The pass has a typical inverted profile with a low point in the middle and contains 101 bends, corners and curves to keep drivers very busy. Ten of those are sharper than 90 degrees. With gradients that get as steep as 1:6 this is a tricky drive in wet weather if not in a 4WD vehicle. Let's rather make that "impossible in wet weather in a non 4WD vehicle"
We were only about 2 km into the eastern descent near the village of Ngqotsini when the first really slippery section was encountered. A gently sloping downhill beckoned, but suddenly there was almost zero traction. Up front, our lead vehicle - a 105 Land Cruiser, started sliding to the left and soon we had our left wheels in a ditch. Deploying the front diff-lock got us out of trouble fairly quickly and we were able to warn the rest of the group about what to do. One by one each vehicle slid off to the left in exactly the same spot. The vehicles with harder tyres were having a torrid time of things, but we soon had everyone safely down that section. At that point we were only about 10% down the pass. It was going to be an exciting day and our guests were getting some of the best mud driving experience possible - understanding the complexities of gravity, traction, power, gearing and momentum. There is no better training ground than the Wild Coast.
We eased our way down the mountainside bend by bend, through the most wonderful Wild Coast scenery with plenty of slipping and sliding, with guests soon figuring out how best to avoid getting into trouble. During the trip we posted a short video clip on our Facebook page of our sweep for the day, Alan and Kathryn O' Regan, in their Toyota Fortuner which has enjoyed 337,000 views. The link below will take you through to our Facebook page. Don't forget to come back! (30 secs)
Presently we arrived at the next village, eNitilini, not too far from the river. This was another seriously slippery descent with our vehicles weaving down the road. Up ahead a minibus taxi blocked the road. It was facing us and clearly stuck in the mud, still full of passengers. I could have squeezed the Cruiser past, but because of the muddy conditions, it could easily have resulted in the vehicles connecting.
After a short chat with the taxi driver, he tried reversing out of the way, but ended up in a ditch. As a gesture of goodwill, we decided to recover the vehicle, which was not difficult as we were doing so on a downhill. The locals were all friendly and grateful. Another good PR exercise.
Watch MPSA recovering a Quantum Taxi: (25 secs)
When we arrived at the Fyfe King bridge the Mbashe was running at peak capacity and the spot where we normally pull over on the western bank, was now underwater, but there was still enough dry terrain to enjoy our lunch break, all the while keeping a beady eye on the water level.
The bridge, although not a particularly attractive one, being a standard concrete design of the 1960's with concrete columns and a single width bridge deck, has an interesting history. The then magistrate of Idutywa and later Mthatha, Mr. Fyfe-King forced the government's hand in constructing the bridge which had a major positive effect on the lives of locals. The ever popular magistrate was much revered by the Xhosa people and attended his funeral en-masse after his passing. Many maps show this as the Five Kings Bridge, and it's easy to see how that happened - the result of sloppy cartography and the copy/paste syndrome. Now you know.
The original bridge (constructed in 1936) was damaged in a flood and the new bridge was built a few hundred metres downstream in 1960.
Transcription of commemorative plaque unveiled during the opening ceremony:
|FYFE KING BRIDGE
Built by the
United Transkeian Territories
and opened by
Robert Fyfe King Esq.
|R. M. Fox Smith B.Sc.
A. M. Inst. C. E.
Foreman of Works
This was a 12 span, slab type, reinforced concrete bridge, with a clearwater way extending over 262 feet (80 metres), and with a height above the water level of approximately 23 feet (7 metres). The total length including the approaches was about 400 feet (122 metres). Construction commenced in August 1936 and was completed in January 1937 at a cost of £3 500.
The ascent up the western side is more dramatic than the eastern descent as the road follows a long and narrow spine of the mountain which almost allows the river to form a complete circle. At one point one can see the river on both sides of the road. There were patches of cloying mud, but nothing that our group couldn't handle. It took over an hour and a half to drive the pass including the rest stop. The sight of the Shukuma telecomms tower on the hill marks the western end of the pass and came with some relief, that we had reached the end in one piece. This is the stuff that memories are made of - the animated buzz around the dinner tables in the evenings - the bonding of a group of strangers into friends. One soon understands the value of being part of a group.
