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Latest News! 2nd September, 2021

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The R56 at Droewig, near Kokstad The R56 at Droewig, near Kokstad - Photo: Sakkie Maartens

The week that was

* It's officially spring

* Self Drive or take a tour

* Weather synopsis

* Bedrogfontein Trip Report (Part 1)

* Pass of the week


Spring is in the air!

The never ending debate of when spring starts is once again upon us. It is September 1st, or September 21st or September 22nd? Whatever version suits you, make sure you get our into the fresh air and enjoy nature's bounty. With all the winter snows and good rains, you have a wide variety of options to choose from.

You can visit Namaqualand and watch the desert transform into a wild palette of colourful flowers, or tackle the Tankwa with its succulents and mountain scenery, or if you enjoy the cold, head up to Sutherland where you will still be guaranteed some icy nights and magnificent starry, starry nights (with deference to Don McClean). There's the Garden Route, the Wild Coast, the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga or a game reserve in Limpopo or North West Province, or maybe head for the warmer climes of Durban. As the Covid Delta wave starts receding, now is a good time to catch a breath of fresh South African air.


Wild Weather

Let's start off with a look at the wild weather of the last month and more specifically the last week, when record quantities of snow fell over most of the high lying areas of South Africa, sending temperatures plummeting to new record lows. The Western Cape which laboured heavily under a serious drought just two years ago, now sports a regional dam level figure of 100%.

Other provinces are less fortunate, with the southern part of the Eastern Cape remaining in the grip of a long drought. This includes large sections of interior and the Karoo, Baviaanskloof, Sundays River Valley, Port Elizabeth and even as far as East London. The main storage dam for the citrus producing area of the Gamtoos Valley only has 5.2% water according to the DWAF.

The good snowfalls auger well for snow-melt run-off in Lesotho and into the Katse Dam and ultimately into the Vaal Dam. The weather systems will always remain unpredictable. Many people are suggesting that the current weather is merely a result of global warming and that we had better get used to it.


Bedrogfontein Tour - Trip Report

We seem to have an uncanny knack of planning our tours in good weather windows. There is absolutely no way that we can plan things that well, but it's good to know that we get it right most of the time. Our group of 9 vehicles congregated at the lovely Kronenhoff Manor guest lodge in Kirkwood. A little tip when visiting Addo - The accommodation is very much more affordable in Kirkwood than the town of Addo and its only 25 km further from the park. 

The main building is charming inside and out and oozes comfort and style from a bygone era. The roof structure in particular is fascinating as it has a very steep pitch with triple the number of battens of a conventional slate roof. Our evenings were spent around a fire which added to the perpetually relaxed vibe. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with air-conditioning and widescreen TV's in each room with free Wifi. 

[Read more...]

 

Kronenhoff Manor - Our base for 4 nights on tour / Photo: MPSA

The guest lodge is 4 star rated and we were not only spoiled with a variety of great meals, but it was the exceptional service levels which were so noteworthy. We really can recommend this lodge with confidence and will definitely be returning for our 2022 version of this tour.

Day 1 was slightly different to the inaugural version of this tour. We took a slow drive from Kirkwood to Addo, passing the entrance to the Addo Elephant National Park on the way to Paterson on the R342. We saw many elephant and other game whilst driving along the R342, setting the tone for what would be a really enjoyable tour. 

Weather wise, we had three perfect blue sky, wind free days, with daily temperatures in the mid 20's and chilly nights which dropped to 4C. The key was to dress in layers and peel them off as the day heated up.

We connected with the N10 at Paterson and turned northwards towards the Olifantskop Pass, which has some notoriety in terms of truck and bus accidents. A short distance later near the Bellevue Forest Reserve, we took a smaller tarred road towards the east - destination Alicedale. This road was in a surprisingly excellent condition and offered marvellous views all the way to Alicedale, which we arrived at via a short, but dramatic poort.

Alicedale

Things were happening in Alicedale. Unlike most of the dorpies in the area, there was an air of progress in the village. A squad of Transnet workers were working on the railway line, which looked neat and well maintained. The streets were clean and the little village was a most pleasant surprise. 

We turned left and drove under the railway line onto a good gravel road, heading west all along the course of the Bushman's River. Hunting is big business in this neck of the woods and the roads are lined with tall game fences wherever you go. This type of commercial hunting has rapidly taken over the more traditional sheep farming the region is well known for.

Al Fresco lunch break on the Zuurberg Pass / Photo: Pierre Conradie

 

How to close public roads

We chose our routes carefully having done plenty of research ahead of the tour. Soon we arrived at (one of many) sliding gates, adorned with solar panels, CCTV cameras and electric switches. All of these roads are publicly accessible. Some game farm owners are controlling access so vigorously, that it appears that rightful transit access is actively being discouraged via various methods. At one of such control gate, we rang the intercom and a clear male voice answered: "Hello? Hello?" 

