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Latest News! 16th December, 2021

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Mariazell Mission Church Mariazell Mission Church - Photo: Mandy Francis

The week that was...

* Dingaan's Day

* Tour bookings open for 2022

* Wild Coast V3 Tour - Day 1

* Swartberg Classic Tour - Teeberg to Elands Pass

* Pass of the week


Dingaan's Day

I was born on this day 72 years ago and amongst the many nicknames I endured as a kid (thanks to my unpronounceable Norwegian first name) was Dingaan or Dingane. Those were the days where the public holiday was known as 'Day of the Vow' or more colloquially 'Dingaan's Day'.

The Battle of Blood River (16 December 1838) was fought on the banks of the Ncome River, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, between 464 Voortrekkers, led by Andries Pretorius, and an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Zulu. Estimations of casualties amounted to over 3,000 of King Dingane's soldiers dead, including two Zulu princes competing with Prince Mpande for the Zulu throne. Three Voortrekker commando members were lightly wounded, including Pretorius.

The year 1838 was the most difficult period for the Voortrekkers since they left the Cape Colony, till the end of the Great Trek. They faced many difficulties and much bloodshed before they found freedom and a safe homeland in their Republic of Natalia. This was only achieved after defeating the Zulu Kingdom, namely the Battle of Blood River, which took place on Sunday 16 December 1838. This battle would not have taken place if the Zulu King honoured the agreement that he made with the Voortrekkers to live together peacefully. The Zulu king knew that they outnumbered the Voortrekkers and decided to overthrow them and that lead to the Battle of Blood River.

The story is unimaginably frightening on both sides of the fence and despite efforts at changing the name to Day of Reconciliation, the history remains indelibly etched into our minds.


Tour Bookings

Despite the latest wave of Covid (Omicron), bookings for our two Wild Coast Tours have been brisk. These waves generally last 60 to 75 days, so will have safely passed by the time the tours are scheduled to take place. We have 2 places available on the Pondoland V4 Tour and 3 places on the Mbashe V5 Tour. Come and join us for ultimate Wild Coast adventure tour which is a mix of excitement, fun, relaxation, amazing scenery, waterfalls, mountains, forests, valleys and exquisite beaches - all topped off with good accommodation and quality meals. You'll return home revived and ready to face the world again.

WILD COAST TOUR V4 PONDOLAND

WILD COAST TOUR V5 MBASHE


Wild Coast V3 Tour - Part 1

Resthaven Guest House in Matatiele was once again selected as our starting point for a number of reasons. (a) It allows immediate access to four wonderful gravel passes on the way to the first coastal overnight venue at Mbotyi. (b) It provides the perfect opportunity to visit the Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve, Mariazell Mission and Mountain Lake and (c) It's run by Philip and Elrita Rawlins who together provide excellent accommodation and sublime home cooked meals. Of all the venues our guests rated on this tour Resthaven came up with the overall best score. Now you know!

[Read more...]

All the guests arrived on time and by 18h00 on Wednesday 10th November, the driver's briefing and welcoming function took place. With two Land Rover Discovery 4x4's and one Defender in our group, we had the problem that our magnetic radio aerials would not adhere to the aluminium bodywork. Those vehicles had to drive with their aerials inside their vehicles, which caused a range reduction from time to time. The trend is increasing, so we are busy exploring alternative means of dealing with the issue.

Our group comprised of the following vehicles:

Alan & Paula Butler - Land Rover Defender (New)
Errol & Rachel du Preez - Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series
Theo Hammond & Charon Vorgers - Ford Ranger Wildtrack
Paul & Dalene Henry - Toyota Hilux DC
Johan & Juanita Jansen - Toyota Land Cruiser 76 series
Bernhard & Inge Klodwig - Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
Sam Alim & Bridgitte Maldener - Toyota Prado
Jerome & Alison O'Regan - Land Rover Discovery
Franc & Anna-Marie Retief - Toyota Prado
Derick & Nonnie van Eeden - Land Rover Discovery
Iaan & Betty van Heerden - VW Touareg
Rupert & Lizzie Worsdale - Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series
Trygve & Charon Roberts (Guides) - Toyota Land Cruiser 105 series

After a delicious meal conjured up by Elrita, most guests retired early after a long day on the road.

Thursday 11th November
A perfect fair weather day dawned over Sweet Matat as our group gathered for breakfast and then the first full radio comms check of the tour. Philip Rawlins is a very knowledgeable person when it comes to Matatiele and Lesotho. He rode up front with me in the Cruiser and kept our guests informed with hundreds of snippets of local information covering a wide range of topics. 

Our first point of interest for the day was the 4x4 route up to Mountain Lake just behind the town. depending on recent rainfall, the road can be quite challenging and it's an immediate tone setter for the less experienced off-road drivers to get to grips with what is still to follow in the days ahead. A big chunk of altitude is gained (501m) over a very short distance as the track winds up the mountainside revealing wide views over the wetlands, the town and the looming bulk of the Drakensberg in the distance.

Soon we were at Mountain Lake. It's an impressive body of water and is one of only a handful of natural lakes in South Africa. The water is exceptionally clear and clean spanning an area of 1600m x 600m and about 6m deep. The lake is fed by a number of mountain top springs and remains at a constant level. The fishing is very good and at 2028m ASL it makes this the highest altitude natural lake in South Africa.

