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Latest News! 22nd April, 2021

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Birkhall Dam,  Wartrail Birkhall Dam, Wartrail - Photo: Allison Marshall

The week that was

* Table Mountain blaze

* Report back Ben 10 Eco Challenge Day 4

* Rhodes Village

* Road sign refurbishment

* Naudes Nek Pass

* Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse

* Pass of the week


Table Mountain Blaze

Last Sunday Cape Town endured a savage mountain fire. Not withstanding the best fire fighting equipment available, a strong south easterly wind played havoc with flare ups and in a similar way that Knysna burnt a few years ago, burning embers were carried to rooftops and buildings. The loss of art and history at UCT is massive and of course that much loved landmark, Mostert's Mill with its attractive thatched roof also burnt to the ground. 

On our social media pages we tend to stay away from negativity, but we did publish a photo of the burnt out mill with a short caption. If ever you wondered why bad news sells, then that post proved a point. The highly emotional topic drew comments from far and wide, many of them being ridiculous and blaming politicians for the blaze. It took a lot of moderating for the rest of the day trying to keep those emotional embers damped down.

So here we are just three days later - the wind has died down to a whisper; the fires are under control; a few arrests have been made. The city, Sanparks and other NGO's are going to have to put their heads together and find some solutions. It would seem that the big thorny issue appears to be homeless people. Their numbers have grown enormously since the first lockdown. No-one really wants to deal with it. Its a political hot potato. Shacks and tents are mushrooming up in streets all over the city and many vagrants seek the sanctity of the mountain as a place of safety. They make fires for cooking and warmth. And whoosh!


Ben 10 Eco Challenge Day 4

It always pays to make an early start when attempting the Ben 10 as the distances are fairly long and there are invariably unknown factors that quickly chew up time. Up till this point we had not a single mechanical failure, no punctures and no recoveries. Our team were all driving like pros.

We were on the road punctually at 0800 for our 4th and penultimate day of the tour where our routing would take us up the R393, over the Bokspruit Pass to Rhodes and from there up the Naude's Nek Pass, followed by the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (TTT), then down the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass back to Rhodes and on to Mosheses Ford and Barkly East, returning to our base after roughly 300 km of gravel road driving.

The drive to Rhodes was uneventful and pleasant in the soft early morning light, but we passed two other convoys also doing the challenge passes, requiring a short wait from time to time as vehicles from the different groups became mixed. We stopped in Rhodes for almost an hour to allow our guests to explore the village at their own pace.


Rhodes Village

The village of Rhodes is the focal point of tourism in this remote and high altitude part of the Eastern Cape. Rhodes exudes a timeless charm and beauty. The Victorian era village dating back to 1880 was declared a national conservation area in 1997. It is surrounded by sparkling rivers and majestic mountains, making it an ideal getaway for adventure lovers and those seeking a break from the stresses of city life. It is the only complete village in SA that is a national monument from end to end.

Amongst the many attractions in Rhodes, one can visit the Rhodes Hotel or the Walkerbout Inn. One can also get accommodation at the Lovedale and Parkade farms, Kinmell Guest Farm, Welgemoed Trout Lodge, Rubicon Flats or the Rhodes Retreat. For those wanting to camp, the village has a well-shaded, but basic caravan park as well.

The town has a range of accommodation options. It is a wonderful place to visit for the adventure set (road running, hiking and mountain biking are big sports here) or just a sleepy, restful and friendly haven for stressed out city folk to rejuvenate their souls. The Walkerbouts Inn proprietor, Ian Walker, is a font of knowledge on the area. If you're a history buff, that's the place to go.

Whilst our sweep, Barrie Barnardt made sure the convoy regrouped timeously, we went ahead in the lead vehicle to resurrect the battered and abused sign board at the Naude's Nek view-site. A sort of pro-bono gift to the state.


Road sign refurbishment

Although weather conditions were good, it was a bit chilly and a cool wind was starting to build (mountain pass necks are always windy places). We first had to scrape off every last bit of glue, paint, UV tainted stickers as well as the original decals which were close to being illegible. It took a long time. We had planned on fixing this sign before we left Cape Town and were armed with two canisters of green base spray paint as well as new 3M reflective decals. This is not one of the MPSA sign boards, but based on the state of what it looked like, the Eastern Cape government don't appear to be too interested in refurbishing their signs, so we did it for them.

[Read more...]

The spray paint was however being carried away swiftly by the wind and the expected coverage as stated on the containers were grossly underestimated. We managed to get it looking reasonably OK (but not 100%) then had to apply the new decals before the convoy joined us at the view site. It was a case of mission accomplished. Now to see how long before people start putting stickers on the sign again!


