Latest News! 20th February, 2020

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Views along the Gwangxu Pass Views along the Gwangxu Pass - Photo: Trygve Roberts

The two weeks that were

* Report back on the first 2 days of the Wild Coast recce trip

* Baviaans-Kouga Tour coming up in March

* Ben 10 on 6 wheels (Part 2)

* Podcast

* Pass of the week

* Thought for the day

Recce for a week:

Apologies for no newsletter last week. I had very good intentions of writing the newsletter in the evenings during the recce trip, but a combination of events, which included getting lost twice, load shedding, no signal and driver fatigue put paid to those naive notions, so today you're getting a bumper version.

I have to admit that of all the road trips I have done in my life this one was easily the best. It threw everything at me and the challenges were often quite serious - and therein lies the enjoyment. Over the next three weeks we will relate the story for you to enjoy at home. 

To prepare thoroughly for our Wild Coast Tour, I had to do a solo trip with minimal luggage and equipment so as to travel light and efficiently. Calculations prove that we saved R8000 on fuel by using the little 1300cc Suzuki Jimny in favour of the 4.5 Land Cruiser. I can now confidently say after 4000 km, I can evaluate the Jimny on and off-road competently. But let's start at the beginning.

I left Cape Town later than planned and routed to Kirkwood (in preference to PE as I have an aversion of big cities) via Worcester, Robertson, Ashton, Swellendam and from there on the N2 all the way to Uitenhage. We have recently acquired one of the new Jimnys, but decided to use the 2017 model for this trip in the interests of fuel economy.

I refuelled in Robertson and asked the attendant to inflate the Jimny's tyres to 1.6 bar (we normally run at 1.4). He must have thought I was crazy to ride on such soft tyres and took it upon himself to rather put in 2.6 bar but failed to tell me. By the time I reached Swellendam the harsh ride started getting to me, so I decided to check the pressures! Problem solved by deflation and driving became fun again. Later in the trip on the really bad Transkei roads, I lowered pressures down to 1 bar and had a reasonably good result in terms of ride comfort and traction.

At highway speeds the 1.3 Jimny tends to be a little slow (having a happy cruising speed of 100 kph), but on gravel it's simply dynamite. Activate the 4WD button and the Jimny becomes exceptionally agile. The key is getting the tyre pressures right. We found that 1.6 (with a light load) was too hard, but 1.3 all round was fine on good gravel roads and the rough stuff, drop them down to 1.1 or even 1.0 bar. The Jimny is so light, that you will barely notice any sidewall bulging. Having such a short wheel base, if you hit corrugations at speed, the Jimny tends to become a little skittish, but the 4 wheel drive always kicks in to straighten the vehicle out. At first this is a little disconcerting, but one soon gets the hang of it. There is no substitute for gravel road experience. We also found that with the absence of any mass on the roof, its cornering ability on tar and gravel was excellent; often outperforming much bigger and faster vehicles.

The trip went smoothly arriving in Kirkwood at 6.30 pm. Small problem though, as I couldn't find the B&B that I had booked and paid for. It became crystal clear after phoning them that I was in the wrong town. Their establishment was actually in Addo even though a search for "Accommodation - Kirkwood" brought their name up! Don't believe everything you read on the internet! 

I reached "The Kraal" just after 7 pm and checked in for a cold beer and light supper, which had barely been finished, when load shedding began - a perfectly good reason to have an early night. At 3 am there were noises which turned out to be an intruder who had been caught inside the grounds by their security guard, resulting in the police arriving to arrest him.

Part of the recce trip was to film as many passes as possible. Only one pass fell within camera range on day one, which was a small gravel pass near Riversdale called Brakhoogte. [More lower down]

Day 2 would be much more eventful. I left Addo at 9 am - much later than intended - and routed via Pearston on a ropey gravel road with some horrific corrugations to connect with the N2 east of PE. Just before Grahamstown I needed to film Howisons Poort, but of course the sun was in the east, which meant driving to the summit, doing a U turn to film it westwards, then returning again to the summit. Many of the passes that we film require a triple traverse for this reason.

The Jimny has a fuel range of 400 km which meant it was necessary to refuel in Grahamstown. Throughout our travels in the Eastern Cape I have learned to accept the towns as they are. The glory days of the colonial past are gone forever. Today the towns have a vibrancy about them. Vendors cooking meat on open fires (braais); cattle, sheep, pigs and skinny dogs wander about aimlessly; cars are parked - double and triple parked amongst a sense of general chaos to those with a penchant for order. If you are going to hate traversing these bustling towns, then you had better not head for the Eastern Cape. It is important to have a paradigm mind shift and accept that we all love in Africa. It is what it is. Accept it and learn to enjoy the rich tapestry of African life.

