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Latest News! 9th December, 2021

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The road to Die Hel The road to Die Hel - Photo: MPSA

The week that was...

* Wild Coast Tour (Prologue)

* Two new Wild Coast Tours

* Swartberg Tour (Teeberg to Die Hel)

* Pass of the Week


WILD COAST TOUR V3

The V3 designation is that this was the 3rd version. Each year we review every aspect of the tour and we always listen to comments from our guests. We then formalise that feedback in the form of a short survey and give all the venues our honest and transparent feedback. It's important to remember that almost all the venues along the Wild Coast are very old establishments - mainly they are family owned busineses - and all of them got whacked really hard these past two years with very little income. As a result maintenance in some of them was below par, but as we said at the opening drivers briefing: "Don't sweat the small stuff"

Having a formal review system is an excellent means to gather valuable information where we can ask the relevant hotels to pay attention to specific items. Our aim is to uplift and support them, rather than go somewhere else.

This tour was the longest tour we have undertaken to date. Borne from that, we had some fresh ideas about the Wild Coast and how MPSA could better meet the needs of it's clients. Considering the popularity of the Wild Coast Tours, we came up with the concept of offering four Wild Coast Tours each year (two in May and two in November). By halving the distances travelled and doubling the leisure days, we have come up with a unique set of tours which will offer a number of excellent solutions. 

As a taster, here are the basic itineraries:

Wild Coast Tour V4 (Pondoland) - 6th to 15th May:

This new tour will start in Matatiele and end in Coffee Bay, exploring the vast, rugged beauty of the untouched, pristine Wild Coast which is still as magnificent as it was 150 years ago.

We will be spending 2 to 3 nights at most of the overnight stops, allowing for a leisurely pace, with opt-out options for the ladies at some of the venues – like spa treatments, or just a relaxing lazy day on the beach.

  • Friday 6th May – Meet & Greet in Matatiele – overnight at Resthaven Guest House
  • Saturday 7th May – Matatiele – Visit Mountain Lake and the Mariazell Mission. Overnight at Resthaven.
  • Sunday 8th May – Matatiele to Mbotyi via the Mzintlava Pass. Overnight at the Mbotyi River Lodge.
  • Monday 9th May – Mbotyi to Luphathana – After a 2 hour 4x4 drive, we walk to the stunning Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock. Overnight at Mbotyi River Lodge. For the not so fit, there are several other activities available at the lodge. Fishing, walking, swimming (beach, lagoon or pool)
  • Tuesday 10th May – Mbotyi to Port St Johns. We will visit Fraser Falls, Angel Falls, Magwa Falls, Magwa Tea Plantation, Port St Johns, Silaka Nature Reserve, the WW2 airstrip on top of Mount Thesiger. Overnight at Mngazi River Bungalows.
  • Wednesday 11th May – Excursion to The Gap, Execution Rock, and the Mlengana Pass. Afternoon at leisure and overnight at Mngazi River Bungalows.
  • Thursday 12th May – Drive to Coffee Bay via Mpande, Mthonga, Mnenu, Mdumbi and Mthatha River Passes. This is a big day full of amazing sights and lots of technical driving. Overnight Ocean View Hotel in Coffee Bay.
  • Friday 13th May – Tour of Hole in the Wall, Mapuzi, Whale Hill, lunch at White Clay Restaurant. Overnight at Ocean View Hotel.
  • Saturday 14th May – Kayaking on the Mthatha River or a Grade 3 4×4 drive through a local forest. Final night Chappies Awards. Overnight at Ocean View Hotel.
  • Sunday 15th May: Depart for home after breakfast
  • If you want to remain on the tour to continue on the V5 Mbashe section making it a back to back journey of 17 days, please book separately for that tour. You will qualify for R1000 rebate on the total package, which we will credit on your accommodation invoice.

[Read more...]

The new Wild Coast V5 Mbashe Tour will start in Coffee Bay and end in Morgan Bay. 

  • Monday 16th May – Meet & Greet in Coffee Bay – overnight at Ocean View Hotel
  • Tuesday 17th May – Hole in the Wall, Mapuzi, Whale Hill, lunch at White Clay Restaurant. Overnight at Ocean View Hotel.
  • Wednesday 18th May – Forest 4x4 Route at Hole in the Wall or Kayaking adventure on the Umtata River. Overnight at Ocean View Hotel.
  • Thursday 19th May – Coffee Bay to The Haven via some of the best unchartered gravel passes. Overnight at The Haven.
  • Friday 20th May – Cwebe Nature Reserve 4x4 – Breezy Point – Overnight at The Haven
  • Saturday 21st May – The Haven - Rest day.
  • Sunday 22nd May – The Haven to Kob Inn via four major river crossings. A day of adventure. O vernight at Kob Inn.
  • Monday 23rd May – Collywobbles vulture viewing. Overnight at Kob Inn.
  • Tuesday 24th May – Kob Inn to Morgan Bay.
  • Wednesday 25th May - Depart for home after breakfast.