Naudes Nek Pass

Many sources quote this as being the highest gravel pass in South Africa, but Naude's Nek Pass is actually the fourth highest altitude, publicly accessible, motorable pass in South Africa and is a much sought after personal trophy for pass 'hunters' to say: "I've driven it!"  It is superseded by the Ben MacDhui Pass, the Sani Pass and the Tenahead-Tiffindell Traverse (in that order).  Zig-zagging its way over the Southern Drakensberg, the pass is a long and slow drive with an average gradient of 1:41, but the steeper parts measure out at 1:7. Considering that the builders were not engineers, but humble farmers, the lines chosen and gradients achieved are remarkably good for the time. This is without question a bucket-list pass!

The convoluted pass intersects the escarpment approximately where the Maloti, Drakensberg and Witteberg mountains meet. Many sources quote the Sani Pass as summiting in Lesotho. This is in fact, incorrect as the SA border control point is at 1968m, but the actual physical border is at the summit, leaving much of the major climb in no-man's land - making the Sani Pass without question, considerably higher, summiting at 2873m - some 283 metres higher than Naudes Nek Pass.

For those that enjoy hairpin bends, there are plenty on this pass

If you consider that the road's existence is thanks to the brothers Naudé, who in the late 1890s made it their task to find a way out of the isolated valley to reach cattle markets, with only a pick and shovel for help, its significance is completely awe-inspiring. Of interest is that the memorial plaque at the start speaks of the Naude brothers building the pass ...."met pik, graaf en skotskar"  That took a little investigation as few people know what a "skotskar" is. An Afrikaans linguist at Stellenbosch University has revealed that the correct definition is "a single axle, unsprung horse cart, with a flip down rear panel". 

For all of the above reasons, Naudé's Nek Pass is regarded as one of the top iconic gravel road passes. It is full of hairpin bends, with a very good chance of mist, snow or thunderstorms in summer. The Maclear side of the pass and the Pot River descent is particularly rough and there are sharp stones that in an ordinary vehicle could prove daunting. History books show that the Naude brothers did not complete the whole pass, but that the government took over the final part which was completed a few years later. There is no confirmation of exactly where this spot is, but it is assumed that the Naude's completed the bulk of the western side.

After a few group photos ably organised by Trevor Hall, we commenced with the 8th challenge pass - the TTT. Sometimes we are able to stop at the Tenahead Lodge for tea and cake, but on that day, the lodge was full, so we pressed on to start the tedious and slow drive over the TTT.

This is a complex contour road offering four small passes along its 27 km length. The road generally remains at the 2600m contour level and the vast majority of the route comprises contour road driving as it follows the shapes of the hills and buttresses. The route is doable in a high clearance 4x2 with diff-lock, but when things get muddy or snowy, it is definitely a 4x4 route. Although the road gets quite rough in places, these don't last long and most of this route is Grade 1 to 2. The road connects the Tiffindell Ski Resort in the west with the Tenahead Mountain Lodge in the east, and provides a shorter, but slower alternative to the Naudes Nek Pass. Beyond Tenahead Lodge, the road connects at the Naudes Nek lookout point at 2500m ASL.

The headwaters of the Bell River are crossed three times at the eastern end of the TTT

Although we have named this route the TTT  (Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse) which aptly describes the purpose of the road, this is a more modern take on its routing. It's also referred to by the locals by three other names: The Cairntoul Road (named after a farm on the eastern side of the traverse); Die Patrollie Pad (The Patrol Road) and Die Grenspad (the Border Road). The road has been used for many years to patrol stock theft into Lesotho. There are several small patrol huts, linked with radio sets, which can be seen along the route. These are occupied by 'young local herdsmen' who keep an eye on the hillsides and relay any suspicious activity to the main SAPS base at Cairntoul, from where the heavyweights are dispatched on horseback or by 4x4.

You either love this pass or hate it. It can be brutally tiring as the 27 km route takes at least 2.5 hours to complete. That works out at an average speed of 10 kph. Vehicles experience lots of sideways rolling and bouncing which is hard on drivers and even worse for passengers. It's all part of the challenge aspect and requires some mental and physical fortitude to keep a smile on your face. As progress is made westwards, the views get better and more dramatic with a spectacular gorge (with the unusual name of Upper Knoppieshoekspruit)  visible on the southern side of the road for most of the last third of the route.

There are about 15 gates to be opened and closed, all of which add to the amount of time required. Stock thieves from Lesotho have plagued the farmers on the South African side for many years, resulting in the construction of this road, which allowed the SAPS to patrol a wide swathe of mountainside all along the border. Farmers lost thousands of cattle over the years and eventually SAPS set up the unit at Cairntoul, as well as the satellite stations along the route. Each of these locations were strategically selected, to allow rangers to see long distances and thus effectively patrol the main theft passage over the mountain range, by using radio transmissions.

