Both the Jan Muller and Uitspan passes cross the Gouritz by means of low level causeways. In times of flood, these crossings are extremely dangerous. If there's a strong current running, it's better to retreat and use an alternative route. The crossings are wide and one wrong move and your vehicle could be washed off the causeway with disastrous consequences. We have seen the river bone dry as well as a raging torrent of brown water covering the causeway by more than 3m deep.
The Uitspan Pass is both a pass (at its western side) and a beautiful poort on its eastern side. It's 7.2 km long and contains 53 bends, corners and curves, many of which are extremely sharp, including 3 full hairpin bends. Although the average gradient is a mild 1:100, there are a few sections that get as steep as 1:6.
The pass can be driven in any high clearance vehicle in fair weather.
At this stage of the tour there was just one pass remaining before we reached our final destination. Our drivers were all handling the roads like pros and our ETA at Rooiberg was looking a bit too early.
After completing the Uitspan Pass over the Gouritz River Valley, we connected with the P1661 main gravel road between VanWyksdorp and Calitzdorp. We had made very good time, despite the numerous stops, farm gates to be closed and relatively slow convoy speed.
We usually allow for punctures etc on these trips, but amazingly we did not have a single puncture or mechanical breakdown. The time was only 12.30 so we decided to treat our guests to a drive up the Rooiberg Pass, which was not on our itinerary. It meant driving northwards to the summit point, taking a lunch break there, and returning the way we came.
The Rooiberg Pass was built in 1928 most probably under the supervision of the Divisional Council of Oudtshoorn. This is not a pass to be trifled with and although it can be driven in a normal car, a high clearance vehicle would be better. It is also a long pass at 14 km and contains some fairly rough sections.
There are a total of 69 bends, corners and curves which include 6 hairpins and many other bends with a turning radius in excess of 90 degrees. It's a road for the less hurried traveller and offers wonderful views on both the northern and southern sides with valleys and ridges bedecked in fynbos and in winter you'll be treated to the sight of the bright orange flowers of hundreds of thousands of flowering aloes.
At the summit picnic spot amongst some large boulders (where you will also find our MPSA summit sign), there is a large pile of rocks. If you look carefully you will see a plaque and the reason for the cairn. In the early days of the ox-wagon travellers were so grateful to have reached the summit unscathed, that they said a prayer and added a token rock to the pile. The tradition continues to this day.
Our group enjoyed our final 'padkos' style lunch break of the tour as we slowly headed back down the mountain to our final overnight venue - the Rooiberg Lodge.
After our sojourn to the Gebedstapel at the summit of the Rooiberg Pass, it was an easy descent back into the south with the wide sweeping views over the valley between the Rooiberg range and Langeberg range. With just one final pass left to complete, we enjoyed the drive westwards towards the Rooiberg Lodge, which is not far from Vanwyksdorp.
This steep, narrow and twisting gravel pass is located on the P1661 route between Van Wyksdorp and Calitzdorp. It is frequently mistakenly called the Rooiberg Pass - and with good reason, as it forms the western section of the much bigger Rooiberg Pass, the latter which is separated from the Assegaaibosch Pass by a substantial plateau. The pass is just 3 km in length and displays an altitude variance of 178m, which converts into an average gradient of 1:18, but there are one or two steep sections which get as steep as 1:5
The pass is single width along certain sections which means passing is impossible and one of the vehicles will need to reverse back to a wider point. The pass contains 22 bends, corners and curves which includes two full hairpin bends. The road gets quite rough in places and whilst we recommend a high clearance vehicle, it is possible to drive it in a normal car (cautiously) in good weather.
As we negotiated the first hairpin bend, the view opened up over the lush green valley to the left, fed by a perennial stream which forms a confluence with the Grootrivier, which itself forms a confluence further downstream with the Gouritz River. This pleasing vista of mountains, green valleys and winding gravel roads is a fitting end to a wonderful tour.
Rooiberg Lodge is an oasis of tranquillity with good food, comfortable accommodation and excellent service. We always finish our Swartberg Tours here for all the above reasons.
We arrived at about 2 pm, which gave all our guests the rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy the facilities, before we got together for happy hour and our customary Chappies Awards.
Every tour that we run we add in some fun elements for the final night. For this tour we gave guests two days to write a poem on anything related to the tour. The results were heart-warming, sincere and sometimes downright funny.
