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The 2 weeks that were

Firstly we wish all of you a healthy 2021 where your travel dreams may be realised.

As we all slowly creep out of the so-called festive season and face the realities of 2021, there are a couple of things that stand out in the headlights. 

I spent a week in hospital over Christmas (not any fun at all) after surgery and during that time 2 Covid patients died every night. It only becomes real when you see and hear people you know having contracted the virus and its effects.

Our job is to keep you in a positive mind set and encourage safe travel where possible. So let's get straight into things as we continue our journey down the Wild Coast


Wild Coast Tour - report back Day 4

We woke to a misty morning with light drizzle. After a good breakfast it was to be the 4th traverse of the Mbotyi Pass, with our first destination being Fraser Falls. We were most grateful to have had our local guide, Armstrong with us, as without him, it would have been very difficult locating the falls in the thick mist. Standing on the lip of the gorge, one could sense the deep wooded ravine below and the sound of the water on the rocks was clear as well, but the visibility was just not up to scratch.

Not to be daunted, we headed further north, turning off into the Magwa Tea Plantations, where we discovered the very attractive Angel Falls - a smaller waterfall on the same river as Fraser Falls. This time the drizzle and mist held back for just long enough for everyone to get good photos and videos.

A U turn took us back to the main gravel road and from there a left turn down the actual factory and the much bigger Magwa Falls. We stopped at the factory gates, whilst Armstrong engaged with the gate guard in Xhosa, who suggested that we return for a factory tour after viewing Magwa Falls.

It's a short drive to the falls, but once again, thick mist rolled in creating an eerie atmosphere. There is nothing to warn drivers that there is a near perpendicular drop of 300m at the end of the road. More than one driver hit the brakes too late, sending their vehicles plummeting into the gorge. One of the car wrecks is still clearly visible from the far bank. Magwa Falls have their own guides and in short order a pair descended the hill, wanting a bite of the cherry. Armstrong had a lengthy indaba with them, but they remained on site looking for a handout of sorts until we left. 

Disappointingly, Magwa Falls lay hiden in the thick mist. It was meant to be the highlight of the day. Our guests handled it in fine spirit and soon we were heading back to the tea factory.   

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Published in Mountain Passes News

What's inside?

* Festive Season message

* Tours update

* Wild Coast Tour - Day 3

* Great South Africans

* South African Cities

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


FESTIVE SEASON MESSAGE

What an incredible year we have all loved through! It's been a time when we realised how important health and family are. A time of digging deep to survive. A time of empathy with those businesses that didn't make it. A time of reaching out to help others. For most of us, the sooner we can usher in 2021 the better.

However the reality is that Covid 19 is going to be with us for a while and it won't magically disappear. The new everyday words like masks and social distancing have become ingrained in us. Christmas will be different this year. Quieter. Family only.

All has not been bad from this year. We have taken some good lessons out of 2020.

From the team at Mountain Passes South Africa, we are delighted to announce that 2020 saw an exponential growth in readership and social media following. We have doggedly stuck to our recipe of variety, positive news, quality photography and information that is informative, interesting, uplifting and topical. Clearly we offered what a lot of people were looking for.

We thank you for your support and we wish you and your family a wondrous Christmas and a better new year. Travel safe and hang in there!


The Ben 10 V4 Eco Challenge Official Tour is taking place over Easter 2021. We have crafted this tour over the past four years into a fine experience of excitement, relaxation and stunning scenery coupled with a few amazing points of interest, like watching the vulture colony at The Castle.

Ten good reasons why you should do the Ben 10 Eco Challenge

 1. Conquer the 10 challenging high altitude passes of the Eastern Cape.
 2. Enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see.
 3. Discover the fascinating history of the area first hand with an experienced guide.
 4. See the vulture colony at The Castle
 5. Enjoy the camaraderie of like minded adventure travellers
 6. Savour delicious home cooked country food.
 7. Enjoy comfortable accommodation each night at the same venue so you can travel light.
 8. Test your offroad driving skills in the safety of a group.
 9. Discover Rhodes Village
10 Visit the highest pass in South Africa (3001m) 

We are running the Ben 10 V4 over the Easter Weekend not only because of the number of holidays involved, but at that time of the year, the worst of the summer storms are over, leaving the region under a carpet of lush greenery, which greatly enhances the already majestic views and makes for impressive photography.

