Latest News! 14th April, 2022

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Devastation in Durban Devastation in Durban - Photo: Container News

The week that was...

* Floods in many parts of South Africa

* Easter - stay calm.

* Ben 10 Day 4

* Pass of the week


An incredible volume of rain drenched parts of South Africa from Gauteng all the way down to KZN and the Wild Coast. We don't have all the accurate figures yet, but the cut-off low generated huge damage to infrastructure, business and private property. Amongst the worst hit was Toyota's plant in Durban. The cost in lost revenue is incalculable. Mop up operations are underway at the time of this newsletter being written.

Our sympathies go out to all who have lost loved ones. As if KZN has not endured enough drama in the past 12 months!


Wishing all of our subscribers and followers (now totalling 98,500) a safe and relaxing Easter weekend.

Each year the carnage on the roads over the Easter weekend continues unabated with seemingly no real solutions at hand. We can only offer some sage advice:

1. Try and drive along secondary roads, which carry less traffic and a lower speed limit.

2. Rest if you feel tired

3. Stop every two hours for a leg stretch and some refreshment

4. Avoid driving at night.

5. Avoid rushing to your destination.

Wild Coast Tours

Bookings for the Wild Coast Tour (V4) Pondoland will be closing on the 20th April. 

Booking for the Wild Coast Tour (V5) Mbashe will be closing on the 30th April.

Our Wild Coast Tours are legendary. Join us for 9 days of scenic overload, technical driving, fun, camaraderie and adventure as we take you safely through one of the most stunning parts of South Africa, where you will discover the true heart of the Xhosa people through stories, folklore and interaction.

Ben 10 Eco Challenge - Day 4

The rain continued with the now familiar pattern of being partly cloudy in the morning, with the rain settling in around noon each day. Our route took us from the Mountain Shadows Hotel along the R56 to Barkly East and then a gravel road down to the Kraai River at Loch Bridge. The river was running strongly as we spent some time discussing the history of the Loch Bridge and the 7th and 8th rail reverses a little further up the Tierkrans Pass.

This beautiful pass is cut into the side of a mountain, and angles down from a high plateau in the New England area to terminate at the historic Loch Bridge over the Kraai River. This part of the world is famous for its wonderful scenery, and in this case the pass also offers up spectacular views of the reverses and the rail bridge belonging to the now-defunct railway that was built through this gorge.

(Read more...)

Scottish heritage

The region was first surveyed in 1861 by Joseph Orpen, an Irishman, whose descendants still live in the area today. The names of some of the farms include Ben Nevis, Glen Gyle and Pitlochrie, which indicates that the area was reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. There is even a Loch Ness dam below Tiffindell, and although no living monsters have been spotted there as yet, there are dinosaur fossils in the area dating back over 180 million years ago to the Jurassic Period.

Rail reversesThe Kraai River flanked by the 7th & 8th rail reverses / Photo: Mike Leicester

Along the mountainous border of Lesotho, between Aliwal North and Barkly East, runs what was arguably the most scenic branch railway line in South Africa. The line was constructed in four sections over a period of 28 years, spanning from March 1903 to December 1930. Construction of the final section, from New England to Barkly East, only started in 1928, because of delays caused by serious doubts about the economic viability of branch lines in general, World War I, and the sinking of a ship called Mexico loaded with building materials whilst en route from the UK .

A German woman living in the area came up with the idea of using reverses rather than bridges and tunnels to negotiate the mountainous terrain. This meant that the trains had to zig-zag by manoeuvring forward and backwards up and down the steep inclines, which was slower, but had the advantage of being much cheaper to construct. A total of eight reverses were built along this line, and two of them (numbers 7 and 8) are clearly visible from vantage points along the Tierkrans Pass.

Now completed all of the way to Barkly East, the official opening of the line took place on 12 December 1930 – “Barkly’s Day of Days”. Starting at 10:00, the train entered the station and a customary bottle of champagne was broken on the decorated locomotive, followed by joyous festivities. But by the time of the line’s completion in 1930, a new competitor had arrived in the form of motor transport, against which it would steadily lose ground throughout the ensuing 60 years. For economic reasons, regular service was finally discontinued in 1991.


Loch Bridge

Loch BridgeLoch Bridge / Photo: Mike Leicester

Instructions were issued for the commencement of the construction of the Loch bridge during 1889, but a suitable site still had to be found. When a position had been selected, Joseph Newey, the District Inspector at King Williams Town, was instructed to complete designs for both ironwork and stone masonry type bridges. The estimated cost of a stone masonry bridge of £ 14 000 was approved, especially as Newey had found a good quarry site within half a mile of the site. Construction commenced in the middle of November 1891, the last arch was keyed in on 5 December 1892, the bridge was finally completed about the middle of March 1893, and the approach roads were finished in September 1893. There were 24 stone masons, three carpenters, and about 150 labourers employed on the works, and some 300 more were kept on the work of the approaches on either side.

The bridge consists of five elliptical arches of 12 metres each, the length of the masonry is 80 metres and the full length of the bridge is 195 metres. The roadway is 5 metres wide and is 13 metres above the riverbed. Wing walls were added to the bridge after floods in January 1898 damaged the abutments. The final total cost of the bridge amounted to £ 14 722, while compensation costs of £ 1 509 were paid out to adjoining landowners after arbitration. When the last stone was laid, there were only two left out of the thousands that were cut.