Amongst our guests we had a number of swimmers and before you could say Jack Robinson, there were several of them diving into the blue waters of the lake. It was a fine start to the tour as the weather remained close to perfect.

Mountain Lake, Matatiele / Photo: MPSA

After slowly working our way back to the guest house for tea and scones, we got the convoy back together for the next part of the day - the drive to Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve. The 35 km long drive is along a dodgy road with corrugations and other hazards - another tone setter for those accustomed to only driving on tar roads. The positive side is that the road skirts a vast wetland where birding is good. Philip could see birds the rest of us couldn't and pointed them out to the group as we headed east towards the Mariazell Mission. There were crested cranes, long tailed widow birds, secretary birds, jackal buzzards and more.

Our contact at Mariazell was ready and waiting for us and took us for an extensive tour of the facilities, which included the church interior and a walk up to the bell tower, where we could get up close and personal to watch the mechanical workings of the 130 year old original Austrian clock that operates on weights and pulleys with lots of grease.

The 130 year old clock at Mariazell still keeps time / Photo: Trygve Roberts

A short drive got us to the coffer dam with its weir and canal which leads to the hydro-electric plant, where we were taken into the below ground turbines, which produces more than enough electrical power for the whole mission. The visit included a tour of the old blacksmiths shop and the grain storage facility. 

We then visited the cross on the hill and the caves and shrines below it. The views over the mission are magnificent and the location is right in the shadow of the Drakensberg, with Ongeluksnek Pass just visible to the west.

Back at Resthaven, Elrita had prepared roast lamb for us - which was heavenly. The food is very good at Resthaven. And so ended the first day of the tour with guests visibly looking more relaxed than 24 hours earlier. The mountains were already working their magic!

Next week: Matatiele to Mbotyi

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Swartberg Tour - Day 3 (Teeberg to Die Hel)

The great fire of Dec 2020 raged through the kloof from east to west, trapping the Mostert family at their farmstead. As the fire grew closer, the last true klower, Annatjie Joubert, called her son Piet off the thatched roof of their restaurant/shop where he was watering it down with a hose. The family knelt on the lawn, held hands and prayed. They were completely trapped. Then miraculously the wind suddenly changed direction and the fire moved away from them. They lost a number of their guest cottages as well as their entire campsite.

Annatjie Joubert (far left). Piet and Marinette Joubert are on the far right

It's been a trying time for the family. A drought, Covid and the fire. The three factors combined caused an almost total collapse of tourism to Die Hel. Farmers are tough, resilient people. The rebuilding of structures has commenced and slowly the "new" Fonteinplaas is rising from the ashes. Thousands upon thousands of blackened and burnt trees stand forlornly without leaves or thorns. The animals have left as there is no food for them, but there are small green buds shooting up here and there after the rains and the valley will return to normal, but it will take a few years.

Satellite view of Elands Pass' switchbacks

A few sign-boards are passed as the road loses the last bit of altitude via an easy S-bend. The road plunges into thicker bush and suddenly after clearing a small dip, the stone entrance gates of the rest camp at Die Hel appear directly ahead.

A small dun coloured traditional farm-house is located right next to the road, which is one of several cottages in the kloof, which have been carefully restored. Nearly all the cottages run on solar power and gas and all have fire places for those chilly winter nights.

The game ranger’s house is off to the left, should you require assistance with anything. It is important to book accommodation and camp sites in advance through Cape Nature. The campsites are attractively laid out in the riverine bush and provide good shade and spotless ablutions. All of the cottages and campsites are named after the original klowers.

A few sign-boards are passed as the road loses the last bit of altitude via an easy S-bend. The road plunges into thicker bush and suddenly after clearing a small dip, the stone entrance gates of the rest camp at Die Hel appear directly ahead.

iOld oxwagon at Fonteinplaas / Photo: MPSA

This is only the start of the valley. There are more accommodation options further to the west with the likes of Fonteinplaas after another 5,5 km and the last farm in the west also offering cottages is known as Boplaas, which is 8km further west after crossing the Gamka River.

Do go and visit the Mosterts. They are kind, generous and hard working. Buy their produce from their shop. Enjoy a meal. Have a drink. And give Koejawel (the red border collie a pat).

We enjoyed a lunch in the shade of the trees outside, beautifully prepared by Marinette. Her husband Piet (he's the guy with the long red beard) showed me the progress they are making with their boutique gin project. When that is ready to produce, it will surely attract lots of tourism into the valley. Good times!

L to R: David & Liesel Fowler, Charles Hopkins at Fonteinplaas, Die Hel. / Photo: MPSA

 

Next week: Die Hel to Swartberg Country Manor


Pass of the Week

We are featuring this pass this week to dovetail with our Wild Coast story around Matatiele. The pass and nature reserve has been closed for a long time, thanks to Covid and we sincerely hope that this challenging pass will once again be opened to the public as it is a real gem. You can take the link below and enjoy our video series in the meantime to keep the flames alive.

O N G E L U K S N E K   P A S S


Humour: What would have happened in 1963, had Khrushchev and not Kennedy been assassinated? With history one can never be certain but I can safely say that Aristotle Onassis would not have married Mrs. Khrishchev ~ Gore Vidal

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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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