* Cape of Storms
* How to refurbish roadsigns 101
* Tales from the Karoo
* Featured pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
Cape of Storms
The third and most powerful of the major frontal systems this winter is scheduled to arrive in Cape Town today. Big snowfalls, gale force winds and heavy rain have been forecast. The system is forecast to reach as far north as Namibia. Expect snow on passes above 1000m altitude as well as road closures from Thursday till Monday.
If you're a storm-chaser, get your wellies and foul-weather gear and make sure your camera is waterproof. We'd love to see your pictures.
Road Signs - An education
We ran up the first set of decals to refurbish the first of the summit signs of 54 passes in the Western Cape. I thought this would be an easy and pleasant task, getting me out the office and into nature where I am happiest, but I was in for a big surprise. Those road signs that we all take for granted involve a lot more effort to maintain than what most people think. They are very much bigger when you're standing 1m away. They are also subjects of much abuse. Illegal stickers, graffiti, bullet holes, malicious damage, rocks thrown at them. In short, they do not look pristine for long and require regular maintenance. The signs have been up for about 10 years.
I made up a pack list of gear I thought I would need - decals, scissors, marking pens, masking tape, methylated spirits, spray on soap, rags, bucket, fresh water, utility knife, ladder, safety vest and a whole lot more. For the first experiment, I knew it would take me longer than I expected.
First the whole sign had to be washed down. Then all non-official stickers had to be removed. Some of them were very stubborn and required a gas gun to heat-soften them. Glue residue is removed with meths and elbow grease. The thought did occur to me to send all the businesses that pasted decals on the signs an invoice for removal and cleaning! The surface is a spray painted brown surface. Removing old decals with a blade damages the spraypaint. You have to work very, very carefully.
The weather has to be good as well. Any mist, fog or rain and the decals will not adhere properly.
Then came the repair of the bullet holes. There were 10 holes clean through the metal (Chromadek) and many other others that were not powerful enough to pierce the metal, but enough to make a big dent. My original idea of filling the holes and then covering the front side with the brown vinyl was hopelessly optimistic. That would have been far too time consuming, impractical and expensive, so the holes are simply covered with a slightly oversized square of vinyl. The results are actually quite satisfactory.
[Read more lower down...]
* Signs of the times
* Winter weather
* The importance of social media in brand building
* Trips & Tours and the Covid spoke in the wheel
* Reflections - The day of the turkey
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
Signs of the times
Our cover photo shows one of the 162 official road signs which now fall under the auspices of Mountain Passes South Africa. The first recce trip has already taken place where dimensions were recorded for the reinstatement of any damaged signs, removal of graffiti and repairs of the inevitable bullet holes so common in South Africa. The project will commence as early as next week as we take charge of this project and with a long term vision, we could possibly even cover the whole of South Africa. Next time you arrive at one of those tourist board signs, you will see our name on them (with pride). Please don't shoot the signs guys - SLM (Sign Lives Matter!)
The Western Cape got slammed by another potent cold front with wind speeds exceeding 80 kph and wave heights that reached 9m. Uprooted trees, localised flooding and property damage were all sacrifices that had to be made to record a 4% increase in dam levels in the province. Snowfalls were recorded right across the high mountains of South Africa and Lesotho. The Swartberg range was pummelled by this storm resulting in the temporary closure of the Swartberg Pass, but traffic is flowing again as road repair crews are hard at work sorting the road out.
Our social media pages keep us very busy. We have just whizzed through the 32,000 followers mark. Since lockdown started, we seem to have found a new popularity amongst the public, who seek out uplifting, positive posts. We don't pay for these posts. The growth is entirely organic. To put this into perspective, we will typically post between 4 to 8 times per day or approximately every 2 hours. Each photo or video we post has to be checked for authenticity, quality and suitability for our audience.
After a post has been published, it has to be constantly moderated for spam attacks, politically motivated comments or troll type comments. Our total time spent on Facebook (excluding Instagram) can easily reach up to 5 hours per day. A typical day's post views will be around 50,000. So in a month that figure will reach 1,5 million views. Over a year that translates to 18 million. These social media pages are the feeder system driving traffic to our website - so now you know why we put so much effort into it. The viewing public know what they want to see and clearly we are meeting those needs based on our current growth rate of 1000 new followers every week.
