Knysna - the aftermath
Our Cape Town based film crew headed to the Southern Cape over the long weekend includng the 15th of June to refilm certain passes and to deliver goods to the Knysna fire victims. It was a sobering and emotional journey that served as a grim reminder how quickly a bad turn in nature can change our lives forever. More on that later........
Meet the Klowers
On Youth Day, we headed off to Die Hel in the Gamkaskloof, where we met Annatjie Joubert - the last private land owner and original 'klower' who runs the guest farm 'Fonteinplaas'. We spent a sunny afternoon doing a video interview with her and unpacking some of the myths of Die Hel. Aged 73, this lady is still a bundle of energy with a razor sharp brain. More on the guest farm further down this page....
The tighest hairpins in the land
Ballot's Bay is located on the southern outskirts of George and consists of some very steep and thickly wooded hills which tumble down to the rocky shores just east of Victoria Bay where the Meulrivier meets the thundering surf of the Indian Ocean. Much of the privately owned estate comprises a nature reserve. We were invited to refilm the entire Ballots Bay Pass, which has some of the tightest corners we have found on any pass in South Africa and for our trouble, we had the privilege of spending the weekend admiring the sensational views from a perfectly sited timber chalet. Keep a look-out for the new video which should go live within the next two weeks or so.
The Garden Route fires....
The fires in the Garden Route are under control, but new fires have erupted in the Port Elizabeth area. The devastation in Knysna has to be seen to be believed. The human suffering and pain is beyond description. Mountain Passes South Africa have for some time had a filming trip planned into the Garden Route scheduled for 15th to 18th June. We are busy setting up a relief collection point, so we can help deliver as much relief stores as we can carry to the relevant authority in this official disaster zone, where more than 100 homes have been completely destroyed. The spirit of compassion and community has united the residents. We will try to obtain first hand information of the situation and report our findings next week on this page.
Meanwhile in the Cape Town area the super-storm that caused all the destruction, has dropped a fair amount of rain and snow as it swept over the Western Cape. Reports indicate that the Theewaterskloof Dam river feeder system is flowing strongly and the dam level has risen by one metre. It's a start in breaking the grip of the drought and this week there is rain forecast for 5 consecutive days. According to the authorities it will take three years of average winter rainfall to recover the dam levels to normal. Effectively this means Capetonians will remain under water restrictions for a long time to come.
Information filtering through indicate that repair work has commenced on the Swartberg Pass, which is good news for the town of Prince Albert, but the completion date remains at August 2018.
On Friday, 16th June, we are planning on re-filming the entire Gamkaskloof as well as the dizzying Elands Pass. We will be doing a one on one video interview with Annatjie Joubert, the last remaining original 'klower' at Die Hel, so the entire page will be revamped with multiple new videos on offer. Lots to look forward to!
Pass of the Week
Our featured pass this week lies on a quiet gravel road on the northern side of the Seweweekspoort and forms part of the border of the Towerkop Nature Reserve. This lovely gravel pass offers two waterfalls (in the winter season) and some stunning mountain views as it descends into the valley preceding the Witnekke Pass which lead to Laingsburg.
Mother Nature is on the rampage with fire, wind and water in the armory. The big storm has brought deep snow to the high mountains clean across South Africa. As at 9th June the Wapadsberg and Lootsberg passes near Graaff Reinet have been closed and the latest is that the fires around the Knysna area are under control, but still burning. Knysna is still completely closed with more than a hundred buildings having been destroyed. We have just heard from Tiffindell that there is lots of snow at the ski resport. Still time to make that call with a long weekend coming up on the 16th!
The Perfect Storm
The Eden area - Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay has experienced savage forest fires, fanned by gale force berg winds ahead of the Cape Town Storm. Most of the residents of Knysna have been evacuated and millions of Rands worth of property have been lost, but it is the loss of life which is always the most tragic. The storm has claimed 8 lives so far. Although the wind has died this morning, fires are still out of control. The N2 and Phantom Pass are closed. There are no phone land-lines operating at present. Please stay away from the area. News 24 have set up emergency numbers for you to check on the safety of family and friends.
In 1986 drought stricken Laingsburg suffered the worst flood in living memory, when the twin rivers that form a confluence just upstream of the town, both flooded at the same time, releasing a massive wave of tumbling brown water over the town. At the time the town's main water supply, the Floriskraal Dam was virtually empty, but within the space of just a few minutes, the wall of water that swept downstream, did a single U-turn at the dam wall and filled the dam to overflowing. Water, our exilir of life, is also one of nature's most powerful destructive forces.