Sign up here: BEN 10 V4 TOUR


WILD COAST TOUR - Day 3

We woke to the sound of gentle surf on the beach at Mbotyi River Lodge. The day was scheduled for a substantial walk to Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock, but it was a free day, so guests could opt for a range of other activities - like bird watching, swimming, canoeing on the lagoon, or simply relaxing in the lovely gardens at the lodge.

We made use of a local guide, Armstrong, to show us the way to the falls. He rode up front with us in the Land Cruiser, as we tackled a rather dubious looking road which later became a proper 4x4 route, as we bounced and slid our way down the escarpment to a tiny hamlet called Lupathana. It took us a full two hours to get there - a distance of just 20 km as the crow flies!

Cathedral Rock / Photo: Marilyn Johnson

A friend of Armstrong arranged to look after our vehicles for the day at a small fee. In short order our group of about 15 hikers set off to cross the river via some stepping stones, then up the other side through a backpackers bush camp. The day was cool, but humid with the promise of some rain later in the day.

The walk to Waterfall Bluff is undulating and not particularly difficult, but it feels like a lot longer than 4 km when you're doing it! Finally the tone of the surf which been our companion all morning, changed somewhat and around the next bend the fabulous spectacle of Waterfall Bluff awaited. I had seen dozens of photos of the falls, but there is nothing like seeing it up close and personal. The falls consist of a set of three cascades, which are not all visible from the lower viewpoint. A torrent of white water pours out of the jagged rockface directly onto a narrow bay, where the ocean waves compete for supremacy. We spent our lunch break at the falls enjoying this bounty of nature.

After lunch our group split up. Those with more energy, walked another 3 km along the coastline to see Cathedral Rock - a dramatic column of rock with an arch in the centre, which rises up out of the sea. The smaller group which turned back at the waterfall reached Lupathana just as the tide was coming in, accompanied by a steady drizzle. It would be another hour before the rest of group arrived, who had the salty experience of having to wade through the lagoon at waist depth and drive home in wet clothes. 

The dinner back at the lodge that night was a festive affair, as guests retold their adventure and swapped photos.

[Read more...]

 

Published in Mountain Passes News

What's inside?

* Tours update

* Wild Coast Tour - Day 2

* Great South Africans

* South African Cities

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Tours Update:

March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days) 

April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend) 

May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days)  


Wild Coast Tour - The story continues.....

After a short stint on tar, we arrived at Tabankulu. These small rural towns are something of an education and it's best to have a positive mind-set before you get there. It was a Saturday morning, so the village was bustling with energy. Barbeques on open fires next to the franchise shops in the main street; skinny dogs criss-crossing the road looking for a morsel of food; a few bemused looking goats; a small selection of fine Nguni cattle; Toyota Minibus taxis everywhere and then there are the people - all seemingly happy with the chaos around them. It's a real Transkei experience to be savoured and remembered. No-one in the rural Eastern Cape drives with their lights on, so the locals, after seeing this long convoy of vehicles with lights on, no doubt thought we were off to a funeral and due courtesy was given to us.

Just west of the village, there is a fork. The right hand option leads to a marvellous pass, called the Gwangxu Pass, which is currently a dead-end as the bridge at the bottom of the pass has been washed away. Our route took the left hand option to drive the highlight pass of the day - the Mzintlava Pass.

This major gravel pass will enthral and enchant even the most jaded pass hunter. 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. 

Initially the road follows the contour line of the mountain, dipping in and out of the ravines, with expansive views to the south over the green hills and valleys of the Wild Coast. It's not long and the road enters a magnificent indigenous forest. It was a hot day and since it was close to lunchtime, we pulled over inside the forest, fully occupying one half of the roadway, to enjoy our lunch break. The forest was alive with birdsong and the sounds of burbling streams. Local vehicles stopped as they passed by greeting us with smiles and waves. Forget about all those preconceived ideas you had about the region. The locals are genuinely friendly.

The road now climbs at a gradient of 1:14 for the next 1,5 km with magnificent views over the Tshumi River valley on the right whilst the dense forests of the Ntabankulu Forest Reserve smother the southern slope of the mountain ahead. A short and steep descent follows, as the road skirts the northern side of another valley and meanders eastwards whilst undulating and descending towards the 15 km mark and the village of Bomvini where there is a very sharp hairpin bend to the right of 160 degrees. At the apex of this hairpin a smaller road leads off into the north-east to the village of Ncetshane.