We stopped and chatted to a SAPS official who informed us that they were currently holding 3 prisoners at the Cairntoul compound together with six recovered cows. When we drove past the unit some time later, we confirmed the headcount of the cows in an enclosure, but no prisoners in sight.

Birds eye view of Tiffindell taken from the 3001m high Ben MacDhui Pass taken during our V2 Tour two years ago.

Once we got to Tiffindell, we regrouped the convoy, whilst in the lead vehicle we drove up to the boom at Tiffindell on the off-chance that the boom might be open, in the hopes of being able to drive the highest pass in South Africa - the 3001m Ben MacDhui Pass. The legal wrangle over the property continues and although there were a couple of vehicles parked near the office, the control boom was securely locked with a new chain and a fancy Abus padlock. That immediately put an end to that particular hope, so we descended down to Rhodes via the Carlishoekspruit Pass for the second time in two days.

We heard from reliable sources that a group of bikers had cut the chains and locks a few weeks prior to our tour to gain unauthorised access to the Ben MacDhui Pass. This has made the owner extremely annoyed and he has vowed to prosecute anyone trespassing. We ask everyone doing the challenge to respect the temporary closure of the property. By cutting chains and locks, it will make it much more difficult to get permission to access the pass in the future. 

Our routing back to our base from Rhodes took us over the double steel lattice bridges over the Sterkspruit and Kraai Rivers at Mosheses Ford. 

The Mosheshesford village came about when pioneering farmers moving into the area found Mosheshesford to be the most convenient route of crossing the Sterkspruit River.  This turned out to become a very vital and essential place for the community.  At the turn of the 20th century a small village had already been established on the farm Belmore.

The Goldstein brothers, Sidney, Harry and Arthur, who owned Belmore farm at the time realised the farm's strategic position and erected a big hotel built of chopped sandstone.  There was also a farm house, police station, blacksmith's shop, a large horse stable and a tennis court.  Across the Sterkspruit river, on the farm Mosheshesford, was a shop, post office and a cheese factory.  In 1926 the shop and post office on Mosheshesford burnt down and these buildings were re-erected on Belmore.  The shop was run by the Mitchell brothers and thereafter by the Stewarts.

Love him or hate him, he was an astute businessman - Cecil John Rhodes

Seven years later, in 1933, the Bell and Sterkspruit rivers came down in flood and washed through the cheese factory and staff housing.  These buildings were situated on the site of the old farm school on Mosheshesford.  A milk vat from the factory was swept down the river in the flood and was recovered 6km down on Lower Kelvin Grove.  After the flood the factory was also moved across the river to Belmore where it continued to make cheese until 1949, when motor transport made it more practical to transport milk to a central point in Barkly East.

The Hotel:              

This was a well-built stone building and was a popular meeting place for the local farmers.  This was the hub for parties and high stake gambling.

Blacksmith:            

Horses and oxen were shod here. This very busy business was operated from a corrugated iron building on the north side of the present tennis courts.  The most interesting equipment was a giant leather bellows which was used to fire the forge. This was owned by Mr Greyvenstein (1912-1924), Mr Mitchell (1925 – 1927), Mr van Wyk (1928 -1932) and Jaap Olivier (1933).

Post Office:            

A weekly postal service was run from Barkly to Rhodes, with stopping points at Eliasdale and Belmore. In 1954 the post office became redundant and closed down.

Doctors Surgery:  

The surgery was in the hotel until its closure in 1932.  The practising doctors during this time were: Dr Frew Whitaker, Dr Mc Donald and Dr W. Rosenberg.

Police Station:      

The police station was housed in the house adjacent to the tennis courts.  This police station served a very useful purpose in the old days but was closed down in 1959, much to the indignation of the local farmers.  Most of the patrolling was done on horseback, and in 1949 a Harley Davidson motor cycle with side car was added to the fleet.

Cheese Factory:    

This was run by Arthur Duffy, Bovil Coetzee, Jim Murray and Blom Serfontein.

Once over the attractive bridge straddling the Kraai River, we drove a very pleasant gravel road (R396) under the foothills of the mountains to arrive in Barkly East around 17.00 where some of our vehicles required refuelling in preparation for the final day of the tour. Back at the Mountain Shadows Hotel that evening, one of our guests suggested renaming the TTT to the TTTTTT
- The Terribly Tedious Tiffindell Tenahead Traverse. There were some tired bodies in the pub that night, but nothing that a good sundowner couldn't resolve!!

[Next week: Bottelnek Pass and Bastervoetpad to end the tour in style]


Passes of the Week

 

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

 

* * * * *   T T T   * * * * *

 


Trygve Roberts
Editor

Tail piece: "Ninety percent of politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation" ~ Henry Kissinger.

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