Latest news! 11th February, 2021

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A friendly Xhosa lady with a big smile A friendly Xhosa lady with a big smile - Photo: Trygve Roberts

The week that was

* Trips & Tours

* Wild Coast Tour report back (Day 7)

* Montagu Pass in a rally car (reader submission)

* Great South Africans (Series)

* South African Cities (Series)

* Pass of the week

Wild Coast Tour – Day 7

Circular Route from Kob Inn to Collywobbles and Mbashe River Dam Wall returning via a northerly option to Kob Inn.

We got the convoy rolling a little after 0830 and headed back up the main gravel road to Willowvale. The biggest mistake most people make touring the Wild Coast is to estimate time based on distance on a map. It invariably takes much longer than planned. We turned off the main road at Willowvale to cross the Shixini River gorge via a scenic pass (still to be processed and filmed by MPSA) and traversed village after village as we did the (by now familiar) split fork, split fork type navigation eventually arriving at the ridge to the south of the Mbashe River gorge, at an area known as The Collywobbles. I was very glad I had plotted the route meticulously before the tour.

This rather odd English word dates back a century or more and was used to describe an upset tummy. There is a story that is well documented that Maj-Gen Sir George Pomeroy Colley during a visit to the Eastern Frontier, surveyed this amazing scene of the Mbashe River winding through the hills like a snake and remarked that it gave him the collywobbles. One if his subordinates made the remark: “Look Sir Colley has the wobbles” and the viewpoint earned its name in perpetuity.

We followed the spine of a long ridge offering marvellous views on both sides. Here we pulled off and enjoyed a peaceful lunch break in lovely weather as vultures soared overhead. After lunch we followed this same road as it descended very steeply down to the river. The gradient along the one section reached 1:4, which had been concreted to aid traction. The track terminated right on the banks of the Mbashe River where we had a close up experience of just how big and powerful this river is.

We had to then drive back up the very steep pass and turn north to descend towards the Mbashe Dam wall. This was also a fairly steep and interesting little pass, which ended right at the dam wall. All the sluices were open disgorging water that looked much more like a chocolate milkshake than water. Two local security guards greeted us and waved us through. The dam wall itself is just a little wider than a car. On either end are large steel cylinders painted yellow which determine whether your vehicle will fit on the wall/bridge or not. I noted it had many scuff marks on it, so the cylinders were doing their job!

We crossed first (having the widest vehicle) and the rest of the convoy followed one by one, camera shutters clicking and video cameras whirring. One of the guards as an afterthought, dashed over the wall in ankle deep water to catch up with us, looking for a handout. Someone obliged and so our informal bridge tax was duly paid.

The drive back to Kob Inn was very long and quite tiring, but the scenery remained beautiful. We arrived back at Kob Inn close to 1800 and were delighted to find Jim and Zen Rankin in the pub, having made their way to Kob Inn in their rental Nissan Almera.

At that stage the errant VW Touareg had been collected by lowbed and transferred to the agents in East London. An elated Jim bought everyone in the group a drink to celebrate their reunion with the group and the safe retrieval of their vehicle. It was completely untouched by the locals. 

Next Week: Kob Inn to Trennerys / Kei Mouth

Montagu Pass ( Reader submission by Steve Harding)

I read with interest, your article on the on the Montagu Pass featured in your latest newsletter. I thought that I would share with you my own story about this pass and a little bit of recent history. Some years ago before I slowed down and started enjoying my mountain passes in a way more leisurely fashion from behind the wheel of the 4x4 meandering slowly and enjoying all that mountain passes have to offer, I was a rally co-driver.

1988 Algoa 6 - Johan Evertse and Steve Harding in their Auto Quatrro / Photo: Roger Swan

In 1988 the well-known Port Elizabeth motorsport character, the late Bernie Marriner, who raced motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT in the 1960s before becoming an extremely successful competition manager at Ford South Africa in the 70s and who later moved on to Volkswagen in the 1980s, organised a round of the South African National Rally championship in the Eastern Cape. This was the Volkswagen rally as I recollect, and I took an extremely high speed journey up the Montagu Pass, sitting in the co-driver's seat of an Audi Quattro Sport driven by Johan Evertse. To say that it was an exciting and challenging stage would be to say very little. (The pass had of course been closed to normal traffic for the passage of the rally).

After a refuel, supper and service break (which probably took place in Oudtshoorn, although my recollection is hazy in this regard) we returned to George via the Outeniqua Pass, with the car shod this time on a set of racing slicks. The run down this pass was done in darkness and I still have vivid memories of the rocky hillsides being lit up by the light from the flames emitting from the exhaust of the Quattro. (This pass too, was specially closed for the purpose.)

To the best of my knowledge it was something that only happened once, but it was quite an experience to have. 

Editors note: Thanks for reliving the story with our readers Steve!

Great South Africans

Wilbur Addison Smith (born 9 January 1933) is a South African (Zambian-born) novelist specialising in historical fiction about the international involvement in Southern Africa across four centuries, seen from the viewpoints of both black and white families.

An accountant by training, he gained a film contract with his first published novel, When the Lion Feeds. This encouraged him to become a full-time writer, and he developed three long chronicles of the South African experience which all became best-sellers. He still acknowledges his publisher Charles Pick's advice to "write about what you know best", and his work takes in much authentic detail of the local hunting and mining way of life, along with the romance and conflict that goes with it. As of 2014 his 35 published novels had sold more than 120 million copies, 24 million of them in Italy.

