Latest News! 3rd October, 2019

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Summit views from the Otto Du Plessis Pass Summit views from the Otto Du Plessis Pass - Photo: Trygve Roberts

As you read this newsletter, the editorial team are still on the road, returning from two back to back tours. This newsletter will take on a slightly different format to our usual newsletter format. There will be no history chapter this week, but next week the history series will continue.

Most of this news letter will be consist of the two tours we have just completed - so let's get straight to the nitty gritty.

Our final tour for 2019 is the Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour towards the end of November. Tickets are selling fast. We have six places left, so if you're keen to join this tour, get your bookings done. You can get full information, pricing etc by using this link: Bedrogfontein Tour Online Bookings.

The Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour involved a two day trip getting to base camp and an overnight stay in Graaff Reinet, where we enjoyed fabulous Karoo cooking at the Polka Restaurant. Make a note of it and be sure to book as it's nearly always fully booked (and we know why!)

Our group consisting of 11 vehicles met at the Mountain Shadows Hotel (another venue which found favour with all our guests), but by 5 pm we received a message from Mark Heaton, stating that his Jeep Cherokee CRDi had developed a diesel injector problem and he had made it as far as Lady Grey and would be unable to participate in the tour. Fortunately we had three vehicles in our convoy without passengers and we were able to offer Mark a ride with Barrie Barnardt (who we later dubbed Barrie die Bek) for his ability to speak rapidly and continuously (and very cleverly). Mark is quietly spoken, so we had a perfect team in the black Ford Ranger Wildtrack.

We then amended our route slightly and collected Mark in Lady Grey the next morning and so the Ben 10 Tour overcame its first curved ball. But there would be more to come. Day 1 included Joubert's Pass, followed by a magnificent scenic drive back to the R58 and then south to the Otto du Plessis Pass. Conditions were strangely warm (32C) but the area is still dry leaving us with a lot of dust which invariably sees the convoy spreading out over 7 km or longer. [More lower down]

Amongst our talented and smart guests, we had two birders - Jim & Zen Rankin and Andrew and Fiona Langham who quickly got buzzing on the radios identifying birds along the route

A lunch break was enjoyed at the river crossing which marks the northern end of the Otto du Plessis Pass, but the first summer rains had not yet arrived, which meant the two feature waterfalls on this pass were nothing more than a black streak down the sandstone rocks. Despite the lack of rain, the pass is majestic in its scope and grandeur. We looped back towards Elliot and ascended the Barkly Pass - the only tarred pass of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge - arriving back at base at 17h00 in time for a shower, happy hour and a hearty meal that Mountain Shadows is famous for.


[More on the Ben 10 next week]

The group met up at Zuikerkop Lodge - a lovely private nature reserve about 10 km outside Clocolan in the Free State. The access road is currently being refurbished with large mounds of sand and rock blocking one half of the road. I instantly recongnized it as having puncture potential and notified all the guests to take extra care on the approach road. Our lead vehicle for this tour, driven by Mike Leicester, got the first (and only) puncture of the tour, but it was quickly sorted out.

Zuikerkop Lodge has large grounds with expansive views over the koppies and plains of the Eastern Free State. Once all the guests were checked in, it was time to fit the 2 way radios and enjoy a refreshing drink before the drivers briefing got underway. This was the largest group we had yet managed totalling 37 people. The lodge provided us with a big conference room and a hearty dinner. Their chef is top level.

The next morning we left promptly at 08h00 and headed up to the border control point at Peka Bridge. The processing went swiftly and soon we were motoring south towards Maseru. Although this route saved us a lot of time it meant we had almost 100 km of suburbia to drive through along the outskirts of Maseru which was a slow and tedious drive.

Once out of suburbia, we were to be treated to our first pass - Bushman's Pass or more correctly Lekhalo La Baroa. The passes in Lesotho are massive. This one a climbs 487m over 11.9 km to summit at 2277m ASL with gradients reaching an energy sapping 1:5. The 65 bends on this pass kept drivers very busy.

Stopping anywhere in Lesotho means you have an instant audience. Children and herders seem to melt out of the mountain slopes leaving your vehuicle surrounded within minutes by the chatter of kids asking for treats. Some of the children as young as 5 or 6 years old would run in front of our vehicles with a stone in their hand. Their reasoning is "if you don't give us sweets, we will stone your vehicle". The reality is that very few of them are brave enough to throw a stone, let alone be accurate enough to hit a vehicle.

The next pass on our route was the God Help Me Pass or in SeSotho "Lekhalo La Molimo Nthuse". This pass is slightly smaller than the first one with statistics of 8.2 km length, a height gain of 382m and a summit height of 2332m. IT might well have had travellers asking for blessings from above some years back, but today it is a beautiful tarred pass and not much to be concerned about other than your engine searching for oxygen.

Our destination for the first night was the Katse Lodge, but we still had two more major passes to tick off the list.

[Next week we will continue with this story]

PASS OF THE WEEK: One of the passes of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge.

* * * * *   J O U B E R T S   P A S S   * * * * *

Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: “One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.” ~ Michael Korda 

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