For start-up business that think they can launch a Facebook presence on a budget, be warned that once you are in the loop of spending money on promoted paid posts, it will very quickly fall flat if you don't carry on spending. Organic growth is the way to go. Trust me on this.
Trips & Tours
Planning tours in these uncertain times has proven to be very difficult. Part of the problem comes in the interpretation of the lockdown regulations. On any one regulation there can be as many as five different interpretations, with each one claiming to be the "official" one. In essence, it means any tours planned after August 1st when we presume inter-provincial travel will be allowed, must have a plan B in terms of alternative dates. Having to have a double set of dates, essentially means we can't plan tours for the second set of dates, so effectively our tours frequency is reduced by 50%.
With our Wild Coast Tour looming in early August, we are waiting with bated breath for news of the relaxation of inter-provincial travel. This tour remains fully booked. All of the guests that booked and cancelled because of Covid 19 fears will receive 100% credit.
The Ben 10 Tour, which is scheduled for mid-September still has one ticket open. The Ben 10 Tours are always enjoyable providing a heady mix of challenging driving, beautiful scenery and camaraderie. Full information and bookings can be done online on this link. BEN 10 V3 TOUR.
Reflections of my life
Cookhouse, Eastern Cape , South Africa 1953.
The year of the Turkey.
A lot of things went down in that illustrious year in the dusty streets of the hot Karoo dorpie when I was 4 years old. My aunt, Elaine Watson, had given her brother (my father) a turkey to fatten up for our Christmas dinner. My father had very basic carpentry skills, but he managed to fashion a small structure against the side of the house, with a rickety chicken mesh wire door with a wooden toggle as a lock. Inside lived a very ugly and scary bird, considerably bigger than what I was at the time.
Needless to say, we kids were fascinated with the turkey and I recall spending a lot of time staring at the monster, becoming braver each week. Over time, the turkey and I became soul mates as I had my daily chat with him as he gobbled down his ration of mealies.
* Trips and Tours
* Reflections of my life
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
At MPSA HQ in Cape Town, our offices have suddenly burst into life with a surge in inquiries on tours and the various services we offer. It's wonderful to see the tide turning. From the fearful masses with masks, there is a definite change of mind-set taking place. People want to travel again. People are tired of living in fear. Tired of the isolation.They want their lives back again.
We have had one cancellation for our Ben 10 V3 Tour in mid September, so if you would like to drive the challenge in the safety of a group and enjoy the incredible scenery, camaraderie and fun of this tour, you can read up on all the details as well as sign up on this link: BEN 10 V3 TOUR. As an indicator of the popularity of the tour, two of the places have been booked by guests who have done the Ben 10 V2 tour. Yes, it's that good.
We are working on a few day tours over the November/December period, including a tour that will be able to be driven in a normal car.
Cookhouse, Eastern Cape - 1954
(A chapter from a proposed book currently being written by your editor)
My first bottling plant. A true story unearthed from the dust of the Karoo. This photo shows the neighbour’s two kids, Brian and Edith Brandsten posing with me (far right). I think I was the only fair haired kid in the entire Karoo. I stood out like a sore thumb.
* Wicked winter weather
* MPSA is growing
* Snow drive
* Tours update
* NEW! Swartberg Tour 2020
* Another story from 1958
* Pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
Wicked Winter Weather
The frontal system that was our opening paragraph in last week's newsletter, deserved more than that. It delivered tons of snow. All the high mountains were draped in thick snow from the Cederberg to the Drakensberg. Temperatures plummeted with Johannesburg logging sub-zero temperatures. We used a gap between the two frontal systems to take a drive out to Ceres to capture some photos and videos of the action.
We have taken over the website and assets of Cape Mountain Passes. All those brown tourist boards displaying the vital statistics of 54 passes in the Western Cape will now be managed by MPSA, which includes the urls capemountainpasses.co.za, capemountainroutes.co.za and tablemountainroutes.co.za. The owner, Rod Douglas, of this long standing project has retired and gifted the project to us to ensure the hard work that went into the project will continue to be utilised by the public. We will start by cleaning up all the signs at the pass summit points - getting rid of the graffiti and patching the bullet holes and adding the MPSA signage. We will incorporate the CMP signage into our logo. There is also an entire geocaching section that goes with the project.