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Published in Mountain Passes News

What's inside?

* Tours update

* Wild Coast Tour - Day 2

* Great South Africans

* South African Cities

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Tours Update:

March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days) Bookings now open. (5 spaces left)

April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend) Bookings now open. (8 places left)

May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days)  Bookings now open. (1 space left)


Wild Coast Tour - Day 2

It was another perfect day for youring with warm weather, clear skies and light traffic. We managed to get the convoy ready to roll by 09.15 with slight holdup coming from the Land Rover Defender, not wanting to start. Richard soon got the hang of always parking on a slope with a clear run to bump start it.

We headed east to Cedarville on the tarred R61. About 10 km out of Matatiele, my phone rang. It was Philip from the guesthouse, advising that one of our guests had left some personal items behind. He asked that we should pull the convoy over and he would deliver the goods, which he duly did. This level of service is part of the service package at Resthaven and one of the reasons why we keep returning.

Just after passing through Cedarville, we turned south onto a good gravel road and soon ascended the Nungi Pass. This relatively unknown pass has some impressive statistics. 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. The gradients are steep in some places, reaching 1:5 making 4WD essential in wet weather.

When we did the recce trip for fhis tour in February 2020, the road was in the process of being upgraded. Our timing in November couldnt have been better, as the roadworks had been completed, making for a comfortable traverse. The scenery is lovely with sweeping views of rolling grassland, dotted with well fed cattle. Once over the summit, the views open up to the south over the village of Matafeni. This was to the first of many small villages that we passed through, where the locals all greeted us with waves and smiles.

The valley when viewed from the summit of the Nungi Pass, conceals several villages hidden in the folds of the mountains. To the immediate west lies the mountain village of Gxenlikulu, followed to the south by Upper Mvenyane. Further south another two long villages are traversed - Ntola and Tyiweni. Each village has its own character, style and charm. Everywhere there is livestock - mainly cattle and goats and of course dogs. Surprisingly cats don't seem to do so well here. Sheep are also not that common.

[Read more...]

 

Published in Mountain Passes News

What's inside?

* Tours schedule for 2021

Report back Day 5 Swartberg Tour

Report back Wild Coast Tour Day 1

* Great South Africans

* Cities of South Africa

* Featured Pass

* Words of Wisdom


Trips & Tours for 2021

During January and February we will be offering a repeat of our two 4x4 novice training days. These will be uploaded within the next week. Tours will all be loaded sequentially over the next 10 days.

March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days) Bookings now open.

April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend) Bookings now open.

May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days)  Bookings now open.

June 24th to 27th - Bedrogfontein/Addo Tour (4 days)

July 15th to 18th - Tankwa Tour (4 days)

August 7th to 9th - Namaqualand (3 days)

September 22nd to 25th - Swartberg Tour (4 days)


Swartberg Tour - Day 5

The Karoo heat started early as we enjoyed a breakfast on the stoep of the hotel in that unique and still Karoo atmosphere that folks from the coast rarely experience. We got all our thoroughly laid back guests into convoy formation by 0900 and rumbled out of Prince Albert for our highlight of the day - a full traverse of the timeless Swartberg Pass.

Being a Saturday, there was a steady flow of mainly rental cars on the pass, but we reached the summit in good time and stopped there in wind-free conditions, which I can assure you is a rarity. The wind almost always funnels through the neck at Die Top (the sign which is now completely illegible, thanks to hundreds of stickers about three layers thick already), so it was a nice treat to be able to take photos at the summit in perfect weather.

Further stops ensued at Skelmdraai as well as at the southern end of the pass at Cobus se Gat, where we took a decent break from the hot weather. We chatted to the owner, who explained how hard Covid 19 has hit his business, but fortunately the farm itself was still able to function and produce some income. If you're going to be driving the Swartberg Pass, do make a point of stopping at this facility and support a local business.

Next up was an easy traverse of the beautiful Schoemanspoort, where traffic was light, in contrast to when the Cango caves are open, as it's the main tourist route from Oudtshoorn. The countryside was looking wonderful and green with water levels in the dams looking promising after recent rainfall.

