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Latest News! 23rd December, 2021

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Mbotyi  sunrise Mbotyi sunrise - Photo: MPSA

The week that was...

* Season's Greetings

* New Tours

* Wild Coast V3 Tour (Day 2)

* Swartberg Classic Tour (Day 3)

* Pass of the Week.


Season's Greetings

On behalf of the Mountain Passes South Africa we wish you and your family everything of the very best for a joyous festive season and may 2022 bring you good health, happiness and enough prosperity to make life easy. The past year was not an easy one for most of us, with Covid being the main culprit, but we are strong and resourceful. Our plans for 2022 are forging ahead with pass production (there is still a long way to go) and to offer our favourite tours like Ben 10, Wild Coast, Swartberg, Bedrogfontein, Baviaanskloof and one or two new tours to add some spice to the menu - and as Simon and Garfunkel said: "Keep the customer satisfied!"

Be careful on your journeys. This is the silly season and people will not only be silly; they will be downright stupid too. Stay sharp!


Tours added for the first half of 2022

We have carefully evaluated the time frames available and how best to fit into the Omicron puzzle without exposing ourselves or our clients to the virus and have just opened bookings for the newest Ben 10 V5 Tour. This time around it will be a little different - with the Rhodes Hotel having reopened for business in 2021, we will be basing ourselves there for the last 2 days of the tour, which will drastically reduce some of the tedious travelling and allow more "feet up" time. Sales for the ever popular Ben 10 got off to a roaring start yesterday. Are you ready for some adventure? Swiftly flowing rivers, waterfalls, mud, spectacular scenery and miles of smiles? Take the link below and book your spot. Earn the badge!

BEN 10 TOUR V5  (4th to 9th March, 2022)

There are only 2 places left on both the Wild Coast Tours scheduled for May 2022. You can read the full itinerary and do online booking via the links below:

WILD COAST TOUR V4 - PONDOLAND (6th to 15th May, 2022)

WILD COAST TOUR V5 - MBASHE (16th to 25th May, 2022)


Wild Coast V3 Tour Day 2

We all left Resthaven a little heavier thanks to Elrita's delicious cooking and bade our farewells to Philip and Elrita Rawlins as we headed east on the tarred R56 towards Kokstad. The first little town on our route was Cedarville - a proper little South African die-cast farming dorpie - where we turned right onto gravel and blissfully away from the impatient traffic on the R56.

This part of the route is special in many ways. The high altitude traverse is mainly hilly grasslands flanked by tall mountains and keeping just west of the Mzimvubu River. The first pass of the day was the Nungi Pass. It's named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile. It received a major rebuild two years ago and is now a wide road, but it is steep in places and it must be a nightmare in a 4x2 and especially front wheel drive vehicles during or after rain.

[Read more...]

Wide views from the Nungi Pass over the valleys and hills / Photo: MPSA

The ascent is relentless and finally the road pops over a neck at 1811m ASL revealing magnificent views over the several villages in the valley below, the main one being Mvenyane. For the next few kilometres its slow going as the route traverses a number of villages, eventually topping out at Colonanek Pass, which is a small but scenic pass. Here one gets an intimate feeling for the true nature of the area, its people and their way of life. Most of the villages are neat and clean, but the bigger towns are a different story altogether.

After Colonanek the road splits, where our route dropped down a long unnamed pass where we crossed the Umzimvubu River. There were roadworks along this section where the grader had created a mound in the middle of the road, forcing us to cross it onto the wrong side of the road and that was the exact spot where we had our first sidewall cut. Soon the guys in the rear end of the convoy were giving Derek van Eeden a hand with his Land Rover Discovery. Getting the spare wheel out is quite a rigmarole involving unpacking most of the luggage and getting down and dirty. It took about 45 minutes to change the wheel and we were back on the road again. The question was - where would Derek find another tyre of the same size and brand in this neck of the woods?

The first puncture of the tour - a sidewall cut. / Photo: MPSA

We were fortunate to find a spot on a hill with good signal and soon Derick found the exact tyre in Kokstad. So the plan was that when we intersected with the N2, Derick would break convoy and head for Kokstad and meet up with us that evening at Mbotyi.

We bade farewell to the Van Eedens at the Tabankulu turnoff and headed along the very scenic route to this important local trading post. Tabankulu is the real heart of Africa. It's a mish-mash of crooked, home painted signs, a few big hardware stores, lots of taxis, roadside vendors, black pigs, chickens, donkeys and goats wandering about the traffic in the main road. We all made it through unscathed at the southern end of town and took the gravel option towards the highlight of the day - the Mzintlava Pass.

It is long, steep, rough and peppered with 301 bends, corners and curves of which 7 are hairpins and another 29 exceed 90 degrees radius. It achieves top 10 status in two categories as the 5th longest pass and the 7th biggest altitude gaining pass in South Africa. It's named after the Mtzintlava River, which is one of the main tributaries of the Umzimvubu River with which it forms a confluence about 15 km to the south west of the pass.

One of the hundreds of inspiring views on the Mzintlava Pass / Photo: MPSA

It connects Tabankulu with the R61 (between Flagstaff and Lusikisiki) and provides access to dozens of rural villages along the way and includes a crossing of the powerful Mzintlava River, now famous for its Mamlambo creature (or brain sucker as it became known).

Along the first section of the pass, the road follows the contour line of the main mountain offering mystic views of clifftop villages, deep gorges and sheer cliffs. We also spotted a pair of vultures there. The views soon close off as the road remains on the contour line but plunges into an indigenous forest. We pulled off onto the left hand side of the road for our lunch break as the various bakkies, taxis and trucks all came rumbling past, each one with smiles, waves and hooters blaring. The friendliness of the Xhosa people is heart-warming and humbling. The schoolchildren especially break out in cheers and songs as they pass by.

