Latest News! 4th July, 2019.

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Drone photograph of Volunteershoek Pass on Monday Drone photograph of Volunteershoek Pass on Monday - Photo: Ray Sephton

The week that was and still is!

* Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!

* Trips & Tours

* Thomas Bain Heritage Tour report back

* South African History - Chapter 9

* Featured pass of the week

* New passes added this week

* Words of wisdom

Brrrrr! Up in Gautengaleng temperatures today have plummeted to below zero, with decent snowfalls being recorded on all the major mountain ranges from the Hexriver mountains in the west to the Drakensberg in the east. Lesotho really got clobbered with the main route (A1) to Afriski being closed on Monday. Each year the snow draws visitors in their thousands and as always we issue a cautionary about snow driving. South Africans in general have little or zero snow driving experience. It is different to any other type of off-road driving, so think carefully before you rush out to experience the snow in your brand new 4x4.

1. Don't travel alone
2. Go prepared for an emergency. Pack blankets, dry clothes, beanies, gloves, emergency food, hire a satellite phone, record emergency assist numbers.
3. Know your limitations. Just because you are in a 4WD vehicle does not make you invincible. Think ahead.
4. Invest in snow chains and know how to fit them.
5. Be aware of the dangers of black ice (rhime ice) on tar. No traction means its like driving a vehicle on ice skates. Steering makes no difference. Your vehicle will slide in a straight line down the easiest route (which is usually down a cliff).

The expression 'cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey' is not rude at all. It comes from the days of the big sailing ships that carried cannons. The iron cannon balls were stacked in pyramids on a brass plate (brass to prevent the iron balls from rusting). This plate was called a "monkey" by the mariners. When the ship sailed into very cold weather, the iron cannon balls would contract faster than the brass and would end up popping off the monkey and around the deck. Thus the expression. There are a number of sources that claim this story to be "twak" but it sounds very plausible, so we'll roll with it for now!

Trips &Tours

August 9th -11th & 23rd - 25th:  We are offering 2 tours during August. One in the Cederberg (23rd-25th) and the other up north in Limpopo Province ober the long weekend (9th to 11th). Check our shop and tours page later this week for more details. Bookings have just  opened for the Cederberg Classic Tour.

September 21st to 24th The Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour - 4 places left.

September 27th to 29th The Lesotho-Sani Tour - 1 place left.

October or November - Wild Coast Tour - A multiple day tour taking you places you can only dream of and taking in some of SA's biggest gravel passes. Details will be published soon.

Thomas Bain Heritage Tour - Every tour we do, seems to be 'the best tour ever' and this one certainly felt like it deserved that tag. We met in the dreamy village of Wilderness and soon had our group kitted out with radios. During the introductions one of our guests introduced himself as Andre "I'm an undercover agent for SARS" That would set the tone of humour for the next three and a half days. [More lower down...]

The first of our 21 passes was White's Road in Wilderness starting only 50m from our rendezvous point. John Montagu (colonial secretary of the Cape Colony) brought Henry Fancourt White to the Cape as a roads engineer, specifically to build what became the Montagu Pass. When he had completed that, White rebuilt the pass up the Great Brak River heights, before moving to the Zuurberg Pass, above Addo. He died in Blanco in the mid-1860s.

Henry White's son was christened Montagu and it was Montagu White who bought The Wilderness in 1905, about 40 years after his father's death. Montagu White built White's Road, around 1910, to allow access to The Wilderness for motor vehicles. Montagu and his half-sister (Henry's step-daughter) tragically died after eating a meal of poison mushrooms. 

As this tale was being relayed over the radios, the vista of lakes, forests and rivers opened up as the convoy gained altitude. White's Road was the very first pass that we filmed and produced on the website way back in 2012 - and here we are 7 years later and logging pass #874.