We passed straight through Oudtshoorn and quickly got off the tar and headed west along the back roads towards Calitzdorp and ultimately found ourselves on the patchy concrete road to the south of the R62. This was the first experimental concrete road in South Africa, but it has not aged well, offering a sub-standard drive for motorists. The countryside was however fabulous as our route meandered past old farms and rusty windmills with sheep and goats standing in the shade of any thorn tree available seeking some respite from the sun. The Klein Karoo painted in natural dun colours, reflecting the toil and hardship of farming in this water scarce area was easy on the eye.

Finally, we arrived at the start of the Rooiberg Pass. Being close to lunch time, we stopped in the last bit of shade-generating bush before the pass proper and enjoyed our last lunch al fresco right there on the gravel road. The travel gods were with us, as not a single vehicle came past during the lunch break.

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Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was

* Tours for 2021

* Swartberg Tour - Day 4

* Great South Africans - Natalie du Toit

* South African Cities - Cape Town

* Wild Coast Tour - Prologue

* Pass of the week

* Words of wisdom


Tours for 2021

We've been inundated with requests to book for our 2021 Wild Coast Tour. We are already working on some improvements to the 2020 version, so it's just a matter of picking dates. The next 8 days will be spent on setting up the major tours for 2021, which will include the Ben 10, Wild Coast, Swartberg, Bedrogfontein and Tankwa Tours. Once we have the dates mapped our for those, we will see how we will slot in the new tours.


Swartberg Tour (Day 4 - Prince Albert to Die Hel)

The Swartberg Hotel is very much like the Lord Milner in Matjiesfontein. It's a rambling, old double story building with many add-ons at the back and the gracious old building is showing her age somewhat with oddly shaped rooms, creaking passageways, old artefacts and paintings on the walls and staircases that are narrow and steep. Yet all of those things add to the charm. Modern equipment, like airconditioners have been added to keep pace with customer demands.

We were to spend two nights at the hotel and the one feature we have to highlight is the quality of their food. Our meals were excellent and sitting outside on the verandah on the warm summer evenings watching the passing parade of locals, was as relaxing as anything you could find in the Karoo.

We had a number of highlights on this tour and on Day 4 it was the drive down the Gamkaskloof to Die Hel. We left at 08.30 and took a leisurely drive up the Swartberg Pass, stopping here and there at the various points of interest like Eerstewater, Malvadraai, Blikstasie, Mullerskloof and Teeberg as many gigabytes of photos were added to camera memory banks. The weather was warm and clear, making for a special day.

We started the the 37 km westward drive along the Otto du Plessis Road (that's its official name) at 10.30 enjoying the hundreds of sights offered up by the contorted layers of the Swartberg Mountains. There were the usual klipspringers that allow cars to get as close to 2m from them, whilst raptors soared overhead. This road has a magical allure to it that captivates the adventure traveller, regardless of age or mode of transport.

Finally we reached the summit of Elands Pass, where many of our guests got sight of Die Hel for the first time. Camera shutters clicked away for at least 10 minutes. Our convoy snaked its way cautiously down the pass, with its many hairpins and within 15 minutes arrived at the start of Die Hel. We had seen it the day before from the western side, when we did the 4x4 trail at Bosch Luys Kloof Nature Reserve, but this eastern approach is the real McCoy.

The valley was a mangled ashen blur of burnt trees and collapsed buildings - almost like a cataclysmic setting in a Hollywood disaster movie. The fire that swept through the valley on Christmas Day 2019 destroyed about 60% of the cottages. Our destination for our lunch time stop was Fonteinplaas, where Marinette and her mother in law, Annatjie Joubert were a bit taken aback to see 24 guests arriving for lunch. All our attempts to contact them in advance had failed, so we took a chance and pitched.

It took Marinette about 15 minutes to serve up a delicious lunch for our group. Now that was an impressive effort! Whilst we waited, Annatjie told us the story of the big fire. She's a tough lady, but the tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke. The fire had consumed all their cottages as well as their campsite and its ablutions. Her son was on the roof of the thatched restaurant with a hosepipe as the fire raged all around them. She had called him down.