New logo and headers
Our new logo and page headers are now live on the website. We think they are a nice improvement. Thanks to Lisa for the creative artwork and Jacques for the technical stuff.
Ceres Snow Drive
Our routing did not disappoint. We drove over the old Du Toitskloof Pass where we saw some beautiful waterfalls, all flowing strongly. Along the stretch on the Worcester side of the tunnel the peaks were all dusted in snow, making for majestic photography.
Perhaps the best scenery was to be enjoyed just north of the Hex River Poort where the quilt-work of winter draped vineyards formed a perfect setting against a backdrop of snow capped mountains under a cobalt blue sky. We ran a short video over the scene, which has enjoyed an impressive view tally of 51000 views (at the time of writing).
There was surprisingly little snow on the Hex River Pass, but the Matroosberg mountains were under a thick layer of snow. We drove on to the junction of the N1 and the R46, where the road was closed and a traffic officer sat in his vehicle just behind the cones. Fully expecting to be turned away, we approached to ask permission to drive through to Ceres only to find the driver snuggled up and asleep. So we drove around the cones and along the R46 enjoying the ice cold Karooscapes topped off with white peaks in every direction.
At the junction of the R46 and the R355 we came across a second road block, but decided to rather take the short cut along the gravel road through the Matjiesrivier farm (a public road) and from there up the Bo Swaarmoed Pass where we arrived at the real snow fields. It was such a pretty sight.
The farm at the summit of the Bo Swaarmoed Pass is appropriately called Laastedrif. The plateau between this farm and the Klondike cherry farm is mostly above the 1200m contour line and there was more snow than what we've seen in any winter over the last decade. A few families had taken the time to play in the snow with toboggans and snowmen were being built at various points along the road.
We decided to retrace our route back to the Matjiesrivier farm and turn left to re-join the R46 at the foot of the Hottentots Kloof Pass, where the signboard incorrectly reads 'Theronsberg Pass'. There was surprisingly little snow along the road-side, but the mountains looked stunning. We got some great pics near the summit - one of which generated 58,000 views. The coldest temperature we measured was at the Erfdeel farm where the reading was 4C.
[More lower down]
* Weather, storms, rain and snow
* Trips & Tours Update
* True stories from the Karoo
* Podcast - Bloukrans Pass Part 2
* Pass of the week
* Positive motivational message
As I'm compiling this week's newsletter, the north-wester is gusting well over 30 knots with heavy rain squalls causing localised flooding in Cape Town. Snow has begun falling in the high mountains from Matroosberg to Sutherland and more snow is forecast for the Swartberg. It is after all winter and the rains are most welcome. Particularly the Eastern Cape is seriously in need of rain and reports coming in show the Vaal Dam has dropped to below the 50% level with the dry winter season still looming. The hectic weather makes a pleasant change of topic to all the conspiracy theories that continue to dominate the social media platforms.
Trips & Tours
We are anticipating that Level 3 will end towards the end of June and Level 1 should arrive towards the end of July. Our Wild Coast Tour arrangements are in full swing with packing lists and route maps having gone out today. We had a flurry of cancellations (mostly Covid 19 fears) and quickly resold two of the places, but we still have two tickets going begging. If you want to join us for 10 glorious days of Wild Coast exploration, there's still time to get on board.
