We were fortunate in that the roads had been recently scraped leaving us with a smooth drive, but the scraping also meant copious quantities of fine dust meant our convoy had to spread out a fair bit. By the time we reached the turnoff to the Mvubu camp, we were finally on a proper two spoor track and with it came a big reduction in dust levels.
The drive produced plenty of game sightings. There were kudu, steenbok, warthog, ostrich, and meerkat, but the rhino and Cape Buffalo and elephant were keeping a low profile.
All the drivers were doing really well and finally we reached the dry riverbed section. There are four of these sections, each one getting progressively longer and more technical. With that behind us and no casualties, we headed onwards past the fountain and windmill to arrive at the start of the Bedrogfontein Pass.
The road splits away at a fork and immediately begins a steep ascent with several hairpin bends as altitude is rapidly gained. After the neck, there is a long and steep descent, where the road enters the actual kloof where the Battle of Bedrogfontein took place in 1901. To be there, hemmed into the densely treed ravine next to the small stream, allows one's imagination to drift back 120 years where 250 skilled Boer commandos took on 2000 British troops. The result of the battle was no deaths on the Boer side but the English took a severe beating, losing over 700 horses in the ambush and as many soldiers met their fate that day.
We had made good time arriving at the plateau midway up the pass where we took our lunch break in warm, sunny weather at the same spot where Jan Smuts' men camped so long ago.
As we were about to leave, someone noticed one of the Prado's had a flat tyre on the left rear side. On closer inspection it was a sidewall cut of about 25mm length. First prize was to plug the hole and put in a canister of tyre weld, so that the vehicle at least would still have a spare wheel for the rest of the day, but even 4 plugs made no difference. We had spent a fair amount of time and then it was time to do the obvious - put the spare on. With several of the men helping, we got the spare on amidst some grunting and sweating. We were in the fortunate position that if there was another puncture on that vehicle, we had two identical Prado's, so it left us with a safety net at least. As things turned out, there were no further issues.
We stopped at the 852m high summit and surveyed our route up from the east and on the other side of the neck, lay the serpentine and convoluted hairpins that would take us down to the valley. It was bone dry on that side of the pass as we drove onwards to link up with the Darlington Dam Road.
The Darlington Dam (previously known as Lake Mentz), was 100% full in stark contrast to the bone dry surrounding countryside, but this is due to the fact that dam receives water piped in from another source. It was completed in 1922 and only filled by 1928, the delay a result of extensive drought.
The primary objective of building the dam was to provide adequate and perennial supplies of water for large-scale irrigation in a fertile area, particularly by storing and controlling flood waters. By 1917, the Sundays River Irrigation Board was established and took over the project from the government's Irrigation Department.in 1918. The construction experienced many setbacks, including lack of materials and machinery, with shortages caused by the First World War, unsuitable labour (returning soldiers), the 1918 influenza epidemic, bubonic plague, very difficult logistics and drought. The delays in completion caused severe financial difficulties to the irrigation companies and eventually the State had to take over the debts of the irrigators and £2,350,000 had to be written off.
The original dam was designed to store 142 million m3. The high sediment yield of the Sundays River meant that sediment delivery into the reservoir basin quickly reduced its capacity. The dam wall was raised by 1.5 m in 1935 and again by 5.8 m (total capacity 327,628,072 m3) in 1951/52 to cope with the loss of storage volume. The rebuilt dam was opened on the 26th April, 1952, by the then Minister of Land and Irrigation, J. G. Strydom, with work supervised by the Sundays River Irrigation Board, with J. Kevin Murphy as the consulting engineer. By 1979 the reservoir had lost 41.47% of its design capacity, with ~135,870,000 m3 of sediment captured behind the wall.
The impoundment now has a capacity of 187,000,000 cubic metres, with a 35.3 metre high wall.
