Latest News! 8th October, 2020

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Cyclists ascending Carlisleshoekspruit Pass Cyclists ascending Carlisleshoekspruit Pass - Photo: Wartrail & New England

The week that was

* Trips & Tours

* Ben 10 Tour Day 2 Report back (Series #2)

* Great South Africans (Series #2)

* South African cities (Series #3)

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of Wisdom

Trips & Tours

Swartberg 2020 Tour (19th to 24th October) - All the participants are busy packing for this brand new version of our popular Swartberg Tour. It remains fully booked with no cancellations.

Mpumalanga Panorama Tour (26th to 30th October) - There are still a few tickets available for this wonderful tour taking in the historic towns and villages as well as the beautiful vistas along the Drakensberg Escarpment. Click here for more info & online bookings.

Wild Coast Tour (12th to 21st November) - Fully booked

Mpumalanga Highveld Tour (23rd to 25th November) Enjoy a leisurely and very affordable tour along the Mpumalanga Highveld guided by Johan Badenhorst. Click here for more info and online bookings.

Atlantis Sand Driving Course (13th December) - Join us for a fun day at Atlantis Dunes, north of Cape Town, as we teach you the fundamentals of soft sand driving. This is the 3rd module of our training programme. Click here to book.

Photography Tour: We are working with a photographer in putting together a tour which will be focussed (pun intended) on amateur photographers who are keen on learning how to improve their landscape photography. We are still working on the details, but the tour will include mountain pass driving as part of the package. We will publish more information as soon as we have finalised matters. Let us know per email if you would be interested on such a tour. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Ben 10 V3 Tour - Report back

Day 2: The weather forecast for Friday 25th September indicated very strong winds of 90 kph for our area. The nature of mountain passes are such that at the necks where the passes reach the highest point, the wind strength can often be much higher than the forecasted speed. We selected another tough route for the day which often means arriving back at base in the dark. It is a challenge, after all, and part of the adventure is having to deal with the hard yards.

We left the Mountain Shadows Hotel promptly at 08.30 bound for Barkly East where a number of our drivers wanted to top up their tanks, and especially the Jimny's which have a nominal rage of 400 km. Once regrouped we rumbled out of Barkly East and soon turned right towards Loch Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1893 by Joseph Newey (who was responsible for all the sandstone bridges in the area, most of which are still standing firmly) and is one of the last single width stone bridges still in daily use in South Africa.

Photos and videos done, we drove up the Tierkrans Pass and paused halfway up to admire the rail reverses. These clever reverse systems work much like the switchbacks on a hiking trail, with the exception that the train would go forward down one section, then reverse down the next, until it reached the valley floor or plateau. The concept was put forward by a local German woman from Barkly East, who reasoned that the construction of the reverses had to be much cheaper than building tunnels and bridges. It remains one of only three such systems in the world, the others being in Canada and China. 

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Our route took us through the New England farming area over Wintersnek and the very attractive Ballochs Pass where we crossed the oddly named Vlooikraalspruit, before connecting up with the R393 to Lundean's Neck Pass. The scenery through the Wartrail valley is dreamy and magnificent. In short order we arrived at the foot of Lundeans Neck Pass, where a very pleasant surprise awaited. The road has been repaired making the 40 minute climb to the summit an easy 12 minute drive.

It was extremely windy at the summit, which reduced our photo stop to just a few minutes. For those who have never driven down the pass to Upper Telle, the views truly take one's breath away. The northern side of the pass wasn't quite as easy as the southern side, but nothing that required low range. We whisked through Upper Telle village where the influence of Lesotho just a kilometre away if evident in the architecture and lifestyle of the locals.

Telle River, Dangershoek / Photo: Bidstone Cottages

Right at the bottom of the pass, we turned right towards Dangershoek and followed the course of the Telle River for a while, before climbing up steeply to a large and flat granite viewpoint, where we took a short break, admiring the Malotis on the far side of the river and Drakensberg on the South African side. It's one of those places where one just feels small and insignificant.

Our next challenge pass was Volunteershoek and to get there we had to drive back over Lundeans Neck. It looks so different driving it in the opposite direction, it may as well have been a different pass altogether. We stopped at the Wartrail Country Club and used their parking area as a lunch time stop, but the wind was at that stage becoming unpleasant, threatening to rip car doors off their hinges.