Fast forward 31 years and Cape Town's dams are are below 15% capacity with the city's residents buckling under Level 4 water restrictions. A week ago weather forecasters started plotting a massive storm far out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and the warnings began arriving via various media sources. The Western Cape was about to be the recipient of the worst storm in 37 years. More lower down.........
The Field Guide
We have finally started working on the much anticipated book and as discussed in previous news releases, the book will be in the form of a Field Guide and be printed on A5 size, so as to be able to comfortably fit into the average cubby-hole. After carefully assessing the costs of printing, we have decided that each pass page will contain a large scale satellite image map, with a thumbnail inset top/left showing its position in South Africa. The rest of the page will contain all the information the adventure tourist will need - like directions, history, interesting anecdotes, tourism information, the fact file with GPS coordinates and the url of the webpage in case any back referencing is required. More lower down.....
Pass of the Week
Mike Leicester, our Jhb based associate has been hard at work uncovering and filming some fantastic passes. Today we feature another steep pass, based within a game reserve, which is bound to be popular with those that enjoy game watching. More lower down........
We have a jam-packed newsletter this week with lots of interesting information, but 'oudegewoonte' let's kick-off with our discovery of the week.....
Another marvellous gravel pass unveiled this week:
This week we feature yet another gem of a gravel pass in a remote and unsullied part of the Eastern Cape highlands about 24 km west of Barkly East (as the crow flies). There are some severe hairpins, deep washaways, and loose stones to keep drivers a little on the edge and then there are the incredible views. This one is for the purist. More lower down this page...
For Eastern Cape readers, you can tune in to Wild Coast Radio each Monday at 15h30 where we chat about a specific mountain pass for 10 minutes. We are hoping that the radio station will be sending us the podcasts soon, which we will upload onto the website, so that the whole nation can listen to these 10 minute 'live' talks on our passes and poorts.
Subscribe and win a GoPro
If you have not subscribed to the website yet, you still have time to do so and have your name automatically entered into the draw for a GoPro Hero4 Silver and we hope the lucky winner will film passes for us using this tough, high quality camera. More on that lower down....
Gamkaskloof and Die Hel revisited
We are planning on refilming this all time favourite on June 16th, so if you're in the area keep a look out for us and say hello. This will be the first gravel pass utilising a new motorised gimbal (imported from the USA) to smooth out corrugations for more enjoyable video watching. Our routing will include the towns of Worcester, Robertson, Montagu, Barrydale, Calitzdorp, Rooiberg Pass, VanWyk's Vlei, Cloetesville, Mossel Bay, George (Ballots Bay) - Oudtshoorn, Swartberg Pass, and Gamkaskloof. We will be spending some time with Annetjie Joubert, the last remaining 'klower' at Fonteinplaas in Die Hel and we will dig up some more history about this secluded and beautiful valley.
The Field Guide Book
We are being flooded with inquiries about the proposed book. More info lower down.......
Swartberg Pass Update
This week we have the first authenticated update on progress on the flood damage to the Swartberg Pass. Anyone who was hoping to include a drive over the pass in 2017 can now definitely cancel those plans, as the provisional time frame to complete the repairs is set at 15 months, which will take us to August, 2018. Due to the historical nature of the pass and it's status as a national monument, the process of getting the paperwork signed off for construction work to commence is more complicated than normal.
The budget for the repair work is estimated at between R25m & R30m. Heritage Western Cape still need to sign the paperwork off and they have been given 30 days to complete their inspections and considerations. More information lower down this page.....
Our featured pass this week is something very unusual in that it is fairly long at over 16 km and is without question the pass with the most (4) alternative names on our 700+ pass database. We take you with us on a dusty and corrugated drive between two tiny settlements, with quaint names like Kharkams and Spoegrivier and we dig into the wonderful history of the area and take a peek at Bethelsklip - an open air place of worship dating back to the 1800's and still utilised to this day. More on this lovely 'road less travelled' lower down this page....
Whilst the vast majority of South Africa shivers in ice cold temperatures, with ice and snow around, your editorial team in Cape Town continue to 'enjoy' summer style weather with daily temperatures in the upper 20's. The Western Cape now has a very serious water crises looming, which will be felt next summer, unless a lot of rain falls over the next four months. The city's biggest water supply dam - Theewaterskloof - is a frightening sight at the moment.