I spoke clearly into the microphone, gave my name and requested permission to transit the property. The owner clearly wasn't keen on having a convoy of 9 vehicles driving through his reserve, so he pretended he couldn't hear me. I repeated the exercise 5 times. This is just one of the ways that partially deproclaimed roads are controlled by land owners. Others hound transiting travellers by driving close behind them in a vehicle, making sure they don't stop or take photographs. This they claim is "for your own safety" We intend following up on this particular one. The equipment was all modern and in good condition - and highly unlikely that I was not heard. We will investigate further and report the results of that here.

At that point we had the task of turning nine vehicles around on narrow a two spoor track flanked by thick thorn bushes. Fortunately we had a good bunch of drivers and soon we were at the intersection with the N10 on the northern side of the Olifantskop Pass, where we turned left (south). The tar section was short, as we then took another gravel road heading west towards Ann's Villa.

Ann's Villa (1846) About to be restored to its former glory / Photo: MPSA

This road was in good condition allowing us to travel at 70 kph, which really helps over the corrugated bits - when for once speed is your friend. We stopped the convoy in the shade, adjacent to Ann's Villa for some photos and a leg stretch. The building which dates back to 1846 is looking its age and is in need of some proper TLC. The owner happened to be on site and we soon learned that he had only just purchased the farm three weeks prior to our visit. His plans are to fully restore the villa to its original standards, as well as the blacksmith's museum. Once refurbished, the villa will once again host travellers as well as play the role of a hunting lodge. It's wonderful that this landmark building will be back on the tourism routes.

Highlight of the day - the Zuurberg Pass

The Zuurberg Pass beckoned as we got our convoy into low range in preparation for the bumpy climb to the summit. The pass is long at 27.5 km and falls under route number R335. This was once the only road into the north from Port Elizabeth.

It was originally constructed by Henry Fancourt White in 1849, but White resigned during the construction phase to take up a post in parliament, leaving the project in the capable hands of the assistant roads engineer, Mr. Matthew Woodifield, whose name appears carved into a rock slab near the southern end of the pass. There are stories about Mr Woodifield's ghost roaming along the road on cold misty nights, supposedly after he fell off his horse. These bits of folklore are regularly retold around the fireside in the lovely old pub at the Zuurberg Mountain Inn and are no doubt nonsense conjured up by bored old men drinking too much whisky! The records show that Mr. Woodifield died of natural causes many years after the supposed 'horse accident'

Inscription in the rock face close to the Zuurberg Mountain Inn / Photo: King Robert

The Zuurberg mountains comprise four high chains running parallel, but separated by deep and rugged kloofs. As you ascend between the kloofs to the mountain summit, cycads  Encephalartos altensteinii (darker green leaves) and the Encephalartos Lehmannii (light grayish leaves), the Aloe pluridens gracefully contrast themselves out against the harsh background of the typical East Cape shrubs,  and red rocks of the conglomeritic Enon Formation.

The original Dutch name Zuurberg (Sour Mountain) has been changed to the more locally acceptable 'Suurberg' through the generations - it is so named after the sour grasses which grow here so plentifully. The average gradient of 1:74 is diluted by a long section along the top of the mountain which is fairly flat. There are, however some steep sections on the southern side which measure in at 1:10. We recommend that this pass be driven in a high clearance vehicle or even better in a 4x4. Normal cars will more than likely get damaged on this road -  especially those with low ground clearance.

We stopped on the pass to enjoy the amazing views and take our lunch break al-fresco. It was an idyllic scene with everyone in short sleeves and enjoying the perfect winter weather. Little did we know that just one week later there would be snow on the higher peaks and bitterly cold weather!

Zuurberg Mountain Inn - a South African success story.

We arrived at the Zuurberg Mountain In at 1430 and were met by the enthusiastic staff, where we were ushered towards a lovely outside area, where refreshments were enjoyed, with never ending views over the mountains with the ocean just visible in the distance.

Some of our guests relaxing at the Zuurberg Mountain Inn /Photo: MPSA

More next week....


Pass of the Week

Lundy's Hill is a major pass located on the tarred R617 trunk route between Howick and Bulwer. It's 21 km long and contains 35 bends, corners and curves, most of which are easy. The altitude variance of 505m converts into an average gradient of 1:41 with the steepest parts measuring in at 1:9. This pass is unkindly referred to a "hill" The link below will take you to the pass page where you can get all the details, directions, fact file, map, video, and tourism information.

* *    L u n d y 's   H i l l  * *

 


"Learn is if you will live forever. Live as if you will die tomorrow." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

 

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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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