The pass is long and it takes a fair amount of time to reach the actual Mzintlava Valley, where one is greeted with a tall waterfall; thick green forests that tumble down the mountainside to meet the brown ribbon of the Mzintlava River at the bottom. It's difficult to describe the grandeur of the views.

Once over the bridge, it was a steep and extended climb up the far side of the valley with yet more amazing views, until we reached Lusikisiki.

Some of our convoy crossing the Mzintlava River Bridge / Photo: MPSA

We had prepared our group well for what lay ahead and how important it was to stay alert as we worked our way through this bustling town. Storm clouds had moved in and it was a wet approach into Lusikisiki with its multitude of hazards. Thanks to our radios we were able to keep everyone on the correct route and down the steep concrete pass to our second overnight spot - Mbotyi River Lodge.

The clouds had cleared up leaving us with a lovely afternoon as we settled into our accommodation. The swimmers wasted no time and were quick to get into the ocean and lagoon which is directly next to the lodge. Later Derick and Nonnie arrived with stories about Flagstaff, which apparently made Lusikisiki look like a kindergarten!

Drone shot of Mbotyi River Lodge by Derick van Eeden

Back up to full strength, it was a festive dinner served up in the restaurant overlooking the lagoon and the sea. Just about perfect.

Next week: Angel Falls, Luphathana, Waterfall Bluff & Port Grosvenor


The Swartberg Classic Tour - The journey continues

We reluctantly left the lush gardens of Fonteinplaas behind and bade our farewells to the Jouberts as we got our convoy on the move. The climb up Elands Pass is probably easier than the descent, but it's still a challenging drive requiring full attention.

Halfway up the pass we spotted a vehicle descending the pass. We asked the driver to park off on the next hairpin bend, which he kindly agreed to do, to allow our convoy to get past safely. Somehow the return leg seems to go quicker and it wasn't too long and we were back on the Swartberg Pass.

The approach to the summit point with the simple name of "Die Top" is an easier section of the pass. After passing the Swartberg Nature Conservation buildings tucked into the lee of the summit ridge, the road ascends the last 2 kms via a double set of hairpin bends. Impressive, but not in the league of the hairpins in Mullerskloof.

Just before the actual summit is reached, there's a layby on the left big enough for a few vehicles. This is a much better spot than the summit point, which is often overcrowded with tourists and it is more often than not unpleasantly windy there.

The sign 'Die Top" is today a mish-mash of hundreds of stickers and no longer legible. I cringe at the sight of that.

The summit point is 1575m and offers particularly good views towards the south. Just a little further on the southern descent there are two much better view-sites that offer better views in less wind.

Just over 2,3 km of continuous dry-stone walls in this photo / Photo: MPSA

 

Our campaign to clean up SA's road signs is going very well, but this particular sign will be a big job to clean - and then to find a decent weather window when its not blowing a gale. Our convoy went past the summit and stopped at the two lower view-points, where we split our group into two to avoid congestion.

The final round of excitement awaited as we commenced the southern descent of the Swartberg Pass. There are a number of good view-points along this section, of which the highest two are the best - and our favourite is Skelmdraai, perhaps because our sign board is erected there!

Because of the size of our convoy, we asked the rear 5 vehicles to stop at the top view-site, whilst the front group proceeded on to Skelmdraai.

The views over the Klein Karoo valleys and mountains are superb and cover an arc of 180 degrees - too big for most cameras, but the human eye can take it all in comfortably.

View south from the upper view-site / Photo: Bettieblogsaus

There is one section of dry stone walling on the descent which lasts for a continuous 2.3 km. There are four view/picnic sites on the southern ascent. If you are planning a picnic, the lowest site might be the most pleasant, as there is nearly always strong wind and cooler temperatures near the summit. The descent lasts for 10,3 km and should take about 20 minutes to drive excluding stops.

At the 18 km mark, there is a substantial ruin on the left hand side of the road (north), followed by a big picnic and view site. This is the last view site along the descent, if you intend taking a break. There are another four hairpins coming up, which commence at a ruin called Stalletjie, followed in quick succession by Witdraai. These start at the 20,4 km mark.

Eventually the gravel gives way to tar and within 2 km a venue called Cobus se gat appears on the right. This is a good spot to get some food and a drink, make use of the toilet facilities and reinflate your vehicle's tyres.

We turned right and continued westwards to our overnight stay - Swartberg Country Manor.

Entrance to Swartberg Country Manor


We arrived at the Swartberg Country Manor at 17.00 to a very professional and warm reception which included chilled fruit juice. The venue is part of a working farm and our arrival coincided with the lambing season.

All the guests were eager to share their war-stories during happy hour and it would be fair to say things were getting a bit loud, to the point that no-one noticed that one of our guests, had locked herself inside the toilet and couldn't get out. It took a fair amount of time before her husband pricked his ears up and went looking for her. Never a dull moment on tour!

One of the suites at Swartberg Country Manor / Photo: MPSA

The Patat Restaurant served a wholesome spread of delicious food as our group tucked in. A motorcycle group, headed up by the larger than life character, Andy Biram, shared some of their joys and pains as they had ridden most of the same route that day. A really nice bunch of guys.

That night a very strong wind howled in from the west, keeping some of us from sleep.


Pass of the Week

Our featured pass this week is the Nungi Pass. The Nungi Pass is named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile.

* *   N U N G I   P A S S   * *

 

Trygve Roberts
Editor

New English: INNOCULATTE - To take coffee intravenously when youre running late.

 

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