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Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was

* Wild Coast Tour 

* Swartberg Tour report back - Day 3

* Great South Africans (Series) - Johnny Clegg

* South African cities (Series) - Port Elizabeth

* Pass of the week

* Words of wisdom


Wild Coast Tour

As you read this newsletter, we will be at Kob Inn on the Wild Coast, experiencing another great South African adventure. On our return we will provide you with a blow by blow account. A brief summary of our routing is as follows:

Thursday 12th - Meet at the Resthaven Guest House in Matatiele
Friday 13th - Local tour under the expert guidance of Phillip Rawlins (Mariazell Mission & Mountain Lake)
Saturday 14th - Matatiele, Cedarville, Nungi Pass, Colonanek, Tabankulu, Mzintlava Pass, Lusikisiki, Mbotyi River Lodge.
Sunday 15th - Day excursion to Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock.
Monday 16th - Magwa Falls, Magwa Tea Plantation, Umzimvubu Pass, Port St Johns Airport Road, Mngazi Mouth, PSJ River Lodge
Tuesday 17th - Mlengana Pass, Execution Rock, Coffee Bay.
Wednesday 18th - Hole in the Wall 4x4 route & Mapuzi Caves.
Thursday 19th - Coffee Bay to Kob Inn via Three Jumps Falls
Friday 20th - Day excursion to the Collywobbles vulture colony.
Saturday 21st - Kob Inn to Trennerys. Seafood extravaganza and prize-giving.
Sunday 22nd - Trennerys via the vehicle pont over the Kei River to Morgans Bay.


Swartberg Tour (Day 3) Bosluiskloof to Prince Albert

We were blessed with fabulous weather although a bit too warm for most of us by the time we reached Prince Albert, where the temperature was still 35C at 10 pm that night.Even though Bosluiskloof is just 49 km from Prince Albert as the crow flies, our routing followed a languid and pleasant path covering 240 km.

After a sumptuous breakfast, we bade farewell to our excellent hosts at Bosch Luys Kloof, and rumbled up the Bosluiskloof Pass with the sun behind us. It always fascinates me how different a pass can look in the opposite direction of travel, as well as at a different time of day. Seweweekspoort was much more impressive driving it from north to south with the soft morning light making for good photographic opportunities.

Next up was the Huisrivier Pass. This pass took ten years to design and was managed by the late Dr. Graham Ross. The 13,4 km long Huisrivier pass lies on the R62 between two valleys in the Little Karoo between the towns of Ladismith in the west and Calitzdorp in the east. It has 39 bends, corners and curves packed into that distance, which requires vigilant driving. Not only is this a fairly long pass, but it has many sharp corners, steep gradients and exceptionally attractive scenery. Many lovely rest areas have been provided by the road builders. 

This pass is unique in that its geology is unusually unstable and several pioneering engineering techniques had to be applied to successfully build a safe all-weather pass. The pass, which includes three river crossings, is not particularly steep, where the engineers have managed to limit the steepest gradients to a fairly comfortable 1:12. The pass is suitable for all vehicles with the only natural dangers being rock-falls, but the substantial catch walls appear to be taking care of that as well.

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Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was

* Wild Coast Tour begins

* Swartberg Tour report back - Day 2

* Great South Africans (Series) - Andrew Bain

* South African cities (Series) - Soweto

* Podcast (Day 2 Swartberg Tour)

* Pass of the week

* Words of wisdom


Wild Coast Adventure Tour

As you read this newsletter our tour group will be on their way - or arriving at our tour starting point, which is at Phillip and Elrita Rawlins lovely guesthouse 'Resthaven' in the sleepy village of Matatiele. Tomorrow Phillip, who is one of the most knowledgeable people in the area, will join us in the lead vehicle as he takes us to a range of secret, off-the-beaten-track points of interest which will include the Mariazell Mission church with its very own hydro-electric plant as well as a visit to the mountain top lake.

Once dominated by wetlands and marshes, Matatiele derives its name from the Sotho language words “matata”, meaning wild ducks, and “ile”, meaning gone. When taken together, Matatiele conveys a message that “ducks have flown”. In Phuthi language, the town name is pronounced “Madadiyela”. The common informal name for the town in any of the languages mentioned, including English, is “Matat”. And those that are born here call it “Sweet Matat”. 

Today, its area is predominately farmland, where 100% organic red meat is on offer, and tourism is a primary source of income. As one of the top 12 towns among South Africa’s popular tourist attractions along Route 56, Matatiele provides many activities for fishermen, hikers, bikers, cyclists, bird watchers and landscape photographers. Moreover, the Matatiele Museum (a former Dutch Reformed Church) – displays dinosaur fossils, San people, missionaries, and the town's history from its 19th century gun runners and smugglers to a quaint town filled with friendly locals serving authentic Xhosa cuisine.

