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Latest News! 24th March, 2022

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Views from the Seven Sisters Pass Views from the Seven Sisters Pass - Photo: MPSA

The week that was...

* Out & About

* Trips & Tours

* Ben 10 V5 Tour - Day 1

* Pass of the week


Out & About

Covid is on its way out. Travel restrictions have been lifted and this will create  a surge in bookings - especially by international travellers. The travel and tourism sector of the economy is amongst those the most badly affected by the pandemic. For many the easing of restrictions has come too late and for those remaining, we hope there is now finally some light at the end of the tunnel. It has without doubt changed the way South Africans are thinking about travel as can be attested by the high levels of bookings on MPSA tours, which precluded PCR tests and other similar off-putting requirements. We are just waiting for Lesotho to come to the party to drop those requirements as well, when a new tour to Lesotho by MPSA will be on the cards.


Filming a difficult pass

Beautiful Western Cape autumn weather coupled with a long weekend presented a few opportunities to get out and explore. We decided to upgrade our video footage on the Du Toitskloof Pass (N1), so set aside Saturday 19th March for the task. Most people have no idea how tricky it is filming a major mountain pass. Du Toitskloof Pass is specifically difficult due to the fact that it runs along the east-west axis. Then there is the big lighting adaptation as the tunnel is entered and exited, coupled with heavy traffic. We have filmed this pass no less than six times, seldom achieving a stellar result. The current version is quite good, other than the remnants of a bug on the camera lens, which created a soft orange blur on the video. There is only a small time frame where the lighting is OK for the whole pass and that is from 11h45 to 12h15. Any time out of that slot, creates heavy shadows or over exposure.


Seven Sisters

There is a road leading away up the mountainside near the summit of the old Du Toitskloof Pass, barred by a sturdy locked gate. I have always wondered about that road. Since I was going to film the Du Toitskloof Pass, I decided to follow up on a long standing offer of a friend, Kuba Miszewski (yes he is Polish), to organise access for the day. I picked Kuba up mid morning from his cottage in the mountains on the slopes of the Hawequa Mountains in Wellington. Kuba does voluntary work for Mountain Rescue and is intimately familiar with the terrain. He took me up a dodgy jeep track through pine plantations, to join the R101 at the old pass' summit point. Various snippets of valuable information was pointed out by Kuba - like the old manganese mine and some of the original pylon bases for the aerial cableway - as we headed east to Rawsonville to our turnaround point to film the N1 Du Toitskloof Pass from east to west. We started filming exactly at 11h45.

After filming the pass (which went very well), we returned to the summit point via the R101 filming panoramics of the Hugospoort Viaduct as well as the tunnel entrance point. We turned off the R101 and accessed the narrow tarred road via the locked gates. Looking at the tamper-proof system on those gates, I reckon it will take a Houdini of sorts to work their way opening all those catches and locks, coupled with electronic access codes via Cape Nature. 

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The stunning mountain road is very well built with properly engineered drainage, some steep cuttings and manageable gradients averaging out at 1:12. The steeper parts get as steep as 1:5, but even those are OK in 1st gear as the road surface is paved all the way to the top. The pass is 6 km long and starts at 822m ASL ending at 1322m, producing an altitude gain of 500m. Along the way there are side tracks leading to private farms and a Mountain Club of SA hikers hut.

One of the views along the Seven Sisters Pass / Photo: MPSA

Unfortunately the road is not open to the public, but we will add it to our database so that everyone can at least enjoy it via our videos. It will be named the Seven Sisters Pass after the peaks of the same name near the summit point. Needless to say, the views are staggering. We even got a guided tour of the main tower (Telkom) and took the lift up the 5 stories for some incredible views. Our thanks to Kuba, Cape Nature and Telkom for consent to film.


Trips & Tours

2022 is rushing by at high speed and we are already starting with preparations for the next two tours in May along the Wild Coast. We still have a few tickets open if you want to spend 10 days in one of the most unique and unspoilt places in South Africa. Our tours have been refined to include 2 rest days spaced evenly into the tour, which allows guests to chill a bit, before tackling the next part of the adventure.