The first curved and cambered bridge in SA - built in 1952 over the Kaaiman's River near George.

Let's talk about Butterworth - a once sleepy little town which has now become a large sprawl of semi suburbia covering some 25 km of the N2 on either side. The first introduction to the village is rumble strips, followed in short order by a reduction in the speed limit from 100 to 80 to 60 - then Brrrrr, Brrrrr, Brrrr, Brrrrr, Brrrrr and you need to slow down to 30 kph to cross the first of 20 such speed bumps.

Forget about that ambitious ETA on your GPS and just be sensible and add 2 hours. It is impossible to maintain a steady average speed as the towns come thick and fast and it's the same story with all of them. There are cattle, sheep and pigs on the N2 - lots of them. You need to be sharp and avoid night driving if at all possible. 

We filmed the Great Fish River Pass (another triple run); passed through Peddie; filmed the Keiskamma River Pass and soon we entered King Williams Town and a little further on, Bisho. The latter does need a special mention as the buildings are large and modern with a quirky miniature version of Sandton evident, but all around this expensive facade is rank poverty where the poor continue to merely exist. It just seemed out of context.

The first thing I noticed entering Butterworth was a large police presence. As I progressed through each speed bumped intersection, I noticed circular black marks on the tarmac. Obviously a protest had just taken place and the marks were from burning tyres and I was fortunate enough to just clear the tail end of things as all the protestors had left the area under the watchful eye of the public order police.

And so we rolled on through Idutywa which seems to have officially shed the I and is now simply Dutywa.

Next week we will take you through the "unmiracle" of Mthatha and on to Matatiele and explain just how easy it is to get lost here.


12th to 16th March 2020 – Kouga-Baviaans Explorer Tour

There are still tickets available for this tour coming up mid-March. Here are some of the details:

Join us for this inaugural 4-day journey of adventure, discovery, history and pass driving as we take on the Kouga and Baviaans mountains with their beautiful vistas; protea clad hillsides; comfortable overnight accommodation; good food; camaraderie and the sheer splendour of visiting places few people have been before – all in the safety of a group of like-minded travellers and under the expert guidance of Trygve Roberts.

You do not need to be experienced in off-road driving to do this tour. We will show you how.

The tour has been designed to provide a perfect blend of stunning scenery, fascinating history and mildly challenging gravel road driving. The group will meet on the evening of Thursday 12th in Joubertina at a pre-booked guest house where dinners and breakfasts will be served.

Day 1: (Friday 13th March) Starting in Joubertina – the tour kicks off with a visit to the beautiful and isolated Kouga Wilderness, tucked into the foothills of the Kouga Mountains and includes a scenic drive over the Kouga-Kleinrivier Pass as well as the Brakkloof Pass, returning to our guest house in Joubertina (90 km – only gravel on Day 1 other than a 10km stretch of tar). We were so impressed with this route a few weeks ago when we went to film these passes, that we decided to include it into this tour. You will be impressed – Guaranteed!

Day 2: (Saturday 14th March) Depart Joubertina and head east to Kareedouw where we leave the R62 and hit the gravel again. This is the last point to top up on fuel until we get to Patensie. We will be driving the Suuranysberg Pass; Kouga River Pass; Meidenek Pass – then north over the Kouga mountains via the Baviaans-Kouga 4×4 route (It’s a Grade 1 to 2 Route) where we will pass the only honey-bush tea farm in South Africa. We end at Doringlaagte in the Western Baviaanskloof where we will overnight on two adjacent farms including Zandvlakte. (130 km)

Day 3: (Sunday 15th March) We tour the eastern bioreserve of the Baviaanskloof including the following passes: Grasnek, Langkop, Holgat & Combrinks passes as well as the water crossings at Doodsklip and Smitskraal. We will visit the old cableway and tell you about its scary history. Overnight at Glencoe Chalets & Kudu Khaya. (75 km)

Day 4: (Monday 16th March) We head east via the beautiful Grootrivierpoort (built by Thomas Bain) then stop at the Kouga Dam where we can drive right up to the arched wall to enjoy the views. We then ascend the mountains to the north of Patensie where we take a slow drive under the famous Cockscomb Mountains to drive the spectacular Antoniesberg Pass which is just one of the highlights on the final day. The entire drive offers incredible mountain scenery and is a feast for photographers. The tour ends at the interesting Karoo town of Steytlerville where we will spend our final night of festivities at the well-known Royal Hotel and depart for home the following morning after breakfast (140 km)

Use this link for more detailed information and online bookings: KOUGA BAVIAANS TOUR 


30 second advertorial Kouga-Bavians Explorer Tour

Ben 10 on 6 wheels (the second part of Jaco Pretorius' story)

Tuesday 31 Dec: It was an early start, doing the TTT in both directions with the bicycle. It was as spectacular for me as when I ran that section in September. The views and the remoteness are special. The tracks were soaking wet from the previous days’ rain, and that resulted a lot of mud accumulating on the MTB’s drive train, causing the gears to not work perfectly. 4 and a bit hours later, I was back at Tiffindell, and it was time to tackle TTT with the bakkie. TTT went well with the bakkie, but here it was also proven that the bicycle is faster on the technical stuff. The bakkie took some 15min longer to complete from Tiffindell to Tenahead Lodge.