The serious drought of 1966 and 1967 emphasized the necessity to commence work on the Skoenmakers Canal (capacity: 22 m3/s) to link the Great Fish River to Darlington Dam as soon as possible. In view of an expected increase in irrigation below Darlington Dam and the demand for water in the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area, it was decided to replace the Wellington Grove pumping station with De Mistkraal Weir upstream of Wellington Grove and a short section of connecting canal to the beginning of the Skoenmakers Canal.
The final part of the journey was a lovely drive through the triple Paardepoort sections. We were back at Kronenhoff by 17h00 with time to shower and freshen up for our farewell dinner. Another memorable and successful tour through a beautiful and unspoilt part of South Africa.
The next morning as we were preparing to leave for home, I noticed our Land Cruiser also had a sidewall cut - and also in the LR tyre. The tyre was still at the same pressure as the previous day. A quick visit to the local tyre shop in Kirkwood revealed that the cut was superficial and only through the rubber. The ply layers had not been affected. We drove back to Cape Town (725 km) without incident, keeping a careful eye on the tyre pressure monitors. Cooper Tyres replaced the tyre for us under warranty, with a co-payment for mileage done, of just over R1000. Great service by Cooper Tyres and 1st Alignment centre in Stikland, Bellville.
This tour will be repeated in 2022.
SWARTBERG TOUR (Details)
This tour will start in Swellendam and end in Van Wyksdorp, exploring the vast, rugged beauty of the Swartberg range – one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. The routes we have chosen are generally not difficult, but we can’t take off-road caravans or trailers on this tour. (Please note that no pets are allowed.)
You pay per vehicle, and not per person – so this tour is ideal for families, a group of friends and couples.
- Distance: 750 km.
- Drivers’ Briefing, VHF Radio Fitment & Welcoming Party: 18h00 on Sunday, 10th October 2021 in Buffelsjagrivier, near Swellendam.
- Start: Buffelsjagrivier – 08h30: Monday, 11th October, 2021
- Closing Function & Prize-giving: Rooiberg Lodge, 18h00 Thursday, 14th October, 2021
- End of Tour/Departure: 09h00 – Friday, 15th October, 2021
All vehicles will be supplied with FM marine-quality two-way radios so we can all communicate. (This is included in the tour price.)
Sunday 10th October: The group meets up at the Rotterdam Boutique Hotel in Buffelsjagrivier, near Swellendam after 1600 where we fit your two way radio and magnetic aerial, deflate tyres for gravel travel and have our meet & greet session where the finer details of the tour will be explained, indemnity forms signed, distribution of personal folders with notes, convoy driving order sheets, name tags and maps as well as a Q&A session. We enjoy a hearty dinner and a good night’s rest in preparation for the next day.
Monday 11th October: 08h30 After breakfast we run a radio check to ensure everyone has comms and then we take to the road. Our route heads east past Buffelsjagsrivier where we will stop at the famous Sugar bridge. From there we head to the mission village of Suurbraak. Shortly after the village the tar gives way to gravel and we travel over a series of wonderfully scenic passes.
The passes are marked (G) for gravel and (T) for tar:
Moodies Pass (G)
Boosmansbos Pass (G)
Doringkraal Pass (G)
Seekoeigat Pass (G)
Wadrift Pass (G)
Gysmanshoek Pass (G)
Brandrivier Pass (G)
Ladismith (Refuelling point & rest rooms)
Hoekoe Valley / Stanley’s Light (G)
Visit the historic church at Zoar/Amalienstein
Seweweekspoort (G) with a lunch break at the lovely Tierkloof Dam
Bosluiskloof Pass (G)
Overnight at Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge. (Dinner, bed and breakfast) The lodge is inside a game reserve, so you can take a walk or possibly a drive down to the Gamkapoort Dam. There is a swimming pool and beautiful deck area at the main lodge, where kudu are often seen grazing close by.