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

After our hugely successful Nov 2021 tour, we have been hard at work adding a few major refinements to the tour, by shortening driving distances and creating more leisure time at the fabulous lodges we will be visiting. Sign up for 8 thrilling days & 9 nights, discovering the very best this breath-taking, remote region has to offer in the safety of a group!

Join us on this guided, self-drive adventure, driving to beautifully wild places few people have been before, in the camaraderie and safety of like-minded explorers, under the expert guidance of Trygve Roberts.

This new Wild Coast V4 Tour (Pondoland) tour will start in Matatiele and end in Coffee Bay.

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. Overnight at the Mbotyi River Lodge.
  • Monday 9th May – Mbotyi to Luphathana – 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.


 

WILD COAST  V5 TOUR - MBASHE (16th to 24th May)

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

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 decadently lazy day on the beach.

  • 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 – Coffee Bay to The Haven.
  • Thursday 19th May – Cwebe Nature Reserve – Breezy Point – Overnight at The Haven
  • Friday 20th May – Rest day. Overnight at The Haven.
  • Saturday 21st May – The Haven to Kob Inn.
  • Sunday 22nd May – Kob Inn to Collywobbles return
  • Monday 23rd May – Rest Day
  • Tuesday 24th May – Kob Inn to Morgan Bay

    You pay per vehicle, and not per person – so this tour is ideal for families, a group of friends and couples.

    • Distance: 800 km.
    • Drivers’ Briefing, VHF Radio Fitment & Welcoming Party: 18h00 on Monday, 16th May, 2022 at Ocean View Hotel, Coffee Bay.
    • Start: Coffee Bay – 09h00: Tuesday 17th May, 2022
    • Closing Function & Prize-giving at Morgan Bay: 18h00 24th May, 2022
    • End of Tour/Departure: 09h00 – Wednesday 25th May, 2022

    All vehicles will be supplied with FM marine-quality two-way radios so we can all communicate. (This is included in the tour price.)

    The routes we have chosen are generally not difficult, but if there is rainy weather, we will have mud to contend with – hence the 4×4 requirement. (Please note that no pets are allowed.)

    • If you want to do both the Wild Coast V4 Pondoland Tour (6th to 15th May) as well as the Wild Coast V5 Mbashe Tour 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.


SWARTBERG CLASSIC (10th to 14th July)

10th to 14th of July 2022

Our 2022 Swartberg Tour starts in Swellendam, and routes through many of the passes in and around the magnificent Swartberg range. We book overnight stays in top quality accommodation (invoiced for separately).

You will get to enjoy 5 nights and 4 thrilling days, discovering the very best this breath-taking region has to offer!

Join us on this guided, self-drive adventure, driving to beautiful places off the beaten track, in the camaraderie and safety of like-minded explorers, under the expert guidance of Trygve Roberts.

  • You do not need to be experienced in off-road driving to do this tour. We will show you how.
  • We can take 4×4 and 4×2 vehicles on this tour. Maximum 12 vehicles.

    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 July, 2022 in Buffelsjagrivier, near Swellendam.
    • Start: Buffelsjagrivier – 08h30: Monday, 11th July, 2022
    • Closing Function & Prize-giving: Rooiberg Lodge, 18h00 Thursday, 14th July, 2022
    • End of Tour/Departure: 09h00 – Friday, 15th July, 2022

We are also working on a new weekend tour which will include the Seven Sisters Pass (mentioned above), with an overnight stay on a lovely wine farm and some forest tracks. This tour will be open to 4x2 vehicles and will likely take place during October. Watch this space.

 

Ben 10 Eco Challenge V5 Tour

The adventure continues.

Day 1 dawned cloudy but without rain. We had decided to use the best day in terms of rain forecasts to deal with the Bastervoetpad Pass. It would be a baptism of fire. The convoy lined up ready to go at 08h30 made up of the following vehicles.

