September 24th: Heritage Day.
We left the hotel promptly at 08.30 heading west towards Barkly East on the tarred R58 and hooked a right at the turn-off to the Bottelnek Pass. Very soon the magic of the Eastern Cape Highlands enveloped us as our route followed the Bottelnekspruit through tranquil farms with old sheds with designs peculiar to the Eastern Cape and seen nowhere else. At the last farm, where the deep valley steepens and forms a bottle neck, the road turns abruptly into the north and a steep and rough climb follows via a few sharp hairpin bends, whilst altitude is gained rapidly. Near the summit we stopped the convoy of 14 vehicles for a leg stretch and some photos.
The 14 vehicle convoy consisted of 2 x Suzuki Jimnys; 1 x Jeep Wrangler; 1 x Jeep Cherokee; 4 x Toyota Land Cruisers; 1 x Mitsubishi triton; 2 x Ford Rangers; 1 x M/Benz Gelandewagen; 1 x Range Rover Sport and 1 x Nissan Navara.
Once over the Bottelnek Pass, we connected with the R393 and turned right to locate the turn-off to Bastervoetpad. This tour had originally been scheduled for March and had to be postponed due to Covid 19. The drivers had over six months to worry about what the rugged and respected pass would throw at us, so there was plenty of nervous anticipation.
The western ascent isn't significantly steep but it is very rocky and bumpy and it takes a good half hour to reach the summit, where we took a break for photos and young Pieter Erasmus got his drone airborne for some aerial footage. The weather was clear, but cold and windy. The much anticipated 800m plus descent down towards Ugie was as rough as ever with some fairly technical sections to contend with. One of the Jimny drivers had a momentary lapse of concentration and bashed the left sill against a rock, causing a small dent and partially pulling off the sill moulding. After a brief inspection and some carefully applied duct tape, we all got going again.
Just after the turn-off to Sephton's mountain farm, there were signs of roadworks. This section down to the Valetta farm is usually the trickiest part of the pass, but now it is a much easier drive and cuts off almost an hour off the normal time. In an odd way, we were almost disappointed that the road is so good now as much of the challenging driving has disappeared.
We don't know who the contractor is that has done the roadworks, but they've done a good job. It is also unknown whether the whole pass towards the west will be upgraded. Time will tell.
And so we found ourselves back at the R58 earlier than expected and diverted via Ugie to see the very impressive Langeni Pass with its towering viaduct, steep gradients, triple barriers; and multi-storied gabions.
We drove this pass both descending and ascending followed by a summit view-site stop which offers spectacular views over the Langeni forests. The view-site is somewhat abused by locals with litter, broken glass and bullet ridden road signs spoiling an otherwise excellent stop. We will contact HHO Civils (the contractors who built the pass) with a request to put pressure on the local municipality to do a clean-up.
Despite this being the newest pass in South Africa (2008) many accidents have caused damage to gabions and barriers, which have not been maintained. The engineering on this pass is world class.
After driving up the beautiful Barkly Pass in the late afternoon sun, it was a happy and contented group that reached our base with time for some liquid refreshments to recount the adventures of the day.
Next Week: Day 2 - A blustery day to Lundean's Nek, Wartrail, Volunteershoek and Carlisleshoekspruit Passes.
Great South Africans - Series (Part 2)
Christiaan Neethling Barnard (8 November 1922 – 2 September 2001) was a South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world's first human-to-human heart transplant operation and the first one in which the patient regained consciousness. On 3 December 1967, Barnard transplanted the heart of accident-victim Denise Darvall into the chest of 54-year-old Louis Washkansky, with Washkansky regaining full consciousness and being able to easily talk with his wife, before dying 18 days later of pneumonia. The anti-rejection drugs that suppressed his immune system were a major contributing factor. Barnard had told Mr. and Mrs. Washkansky that the operation had an 80% chance of success, a claim which has been criticised as misleading. Barnard's second transplant patient Philip Blaiberg, whose operation was performed at the beginning of 1968, lived for a year and a half and was able to go home from the hospital.
Born in Beaufort West, Cape Province, Barnard studied medicine and practised for several years in his native South Africa. As a young doctor experimenting on dogs, Barnard developed a remedy for the infant defect of intestinal atresia. His technique saved the lives of ten babies in Cape Town and was adopted by surgeons in Britain and the United States. In 1955, he travelled to the United States and was initially assigned further gastrointestinal work by Owen Harding Wangensteen. He was introduced to the heart-lung machine, and Barnard was allowed to transfer to the service run by open heart surgery pioneer Walt Lillehei. Upon returning to South Africa in 1958, Barnard was appointed head of the Department of Experimental Surgery at the Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town.