We drove a figure of eight loop taking in the Dolphin Point view-site, Kaaiman's River Pass, Swartrivier Pass, Kaaimansgat Pass and Silver River Pass and stopping at the Map of Africa, where the Kaaimans River has carved a deep gorge out of the hills, strongly resembling the shape of Africa. On the southern side of the view-point paragliders launch off to soar over the beaches of Wilderness and especially over Dolphin Point, where many a motorist on the N2 almost has a heart attack with a paraglider suddenly filling the sky just above windscreen level.

We ticked off the rest of the 7 passes - Touw River Pass, Hoogekraal Pass, Karatara Pass and then the pass that gave Thomas Bain so many headaches - the Homtini Pass. Lunch was enjoyed at a delightful restaurant in Rheenendal called Totties Farm Kitchen. It is recommended!

The plan was to visit the Millwood Gold Mine and Materolli's Tea Room, but an earlier inquiry revealed that it has been closed for almost 3 years - no longer being a viable business to run. The little tea room built from wood and corrugated iron, so common of Knysna's architecture in the 1800's, still stands firmly on the forest edge today. It was originally called Mother Holley's Tea Room, but the Italian prospectors struggled to pronounce it and the words soon morphed into one as Materolli's, which the 'eyeties' could cope with and the name stuck.

Next week we'll take you from Rheenendal to Uniondale.

South African History ~ Chapter 9

British Annexation of Natal

Durban in modern times

The British had established a trading post at Port Natal (now Durban) in 1824, and in that same year they signed a treaty with Shaka ceding them Port Natal and about 50 miles (80 km) of coastline to a depth of 100 miles (160 km) inland. They made little attempt to develop the interior, which continued to be decimated by the Zulus during the mfecane period.

The British settlement at Port Natal did grow, however, and in 1835 Captain A.F. Gardiner secured from Dingaan (who had succeeded Shaka as the Zulu chief) a treaty ceding the southern half of Natal to the British. The apparently empty interior was entered in October 1837 by the Voortrekkers. They crossed the passes of the northern Drakensberg Mountains under the leadership of Piet Retief and others. Retief obtained from Dingaan the promise of nearly all of Natal if he recovered some stolen cattle for the Zulu leader. Retief’s promptness in this task so alarmed Dingaan that he had Retief and more than 60 of his followers massacred in February 1838. After the Battle of Blood River, Dingaan was replaced by his brother Mpande, who made concessions to the Boers and established himself north of the Tugela in a vassal state known as Zululand.

The Afrikaners established the Republic of Natalia with its capital at Pietermaritzburg and its northern border at the Tugela River. The new Boer republic was soon unsettled by an influx of indigenous tribes returning to Natal to repopulate the lands they had abandoned to the Zulus. The British, moreover, opposed the establishment of any independent state on the coast of southern Africa, and annexed Natal in 1843 after a few minor skirmishes. In response, many of the former republic’s Afrikaner inhabitants left for the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and were replaced by new immigrants, mainly from Britain. Natal was given a local administration but remained basically an adjunct of the Cape Colony until 1856, when it was made a crown colony and given its own legislative council.

[Next week: Establishment of the Boer Republics. Remember you can catch the full document as we add each instalment week by week on the main SA History page]

PODCAST: Our podcast this week covers Day 1 of the Thomas Bain Heritage Tour. LISTEN HERE.


In keeping with our snowy theme this week, we are featuring a pass most of you have driven, but due to the fact there are no safe places to stop, the spectacular scenery on display is often overlooked. It is also one of the 10 challenge passes of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge and the only one of the ten which is tarred. Enjoy the video and scenery!

* * * * *   B A R K L Y   P A S S   * * * * *

New passes added this week:

Daneelshoogte - an unknown tarred pass near Heidelberg in the Western Cape with great scenery (and no traffic)

Tlaeeng Pass - the 2nd highest pass in Lesotho at 3262m ASL (Provisional video)

Goudnek - an interesting tarred pass near Prieska in the Northern Cape, featuring an optical illusion in the Orange River


Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Without new experiences, something inside us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken" ~ Frank Herbert

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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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