Latest News! 26th December, 2019

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Get yourself an MPSA coffee mug! Get yourself an MPSA coffee mug! - Photo: MPSA Shop

The Inside Story

* The year that was

* New merchandise

* Lesotho-Sani Tour - the final chapter

* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour - Chapter 3.

* Podcast - Listen to the highlights of the Lesotho Tour

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom

Adieu 2019

This is our final newsletter of 2019, when it's customary for us to take a look at the metaphorical road that we have travelled this year. It is also an opportunity to thank you for your support and encouragement and to wish you the very best of health and happiness for the year ahead.

In February 2019 we turned professional. This was a major decision after having spent the past 45 years running a different business, but everything has turned out better than expected and the additional time we are now able to invest in the MPSA project is bearing fruit.

Our biggest growth has come from the social media side of things where we put a LOT of effort into creating interesting and varied posts. Between Dec 2018 and Dec 2019 we amassed over 10,000 new followers on our Facebook page and the current rate of growth is about 1000 new followers per month. The total at the moment is 23,000 - that number having been reached on Christmas Eve.

Many people ask me why we put so much effort into social media when it doesn't bring in any income. The reason is that we are building MPSA into a national brand. It works on the principle of first having to give, before receiving. Some simple arithmetic shows the following. An average MPSA post is seen by about 3000 people. We post 8 times per day so that makes 24,000 post views a day; 168,000 per week; 722,000 per month and 8,600,000 per year. We have had a Facebook presence since 2013, so that is 60,681,000 post views over that period. Those figures are conservative. It's probably a lot more, but it illustrates what is possible to achieve on a small budget. Building a credible brand is key to having a sustainable business and with the power of social media it is possible, but most new businesses opt for sponsored (paid) posts. Those simply don't have the credibility of organic posts. But we warned it requires consistent and sustained creative effort.

Having said that, moderating the page requires patience, people skills and an enormous amount of time. With the credibility factor comes a level of respect and discipline which most followers abide by and after 7 years everyone knows what is required in terms of keeping the party clean - and especially positive. Now you know!

We enjoyed a very successful year with our tours, with all but 2 of them being fully booked. The tours also consume a huge amount of time - and it's all in the planning and getting the details right so that our clients enjoy a seamless experience. We had our fair share of drama on tours, losing a Land Rover in a flooded river; a motorcycle stranded on top of Bastervoetpad; a broken suspension on the summit of Ben MacDhui; a stranded Jeep with injector issues and several punctures and a few lost tyres. It's all part of the risk and excitement but we dealt with all those issues with aplomb. We will be working very hard over the next two weeks setting up the draft plans for all the tours in 2020, so do remember to come back and check our tours page to see what's on offer. Our return business ratio on our tours reached 70% by November. A sure sign that we are getting the formula right.

Our subscriber base has enjoyed good growth in 2019 and especially pleasing is to see how many subscribers are signing up from overseas. Expats longing for South Africa make up a fair portion of those overseas subscribers. Clients from Europe are especially appreciative of the website, stating that it allows them to plan an extended trip through South Africa and arrive armed with knowledge and confidence.

MPSA Coffee Mugs and new T-Shirts

Brand new merchandise on our shop page is now available. We have introduced a coffee mug into our range (the same one that guests on our tours receive) as well as new T-shirts and Golf shirts specially chosen for fabric suited to travelling. As always our subscribers get a discount. Check out the pics and pricing of the new merchandise at the MPSA Shop.

Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 6)

We were ticking off some of the biggest passes in Lesotho on our second day on tour and still more passes beckoned. Next up was the Moteng Pass.

This major pass is located between the town of Kala in the west and the Afriski Resort in the north in the northern quartile of Lesotho. It has a huge altitude gain of 896m that stretches over a distance of 15.3 km which converts into an average gradient of 1:17, but don't be fooled by that figure as it includes the descent. Most of the ascent from the western approach is between 1:5 and 1:8.

The 91 bends, corners and curves will require your full concentration. Amongst those there are 4 extreme hairpin bends and one full horseshoe. The A1 road is the major route across the northern sector of Lesotho and as such carries a fair volume of traffic including some very large trucks. These need the full width of the road to negotiate the hairpin bends, so be fully aware of this as you proceed along this pass.

[More lower down...] 

Things change dramatically at the 5.8 km point, where the next hairpin is reached. It turns through a full 180 degrees to the right and also has a very tight radius. This is one of the hairpins where trucks might use up the entire width to make their turns.

From the 7.2 km point to the summit is by far the most technical of the entire pass. It's packed with razor sharp bends - six of them which turn through angles greater than 100 degrees. It is also here that you will experience the steepest gradient on the pass of 1:5.