Smith was born in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia (now Kabwe, Zambia). His father was a metal worker who opened a sheet metal factory and then bought a cattle ranch. "My father was a tough man", said Smith. "He was used to working with his hands and had massively developed arms from cutting metal. He was a boxer, a hunter, very much a man's man. I don't think he ever read a book in his life, including mine".

Wilbur Smith - Arguably South Africa's most successful author.

As a baby, Smith was sick with cerebral malaria for ten days but made a full recovery. He spent the first years of his life on his father's cattle ranch, comprising 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of forest, hills and savannah. On the ranch his companions were the sons of the ranch workers, small black boys with the same interests and preoccupations as Smith. With his companions he ranged through the bush, hiking, hunting, and trapping birds and small mammals. His mother read to him every night and later gave him novels of escape and excitement, which piqued his interest in fiction; however, his father dissuaded him from pursuing writing.

Smith attended boarding school at Cordwalles Preparatory School in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal). While in Natal, he continued to be an avid reader and had the good fortune to have an English master who made him his protégé and would discuss the books Smith had read that week. Unlike Smith's father and many others, the English master made it clear to Smith that being a bookworm was praiseworthy, rather than something to be ashamed of, and let Smith know that his writings showed great promise. He tutored Smith on how to achieve dramatic effects, to develop characters, and to keep a story moving forward.

For high school Smith attended Michaelhouse, a boarding school situated in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. He felt that he never "fitted in" with the people, goals and interests of the other students at Michaelhouse. On a positive note, he did start a school newspaper at Michaelhouse for which he wrote the entire content, except for the sports pages. 

Smith initially worked on his father's cattle ranch and also served with the Rhodesian Police. "I would get called out and have to get bodies of children from pit lavatories after they had been killed with pangas ", he recalled.

Smith wanted to become a journalist, writing about social conditions in South Africa, but his father's advice to "get a real job" prompted him to become a tax accountant.

"My father was a colonialist and I followed what he said until I was in my 20s and learned to think for myself", he said. "I didn't want to perpetuate injustices so I left Rhodesia in the time of Ian Smith."

He attended Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1954. He subsequently found work with the Inland Revenue Service.

South African Cities

Richards Bay is situated on a 30 square kilometre lagoon of the Mhlatuze River, which makes it one of the country's largest harbours. Richards Bay also has the deepest natural harbour on the African continent.

The town began as a makeshift harbour that was set up by Commodore of the Cape, Sir Frederick Richards during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In 1935 the Richards Bay Game Sanctuary was created to protect the ecology around the lagoon and by 1943 it expanded into the Richards Bay Park. The town was laid out on the shores of the lagoon in 1954 and proclaimed a town in 1969. In 1976 Richards Bay Harbour was converted into a deep water harbour with railway and an oil/gas pipeline linking the port to Johannesburg.

The South African Government under Minister of Transport Ben Schoeman decided in 1965 to build a deep water harbour at Richards Bay, about 180 kilometres north of Durban. Construction work began in 1972 and four years later, on 1 April 1976, the new harbour was opened. The residential area of Richards Bay developed north of the harbour. Meerensee, started in 1970, was the first suburb. It was followed by Arboretum in 1975 and VeldenVlei in 1980.

 Richards Bay / Photo: Pinterest

The Port of Richards Bay contains what was once the largest coal export facility in the world, with a planned capacity of 91 million tons per year by the first half of 2009. In 2007 annual throughput was 66.12 million tons. The Australian port of Newcastle, New South Wales is the largest coal exporting harbour in the world, exporting just over 161 million tonnes of coal in 2016.

Two aluminium smelters, Hillside Aluminum and Bayside Aluminium are operated by South32. A fertiliser plant operated by Foskor has been erected at the harbour. Iron ore, rutile (titanium oxide) and zircon are mined from the sand dunes close to the lagoon by Richards Bay Minerals, part of the Rio Tinto group. Local exports include coal, aluminium, titanium and other heavy minerals, granite, ferrochrome, paper pulp, wood chips and phosphoric acid. Richards Bay is, alongside Rustenburg, South Africa's fastest-developing city. It is a fast-growing industrial centre that has been able to maintain its ecological diversity.

The "John Ross Parkway" (P496) which links Richards Bay to Empangeni and the N2 highway is named after "John Ross" (real name, Charles Rawden Maclean), who at the age of 15 walked from Port Natal to Maputo and back to procure medicine and supplies for the early settlers.

Apart from the mining industry, tourism is a major part of the economy, with Richards Bay seen as a gateway to Zululand, and area popular with foreign tourists because of its large game parks and the diverse wildlife on offer.

The Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone is one of two Industrial Development Zones within the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is a fully serviced industrial land comprising heavy, medium and light industries linked to the adjacent Port of Richards Bay.


We chat about Day 6 of the Wild Coast Tour and visit Hole in the Wall, White Clay Pub and experience a second huge storm.
Click here to listen:

Pass of the Week

We stay in KZN for our featured pass this week. Mhlwane Pass is named after the river which marks the start of the pass on the eastern side, also sometimes spelled as “Mhlwana”. It would usually be driven in conjunction with Collings Pass, as they are on the same road and follow one another almost back-to-back. The pass has a simple low-high profile and has fairly mild gradients throughout, making it an easy drive for most vehicles in good weather. It offers excellent views over the KwaZulu-Natal grasslands towards the high mountains in the west and to the north, where the nearby Normandien Pass is located.

* * * * *   M H L W A N E   P A S S   * * * * * 


Trygve Roberts

"Cynicism is merely the art of seeing things as they are, instead of as they ought to be" ~ Oscar Wilde

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