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Latest News! 3rd December, 2020

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Mariazell Mission Mariazell Mission - Photo: Midlands Hiking Club

What's inside?

* Tours schedule for 2021

Report back Day 5 Swartberg Tour

Report back Wild Coast Tour Day 1

* Great South Africans

* Cities of South Africa

* Featured Pass

* Words of Wisdom


Trips & Tours for 2021

During January and February we will be offering a repeat of our two 4x4 novice training days. These will be uploaded within the next week. Tours will all be loaded sequentially over the next 10 days.

March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days) Bookings now open.

April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend) Bookings now open.

May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days)  Bookings now open.

June 24th to 27th - Bedrogfontein/Addo Tour (4 days)

July 15th to 18th - Tankwa Tour (4 days)

August 7th to 9th - Namaqualand (3 days)

September 22nd to 25th - Swartberg Tour (4 days)


Swartberg Tour - Day 5

The Karoo heat started early as we enjoyed a breakfast on the stoep of the hotel in that unique and still Karoo atmosphere that folks from the coast rarely experience. We got all our thoroughly laid back guests into convoy formation by 0900 and rumbled out of Prince Albert for our highlight of the day - a full traverse of the timeless Swartberg Pass.

Being a Saturday, there was a steady flow of mainly rental cars on the pass, but we reached the summit in good time and stopped there in wind-free conditions, which I can assure you is a rarity. The wind almost always funnels through the neck at Die Top (the sign which is now completely illegible, thanks to hundreds of stickers about three layers thick already), so it was a nice treat to be able to take photos at the summit in perfect weather.

Further stops ensued at Skelmdraai as well as at the southern end of the pass at Cobus se Gat, where we took a decent break from the hot weather. We chatted to the owner, who explained how hard Covid 19 has hit his business, but fortunately the farm itself was still able to function and produce some income. If you're going to be driving the Swartberg Pass, do make a point of stopping at this facility and support a local business.

Next up was an easy traverse of the beautiful Schoemanspoort, where traffic was light, in contrast to when the Cango caves are open, as it's the main tourist route from Oudtshoorn. The countryside was looking wonderful and green with water levels in the dams looking promising after recent rainfall.

We passed straight through Oudtshoorn and quickly got off the tar and headed west along the back roads towards Calitzdorp and ultimately found ourselves on the patchy concrete road to the south of the R62. This was the first experimental concrete road in South Africa, but it has not aged well, offering a sub-standard drive for motorists. The countryside was however fabulous as our route meandered past old farms and rusty windmills with sheep and goats standing in the shade of any thorn tree available seeking some respite from the sun. The Klein Karoo painted in natural dun colours, reflecting the toil and hardship of farming in this water scarce area was easy on the eye.

Finally, we arrived at the start of the Rooiberg Pass. Being close to lunch time, we stopped in the last bit of shade-generating bush before the pass proper and enjoyed our last lunch al fresco right there on the gravel road. The travel gods were with us, as not a single vehicle came past during the lunch break.

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The Rooiberg Pass is always slow and rough, but the views are different to any other pass. It leaves one feeling humble and the obligatory stop at the summit to add a stone to the "Gebedstapel" (Prayer cairn) makes the modern traveller realize what a tough journey it was taking an ox wagon over the mountain range. The veld was still full of wild-flowers and looking better than what we've seen it in many years.

The final pass of the tour was the Assegaaibosch Pass - a short, but narrow and dangerous pass that drops down steeply towards VanWyksdorp. At the western end of the pass lies the oasis like Rooiberg Lodge, where we spent our final night in blissful surroundings and excellent accommodation. Rooiberg Lodge is really good and one of our favourite destinations on tour. The food and service is first class. What a way to finish a great tour!