In between all that action, we were also filming the pass for the website. We are currently busy producing two x 10 minute videos, showing all the action bits, which should be live by this time next week.
Next up came the Nqabara River Pass, which was a doddle compared to the Mbashe River Pass. At one point along this pass, the location of King Hintsa's grave can be seen but it's very difficult to get to and is probably considered a sacred site where visitors might not be welcome.
The mud continued with a vengeance and just before we joined the main road between Kob Inn and Willowvale we had to contend with an obstacle of note. A mud-bath on a long and curved climb with some serious camber thrown in. The climb was about 250m and extremely muddy. Local vehicles who had attempted the road earlier in the day had left the road in a state. A few enterprising locals with wheelbarrows and spades had euphemistically thrown some large chunks of rock into the mud, with the expectation that it would improve traction. What is did manage to do was to make the road extremely bumpy and the negated to some extent the techniques of using momentum to get up the slope.
The link below will take to our FB page to view the short clip of the muddy hill and what the conditions were like: (43 secs)
With much cheering from locals and some very exciting driving we had the convoy up onto drier land. Arriving at Kob Inn was a relief and after hot showers and a freshening up, it was a rather loud happy hour in that amazing pub at Kob Inn with the ocean thundering onto the rocks just metres away.
Next week: Collywobbles - the biggest, toughest, longest day of the tour including some night driving.
Swartberg Classic Tour - Day Zero
Every tour seems to end with the words "Our best tour ever!" but the Swartberg Tour was as close to perfection as what we could have wished for. The gremlins were few and the blessings many. There are a number of ingredients that make a tour great. They are good planning, good venues, good food, good people, good weather and a bit of luck. The Swartberg Tour had all of those and then some. Of interest on this tour was the participation of a 4x2 Renault Duster. Des and Ann Price were so impressed with last year's Swartberg Tour, that they decided to book again. What they didn't know is that we amended the route to include Lawson's Pass (a 4x4 route in the Gamkaberg Nature reserve). We had a plan B and C for them in case of things getting too tough for the Duster, but we'll get to that part later in this series.
We once again made use of the Rotterdam Boutique Hotel as our starting point. Rain set in at about 3 pm the afternoon of arrival so it was a soggy introduction and radio fitment session that ensued. Half of our guests were repeat clients, which always makes things easier for the guides as the newcomers tend to take their cue off the more experienced ones.
This tour happened at the peak of Stage 6 load shedding. All the guests were understanding about load shedding and everyone knows how much it affects our personal and business lives, but Rotterdam is a working farm; and a very old one at that dating back to the late 1700's. Their water system which services the rooms doesn't run off a normal gravity fed system, but rather pressure is generated from a pump, which requires a good dollop of electricity to run it.
That meant no showers and horror of horrors - no water for the toilets! By 10 pm that night the power was back on, so late night showers were able to be concluded, but the next morning at 6 am the power was back off again, which clashed directly with our 08.30 departure time. So that was a bit tough on everyone. With the bleak financial times the hospitality industry have gone through these past two years, it meant that the farm was unable to afford a large generator to run the pumps during load shedding, or able to justify the large expense for a relatively small hotel.
Despite the load shedding woes, everyone put on bright smiles and enjoyed the tranquillity of the farm, the spacious (understatement!) rooms and the fascinating tour before dinner of the family museum where owner Andy Fraser-Jones spoke about his late father's (Ian) achievements as South African Formula 1 champion driver in 1958/9.
Next week: Buffeljagsrivier to Gysmanshoek.
PASS OF THE WEEK
The R74 regional road offers a beautifully scenic alternative to the N3 for travellers between Johannesburg and Durban. The route starts off near Harrismith, then traverses Oliviershoek Pass, Bergville and Winterton, before rejoining the N3 just north of Estcourt. For many years, the 23 km section from the R712 to the summit of Oliviershoek Pass was in a terrible state of disrepair due to a dispute between the provincial government and the company contracted to do a complete revamp, to the point where the road was virtually impassable. This was eventually resolved, and in 2016 the restoration work was completed. The road is now in an excellent condition.
Definition: Communist - One who has nothing and is eager to share it with others.