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Latest News! 10th June, 2021

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Execution Rock Execution Rock - Photo: MPSA Tour group

The week that was...

* Upcoming Tours

* A brace of new passes on the tarred R61 between Mthatha and Port St Johns

* Execution Rock

* Guests getting lost

* Mtakatyi River Valley, Mdumbi Pass, Mnenu Pass, Mthatha River Pass

* Coffee Bay, Hole in the Wall

* Dealing with car guards

* Pass of the week


Upcoming Tours

Our next tour is the Bedrogfontein Tour (3rd to 6th July). This thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing tour is a good mix of relaxed game viewing, great points of interest, two long technical passes and of course the anchor of this tour is the Bedrogfontein 4x4 Route which traces the journey of Jan Smuts's commando as he evaded the British troops during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, then ambushed them in a deep kloof on this very route. The historical aspect of this tour is significant.

Tickets are going fast. At time of publishing this newsletter there were 6 places open. Click on the link below for the full itinerary, pricing and terms.

BEDROGFONTEIN TOUR

All the final touches and improvements have been added to the next Wild Coast Tour, which is scheduled to take place between the 10th and 20th November, 2021. This tour will be loaded by Friday 11th June and details can be sourced via the same link above.

For our 3rd Wild Coast Tour, we have increased the tour from 9 to 10 days to allow for shorter travel distances and more leisure time for beach walks, swimming, photography, canoeing and more. We have also added in several new accomodation venues, which include Mngazi River Bungalows, The Haven and Wavecrest, but other favourites remain like Mbotyi River Lodge, Ocean View Hotel, Kob Inn and Crawfords Beach Cottages. This tour will more than likely be fully booked within a week, so if you were keen on attending, make sure to go online on Friday and secure your place.


We continue with our story along the Wild Coast.

Day 5 - Port St.Johns to Coffee Bay

The day dawned with the promise of another day of perfect weather. We had arranged this trip in what was probably the best weather window of the year (and unlikely to ever be repeated again), but all that clear dry weather plays host to lots of dust. We were hoping for a nice cross wind to help clear the dust away quickly, but no such luck. Very fine particles of dust like talcum powder hung in the air, causing our convoy to stretch up to 5 km from front to back. That in turn, impacts negatively on the clarity of radio comms. The secret is to find a happy balance.

We left Port St Johns River Lodge at 08.30 after a hearty breakfast with all vehicles having full tanks of fuel. The two Jimny drivers were a little nervous about their limited range, but we carried 20 litres of spare fuel for them in the Land Cruiser, should one of them not make the destination from a fuel point of view. As things turned out, the concerns were in vain.

We drove along the newly reconstructed R61 route towards Mthatha, via a string of passes, which included the Isinuka Poort, Butyabuse Pass, Mngazi River Pass and the Tutor Ndamase Pass, before leaving the tar for the Mlengana Pass, with its famous Execution Rock.

At the main viewpoint we had the great pleasure of watching a flock of African Harrier Hawks soaring below and above us. Execution Rock is an impressive slab of rock. It rises up out of the surrounding hills in 100m vertical cliff faces. It's a really impressive sight, but as impressive as it is, the real story is not nearly as dramatic as the name suggests. Some white colonial cartographer had heard a story about a Xhosa king who executed his enemies by throwing them off a rock. Scouting the area, when he saw this mountain, he (not unreasonably) assumed it was the place where the executions took place. The real place is much further down the Mngazi River Valley and is not nearly as impressive. That first map noting it as Execution Rock stuck and remains to this day having been copied and recopied by many more cartographers after the first 'myth-take'

We reconnected with the R61 near the foot of the Tutor Ndamase Pass and back-tracked to the village of Thombo, where we turned right, still on tar, heading for the Isilimela Mission. There were many rivers crossed, with the first being the Mngazana River. We left the tar near Mpande and took an  interesting detour towards the coast past the 18m high Big Jump Falls (which we never saw).

High Tide vs Low Tide

The scenery along this section was mind-blowing, with wide coastal views, but some of those hills are really steep and would be something of a nightmare in wet weather. We had been priming our guests from day1 about the crossing of the Golgoldwini River, where one of our convoy (VW Touareg) drowned itself last year Nov. When we arrived at the spot which had water depths measuring over 1000mm last year, we were presented with nothing more than a 150mm deep puddle jump. Some guests were disappointed - others were relieved!

At Mpande we left the bigger roads, for those roads less travelled. First we crossed the Mthonga River then navigated our way down a very overgrown and badly rutted two spoor track, at which point, some of the vehicles got lost, with the golden rule of waiting for the vehicle behind you, being broken. It took quite a while getting the lost sheep back onto the right track, but eventually the convoy managed to regroup successfully. That was a perfect example of why we consistently say: "You're responsible for the vehicle behind you"

Interpreting the Slingsby Map for some of our guests / Photo: MPSA Tour group

Getting lost in a 13 car convoy

Lessons learned, we drove to the bottom of this (yet unnamed) pass, where we crossed the Mnenu River next to the old bridge which was flood damaged some years ago. Fortunately levels were low, so the crossing was easy, but this track is badly overgrown and sorely in need of maintenance. This was the pass where those vehicles with metallic paint received their fair share of scratches. 