The official opening of the bridge took place on Wednesday 6 December 1893, the delay being due to a dispute between the local Divisional Council of Barkly East and the Government about the former taking over responsibility for the bridge. The bridge was opened by Mrs Gie, the wife of the Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate of Barkly East, Mr J C Gie, amid great festivities attended by almost a thousand people.


New England

A muddy wheel change / Photo: MPSA

Once we had crested the summit of the Tierkrans Pass, we turned right onto the plateau road that provides access to the New England area. The mud was slushy and deep along this road and driving was much more of a waltz than a straight line. Everyone was having fun, but soon a radio call came through announcing that Marco's 79 series Land Cruiser had left the road.

He managed to extract the vehicle out of the ditch but in the process debeaded the left rear tyre. It took just under an hour to change the wheel under very difficult conditions, where the base of the Hilift jack would sink ever deeper into the mud, regardless of the size of base plate we put under it. It became apparent that using the Hilift jack was too dangerous, so Marco unveiled a really nifty gadget - a low slung electrically operated (12v) hydraulic jack. After some digging and a decent slab of wood under this jack, we finally got the big Cruiser high enough to change the wheel. The long delay would impact the future timeline in several ways, but we'll get to that later.

Our route took us over Wintersnek and then through a stunning area where we descended Ballochs Pass (at the foot is the well-known Ballochs farm where there is accommodation and camping on offer) and climbed up the far side through fabulous sandstone formations to connect with the R396. This is the main road through the Wartrail Valley to our next challenge pass - Lundean's Nek Pass.


Lundean's Nek Pass

Looking north towards the Malotis from the summit of Lundeans Nek Pass / Photo: MPSA

The R396 is a much better road in terms of construction, so there was a lot less mud as we headed northwards towards the tall mountains which mark the last geographical hurdle before reaching Lesotho. Surprisingly the road was in fair condition, despite all the recent rainfall, allowing us to enjoy the amazing scenery on offer as we wound our way down the countless switchbacks amidst exposed sandstone and green slopes, with small waterfalls around every corner.

Towards the bottom of the pass we arrived at the village of Upper Telle as we continued all the way down to the Telle River, which marks the border between South Africa and Lesotho. Here we took a right turn at a sign marked as Dangershoek, and followed the narrow, but beautifully scenic road up the southern bank of the river. This little road is in trouble, as floodwaters have eroded the banks right up to and in some instances undermined the road itself. It's only a matter of time, before the road will fall into the river. There were at least half a dozen spots like that. It's going to require some concrete work to reinforce the river banks and prevent further erosion.



We took a lunch break along the banks of the river near a small, picturesque church in a pristine setting that is hard to describe. After lunch we drove up a short steep pass which is partially concreted to enjoy one of the best views of the tour and which doubles as our northernmost turnaround point of the tour.

The view from the turnaround point at Dangershoek / Photo: MPSA

Retracing our route back over Lundean's Nek Pass might sound boring, but as we know only too well, any pass looks very different driving it in the opposite direction as one sees views and points of interest not visible in the opposite direction. Everything was going well, with no more punctures as we stopped in at the Wartrail Country Club for a comfort break.

We still had Volunteershoek and Carlishoekspruit passes to complete for the day, but time was not being kind to us, so we decided to rather head straight back to Rhodes via Mosheshes Ford and arrive in daylight. It would be better to rather tackle Volunteershoek the following morning, when it was less likely to be raining. We had taken a call from one of the farmers in the Funnystone Valley to please not damage their road, which they had just spent R40,000 on repairing. That put us in quite a quandary, as the entire purpose of the tour was to complete the 10 challenge passes. We promised the farmer that we would minimise wheel spinning where possible, by ascending in low range with diff locks engaged.


Rhodes Village

Rhodes Hotel - back in business / Photo: MPSA

We arrived in Rhodes Village around 17h00 after driving one of the worst roads of the entire tour. Rain had caused potholes and wash-aways, rendering the surface in an awful state. Even with 4WD engaged and deflated tyres, it was a nightmare - especially the last 8 kms west of Rhodes.

We had booked accommodation at the Rhodes Hotel and our group was welcomed with warm hospitality. The hotel is very old (1883) and much of it is still original. It's a lot like being inside a museum with endless items of historic interest on display from paintings, old photographs, furniture and much more. The floors creak and the ceilings are lower than normal and the pub is totally from another era as the bright light outside pierces the gloom of the pub as one eyes adjust to see the details of all the fascinating items adorning the walls. A big fireplace creates a cosy vibe for those ice cold winter nights.

We had a massive day waiting for us the next day, which we'll tell you about next week.




* *   L U N D E A N S   N E K   P A S S   * *


This gravel pass is one of the great gravel passes of the Eastern Cape and is held in awe by adventure travellers to the same extent as Joubert's Pass, Naude's Nek, Carlisleshoekspruit, Volunteershoek, Bastervoetpad, and Otto du Plesses passes. Lundin's Nek (which is also often spelled as Lundean's Nek) is a much bigger pass technically than any of the others and must rank as the most underrated big gravel pass in South Africa.

Trygve Roberts

Tail piece: They begin the evening news with "Good Evening",  then proceed to tell you why it isnt!

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