Latest News! 8th July, 2021

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Stormsvlei Pass flood damage Stormsvlei Pass flood damage - Photo: MPSA

The week that was...

* Klein Karoo road trip

* Namaqualand - Part 2

* Messelpad Pass

* Springbok

* Goegap Nature Reserve

* Pass of the week

Klein Karoo (Road Trip Part 1)

With Covid lockdown restrictions putting a spoke in the proverbial wheel of our Bedrogfontein tour scheduled for last weekend, we decided to make use of the booked out time and do a quick road trip to refurbish some outlying MPSA summit signs and scout a few new passes to add to our database.

The weather played ball as we had three perfect days with clear, sunny weather making the sign repair work less like hot work and the crisp winter air allowed for excellent video and photographic results. We routed from Cape Town via Worcester (and some beautiful waterfalls tumbling down the mountains in the Du Toitskloof Pass) to Robertson, where we took the back road to Bonnievale crossing a swollen Breede River at Rooibrug (Red Bridge) and on to the Stormsvlei Pass, where the deluge of two months ago has caused lots of damage to the road. There are six sections where deep washaways have collapsed the tar. Temporary self-policed stop-go's allow single lane traffic to pass through each section; each of which is only about 50m in length. It's going to be a while before all the repairs are completed.

After a short section along the N2 to Riversdale, we headed north over Garcia's Pass to film a short gravel pass on the Barrydale-Riversdale road called Kliphoogte. From there we headed north to Ladismith and filmed the Naaukloof on the R62 which ends just before the western approach into Ladismith. 

Next up was the Huisrivier Pass MPSA sign board, which needed quite a lot of work. Some careless souls used the sign to put a target on with double sided tape (the remnants which required lots of elbow grease to remove), but the sign has been peppered with BB gun damage to the tune of about 40 dents, rendering this sign to the sin-bin and the shooter's big brother unholstered what looks like six shots from a 9mm which have penetrated the sheet metal and left permanent holes. The best we can do is put an oversized patch of 3M brown vinyl over them, which should last upwards of 5 years. We are getting used to this level of wanton vandalism and it no longer is an emotional issue. We just get on with the job and do the best we can with the budget, tools and equipment at hand.

From the Huisrivier Pass we drove to nearby Calitzdorp to refuel the Jimny and then headed over the Rooiberg Pass to refurbish the sign there, finally arriving at our overnight stop (the fabulous gem of the Little Karoo) - the Rooiberg Lodge, where we had our first class dinner served in our thatched chalet in order to comply with Covid regulations. As the sun sets the temperature plummets, but thanks to a decent stack of dry firewood and an indoor fireplace, we could spend the evening at peace with the world (no mobile reception, no sirens, no loud exhausts, no loud music - just the steady chirp of a few goggas).

We will continue with this trip report next week.

Namaqualand Series (Part 2)

We continue with our exploration of Namaqualand as we head into the northern parts. This series is to enlighten prospective visitors to the area. Springtime is without question the best time to visit. We complete our visit to the Namaqua National Park by exiting the area via two really impressive and historically important passes, namely the Wildeperdehoek and Messelpad passes. These two passes are historically bound like twins and were constructed under the supervision of Patrick Fletcher - a very capable roads engineer who seldom gets much recognition.

Wildeperdehoek Pass

The rough gravel surfaced Wildeperdehoek Pass forms part of the Caracal Eco Route in the Namaqua National Park, with the the grassy flats of Namaqualand lying to the west and glimpses of the coast beyond. The 4,8 km pass is around 120 years old and has reasonable average gradients of 1:20

('Wildeperdehoek' roughly translates as 'wild horses corner'.) This pass is not suitable for vehicles lacking ground clearance. The pass was originally named Wildepaardehoek in the old Dutch style, but is today more commonly referred to in the Afrikaans version. This pass should be viewed in tandem with the Messelpad Pass . Some locals also refer to this pass as the Bandietpas, which translates into Convict's Pass which points to the labour used in the pass's construction.

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Messelpad Pass

This historical gravel road pass was built between 1867 and 1869. It's a long pass at almost 17 km and it has a substantial altitude variance of 383m which produces a fairly mild average gradient of 1:44, but the vast majority of the steeper gradients occur on the eastern side of the pass, where there are some steep sections at 1:5.

Fortunately it seldom rains here, so the road is generally quite safe for non 4WD vehicles. The scenery along which the road traverses is exceptionally dramatic with towering rock faces and a generally bone-dry river bed in view most of the time. This road is not suitable for cars lacking good ground clearance.

Goegap Nature Reserve

We now head north to Springbok and the nearby Goegap Nature Reserve. Springbok is of course the principal town in the region. It was called Springbokfontein until 1911, when it was shortened to Springbok.  It is the main town of the Nama Khoi Local Municipality, which also includes a number of surrounding towns such as Okiep and Nababeep.

The town lies at an elevation of 1,007 metres in a narrow valley between the high granite domes of the Klein Koperberge (Small Copper Mountains). This name gives away the reason for the early settlement which gradually turned into a major commercial and administrative centre for copper mining operations in the region. While the town initially developed rapidly, this slowed when rich copper deposits were discovered in Okiep.