To book your spot, here are the hyperlinks:


SWARTBERG CLASSIC TOUR (The road to Die Hel)

It's officially called the Otto du Plessis Road, but most people call it either the Gamkaskloof Road or the Road to Die Hel.

Day 3 - The road to Die Hel

This is the road to Hell according to Chris Rea

Drive up the magnificent Thomas Bain built Swartberg Pass from either Prince Albert in the north or via Oudtshoorn in the south. In the middle plateau section of the pass, about halfway between the summit and the Teeberg view site, a narrow gravel road heads off into the west along a long valley. The signboard reads: "GAMKASKLOOF / DIE HEL 37 km = 2 hours"

This is the Swartberg - one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Scientists have calculated that it was originally more then 7000m high, but erosion has worn it down to the current height. This drive, together with the Swartberg Pass will provide the finest views of the geology, flora and fauna.

This is the eastern start of the Gamkaskloof. The route is a dead end, so allow five hours to complete the journey there and back as the road is sub-standard, slow and convoluted. It is possible to complete the trip in a normal sedan vehicle but a "bakkie" or SUV is a much safer option.

This 37 km stretch of gravel road has been the undoing of many motorcycle riders and motorists. Many turn back, unable to deal with the never ending switchbacks that sap energy and concentration levels, but for those that persevere, the most glorious prize awaits at the end of the road - an oasis of tranquillity and nature that you will never forget. But more of that later.

 We turned west from the Teeberg Plateau on the road marked "Gamkaskloof" or officially the Otto du Plessis Road. This has to be one of the most iconic gravel roads in South Africa, holding almost pilgrimage status to gravel-road devotees. It winds through 37km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass, and terminates in the Gamkaskloof - reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).

One of the 9 passes on the Gamkaskloof Road/ Photo: Marius Krijt

Some of our 4x2 drivers were a little nervous and to be fair the first 8 km can be quite intimidating as the road surface is quite rough. Frequent stops resolved the problem of the convoy stretching out too far.

There are nine passes along this road (all unnamed) plus the Elands Pass that takes one down to the Gamkaskloof Valley, which make up the composition of this route. It is both magnificent and tiring all in one. The best way to deal with this road is to stop often. Take photos, breathe in the fresh mountain air and savour the magnificent landscape that envelopes you completely.

It takes just under two hours excluding stops to reach the summit of the Elands Pass.

The best pass of the tour was without question the Elands Pass. You can look at photos and watch videos, but actually driving or riding down this pass is an otherworldly experience. We arrived at the summit at noon in blazingly hot sunshine and no wind whatsoever. For once our guests were silent as they gazed down at the spectacle of the narrow road zig-zagging its way to the bottom of the valley. The moment of truth had arrived. Acrophobia is a very real thing if you suffer from it and we had a few guests who were looking downright uncomfortable, but there was no turning back.

Elands Pass / Photo: MPSA

The Elands Pass is the final descent down into the long, low altitude valley called Gamkaskloof, but more commonly known as "Die Hel". This pass descends a total of 477m over a distance of 4,7 km producing a very stiff average gradient of just under 1:10. You will have to deal with five very tight hairpin bends, and 49 other bends, corners and curves of varying degrees, but it is the very steep, unguarded drop-offs that tend be unnerving for many drivers and passengers. The design of the pass is actually very good and there is no point where the gradient exceeds 1:7.

This pass, although fairly short ranks right up with the biggest and best passes in South Africa. This is a bucket list pass and one that every adventurous traveller should do.

From the start which is also the summit point at 1050m ASL, the road begins descending for the next 1,2 km towards the main kloof at a gradient of 1:14. This section is straight-forward and contains no corners and the road surface is generally quite good. As progress is made towards the west, the gradient begins getting steeper.

On our way down into Die Hel / Photo: MPSA Tour group

As altitude is lost, one gets the first glimpses of Die Hel as a tiny wisp of greenery very far below in the valley. When you get to the 1,3 km mark, the road drops down into a tight S bend to the left. You need to drop your speed right down to 20 kph for this bend. As the S-curve is exited via the second left hand bend, you will get an amazing view of Die Hel.

Before you get out of your vehicle to take your award winning photographs, switch your vehicle’s engine off and leave it in 1st gear, making double sure that the handbrake is fully engaged. It might sound ridiculous, but many accidents have happened at view sites like this, due to carelessness and over-eagerness.

The road can be seen dropping down to the miniature looking buildings in the valley, via multiple switchbacks. It is a breath-taking sight. There’s nowhere to stop, but due to the low traffic volumes, no-one will mind if you block the road for a few minutes. The views stretch away into the west where the entire valley is visible well past the Gamkapoort.

[Next week: Die Hel and its wonderfully hospitable people]


PODCAST:

A chat about Day 3 of the Swartberg Tour from Prince Albert to Die Hel. Click to listen.


PASS OF THE WEEK

Enjoy this fabulous pass via our video set.


* *   E L A N D S   P A S S   * *



Trygve Roberts
Editor

Funny Dictionary: GLIBIDO - "All talk and no action"

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