He retired as Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Cape Town in 1983 after developing rheumatoid arthritis in his hands which ended his surgical career. He became interested in anti-aging research, and in 1986 his reputation suffered when he promoted Glycel, an expensive "anti-aging" skin cream, whose approval was withdrawn by the United States Food and Drug Administration soon thereafter. During his remaining years, he established the Christiaan Barnard Foundation, dedicated to helping underprivileged children throughout the world. He died in 2001 at the age of 78 after an asthma attack.
(Source - Wikipedia)
South African Cities (Series - Part 3)
Kimberley is the capital and largest city of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. It is located approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical significance due to its diamond mining past and the siege during the Second Anglo-Boer war. British businessmen Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato made their fortunes in Kimberley, and Rhodes established the De Beers diamond company in the early days of the mining town.
On 2 September 1882, Kimberley was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere and the second in the world after Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States to integrate electric street lights into its infrastructure. The first Stock Exchange in Africa was built in Kimberley, as early as 1881.
In 1866, Erasmus Jacobs found a small brilliant pebble on the banks of the Orange River, on the farm De Kalk leased from local Griquas, near Hopetown, which was his father's farm. He showed the pebble to his father, who then sold it. The pebble was purchased from Jacobs' father by Schalk van Niekerk, who later sold it on again. It proved to be a 21.25-carat diamond, and became known as the Eureka. Three years later, in 1869, an 83.5-carat diamond, which became known as the Star of South Africa, was found nearby. This diamond was sold by van Niekerk for £11,200, and later resold in the London market for £25,000.
Henry Richard Giddy recounted how Esau Damoense (or Damon), the cook for prospector Fleetwood Rawstorne's "Red Cap Party", found diamonds in 1871 on Colesberg Kopje after he was sent there to dig as punishment. Rawstorne took the news to the nearby diggings of the De Beer brothers – his arrival there sparking off the famous "New Rush" which, as historian Brian Roberts puts it, was practically a stampede. Within a month, 800 claims were cut into the hillock, which were worked frenetically by two to three thousand men. As the land was lowered, so the hillock became a mine – in time, the world-renowned Kimberley Mine.
The Cape Colony, Transvaal, Orange Free State and the Griqua leader Nicolaas Waterboer all laid claim to the diamond fields. The Free State Boers in particular wanted the area, as it lay inside the natural borders created by Orange and Vaal Rivers. Following the mediation that was overseen by the Governor of Natal, the Keate Award went in favour of Waterboer, who placed himself under British protection. Consequently, the territory known as Griqualand West was proclaimed on 27 October 1871.
Colonial Commissioners arrived in New Rush on 17 November 1871 to exercise authority over the territory on behalf of the Cape Governor. Digger objections and minor riots led to Governor Barkly's visit to New Rush in September the following year, when he revealed a plan instead to have Griqualand West proclaimed a Crown Colony. Richard Southey would arrive as Lieutenant-Governor of the intended Crown Colony in January 1873. Months passed however without any sign of the proclamation or of the promised new constitution and provision for representative government. The delay was in London where Secretary of State for the Colonies, John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, insisted that before electoral divisions could be defined, the places had to receive "decent and intelligible names. His Lordship declined to be in any way connected with such a vulgarism as New Rush and as for the Dutch name, Vooruitzigt … he could neither spell nor pronounce it."
The matter was passed to Southey who gave it to his Colonial Secretary J.B. Currey. Roberts writes that "when it came to renaming New Rush, [Currey] proved himself a worthy diplomat. He made quite sure that Lord Kimberley would be able both to spell and pronounce the name of the main electoral division by, as he says, calling it 'after His Lordship'." New Rush became Kimberley, by Proclamation dated 5 July 1873.
As miners arrived in their thousands the hill disappeared and subsequently became known as the Big Hole (or Kimberley se Gat in Afrikaans) or, more formally, Kimberley Mine. From mid-July 1871 to 1914, 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds. The Big Hole has a surface of 17 hectares (42 acres) and is 463 metres wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 m, but then partially infilled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 m; since then it has accumulated water to a depth of 40 m leaving 175 m visible. Beneath the surface, the Kimberley Mine underneath the Big Hole was mined to a depth of 1097 metres. A popular local myth claims that it is the largest hand-dug hole on the world, however Jagersfontein Mine appears to hold that record. The Big Hole is the principal feature of a May 2004 submission which placed "Kimberley Mines and associated early industries" on UNESCO's World Heritage Tentative Lists.
By 1873 Kimberley was the second largest town in South Africa, having an approximate population of 40,000.
Pass of the Week:
The Bastervoetpad Pass is one of the most challenging true mountain passes in South Africa and it's rated high amongst the Top 8 high altitude passes of the Eastern Cape. Officially named the Dr. Lapa Munnik Pass, (although no-one uses this name), this rough gravel pass is located between the summit of the Barkly Pass and Ugie and traverses a southern arm of the Drakensberg along the east-west axis.
* * * * * B A S T E R V O E T P A D P A S S * * * * *
Words of Wisdom: "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think." - Christopher Robin.