplaas.

Day 3 involves retracing our route back to the Swartberg Pass, then down the northern descent for a stop at Prince Albert, where the best figs in South Africa are grown and the leiwater canals still carry mountain water to the local gardens. Our route heads east over the Kredouw Pass and the once more onto gravel as we drive a trio of unknown passes whereafter we connect with Meiringspoort (the Day 3 highlight). Once through De Rust our route follows the foothills of the Swartberg and ends near the Cango Resort and Schoemanspoort.

Tour entrants from the Western Cape get a bonus as on the 4th day will follow another series of passes as we head back to Cape Town. Bookings for this tour open today. We can only take 10 vehicles. Here is the link to book online: GREAT SWARTBERG TOUR 

The story of Scotty Smith: Hotazel has got to have one of the coolest (reverse pun intended!) town names in South Africa. It is said that the name came about when, shortly after Wold War I, a bunch of land surveyors had a drinking session out in the red sands and, whilst discussing the place over a glass of Cape Smoke brandy, decided that it was as “hot as hell”. The name stuck, although the spelling was changed to make it more palatable in those more strait-laced times.

There are a few other unusual place names in the country as well, such as Pofadder (“Puffadder”, a species of snake), Putsonderwater (“well without water”), Los-My-Cherry (“leave my girlfriend alone”), Douse-The-Glim (originated when Scottish soldiers during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War were told to extinguish their fires to avoid detection) and the granddaddy of them all, Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein (“the spring where two buffaloes were killed with a single shot”), a farm in the North West province. 

Despite its exotic and onomatopoeic name, Hotazel does not have much to attract visitors, and the town exists mainly to service the many mines in the area. These consist primarily of manganese and sinter mines, but the ore also produces a wealth of rare well-crystallised minerals, such as Azurite, Ephesite, Rhodochrosite, and Scottyite. This latter mineral was named after Michael Scott, the first CEO of the Apple Computer company, and a significant sponsor of the Rruff project. 

Robin Hood of the Kalahari

There is another “Scotty” associated with this area. Born George St Ledger Lennox into a noble Scottish family, he emigrated to South Africa and took on the name “Scotty Smith”, although it is not clear how this surname was derived. He was a well-known cattle thief, gun runner, lover of fine horses, dealer in illegal diamonds, and a smuggler, but he was also a friend of the poor, and became famous as the “Robin Hood of the Kalahari”. He was caught and sentenced several times for these crimes, but he always managed to escape, and often claimed that no prison cell could hold him. 

Scotty Smith was a genius when it came to fooling people into believing that he was someone else by changing his character, but it was alleged that he never actually used a disguise. On one occasion, a detective cornered Scotty, arrested him and cuffed him. Within a few minutes, Scotty had slipped his handcuffs, overpowered the lawman, shackled him then dropped him off at the Kimberley jail. He was such a good con artist that the cops in Kimberley believed the hapless detective to be Scotty Smith himself. 

Another famous tale about Scotty Smith claims that when the police came to his campsite looking for illegal diamonds that he had smuggled, he hid them in a kettle which was simmering on the campfire. He warmly welcomed them, and then calmly poured coffee for the policemen and himself from the boiling kettle. 

Besides English and probably Scots or Scots Gaelic, Scotty was fluent in German, Afrikaans and a number of Bushmen languages. It is said that when an unexpected police patrol paid him a visit, he would ask to be allowed to hold "huisgodsdiens" (Afrikaans for home religious service) for his servants. He conducted these services in a Bushmen language, and in full view of the policemen who could not understand a word, he gave detailed instructions to his servants on how to hide anything that he did not want the policemen to see or find. 

Scotty died as a respected elderly townsman of Upington during the 1919 flu epidemic, and was buried in the Upington cemetery. His grave is protected by an iron trellis, and on his gravestone is written a fitting epitaph: "Never will his memory fade". (Researched and written by Mike Leicester)

BEN 10 ECO CHALLENGE - Due to the popularity of this event, the page started getting too big for its boots, so we have split it into smaller sub-sections which will make navigating the challenge a lot easier. We have also added a new condition to those entering the challenge, in that although entry is free, every entrant must be a subscriber to this website. That small income will help to offset the considerable costs of maintaining the page into the future.

Listen to the Podcast: This week's podcast focuses on the Boland town of Worcester and some it's remarkable citizens and its fame as a caring town with leading national institutions for the deaf and the blind. Click here.

Pass of the Week: Take the link below and discover a pass that you ahve probably never heard of and a game reserve through which it passes which is the largest privately owned reserve in South Africa. It is here near Hotazel where semi precious stones are mined and stories of heroes and villians unfold.

* * * * *   V E R W A T E R S N E K   * * * * *

New passes added this week:

Moordenaarshoogte - An official, but very insignificant little pass north of Montagu.


Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful" ~ Joshua J.Marine 

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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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