Take it easy and enjoy the magnificent mountain-scapes as you climb almost 400m in altitude over just 2.8 km. The summit point of 2820m ASL offers wonderful and vast views both to the west and east. Make sure you pull well off the road if you plan on taking photographs.

The next pass we reached was the Mahlasela Pass. This is in fact, the highest pass is Lesotho at 3279m ASL. It climbs 740m over 17.9 km and like all the passes on this tour, this one is also tarred and in beautiful condition. Strangely this pass is seldom mentioned by travellers and plays a little sister role to Mafika Lisiu Pass. This was another pass where 1st gear was needed in the final bends up towards the summit.

New Oxbow Lodge under snow/ Photo: Tribes Travel

Our overnight stop at the end of day 2 was at the New Oxbow Lodge. The lodge is old and has changed hands several times but its location is very dramatic - wedged alongside a narrow poort with a small river tumbling down it. Oxbow Lodge came into being when two brothers and their friends were exploring the Lesotho Mountains. They were caught in a snowstorm, and pitched their tents in the Oxbow area. The name is derived from a river nearby that flows in an oxbow shape.

As these brothers and their friends were outdoor enthusiasts, they came back again to the same spot and started the Oxbow campsite. In 1971, two young men from the U.K. got involved and built A-frame structures. The ownership changed many times after that. The road to Oxbow was in a very bad condition, resembling more of a donkey trail. A four-wheel drive vehicle was a necessity, and it took a whole day to get from Butha-Buthe to Oxbow.

New owners took over the establishment in 1978. In September 1981, the lodge, then built with timber and thatch, was completely destroyed by run-away fires. The owners started to rebuild, transporting all of the building materials using two Nissan four-wheel-drive pick-ups. A new tarred road was built in 1991, making the trip from Butha-Buthe to Oxbow possible in just under an hour.

The management of the lodge were very accommodating and resolved any issues promptly. The dining room, which is in a rondavel was a bit small to accommodate our whole group, so some enjoyed the very tasty dinner in the pub. With well fed and weary guests it was off to bed for a good night's sleep in spotlessly clean rooms in preparation for the final day of the tour.

Just a note on the Oxbow Lodge. For those booked in to the rooms furthest away from the pub/kitchen, it takes around 12 minutes for the hot water to flow through the pipes to reach the last rooms. In mid-winter that time frame will be even longer. But when it gets there, it's piping hot!

[Next week more on this amazing tour]

Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour (Chapter 3)

For the first time on any MPSA tour we introduced the concept of a lay day (or free day). The second day of the tour we let each driver decide what they wanted to do with their day, but the unanimous decision was that everyone wanted to go to the Addo National Park. The group remained in VHF radio contact which allowed us to call each other when a good sighting was made.

The weather was perfect as we all explored the main park in our own time at our own pace. Later when we compared notes over dinner, there was a long list of sightings which included, buffalo, red hartebeest, springbok, black backed jackal, lion, warthog, giraffe and of course elephant. The hide right next to the main entrance gates offered superb photo opportunities and most guests stayed in the park until late afternoon.

An interesting thing happened to one of our guests, Mike Waspe. He lost his wallet in an ablution facility at one of the view sites and only realised it some three hours later. On the way out the park, he stopped in at reception to report the loss. They had his wallet waiting for him with everything inside including R1800 cash. The ranger in charge of the view site had picked up the wallet and handed it in. This is such a wonderful good news story that it's worth making a special note of the honesty and work ethic at Addo - a wonderful national asset of South Africa. Bouw zo voort!

[Next week we will report back on the Bedrogfontein 4x4 Route - the highlight of the tour]


A chat covering the final day of our Lesotho-Sani Tour which includes some major passes, the Letseng diamond mine, a stop at the highest pub in Africa and a perfect descent of the Sani Pass. Click to listen.

Featured pass of the week:

On our way to Addo, we allowed sufficient time to film a few passes in the Kareedouw area in the Langkloof. We feature one of the four passes today via a double video set for you to enjoy and bookmark this one onto your bucket list. It's gravel, remote and quiet with sensational views.

* * * * *   S U U R A N Y S B E R G   P A S S    * * * * *

New passes added this week:

Gouwsberg Pass - An easy tarred pass with great history on the R544 in Mpumalanga

Malherbeshoogte - A small and insignificant official pass on the R60 between Ashton and Robertson

Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Happy, happy Christmas that can win us back the delusions of our childhood days; recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth and transport the traveller back to his own fireside and quiet home" - Charles Dickens 

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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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