I decided to return via Naudes Nek Pass and Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. The descent down to the start of Naudes Nek on the eastern side was misty, adding to the wow factor of the area. The long uphill back to the top of the pass reminded me that there was still some hard work to be done on the bicycle. Carlisleshoekspruit was very steep, but not a problem to ascend with the bakkie. Back at Tiffindell, there was just enough time to do Ben MacDhui on the bicycle. While the loose earth on the switchbacks presented a challenge in themselves it was the short steep sections in the last straight that are simply too steep and rocky to cycle, and I had to push the bike up those. The descent part was great fun though! I was treated to a spectacular sighting of a Bearded Vulture on the summit - alas it was 6 hours too early for my 2020 bird list.

Wednesday 1 Jan: Again, an early start. I decided to descend Carlisleshoekspruit Pass starting from Tiffindell. The descent was a bit easier than with Volunteershoek, as there are concrete strips on the very steep sections that helped a lot with braking power. It was still a test for my brake pads though! Turning around at the end I started the return uphill over the very gentle gradients alongside the river. Soon I was back in the steep sections where it felt as if I was going to fall over backwards off my bicycle because of the extremely steep gradient. The fact that it is concrete made it just possible to ride, even though I had to dig very deep to be able keep on pedalling on those steep bits. I think that my smallest gear (generally referred to as the granny gear as one probably goes as slow as a granny does) was not “ouma” enough, so much so that I had to zig-zag up the steep concrete sections. Near the sharp and steep hairpin with the gravel bypass I managed to hit a small stone, causing me to lose my balance and come to a rather abrupt standstill. Luckily, I did not fall, but with the gradient of that section it was impossible to start riding again and I opted to walk the few meters to the gravel portion of the hairpin and resume riding from there.

Waiting for the accommodation at Alpine Swift Trails to be ready at 12:00, there was enough time to drive slowly down with the bakkie and do some birding on the way to Rhodes. The natural swimming pool at Alpine Swift Trails was just what was needed after a hot day.

Thursday 2 Jan had only Naudes Nek Pass planned on the MTB, and I started early to avoid the heat of the day. Naudes Nek was very pleasant, with the gradient of the uphills not nearly as severe as on Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. I could get into a rhythm, and enjoy the scenery of the area. This was also my longest day on the bicycle, with close to 75km (1700m vertical gain) done on that day.

Friday 3 Jan. Sadly the last day of my adventure, and only Bastervoetpad Pass left to do with both the bakkie and MTB. We still had to reach Bloemfontein, and that meant that there was not enough time to do it in both directions with the MTB. I drove it down with the bakkie (west to east) and returned with MTB in the direction which had more uphill. Once again, it was proven that the MTB could negotiate the technical stuff much easier and faster, even if it was uphill. Bastervoetpad on the MTB was a pure joy! The scenery is beautiful, and the gradients were manageable. The downhill section was a bit too technical to take at full speed, but it still provided an adrenalin rush.

I reached the end on an emotional high. It was an absolute joy to be able to experience that area in a bakkie, and on an MTB.

If you have a MTB and are fairly fit, do it! There are no excuses! These passes are made for Mountain bikes: The clean air, the uphills, the downhills, and the scenery. It is not a race. Just go and experience it!

Thank you Mountain Passes South Africa for the initiative. It has been wonderful!

Some MTB statistics:

Total distance done:  290km

Total elevation gain: 8168m

Total time: 22h08m

Ave Speed: 13.14km/h

[Editor's note: Thank you for sharing your adventure with us Jaco. You are unique as a Ben 10 competitor - now for your last effort on an adventure motor-cycle. We are awarding you with the "Yster Chappies"]

PODCAST: We chat about our recce trip to the Wild Coast including the trials and tribulations. LISTEN


This week we head off to the Boland town of Paarl with it's rich history, top schools, fine restaurants and first class wine estates. Above the town a narrow gravel road is named after one of Paarl's famous sons - Jan Phillips. Enjoy the history and the two part video series.


* * * * *   J A N   P H I L L I P S   M O U N T A I N   R O A D   * * * * *


Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "A mistake that makes you humble is much better than an achievement that makes you arrogant"


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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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