Evidence of Stone Age inhabitants in the form of art adorning rocks is found throughout the area. In the early 1860s, the Griquas settled here after migrating across the Drakensberg from Philippolis. The town was the centre of cattle rustling and gun-running, and order was only restored in 1874 by the Cape Mounted Riflemen. The town became a municipality in 1904.

[Read more...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was

* Tours updates

* Swartberg Tour report back

* Old Postal Route closed

* Great South Africans 

* South African cities

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Trips & Tours (2020)

Atlantis Sand Training Day - 13th December (4 tickets available).

Book online

We have a wonderful tour programme lined up for 2021. Some of our popular tours will be repeated and some news ones are being created. We've listened to YOUR suggestions. The new tours will be published soon.


Swartberg Tour Report back

Day Zero: 19th October. Our rendezvous point for the start of the tour was the lovely Rotterdam Boutique Hotel. This old establishment has been lovingly restored and is located on a working cattle farm just outside the hamlet of Buffeljagsrivier, near Swellendam. A museum 'Die Waenhuis' is in close proximity to the Fraser-Jones suites with its burbling fountains and enormous rooms. We travel a lot, but those rooms were the size of a small house. 

We had 10 vehicles on the tour, including two non 4WD vehicles. We held our drivers briefing promptly at 1800 on the stoep of the old thatched restaurant to the sound of sprinklers and frogs, nicely topped off with the fragrance of lavender and freshly mowed grass.

After the driver's briefing, Andrew Fraser-Jones (the proprietor) took us over to the museum for a fascinating 20 minute talk covering the history of the area. Dinner was excellent and a strong northerly wind ensured everyone was tucked in nice and early ready for the first day of passes.

Day 1: 20th October. After a hearty farm breakfast, we managed to get the show on the road by 0900. Our first stop was at the so-called Sugar Bridge, just a few kilometres from the hotel. 

Mr Skirrow designed the bridge but died soon after, leaving the actual construction to Mr Atmore. Huge sandstone blocks were used for the piers and the bridge deck was solid teak salvaged from the shipwreck of the 'Robert' at the mouth of the Lourens River in 1847.

Portland cement was not available at that time in South Africa. Traditional local mortar was made from sand and lime but it took a long time to set to full strength, leaving the builders with concerns that the Buffeljagsrivier might flood during the construction phase and wash the new bridge away. So they imported gypsum from France but this set too quickly to allow the accurate placement of the sandstone blocks. To retard the setting time, household sugar was added as an admixture. Hence the bridge earned the nickname of the Sugar Bridge and opened to traffic in 1852. It did its job perfectly well for 101 years when the new road was opened in 1953. 

After a 1 km stint on the busy N2, we detoured off to visit the missionary village of Suurbraak. Our routing then took us up Moodies Pass (named after a magistrate in Heidelberg), then along a magnificent stretch of gravel road all along the foothills of the Langeberg which included the Boosmansbos Pass, Doringkraal Pass, Seekoeigat Pass and Wadrift Pass. The flowers were amazing along the route and we had just one slightly deep water crossing to contend with.

That was just the entree. We had another three major passes to drive. Next up was Gysmanshoek Pass. This pass has very comfortable gradients with only one steep section of about 2 km. The route follows a river valley and the fragrance of proteas and fynbos greets those who drive with their windows open. We took a break at the summit for some photos and tackled the descent.

Our first town stop was Ladismith and like so many places in South Africa, the closures of busineses due to the lockdown was a stark reminder of what our country still has to work through, before things can return to some semblance of normality. Instead of driving along the R62, we drove a picturesque gravel route around the northern end of Ladismith, known as the Hoekoe Valley. One of the interesting points of interest is Stanley's Light. A local gentleman walked up the mountain armed with plastic pipes, a bicycle wheel and dynamo. At the source of the spring near the summit, Oom Stanley built his little water mill which powers the dynamo which in turn lights the bulb in the bicycle lamp. It can be seen from the town at night and its brightness (or lack thereof) is a sure indicator of how much water is flowing down the mountain.

We also stopped in at the old Lutheran Mission Church at Amalienstein for photos and then arrived at the start of one of the main attractions for the day - Seweweekspoort. Just as one enters the poort from the southern side, a small road leads away to the right. It terminates 2 km later at the Tierkloof Dam, which is the main water supply to Zoar and Amalienstein. Its a narrow, deep dam that holds back 45,000 cu.m of fresh water with wall height of 17m.