This tour will include some amazing highlights, like a visit to the Mariazell Mission with its own hydro-electric plant; a traverse of the 39 km long Mzintlava Pass; two days at Mbotyi River Lodge; Magwa Falls; Waterfall Bluff; Eagles Nest at Port St Johns; Execution Rock; Hole in the Wall; Dwesa Nature Reserve; Kob Inn; Shipwrecks; The Collywobbles; Vulture viewing; Nonqwowase's Pools; a seafood fest at Trennerys; ferry over the Great Kei. Book online here WILD COAST TOUR
Our Ben 10 Eco Challenge V3 Tour has been rescheduled for mid September and we also have 2 tickets available. The Ben 10 Tour is more than just driving challenging mountain passes. We visit some of the most beautiful and rugged places imaginable in the highlands that will leave an indelible mark on your memory. Places where ice cold rivers tumble through rugged gorges and vertical waterfalls - where trout make their home to spawn. Villages like Rhodes and Barkly East. Old bridges dating back to the 1800's. Tall conifers standing guard over dramatic mountain slopes. Ask anyone who has done the Ben 10 and you will get an immediate thumbs up. Book online here: BEN 10 V3 TOUR
True Stories from the Karoo
1955 - Longdrop Legends.
We had a toilet like this in Cookhouse. It occupied the furthest corner of the yard. To take this time travel, readers need to fully understand the mechanics of the system. A pit is dug approximately 2m deep and 1,5m square. A shelter is erected over this pit. In our case it was made from corrugated iron. This was secured to the ground with “bloudraad” onto metal pegs - the purpose being that the wind could not blow it over.
[Read more lower down]
* Wild Weather
* Going down....Level 3
* Tapping into the lockdown positives
* A personal short story
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
WINTER HAS ARRIVED
The first big winter storm has arrived, brnging with it gale force winds, 9m waves along the coast and heavy rain in many parts of the country. Good snowfalls have been recorded right across all the high lying areas with Afriski in Lesotho embracing the snow with open arms, which is an excellent precursor to the lowering of travel bans in time for the main snow season.
EXITING LOCKDOWN ETIQUETTE
Undoubtedly the biggest news this week is the reduction of lockdown rules to Level 3. On Monday 1st June, a great deal of normality will begin the turning point and the exit from this long and surreal period in all of our lives. Our planning with respect to our postponed tours has proven to be sensible, as by the time August arrives the nation should be on Level 1 or zero.
The incessant bombardment of information surrounding the pandemic has brought a number of funny and some more serious moments. This post on Facebook this week, caught our eye:
"Businesses are now starting to open in the first phase as per the government's plan. If you go to commercial premises and see a few mistakes, don't start recording video or taking photos to later upload onto social media.
Please speak to the owner. Be kind. We all have to help each other.
This is new for everyone and business owners will be trying their best to make things safe and get their business up and running again.
Let's help each other through this transition"
Or it could be simplified into a few impactful short words : "Don't be a snitch!"
Just a reminder of one of our new services on offer:
NEW TOURS FOR GAUTENG, LIMPOPO, NORTH WEST AND MPUMALANGA
We are busy negoatiating with a new joint venture tour operator to run our unique MPSA tours in the northern sector of South Africa. All things being equal and if negotiations are successful, the first of the new northern tours should be ready towards September. Most of these tours will be for non 4WD vehicles, so we look forward to catering for that sector of the market.
ARE YOU READY TO ESCAPE?
One ticket has become available for our Ben 10 Tour in September. BOOK HERE.
We also have 1 ticket that has become available for the Wild Coast Tour. BOOK HERE
Perhaps the best thing about lockdown is the reconnecting of old friends. Somehow lockdown made us all realIse that money is not the most important thing in life. There has been a universal reaching out amongst people of all walks of life. I personally had many such calls from as far afield as America and New Zealand. One of the friends I had last spoken to almost 50 years ago. It's a thing of beauty to reconnect like that. [Read more]
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
UNLOCKING OUR LIVES
The time has come to start living a normal life again. Around the world and in South Africa, the tedious process of unlocking has commenced. Now the question is, when will we reach Level 1? From our point of view, it is time to start planning the rest of our collective lives. It is unwise to live life too prophylactically and this can lead to mental illness (Joking, of course!) The message is PLAN A TRIP - with or without us.
We have made good use of the past 8 weeks and expanded our commercial offerings considerably and come up with at least one brilliant idea, which would probably not have happened without the time and space that lockdown provided. We are planning ahead with a positive attitude and our tours are back on track in the best possible way.