Toyota Land Cruiser 105 GX - Guide
Toyota Fortuner - Hans Matter & Irene Matzdorf
Colt Rodeo V6 LDV - Bob Selman & Pieter Pienaar
Ford Ranger Wildtrack - Theo Hammond & Charon Vorgers
Suzuki Jimny 1.3 - Tom & Jeanne Hemsted
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport - Bernhard Klodwig
Suzuki Grand Vitara - Ian McMurray
Toyota Land Cruiser 200 VX - Bruce & Jill Meyer
M/Benz Gelandewagen - Colin & Ann Meyer
Toyota Land Cruiser 79 series - Marco & Lina van der Merwe
VW Touareg - Iaan & Betty van Heerden
Toyota Land Cruiser 200 - Rupert & Lizzie Worsdale
Toyota Prado - Sam Alim & Birgitte Madlener

Of the 12 only 4 were first time guests on one of our tours.

We headed out along the R58 towards Barkly East for about 15 km, where we turned right onto the Bottelnek Pass. The signboard for northbound traffic has gone missing, making it very easy to miss the turn-off, as was the case with us. That involved turning the 13 vehicle convoy around on the R58. No easy task!


Challenge Pass #1 - Bottelnek Pass

Part of the convoy lined up near the summit of the Bottelnek Pass / Photo: Hans Matter

The Bottelnekspruit Valley road is one of those Eastern Cape roads that is always scenically attractive, regardless of the weather or time of year. It had been raining almost daily in the area since September 202, to the point where local farmers have actually started saying: "We've had too much rain". The cattle get sick in these very wet conditions and many have already died. I never thought I'd hear a South African farmer say that.

We were having our first taste of the mud that was to be our companion for the next 5 days. Drivers soon got the hang of the sliding and slipping as we headed towards our first challenge pass, the Bottelnek Pass. Conditions up the pass were surprisingly firm and soon we joined the R396 heading towards the Bastervoetpad Pass. To say I was concerned, would be an understatement.

The first flat wheel

We arrived at the western start of the pass at a new concrete bridge, when the radio crackled: "I have a flat wheel"
It was Marco in the big Cruiser. The LF wheel was flat. Closer inspection showed no visible sign of a puncture. We tried reinflating it and it took some time for us to figure out that a thin sidewall cut would release air every time the cut was at the bottom of the rotation cycle. The flexing of the sidewalls had caused the casing to split. So it was a case of changing to one of his two spares - and in his case, it was just as well as there were going to be more punctures.

Our Man of the Match, Theo Hammond, making short work of a tyre change / Photo: MPSA

 

Challenge Pass #2 - Bastervoetpad

The second casualty going up the climb was the Suzuki Grand Vitara, which ended up sliding into a ditch, but with a little assistance and some pushing, we got it going again. The second half of the climb was entirely in the cloud base with persistent drizzle, but the mud was a lot less. Everyone made it up to the summit in one piece, but that's the easy part of the pass. It's the eastern descent where things start getting hairy. Up at the summit, Rupert in his Land Cruiser 200 VX reported another puncture. That one was fairly easily resolved with a can of Holts Tyre Weld.

Next up on the puncture charts, was the Gelandewagen. Another sidewall cut. It was at that stage beginning to rain harder with steady rivulets running along the two spoor track. It took about half an hour to get the Gelandewagen mobile again with the tricky conditions exacerbating matters. At the summit, where we normally enjoy the best views in South Africa, we were in a white-out of cloud and mist with about 80m visibility. Conditions were steadily worsening.

A very difficult section to negotiate on the Bastervoetpad Pass / Photo: MPSA

There is one specific section on the descent which I was worried about. The road goes through a chicane section. The second half of that chicane involves a 160 degree left hand bend with a serious angle of camber. This obstacle has got progressively worse over the years. Once you make the decision to tackle it, there is no turning back as it would be impossible to get back up the obstacle in those conditions. It was decision time.