We drove past the Funnystone farm and waved at the Viedges as our big convoy rumbled onwards towards the foot of the pass. The Viedges and other farmers maintain the pass at their own expense. There is a voluntary donation box near the summit, which we urge all users of the pass to contribute towards.

Volunteershoek Pass is different and for bikers, it can quickly become a nightmare. Road repairs are farmer style. Rows of tyres have been laid flat in serried ranks, to form 'steps' up the steeper sections. The tyres give way to mass, but it's a weird feeling driving over them and requires focussed concentration and some momentum to not stall your vehicle. Bikers fall off here in their droves both going up and down the pass. Like all the passes in the area, the views are majestic, with this one topping out at a whopping 2567m ASL.

The pass is followed by a long traverse over the high altitude plateau remaining above 2600m most of the time. The highest freshwater angling spot in South Africa is at Loch Ness - the access road to Tiffindell pops up on the left, and soon we are heading south towards Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. Every time I drive this pass, the gradient always makes me feel uncomfortable, reaching 1:3 in places. Our drivers are all encouraged to run down the pass in 1st gear high range, using engine compression to slow their vehicles down, but even that is insufficient. Feathering of the foot brake is required to perform a safe descent.

The valley was dry (very different to when we experienced the flash flood in 2019) and daylight was also running out for our group as we waved goodbye to the quaint little village of Rhodes and tackled the last 60 km back to base. We were presented with a stunning sunset as we took the shortcut via the Bokspruit Pass and arrived back at Mountain Shadows well after 19.00

A happy, thirsty and hungry bunch of Ben Tenners!

Great South Africans

James Leonard Brierley Smith, known more commonly as "J. L. B. Smith", (26 September 1897 – 8 January 1968), was a South African ichthyologist, organic chemist, and university professor. He was the first to identify a taxidermied fish as a coelacanth, at the time thought to be long extinct.

Born in Graaff-Reinet, 26 September 1897, Smith was the elder of two sons of Joseph Smith and his wife, Emily Ann Beck. Educated at country schools at Noupoort, De Aar, and Aliwal North, he finally matriculated in 1914 from the Diocesan College, Rondebosch. He obtained a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry from the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1916 and a master of science degree in chemistry at Stellenbosch University in 1918. Smith went to the United Kingdom, where he received his PhD at Cambridge University in 1922. After returning to South Africa, he became senior lecturer and later an associate professor of organic chemistry at Rhodes University in Grahamstown.

From 1922 to 1937, he was married to Henrietta Cecile Pienaar, who was a descendant of Andrew Murray, and whose father was a minister of the NG Kerk at Somerset West. Three children resulted from the marriage.

Prof. L.J.B. Smith / Photo: Google Images

In Grahamstown, he met Margaret Mary Macdonald, born at Indwe in the Eastern Cape on 26 September 1916. After her school education, she studied at Rhodes University, where she obtained a bachelor of science degree in physics and chemistry. She had intended to study medicine, but in 1938, married Smith and became his assistant in the Department of Ichthyology at the university.His interest in ichthyology was sparked in childhood during a vacation in Knysna.

In 1938, Smith was informed of the discovery of an unusual and unidentified fish by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, curator of the East London Museum. When he arrived in East London in February 1939, he was able to identify it immediately as a coelacanth, which was then thought to have been extinct for over 65 million years, and he named the species Latimeria after her. In December 1952, Professor Smith acquired another specimen which had been caught off the Comoros Islands. Local trader Eric Hunt had cabled Smith, who then persuaded the South African government to fly him in a SAAF Dakota to collect the preserved fish for study at Grahamstown.

Smith and his wife Margaret worked jointly on the popular Sea Fishes of Southern Africa, which was first published in 1949, followed by other writings until 1968. Among these were over 500 papers on fishes and the naming of some 370 new fish species.

Smith took his own life on 8 January 1968 by cyanide poisoning. According to those who knew him, he had said years earlier that he had no intention of living past 70. In the same year, Rhodes University established the J. L. B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology in his memory and to honour his lifetime achievements in ichthyology. His widow, Prof. Margaret Smith, who had worked with her husband for 30 years, was appointed the first director, with a staff of five. Margaret Smith embarked on a recruitment drive to attract ichthyologists and to train African ichthyologists. In 1977, the large, three-storey building, which was designed and constructed in Somerset Street to house the Institute, was officially opened. This is now the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Grahamstown. Smith's son is the renowned South African television science and mathematics teacher William Smith.