As the main source of water, Springbok continued to develop as the commercial and administrative centre for different mines in the area. Even though mining activities have dwindled, the town remains an important administrative capital in the region and due to its location a favourite stop-over for tourists on their way to Namibia. Today the main income is generated from tourism, mining activities, commerce and farming.

All Saints Church, Springbok

Springbok is especially fascinating since almost half of the plant species here are found nowhere else in the world. When the winter rain falls, the Goegap Nature Reserve, home to the Hester Malan Wild Flower Garden, with outcrops of granite, is covered in spring flowers like irises and orchids.

The streets lead off from a central little koppie which now shows off Namaqualand’s strange flora, such as the almost leafless Quiver tree whose branches were used by San people to hold their arrows. This area is famed for the incredible transformation which occurs every spring, when the near-lifeless scrubland explodes into colour from thousands of flowers hidden in the dry dusty earth, brought to life by winter rains.

The best time to visit the reserve to fully enjoy its splendour is from late July or August through to October, if you are wanting to see the spring flowers. (Depending on the rains the flowers may be earlier or later and this varies from year to year).The reserve with its granite peaks and sandy plains are dominated by Carolusberg, the highest point in the area. Goegap's wild flower garden contains an enormous collection of succulents endemic to the area. Besides the unbelievable number of floral species, Goegap Nature Reserve boasts a recorded 45 mammalian species including springbok, gemsbok, the endangered Hartman's Zebra and the aardwolf amongst several others.

Goegap Nature Reserve

We now head north to Steinkopf, then go gravel NW to Eksteenfontein.

The little town of Eksteenfontein in the Richtersveld World Heritage Site has a fascinating history. Those who ended up in this corner of Northern Cape province were victims of racism and apartheid rules. In the 1990s, fortunes changed as the people of the Richtersveld realised how valuable and sensitive the local plant life was. 



The little hamlet is perched on the very edge of the Richtersveld World Heritage Site, has one of the most interesting histories of any South African town. 

Most of the people there come from Baster ancestry. These people of mixed blood (in Afrikaans, ‘baster’ means ‘hybrid’ or ‘mixed’) were forcibly removed from the ‘white’ farming area near Pofadder, in the north of what was then the Cape province, in 1945. 

Their new home in a ‘coloured’ area was negotiated for them by a Reverend Eksteen and had the unpromising name of Stinkfontein (‘stinking spring’). The oldest people of Eksteenfontein still remember the month-long trek to their new home – made on foot and with carts pulled by donkeys and oxen. 

There were no roads, and the brackish water en route made many sick. When they arrived, they had to cope with a sometimes-hostile Nama people who had lived here for centuries. The settlement, named in honour of the pastor who had helped them find a new place to live, became something of a town of last resort for marginalised and disaffected people. 

No one had any idea then that their new home – the Richtersveld – would one day be recognised as one of the foremost floral destinations in the world. This botanical wonderland became a World Heritage Site, declared for its natural and cultural importance, in 2007. It’s an intriguing town to visit – and not only because of the floral bounty or the stock farmers who migrate with their livestock according to the seasons. There is a small tourism office where you can arrange a guided walk or even better make use of donkey cart. The museum is also a must visit.

Beyond Eksteenfontein the road rattles its way northwards (and we say 'rattle' because the corrugations on these roads are fierce and it's best not to tackle these roads in an ordinary sedan vehicle). A high clearance 4x2 bakkie, AWD or 4x4 is the way to go. And for those that have 4x4's please engage 4WD high range the moment you get to the gravel as it greatly improves traction and your safety. If you find your vehicle 'skating' on the corners or even on straight sections, it's probably because your tyres are too hard. Try deflating them to 1.4 bar and you will notice an immediate difference. At a speed of 70 kph the vehicle will 'float' over the corrugations, but this technique is best eased into until you have sufficient confidence in your driving skills and vehicle's handling.


Helskloof Pass

Stone cairns along the Helskloof Pass

Our route heads up towards Vioolsdrif and the Orange River, but first we have to tackle a long, winding, stony pass called Helskoof Pass. Pass naming (in fact any geographical feature) is often complex and confusing and this pass is one of them. There is another Helskoof Pass just a stone's throw away (pun intended) within the Richtersveld National Park, (which we will get to later in this series). Obviously the two passes named exactly the same cause havoc with GPS routes and navigation and doubly so for first time visitors to this area.

The most interesting (and hotly debated) feature is the thousands upon thousands of stone cairns that have been erected by well meaning travellers on either side of the pass. The myth goes that unless you build a cairn, your passage through the pass will not go well. Those against the practice suggest that the movement of stones and rocks from where they have lain for hundreds of years, can disturb organisms and insects in this harsh and barren landscape.

This amazing and very different pass has a surreal feel about it and it's easy to see how it earned its name. It's barren and virtually devoid of plant life or water leaving one with a distinctly vulnerable feeling. This pass is quite long at 14,4 km and has an altitude variance of 360m, producing an average gradient of 1:40. Due to the isolated nature of this pass, we recommend travelling in a small convoy of at least 2 vehicles. The pass connects Eksteenfontein in the south with Vioolsdrif in the north. We recommend a high clearance 4x4 and two spare wheels. Please carry emergency drinking water with you.

Next week we will explore the 7 passes inside the national park.


* *  H E L S K L O O F   P A S S   * *


Trygve Roberts

Silly questions: "Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?"

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