We normally stop under the dam wall and enjoy a lunch break, but the authorities have since decided to padlock the gate. This is no doubt due to bad behaviour by certain individuals. What a pity. There is a large flat area just before the gate, which can accommodate ten or more vehicles, so we made good use of that.

Seweweekspoort never disappoints, but driving it after 1500 on a sunny day provides lots of glare from the front and does not show off its beauty to maximum effect. We always make provision for this and ensure that we when we drive back through the poort, it is in the morning with the light from behind.

Our last pass of the day was Bosluiskloof. Every time we take guests down this pass, there is always a sense of disbelief at the raw and rugged nature of this road and the achingly dry valley it provides access to.

We arrived right on schedule, ready to enjoy the excellent hospitality at Bosch Luys Kloof lodge. A magnificent Karoo sunset provided a perfect setting for happy hour on the pool deck with a warm and windless evening. The food at the lodge is very good and our band of travellers hit the sack tired and happy, looking forward to the next day, which was a 'free' day to be spent as they wished inside the reserve. More on that next week.

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was....

* Tours Updates

* Swartberg Tour summary

* Ben 10 V3 Tour - Day 5 / Finale

* Great South Africans - Series #6

* Cities of South Africa - Series #7

* Podcast - A day with the vultures

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Trips & Tours


Wild Coast Adventure Tour - 12th to 21st November (Fully booked) 

Mpumalanga Highveld Tour - 23rd to 25th November (5 tickets available)

Atlantis Sand Training Day - 13th December (4 tickets available).

Book online

We are working on our program for next year and will publish dates of the new tours as soon as we have finalised matters.


Swartberg Tour - Report back

This thoroughly enjoyable tour deserves a detailed story on its own, which will take place over the next few weeks, but here is a short summary. The single most impressive item on this tour was the astonishing volume and variety of wild-flowers. The weather ranged from distinctly cool on the first day to a blistering 51C in Prince Albert on the 3rd day. The mercury dropped to 35C by 10 pm that night,

The day we visited the Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) was achingly painful to see the deeply wooded valley left in a charred and ashen state with no wildlife or birds present. The remaining family at Fonteinplaas are still there, licking their wounds and trying to rise above the double tragedy of the fire and Covid 19. Annatjie Joubert was there in person and spoke to us about the day of the fire - Christmas Day 2019 - when the valley caught fire and they still don't know how is started. All their guest cottages and the campsite went up in flames. Her son was standing on the roof wetting down the thatch of the restaurant as the flames raged around them. And finally it was time to stand on the lawn and pray. Suddenly there was a change in wind direction and the flames retreated up towards Elands Pass. Their home and the restaurant were spared.

Klipspringer family commonly seen on the road to Die Hel / Photo: Marius KrijtPlease go and visit. Take in the ashes and devastation. Have a meal and a drink there. If ever there was a family that needs our collective support, it is there in Die Hel. They have rebuilt three of the cottages as well as the campsite already. These are good South African people that need our support. More news next week.

 

Ben 10 V3 Tour - Day 5 (Finale)

After the rest day on the Sunday, we had a long day ahead of us which promised lots of action. The weather was perfect and our convoy left base at 08.30 sharp. Our routing took us along the R393 northwards over the Fetcani Pass. We took the shortcut to Rhodes over the Bokspruit Pass and arrived at Rhodes within an hour, where we paid a visit to the Rhodes Hotel, which is busy being revamped in preparation for the new grand opening.

The old hotel is an interesting place packed with antiques and one of the nicest pubs I've seen in a long time. We'll keep you posted on developments via these newsletters. It will certainly add a big attraction to anyone wanting to visit the village, which was hammered by a lack of tourism during lockdown.

Our first challenge pass of the day was Naude's Nek Pass. We stopped at the Naude memorial site at the foot of the pass to appreciate the fantastic work of the Naude family and their influence on the area, not least of which is the fabulous pass that they were instrumental in building. When one considers that the farmers had no education in terms of engineering, the gradients on the pass are actually very comfortable. 

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Published in Mountain Passes News

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Mountain Passes South Africa

Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
 

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.
 

Master Orientation Map

Master Orientation Map We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.

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