Speaking of tours, we had a cancellation for our Wild Coast Tour. We put that ticket on our Facebook page two days ago and it was snapped up within 20 minutes. That's a very healthy sign. We have similarly also had a cancellation for our Ben 10 Tour in September and will be advertising that spot after you have read this newsletter. In other words our subscribers can have first option on taking the available ticket.
If you're interested get all the details here:
INFLUENCERS - Dr Graham Ross
In today's newsletter we pay homage to the late Dr. Graham Ross, who has had a considerable influence on the style and content of the MPSA website and with particular attention paid to road engineering. In 2012 shortly after having launched the MPSA website, I received an email from Dr Ross. In keeping with an engineer's economy of words and astute mind, the introductory sentence was kind, but brief.
The second paragraph was what it was all about. He wrote:
"If you're going to complete a project of this magnitude, you need as much help as you can get. There are several inconsistencies in your use of engineering terms, which I would like to correct, if you would allow me"
He went on to explain that camber was different to side slope, and super elevation was the same as cross flow. And so on.
I chose to accept the criticisms in a welcoming manner and who better to have on my side than a seriously qualified roads engineer? A long series of emails followed, with me cross referencing much of my research with Graham. At that stage he insisted I dispense with titles. He would answer each email meticulously, quoting references, page numbers from his thesis and some very technical information which I didn't fully understand then - and still don't now.
It did give MPSA a whole lot of credibility in those early years and Graham's guidance and suggestions are evident in many parts of our website, which we continue to emulate to this day. I then decided to meet with him in person at his home in Somerset West. There I met the kindest, respectful and thoughtful person, where I was presented with a signed copy of his book 'Romance of Cape Mountain Passes'
I remember making reference to his book in one of our newsletters and soon received an email from him which read: "Thank you for mentioning my book in your news letter last week. I don't mean to be pedantic, nor ungrateful for the free advertisement, but the title is not 'Romance of the Cape Mountain Passes' . It is 'Romance of Cape Mountain Passes'
[More lower down]
* Quick catch up on latest media and social media trends
* New product successful in first week - MPSA VOX
* Another new services offering from MPSA - DIGITAL MARKETING
* A step closer to our first virtual tour app. - VOICE MAP
* Podcast - Burchell's Oxwagon Route
* Pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
Happenings on the net
It's been another week of conspiracy theories and conflicting ideology with many people who I regard as being level headed, suddenly having become polarised into various groups wanting to burn their masks on the beaches and streets. There are clear signs that South Africans are fed-up and want their lives and liberties restored. The power of social media is such that government must be taking cognizance of the general mood.
Last night's announcement of Level 3 to kick in at the end of May has not been met with much enthusiasm. It would seem that the majority of South Africans want lockdown to end completely and immediately Today the car dealers have finally been given permission to reopen their doors for business. I'm afraid that many of them will not survive the lockdown financially due to cash-flow issues.
It's been a weird time for all of us, No science fiction movie could beat what we are currently living through. It's the material one would expect the likes of Stephen King to be writing.
On the home front
Our MPSA Vox service was born from this lockdown exercise. In the first week we received 26 videos for narration. Half of those are already done and back with their originators. We had no idea the concept would be so successful. Remember we can do any video or business presentation in English or Afrikaans. The English option is also available in a female voice. Go to our shop page on the link below (Professional Services) for more information:
We are full of ideas and are happy to introduce another online service - MPSA Digital Marketing.
We've been doing social media intensively for the past 7 years, having built up a very successful social media presence (27,000 followers) and are in a position to help you build a business brand, group or personal page.
The service includes brand building, Facebook business, Instagram, blogging, vlogging and other digital marketing techniques.
Lisa Roberts is a UCT graduate and experienced social media expert who will be heading up this arm of MPSA's professional services. Details of the service and how it all works will be added to our shop page in the next week. Watch this space.
VOICE MAP - We mentioned this new concept in last week's newsletter. We are busy adding the finishing touches to our first virtual tour guide, which will be on sale soon on our shop page and elsewhere. We have spent 80 man-hours (and that number will easily top 100 hours by the time we're finished) on this first effort to make sure it is the very best available.
[More lower down]
* MPSA - VOX LAUNCH
* VOICE MAP - An exciting new concept.