Tuesday 12th October: Depart 0830 after breakfast. Our routing will be:
Bosluiskloof Pass (G) (ascending)
Seweweekspoort (G) (descending)
Huisrivier Pass (T)
Calitzdorp (Rest rooms & Refuelling option for vehicles with short fuel ranges)
Huis se Hoogte Pass (G)
Doringkloof Pass (G)
Rust en Vrede Pass (G)
Oude Muragie Road (G)
De Rust (Refuelling point and rest rooms)
Meiringspoort (T) (Stop at waterfall)
Kleinvlei Pass (G)
Kredouw Pass (T)
Prince Albert – our overnight stop will be at the Karoo Country Cottages. (Dinner, bed and breakfast)
Wednesday 13th October: Depart 0830 after breakfast. Routing for the day:
Witkrantzpoort (T) (Repeat)
Swartberg Pass (G) Northern section ascending
Gamkaskloof (G) (Westbound)
Elands Pass (G) Descending
Die Hel – Light Lunch at Plaasfontein (with Annatjie Joubert, the last remaining Klower)
Elands Pass (G) Ascending
Gamkaskloof (G) (Eastbound)
Swartberg Pass (G) Northern section descending
Our overnight stop will be at the lovely Swartberg Country Manor (Dinner, bed and breakfast). It is located on the southern foothills of the Swartberg range, near the bottom of the pass.
Thursday 14th October: Depart 08h30
We remain on gravel as we head towards the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve via the following passes:
Doringkloof Pass (G) repeat
Huis se Hoogte (G) repeat
Coetzee’s Poort (G)
Gamkasberg Nature Reserve
Lawson’s Pass (G)
Kleinfontein Pass (G)
Uitspan Pass (G)
Assegaaibosch Pass (G)
Our final overnight stay is at the fabulous Rooiberg Lodge (Dinner, bed & breakfast), where we will celebrate the end of the tour in style. The cuisine at Rooiberg is legendary. Arrive hungry!
Friday 15th October: Depart for home any time after breakfast, but not later than 10h00.
Our lunch breaks are held wherever we can find a nice spot to stop (usually somewhere shady and scenic). Lunches are light and we suggest packing easy to travel foods like crackers, cheese wedges, dried and fresh fruit and a flask of tea or coffee in the car is great to have with on these tours.
We have a zero alcohol policy during the day whilst driving.
The price of the tour at R7950 includes guiding, pamphlets, maps, name tags, radio hire, standard recovery costs, administration and documentation.
Recovery costs do not include mechanical breakdown, lowbed recovery, but does include towing out of a difficult situation or kinetic recoveries, and assistance with punctures.
MPSA arranges every last detail. We send you a packing list of what you need well before the tour. All you have to do is arrive with your ‘padkos’ and snacks and enjoy the tour.
MPSA will invoice you for your accommodation/meals about 3 week’s ahead of the tour, so you only have one payment to make.
• Work on R1200 per person, per day for accommodation and two meals. All the accommodation is 4 star rated or higher.
Price: R7950 per vehicle. (Price includes VHF radio hire)
CAPE TALK PODCAST: Click to listen
PASS OF THE WEEK
Our featured pass this week is the Bedrogfontein Pass. This is a major route packed with history. There are 14 x 5 min videos, so give yourself an hour to enjoy the whole journey.
New videos added this week:
Ping Pong Cuttings - The oddly named Ping Pong Cutting runs on the north-south axis through the foothills of the Drakensberg along the beautiful Lotheni River valley, some 40 km north-east of the small town of Himeville. Video footage by Murray Cubitt.
Schimper's Nek - This substantial pass of 7,3 km is located to the west of Umzimkulu in KZN. It's a mix of gravel and tar, with the major portion being tar. The pass descends a total of 238 vertical metres producing an average gradient of 1:26. Video footage by Murray Cubitt.
Winston Churchill loved paraprosdokians (a figure of speech where the latter part of a phrase is surprising or unexpected.)
" Where there's a will, I want to be in it"