Wild Coast Tour - Day 1

Our tour started on Friday 13th November at the Resthaven Guest House in Matatiele. We had an interesting mix of vehicles. 1 x Toyota Fortuner, 2 x Toyota Prados, 1 x Land Rover Defender , 1 x Range Rover Sport, 1 x Toyota Hilux, 1 x VW Touareg, 1 x Colt LDV, 1 x Nissan Navara, 1 x Suzuki Grand Vitara, 1 x Suzuki Jimny and of course the lead vehicle - a Toyota Land Cruiser. 

The day started off with a delicious breakfast. Philip Rawlins (owner of the guest house) drove with us in the lead vehicle and guided us up the mountain behind Matatiele. He is well connected and arranged permits and keys for us and soon we found ourselves on a low range 4x4 track which winds its way steeply up the mountain. We gained over 550m in altitude in just over 8 km. The views over the wetlands were marvellous with the Malutis and Drakensberg visible in the north.

Mountain Lake, Matatiele / Photo: Firefly the Travel Guy

Near the top of the mountain, we arrived at a natural lake, named appropriately Mountain Lake. The water has an inky blue colour and is crystal clear. The elevation is 2020m ASL resulting in cool to cold weather. The lake is 1,6 km x 0.4 km and is on average 6m deep. That's a lot of water, but Philip told us that the water is only used by the municipality in times of drought.

From our lofty viewpoint on the return leg, we enjoyed a bird's eye view of the wetlands and mountains around Matatiele. Philip's great grandparents farmed in the area and his knowledge is phenomenal. Philip specializes in Lesotho, so if you ever want a guide to take you into the Mountain Kingdom. This is your man. 

After descending the mountain, we returned to Resthaven for tea accompanied by freshly baked scones and homemade jam, but the day was far from done. Next on the agenda was a drive to the Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve followed by a pre-arranged visit to the Mariazell Mission. The road there is not good at all, as we rattled and shook along the dusty route, but any discomfort was son forgotten as the bird sightings in the vast wetlands came over the radio sets.

"Grey crowned crane! Long Tailed widow bird! Spurwinged goose! Secretary bird!" Cameras clicked as the birders in our group enthused and the rest of us received an impromptu lesson in ornithology.

The day was warm, as we arrived at the Mariazell Mission. First we drove up a ridge behind the mission station where some beautifully weathered sandstone outcrops provide a perfect setting to photograph the mission nestling below in the green valley. A massive aluminium cross about 10m high guards the spot and also hides some secrets. Inside the cross radio transmitters were used to relay information to the Germans during WW2 - a perfect guise. Stone steps lead steeply down into some caves; each having a name and used as part of a religious process of cleansing the mind on the long walk from the church in the valley to the cross on the hill.

Philip Rawlins / Resthaven Guest House

In 1912 Austrian missionaries built the mission station. It used to be completely self-sufficient with its own electricity, livestock, a piggery, workshops, school, a mill, bakery, kitchens and church. The hydro-electric plant is fascinating. From the cross we drove further up the valley, where a perennial river is dammed up via a perfectly arched wall. Water is diverted from this dam via a canal all along the contours of the hill, where it empties into a bigger holding dam about 2 km downstream. From there the water drops down a steep incline through the turbine to provide electricty for the entire mission station. They even constructed their own electrical pylons which are still evident.

The big attraction for the day was to be a visit to view the clock from inside the tower at Mariazell. As we waited for the priest to arrive for our 13h30 appointment, we took time to visit the interior of the church. It's hard to believe the quality of workmanship inside the church - especially the stonemasonry and stained glass windows. It was also blessedly cool as we whiled away a bit too much time waiting for the priest, who apparently got delayed in town, so we never got to see the clock.

We arrived back at Resthaven by 16h30 with time for showers before settling down for happy hour and another delicious dinner served up by Elrita.

Next week: Matatiele to Mbotyi.


Great South Africans 

Jonathan Shapiro (born 27 October 1958) is a South African cartoonist, known as Zapiro, whose work appears in numerous South African publications and has been exhibited internationally on many occasions. 