[Source: Wikipedia]

South African Cities

East London - The city lies on the Indian Ocean coast, largely between the Buffalo River and the Nahoon River, and hosts the country's only river port. As of 2011, East London had a population of over 267,000 with over 755,000 in the metropolitan area.

John Bailie, one of the 1820 Settlers, surveyed the Buffalo River mouth and founded the town in 1836. There is a memorial on Signal Hill commemorating the event. The city formed around the only river port in South Africa and was originally known as Port Rex. Later it was renamed London in honour of the capital city of Great Britain, hence the name East London. This settlement on the West Bank was the nucleus of the town of East London, which was elevated to city status in 1914.

During the early to mid-19th century frontier wars between the British settlers and the local Xhosa inhabitants, East London served as a supply port to service the military headquarters at nearby King William's Town, about 50 kilometres away. A British fort, Fort Glamorgan, was built on the West Bank in 1847, and annexed to the Cape Colony that same year. This fort is one of a series of British-built forts, including Fort Murray, Fort White, Fort Cox, Fort Hare, Fort Jackson and Fort Beaufort, in the border area that became known as British Kaffraria.

East London harbour / Google Images

With later development of the port came the settlement of permanent residents, including German settlers, most of whom were bachelors. These settlers were responsible for German names of some towns in the vicinity of East London such as Stutterheim and Berlin. Today, German surnames such as Gehring, Salzwedel and Peinke are still common in East London, but the descendants of the settlers rapidly became Anglicised.

The existing port, in the mouth of the Buffalo River, adjoining the Indian Ocean, began operating in 1870. In 1872, the Cape Colony, under the leadership of its first Prime Minister John Molteno, attained a degree of independence from Britain. The new government merged the three neighbouring settlements of East London, East London East and Panmure in 1873, forming the core of the current municipality, and in 1876 it began construction on the region's railway lines, commencing on the river's east bank. At the same time, it began construction of the East London harbour. This new infrastructure rapidly accelerated development of the area into today's thriving city of East London.

The unusual double-decker bridge over the Buffalo River was completed in 1935, and to this day is the only bridge of its type in South Africa. Modern day attractions include the Gately House, City Hall, Cape Railways, Nahoon Museum, East London Museum housing the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish, thought to be extinct, discovered live at the Chalumna River mouth near East London by fishermen in 1938, and numerous memorial statues.

It is also your scribe's home town, where one of the finest schools in South Africa - Selborne College, continues to educate our youth to high standard. Palma Virtuti

[Source: Wikipedia]


Our podcast this week covers Day 1 of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge V3 Tour. Click to listen.

Pass of the Week

As we follow the route of the Ben 10 V3 Tour, our featured pass today is the Lundean's Neck Pass. 

This gravel pass is one of the great gravel passes of the Eastern Cape and is held in awe by adventure travellers to the same extent as Joubert's Pass, Naude's Nek, Carlisleshoekspruit, Volunteershoek, Bastervoetpad, and Otto du Plesses passes. Lundin's Nek (which is also often spelled as Lundean's Nek) is a much bigger pass technically than any of the others and must rank as the most underrated big gravel pass in South Africa.

Not that many people have driven this pass as it really doesn't lead to anywhere significant, other than the Telle River border post with Lesotho. The pass is steep and peppered with 101 bends, corners and curves including four hairpins, several unbridged stream crossings and very steep, unguarded drop-offs. It's also long at 14,5 km and concentration levels need to be maintained throughout. The pass is not suitable for normal sedan vehicles. Whilst we recommend a 4x4 for this road, it is possible to complete it in a high clearance 4x2 vehicle in fair weather. It connects the small farming community of Wartrail with the Telle River border post at Lesotho.

* * * * *   L U N D E A N S   N E C K   P A S S   * * * * *

Trygve Roberts


Words of Wisdom: "Be the reason someone feels welcomed, seen, heard, valued, loved and supported" ~ Roy Dromgoole

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