When snow falls, South African's get the fever - an almost reckless need to get to the snow to drive, ride, play or build a snowman. Whilst this eagerness is understandable, we wish to pass on some sage advice on the subject, which we go into some detail a bit lower down.
Each May we take a long hard look at our statistics. This helps us to gauge how we are doing, who we are connecting with and it forms the yardstick by which we measure our success. More below......
Our featured pass this week is in the Northern Cape. We take you on a faraway drive down the Bokkeveld Mountains on a very old gravel pass, which once had the involvement of Thomas Bain and it dates back to 1880. This one is for those with high clearance vehicles and a spirit of adventure, as it involves some tricky navigation. More below.......
The northern and southern filming crews have assembled a wonderful collection of new passes and poorts over the recent holiday cycle, both big and small - each with its own special beauty or story. So for the next few months these will all be progressively released onto the website. Mike Leicester uncovered a beauty of a "new" pass whilst filming in KZN recently. This wonderful gravel pass has easy gradients, magnificent Drakensberg scenery, a spooky old tunnel and can be driven in any vehicle with reasonable ground clearance. More about that lower down.
15 have conquered the Ben 10
As expected there were another batch of Ben 10 Eco Challenge finishers over the recent long weekend. One of these was Craig Fouche and his wife who completed the challenge in the diminutive, but very capable Suzuki Jimny. This couple entered into the true spirit of the challenge and if you look up their post on our Facebook page, you will see just how much fun they had. Well done!
In addition we have received video footage taken by a biker completing the ascent of the Ben MacDhui Pass, which we have embedded on that page. Take a look at the video and see just how tough it is physically to ride this pass on a motorcycle. Thanks to Grant Leicester for the footage.
Well, the April/May holidays are done and dusted and for all those of you that made it home safely - well done! Both the Jhb and Cape Town based film crews were also on the road during this period - mainly in the Eastern and Northern Cape with at least 40 new passes having been filmed. This material will appear progressively over the next few months.
Illegal road closures
One of the contentious issues raised this week is that of illegal road closures and how best to deal with them. We cover that thorny topic in more detail lower down this page.
Featured pass of the week:
The financially rich (and smallest) province of Gauteng sports a total of 11 passes - most of which fall under the category of suburban passes. It is one of these that is our featured pass this week. It offers fascinating history, great views and is very accessible to those living in the metropolis.
April &May are probably the months of the year that most people use for longer travel type holidays as can be attested by the flood of email inquiries we received this month from folk needing advice and assistance with travel plans. We legally may not plan a route for you, but the website is so designed to provide all the information for each person to watch the videos, look at the facts, routes and maps and so make informed decisions on their own routes - and to take responsibility for those choices.
How to use the best feature on the website - The Master Map
The first and best tool to plan a trip is the MASTER MAP which is the first item under the FIND A PASS tab. Zoom into your area of interest and hover your cursor over any of the dots - the name of the pass will pop up. If you want to know more about that specific pass, left click on the dot, and another balloon will open inviting you to take the click through to that pass page. The black dots indicate tarred passes and the red dots are gravel passes.
It's fun and takes some time, but by the time you've properly researched your intended route, you will be armed with superior knowledge, which will make your journey so much more enjoyable. The master map is available to anyone, but only subscribers can see the content of the individual pages and the videos. That makes another 700 good reasons to subcribe!
Our featured pass this week is a real gem. It's in the Drakensberg and offers steep gradients, serious drop offs, a mix of gravel and concrete, incredible views, sharp corners, technical driving and lots of crisp alpine air.
To Mpumalanga we go
With the Easter weekend behind us, we can now focus on introducing you to something different in the north-eastern corner of South Africa - in Mpumalanga Province, which is the region of our featured pass this week.
There is still time....
Things are hotting up with the Ben 10 Eco Challenge likely to produce the next batch of successful entrants over the spate of public holidays creating long weekend holidays with enough time for people to complete the challenge. As soon as the first 20 places have been filled, we will draw the first lucky winner for a two day weekend at one of our sponsor's hotels. Watch this space!
Our Facebook page featuring the news of the floods and subsequent closure of the Swartberg Pass had 76,000 views, whilst an amazing photograph (which we think will still win some awards) of the Elands Pass descending down into Die Hel, taken by Cape Town based photographer, Bipin Prag, was viewed by 151,000 people on the MPSA Facebook page alone. We feature his photo as our introductory photo of this news release. Do visit our Facebook page which has the full story of how the photographer spent the night on the pass, during the fateful storm, where he captured an image unlikely to be repeated in the future.
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.
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.