Rain, mist, rocks and mud

I climbed out of my vehicle, donned a rainjacket and went walkabouts. The mud was about axle deep, with big rocks and some loose ones hidden under the mud. The obstacle is about 40m long. I decided to give it a go. If I got stuck, I could send the convoy back to the hotel and arrange a recovery for myself. I eased the Cruiser over the first big rock, doing my best to follow the line I had mapped out on my walk, but with 3 tons of deadweight, it had a mind of its own. We slid bumping into rock after rock towards the low side of the road and came to a halt with no traction, halfway through the obstacle. It's not often a Land Cruiser gets stuck, but sometimes they do and this was my turn.

I was in 2nd gear low range with the rear locker engaged, so I deployed the front locker as well. These are the situations where a solid front axle makes all the difference. That did the trick, and Thirsty Kirsty was soon out of trouble. This did not auger well for the rest of the vehicles, but at least I had a sound concept of best lines to take. I walked back with a hand held radio and managed to get each vehicle through one by one. We left some metal on those rocks and quite a bit of Tupperware too (a reference to plastic cosmetic parts). To say I was relieved was an understatement. There was mud everywhere. On the floor-mats, the running boards, shoes, and there was still plenty more to come.

Puncture #3

It wasn't long and Marco announced his second puncture. Another sidewall cut and once again it was a case of getting the wheel changed in an awkward, steep, muddy spot, but many hands make light work and it's one of the reasons why people go on a group tour. Theo Hammond is known as the Puncture Man. He is always first to lend a hand and quietly gets on with the task at hand with no concern about getting wet and dirty. Theo earned his title on our Wild Coast Tour last November and was repeating the effort but on a much bigger scale. So at that stage Marco had used both his spare wheels (neither of which was in good condition). It was a Saturday, so getting replacement tyres over a weekend was going to be difficult.

Below the cloud base on Bastervoetpad / Photo: MPSA Ben 10 Tour Group

After we popped out of the cloud base, we were treated to fabulous views of the green slopes tipped off with glistening sandstone cliffs and tumbling waterfalls. We stopped in at the Valetta farm, owned by Bennie and Marjorie Venter - a wonderfully hospitable couple who always welcome us at their home, but this time they weren't home, but had sent us an SMS advising that we were welcome to make use of their toilet facilities - which the ladies in our group were most grateful for.

 

A river runs through it

Bastervoetpad still had surprises waiting for us in the form of four river crossings. The current was swift but not too deep and all the vehicles made it through without any problems. Once onto the forestry road, we could change back to high range and pick up the speed a bit. Despite the four punctures and hold-ups, we had actually made good time, so we took a different road back to Elliot, which turned out to be a very good choice. This road more or less parallels the R56 on its northern side and allows good views of Gatsberg - an historic mountain with a hole through the summit point, where the early Voortrekkers camped at its foot on their long journey from the Cape to Natal. This new section added value to the tour and will become a permanent feature in future tours.

Tom Hemsted confidently driving his Jimny through one of the four crossings on the Bastervoetpad Pass / Photo: MPSA

In Elliot most vehicles refuelled and Marco got the emergency number of the owner of the local Supa Quick, who arranged for Marco to come in on the Sunday for a set of new tyres. That's the kind of service you get in these country dorpies. We were all back at the Mountain Shadows Hotel by 5 pm, ready for happy hour and debriefing. Everyone was really chuffed with their achievements for the day and very happy to hear they had done the worst.

(Next week: Dawid se Kop and The Castle Vulture Colony)


PODCAST: We chat about days 2 & 3 of the recent Ben 10 Eco Challenge, which includes Dawid se Kop, The Castle Vulture Colony, Jouberts Pass and Otto du Plessis Pass. Click to listen.


PASS OF THE WEEK

Fitting perfectly into this week's newsletter, you can watch the full video set on this tough challenge pass (in dry conditions). Click on the link and off you go.

 

* *   B A S T E R V O E T P A D   P A S S   * *

 


Trygve Roberts
Editor

Tail piece ~ A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.

 

 

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