Once up the other side, the next pass begins, which is the pass through the Mtakatyi River Valley. The scenery here is picture perfect Wild Coast, with neatly painted huts sited on rolling hills with the most incredible views. This is the day of many passes as another two major passes lay in wait. The first was the Mdumbi River Pass, followed by the Mthatha River Pass. Both of these are substantial and offered many scenic viewpoints and of course, endless photographic opportunities.

Our two Suzuki Jimnys were running low on fuel but we kept tabs on their fuel range as we got closer to Coffee Bay. The nearest fuel station is about 18 km up the road towards Mthatha, but everyone made it to our overnight hotel without a problem. With the good weather persisting, many of our guests headed for the beach, whilst others sought solace via a cold beer or two and others raided the ice cream parlour!

Hole in the Wall / Photo: MPSA Tour Group

 

Day 6 - Hole in the Wall.

Many of our guests were up before dawn, walking on the beach, taking photographs and swimming. The Ocean View Hotel is in a lovely setting and less than 50m from the beach. Views from the dining room and deck area are out of this world. With everyone well rested from the previous day's 'rigeur de automobile' and after a hearty full English breakfast, we regrouped our convoy to meet our local guide for the day, Mzo.

This young local Xhosa entrepreneur is a go getter and without doubt the best guide in the area. His pleasant personality and relatively good English, had our guests listening attentively as he wove his magic about how Hole in the Wall came to be - about pretty maidens falling in love with sea creatures - storms, tempests and holes being made in mountains by disgruntled lovers.

The day started off with a hilltop view of Coffee Bay and how it got its name - apparently from a ship being wrecked in the bay and spilling its cargo of coffee beans, some of which took root and grew rather well in the amenable climate. There are still some trees producing coffee beans in the area.

Off we drove the few kilometres to Hole in the Wall. The classic view from the hilltop is perhaps the most iconic image of the Wild Coast. Then there are those pesky car guards. We had to deal with them on our 2020 tour as well. It's always the same six youngsters, ranging in age from about 20 to 25. These youngsters rule the roost and it's difficult seeing the sights without having to negotiate with them. They are quite bold and brazen in their demands and because of their numbers appear to be intimidating. The starting price to guard a vehicle is R100, which is absurd.

We drove past them at the first parking area and continued 800m up the very steep hill to the where the road forms a dead end and doubles as good view-site. By the time the car guards walked up the hill, they were somewhat peeved that we had evaded them and seemed determined to get a slice of the pie. Most of them had been smoking dagga and one in particular was so stoned all he could do was smile through tiny slits which represented the normal place his eyes were located.

Part of the job taming the infamous car guards at Hole in the Wall / Photo: MPSA Tour Group

 

Taming the car guards

It was time to take charge of the situation, so I gathered the six of them around me and requested an indaba. At first they were silly, but when they saw I was serious, they started listening. I gave them a short talk on how tourism works and if they persisted in being menacing, soon the few tourists that were still coming would dry up and eventually they would have no income at all. I then negotiated their price down to R10 per vehicle, which they were happy with. I shook each one's hand in the African manner and the deal was done. The problem with this group of youngsters is that they have been allowed to bother tourists without fear of consequences by local authorities or the police. The dagga makes them bold and willing to take risks. The local SAPS are not trusted by the locals, who consider SAPS to be ineffective and corrupt. Perhaps it's time to revert to tribal law?

Mzo walked us down to the beach through a lovely indigenous forest with glimpses between the foliage of towering cliffs and sandy beaches. Hole in the Wall did not disappoint. the weather was lovely and the tide was out. Some guests used the opportunity to take a swim, whilst others took a walk on the wild side.

Mzo gathered us under the shade of the milkwoods as he told us about Xhosa culture and why the rondavels must be round. Apparently the ancestors will not visit you if you have a rectangular house. It was a fascinating half hour as we all learned  a lot about local culture, customs and beliefs. 

Mzo teaching us about Xhosa culture / Photo: MPSA Tour Group

Back at the car park, the car guards had fulfilled their obligations and taken good care of our vehicles. The aftermath of all this was that we have been in contact with Mzo and suggested a meeting with the local chief and tourism board, to resolve the issue with the car guards. At time of writing this newsletter, meetings are being set up and we will be staying in touch with Mzo and are willing to assist with suggestions and expertise we have available.

For anyone wanting to tour to Hole in the Wall, we strongly recommend going under the umbrella protection of Mzo. His contact number is 083 542 2235

 

White Clay Restaurant & Pub

By lunch time we were seated (and thirsty) at the White Clay Restaurant about midway between Hole in the Wall and Coffee Bay. It's a tiny little beach pub - a bit 'fishing cottage' in its appearance, but don't let that put you off. The view is utterly amazing over the bay with its rolling green hills and blue ocean just 100m away. Their food is great too. The beer was cold, the wine flowed and soon the afternoon was almost over. For bigger groups it's best to make an advance booking and pre-select which meals (off their menu) you prefer.

Many guests weren't that hungry back at the Ocean View Hotel that evening after the big lunch. Sleep overwhelmed most of us as the surf lulled us into a deep sleep.

Next Week: Coffee Bay to Kob Inn.


Pass of the Week

Our featured pass this week formed part of one of the days of the tour and although it's a tarred pass, it's fairly new and a real joy to drive.

 

 * * MNGAZI RIVER PASS * * 

 


Trygve Roberts
Editor

Tail piece: " A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday, but never mentions her age" ~ Caskie Stinnett

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