* SOCIAL MEDIA
* Pass of the Week
* New Passes added
* Words of wisdom
Here we are in the merry month of May and still very much restricted under the lockdown rules, but our imaginations can cross mountains, oceans and continents, if we allow it. This week we have completed all our tour report back stories, so we begin looking at new ideas and ventures.
Lockdown has dealt a heavy blow to the touring side of our business, so we are in the process of innovating some new ideas and concepts. The first of these is a new product called MPSA VOX.
Vox is of course Latin for 'voice' so the new product we will be offering is a professional voice over service for videos or presentations. For the vast majority of people doing a voice narration is a daunting and almost impossible exercise and so instead they add a music soundtrack, which in 95% of cases is inappropriate. Now your videos can be beautifully presented on social media or any business presentation.
We are busy producing our first 'virtual tour guide' mountain pass (Chapman's Peak Drive). This is new technology, whereby you purchase a virtual tour and download it to your phone. Using GPRS positioning, your phone will automatically activate the guide's voice at each point of interest. This allows you to drive hands free and get maximum enjoyment as each point along the pass unfolds precisely at the right time with your virtual tour guide giving all the information as if you were on a normal tour with us. Yes, it works even if you stop. We are very excited about this project (not only to keep us busy during lockdown) but into the future as well.
Each download will cost roughly $4. Initially we plan to produce the top 20 most popular passes in South Africa and we will expand the service according to demand. VoiceMap does not require internet connectivity to operate and works on the same technology as Google Maps. Exciting? We think so! Watch this space.
Social Media is an unpleasant place to be these last few weeks. South Africa's mood has changed alarmingly. Conspiratorialists are everywhere - each claiming his or her point of view to the holy grail to finding the best way out of the pandemic. I am quite frankly, embarrassed at how many smart people I know are climbing onto this bandwagon, whilst allowing their minds to be consumed by negativity. Of course (inevitably) the race card has been hauled out and the old polarization of our society is busy happening as I write this.
Part of running this website requires me to have my ear to the ground. My experience over the last fortnight has been that 95% of everything coming through on my FaceBook feed has been Corona related and outright negative and mostly inaccurate. Here and there a bright splash of humour brings a wan smile to our virus battered senses.
[More lower down]
* Unlocking lockdown
* Baviaanskloof Tour - Finale
* Pass of the week
* New passes
Today marks the official end of the initial 5 week lockdown. For most of us it's been an almost surreal experience. The days all feel the same; we are sleeping longer; having frustrating dreams; worrying about our investments and business plans; the safety of our families. We are not experts at this, but we would like to suggest that one should not be overly absorbed in the news hype and information overload we are all being bombarded with. Just take things one day at a time. Some things will take longer than others to normalise. Keep yourself busy with positive activities. Exercise. Eat healthy food.
From Patensie there is a long and winding gravel road that runs west to east behind the first ridge of mountains, known locally as the Elandsvlei Road. It serves many farms along the northern valley between the first two mountain ranges and is approximately 80 km in length and eventually terminates in Uitenhage. The first rise in elevation is via the Geelhoutboom Pass, which we briefly described in last week's newsletter.
Right at the summit, a very minor jeep track cuts away sharply to the left. This is the start of the western approach to the Antoniesberg Pass. It was cool with steady drizzle, which the aftermath of the previous night's heavy rain showers, leaving us with a soggy and wet route. Some of our guests had never driven a 4x4 in mud before, so the day would be an exciting one for them, learning new skills by the minute.
After opening and closing the first gate which is located about 200m from the turn-off we were on our way into the west - destination being the Antoniesberg Pass. The track follows a long ridge of hills, generally keeping to the spine of each with slight undulations, but mainly sticking to elevations between 600m & 800m. Low dark clouds and intermittent drizzle meant we were somewhat deprived of the magnificent scenery on view along both sides of the track.
To the left (south) there are birds eye views of the Baviaanskloof which we had traversed the previous day and to the right the Winterberg and impressive Cockscomb mountains rear ever upward and into the cloud base. The main peak of the latter range looks very similar to a roosters 'comb' hence the name.
(More lower down)
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.