Wild Coast V3 Tour
Day 4 - Mbotyi - Fraser Falls - Magwa Falls - Silaka - Mount Thesiger
After the big hike the day before, we gave our guests a bit of a break and called for a later start at 0900. There were a few stiff joints evident, but everyone had smiles on their faces, ready to face another stunning day. We call this day the "Day of the Waterfalls"
After another ascent of the Mboti Pass, we turned left just after the summit onto a vague two spoor track to view Fraser Falls. The gorge formed by the river has almost vertical sides and plummets down into the overgrown depths by almost 80m. The river flows down from the north and flows into the gorge which runs east-west. The deeply incised cataracts are invisible as one sees the falls from the first vantage point, creating the impression that the water is flowing straight out of a tunnel or cave, but as you reach the second view site, the cascades can be seen, revealing the actual flow of the river and falls. Despite the fact that the falls are about 1,4 km from the viewsite, the entire setting is magnificent. The falls are not easy or obvious to find. Here are the GPS coordinates where you must turn off the main road between Lusikisiki and Mbotyi.
Turn north-east at GPS S31.416182 E29.718306
From Fraser Falls we took a secret route through the forests which delivered us close to the Magwa Tea factory. From there it was a short drive to the main point of interest of the day, Magwa Falls. Similar to Fraser Falls, the river flows in over a solid basalt lip at an angle and tumbles down a straight vertical drop of 147m. We were fortunate to find the river flowing nicely (but not impassable on foot) as to get the best view of the falls requires a wade over the river. It's mostly quite shallow and seldom gets deeper than knee height. A short walk up a muddy and stony path gets you to the view site. A slip at the view site will result in a guaranteed fatality. There are no rails or ropes. It's quite easy to be distracted when you are taking photographs or videos, so be extremely careful at this spot and if you suffer from vertigo or acrophobia, stand well back from the edge.
Earlier in 2021 a driver had driven his car over the cliffs and plunged straight down to the bottom of the ravine. Both occupants died. That is the second car wreck lying down there and is a reminder not to take any chances with your safety. In the photo below one of the car wrecks can still be seen, if you look carefully. It also lends scale to the sheer size of this gorge.
A number of locals will appear seconds after you stop your vehicles and offer to look after your vehicles and guide you to the falls. We have found that it's important to observe the following etiquette:
1. Be friendly and kind. Very few can speak English, so you will need to communicate by hand signals.
2. Tell them upfront what you are willing to pay them for their services. R10 per car is adequate. Don't bargain them down lower than that. They are poor. Make sure you have agreement on the money BEFORE you leave your vehicle. You don't want to return to your car and find yourself in an argument about money. Even after payment, they might still ask for a "pasella" or food. Be generous. We also pay the guide who will show you the way to the view site R10 per person. Often there will be 2 or 3 youngsters acting as guides. You either need to appoint one of them or pay all three. We agree on a fee regardless of how many guides there are. It's then up to them to split the takings.
3. Take photos of them and show them your pictures. It's a good way to bridge the divide. Think about other visitors that will follow you. What we try to do is create zero hostility. Be a diplomat. Firm and fair.
From Magwa Falls we took the gravel road back to Lusikisiki and from there down the R61 and its three back to back passes and over 300 bends to arrive at the Gates of St Johns, where we crossed the Umzimvubu River via the White Bridge. It's no secret that Port St. Johns has deteriorated into an untidy town. We make a point of not stopping there.
Our route took us through the town and past 2nd Beach (another place you really don't want to visit) but just a little further is the Silaka Nature Reserve. This was our first visit to the reserve so we had no idea what to expect. The official at the entrance gate went into a flat spin when she saw 13 vehicles lined up, but she insisted on laboriously signing various documents which included Covid declarations. This whole tedious process took almost 30 minutes, which put a bit of a damper on what was intended to be a quick lunch stop.
Once inside the reserve, we then also had to go to the office to pay the entry fee (no money is taken at the gate) of R52 per person. There were toilets at the office but not at the picnic area, which was right next to the beach. We spent an hour and a bit enjoying the local attractions, with some of our guests finding it hard to leave the surf. On our next visit, we will pre arrange the entrance payment and documentation to avoid the long delays. And so we learn!
Our route took us back to Port St Johns and from there up to the old airport on top of Mount Thesiger. The views are magical up there and one of the highlights is that we do some fun drag racing on the runway. We are always impressed how even the most conservative guests end up with big smiles on their faces after that little bit of fun.
Our destination for the night was at the Spotted Grunter, which is a few kilometres upriver from the town. The security is good and the setting right on the banks of the river is wonderful. The weather had been perfect up till this point, but the forecast indicated some rain on the horizon.
Next week: Port St Johns to Coffee Bay.
PASS OF THE WEEK
Dovetailing nicely with our Wild Coast feature this week, we show you the drive up to Mount Thesiger from the village.
New passes added this week:
Dassieshoogte - Dassieshoogte is a moderate pass located on the tarred R34 route just south of Vryheid. It's of above average length at 6.1 km and has very easy curves with gentle gradients.
Geluk Pass - This hidden gem of a gravel pass connects Vryheid, Hlobane and Vaalbank with a number of game farms, forestry reserves and nature reserves in northern KZN.
Tailpiece: I always advise people never to give advice.