Jonathan was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He studied architecture at the University of Cape Town but found it unsatisfying and moved to the art campus, Michaelis. Shortly after this he was conscripted into the army for two years, where he refused to carry arms. In 1983 he became active in the newly formed anti-Apartheid movement, the United Democratic Front and as a result was arrested under the Illegal Gatherings Act and, subsequently, monitored by military intelligence. Zapiro was an important participant in South Africa's End Conscription Campaign, designing its logo. After his military service he applied for and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York for two years.

Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) / Photo: Wikipedia

The name Zapiro was derived from the nickname of a fellow pupil at Rondebosch Boys' High School, Martin Szapiro, whose friends called him Zap. After Martin's death in a mountaineering accident, Zapiro chose this name. The first Zapiro character was a character named Preppy, whose main characteristic was his fringe, and who commented on issues that went on around school.

In 1988 Jonathan was detained shortly before leaving on a Fulbright Scholarship to study media arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York. There he studied under the comics masters Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman.

Subsequently, Zapiro started out as the editorial cartoonist for South newspaper in 1987, and after his stint in New York he was the editorial cartoonist for the Sowetan from 1994 to 2005. His cartoons appeared in the Cape Argus from 1996 to 1997. He has been the editorial cartoonist for the Mail & Guardian since 1994, the Sunday Times since 1998 and since September 2005 he has appeared three times a week in the Cape Times, the Star, the Mercury and the Pretoria News.

Zapiro's work appears daily on the website of South African independent news publication, Mail & Guardian and weekly on the site of the Sunday Times.


Cities of South Africa

 Johannesburg, informally known as Jozi, Joburg, or "The City of Gold", is the largest city in South Africa, classified as a megacity, and is one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is the provincial capital and largest city of Gauteng, which is the wealthiest province in South Africa. Johannesburg is the seat of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa.

 Most of the major South African companies and banks have their head offices in Johannesburg. The city is located in the mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills and is the centre of large-scale gold and diamond trade. It was one of the host cities of the official tournament of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The metropolis is an alpha global city as listed by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. In 2019, the population of the city of Johannesburg was 5,635,127, making it the most populous city in South Africa.The city was established in 1886 following the discovery of gold on what had been a farm. Due to the extremely large gold deposit found along the Witwatersrand, within ten years, the population had grown to 100,000 inhabitants.

Johannesburg/Jozi/Joburg/Egoli - Photo: Southern Courier

It is located in the eastern plateau area of South Africa known as the Highveld, at an elevation of 1,753 metres. The former Central Business District is located on the southern side of the prominent ridge called the Witwatersrand (English: White Water's Ridge) and the terrain falls to the north and south. By and large the Witwatersrand marks the watershed between the Limpopo and Vaal rivers as the northern part of the city is drained by the Jukskei River while the southern part of the city, including most of the Central Business District, is drained by the Klip River. The north and west of the city has undulating hills while the eastern parts are flatter.

Johannesburg may not be built on a river or harbour, but its streams contribute to two of southern Africa's mightiest rivers – the Limpopo and the Orange. Most of the springs from which many of these streams emanate are now covered in concrete and canalised, accounting for the fact that the names of early farms in the area often end with "fontein", meaning "spring" in Afrikaans. Braamfontein, Rietfontein, Zevenfontein, Doornfontein, Zandfontein and Randjesfontein are some examples. When the first white settlers reached the area that is now Johannesburg, they noticed the glistening rocks on the ridges, running with trickles of water, fed by the streams – giving the area its name, the Witwatersrand, "the ridge of white waters". Another explanation is that the whiteness comes from the quartzite rock, which has a particular sheen to it after rain.


Pass of the Week

We stay up in the Gauteng area and feature what is without question the most difficult gravel pass in the area.

 

* * * * *   M A A N H A A R R A N D   P A S S   * * * * *

 

New Passes added this week:

Isinuka Poort - An attractive poort surrounded by very steep cuttings and the Umzimvubu River near Port St. Johns



Trygve Roberts
Editor

Words of Wisdom: "I think goals should never be easy.They should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time" ~ Michael Phelps

 

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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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