* Weather gone wild
* The perfect Christmas gift
* Exploring the Katse Dam
* Podcast - Lesotho passes
* Featured pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
Weather in full battle cry
From droughts and record high temperatures to floods. The Apiesrivier and Bronkhorstsruit in the Pretoria area are in flood and Potchefstroom has also experienced heavy rain. Many parts of the Free State and Northern Cape (including flooding in Upington) have brought welcome relief to struggling farmers and the country's dams are starting to fill. On our FaceBook page we posted a photo of a motorist crossing a flooded river at great and unnecessary risk to his life. We are assuming it's a 'he' as women just wouldnt take those risks.
We've said it a hundred times before - If you're not prepared to walk it, then don't drive it!
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Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 4)
Saturday 28th September - We woke to a crisp sunny day at our overnight accommodation at the Katse Lodge. (We have just had news that the lodge will be closed for 2020 as they are doing extensive renovations). After a hearty breakfast we got everyone down to the interpretative centre above the Katse dam wall, where we had made arrangements for a guided tour at 08h30. After 10 minutes waiting there was still no guide, so we took our group down the little pass and over the bridge at the Malimabatso river and up the other side of the gorge where we were permitted to drive over the dam wall and as the guard explained to us, we were not allowed to stop on the wall unless in the company of the official guide.
Once over the wall, we located a large tarred parking area and walked back over the wall. This little excursion which is part of the official dam tour took up 30 minutes and by the time we returned to the interpretive centre, we just made the start of the talk by our guide, who had arrived half an hour late. The talk was fascinating and we all then drove down to the bottom of the wall for the tour inside the wall itself. There is strictly no photography allowed and a guard bringing up the tail end of the group ensures this is enforced.
The thickness of the wall at the base is 60m and a series of arched tunnels run in both directions as well as upward and downward by several levels. It's a little eerie inside the wall and the steady drips of water running underfoot via shallow channels do cause a sense of awareness of "what if?..."
Every 50m or so there are stainless steel measuring devices where concrete sections meet. These measure minute movements within the structure and are carefully monitored on a regular basis.
The week that was:
* Hottest temperature ever recorded in SA?
* Silly season arrives
* Black Friday
* Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 3)
* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour (Chapter 1)
* Podcast - a talk on the Katse Dam, Lesotho
* Featured pass of the week
Highest temperature in South Africa!
Hotazel (Hot as hell) is not quite as hot as Vioolsdrif it would seem, although both are in the Northern Cape, where the official SA weather station recorded a temperature of 53,7C on the 29th November. We posted that information on our FaceBook page early the next morning. The post was read by 32,601 people and generated 126 comments - both for and against climate change theories. It's obviously quite an emotive topic. Now we have people saying the reading couldn't have been accurate as the Namibian weather station at Noordoewer on the opposite bank of the Gariep registered 10 degrees lower. Facts are facts. Latest information on the matter is that the equipment at Vioolsdrif is going to be scientifically tested for accuracy.
The Silly Season is upon us!
It's that time of year when city folk flee the concrete jungle to unwind at the coast, but it's the annual levels of irritability, road rage and over indulgence that sees the death toll peak on ur roads each year. This year will be no different. Make sure you don't become a statistic. How about planning a route to your destination on the quieter back roads. You can easily do this by making use of our Master Map. Not only will you be avoiding the dangers of the highways but you will arrive more relaxed and you can make the journey so much more fun. Try it!
This year we decided to get involved with the Black Friday concept by offering a 50% reduction in subscription rates. Over the 3 days we gained 79 new subscribers, proving that if your offer is excellent, your sales will boom. Welcome to all the new subscribers!
Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 3)
As we continue with our journey through Lesotho, the second pass we needed to drive was Lekhalo La Molimo Nthuse - more commonly known as 'God help Me Pass'. Whilst the English name is sufficient to have some drivers gravely concerned of what's to come, the reality is that the new tarred version makes driving it a simple matter. This pass rises 382m to summit at 2332m ASL. It's also a moderately long pass at 8.2 km.
Like most of the big passes in Lesotho, it is subject to winter snowfalls and ice on the road. It has 31 bends, corners and curves of which 8 are greater than 90 degrees and of those 8 there are 4 bends of 180 degrees. Some of the gradients on this pass get as steep as 1:5 and we found ourselves often having to gear down to 2nd, despite having a 4.5 litre engine providing power.
(Click on the Read More link for the rest of today's newsletter)
* Black Friday offer
* New tours for 2020
* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour overview
* Lesotho-Sani Tour report back - Chapter 2
* Featured pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
Black Friday - Cyber Monday
We are running a subscription special from today 28th Nov to Monday 2nd Dec at R150 for the 12 month package (50% discount). Subscribe, Upgrade or Renew. Anyone renewing (even if your current subscription is still valid) can cash in. The dates will simply be extended by 12 months. The link is at the bottom of this newsletter.
New tours in the planning room for 2020
As the Christmas season approaches, we will be hard at work planning the next two tours. The first will be an unusual tour (3 days) which will include the Baviaans-Kouga 4x4 Route; the eastern section of the Baviaanskloof bioreserve and and east-west traverse of the Antoniesberg Pass. We will be overnighting in quality accommodation and at a different location on each of the four nights. We are planning this tour for February 2020.
The other tour which requires a lot of planning is our Wild Coast Tour, which will be a longer tour of at least 5 days and include some of the bih gravel passes in the old Transkei. This tour is scheduled for April/May.
Our ever popular Ben 10 Tour will be repeated again in 2020.
We have just arrived back from a hugely successful tour in the Addo area - our inaugural Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour. We were blessed with fine weather throughout; marvellous and plentiful game sightings; some interesting and technical driving, but above all our group knitted together really well from a social perspective. On this tour we had a couple of firsts. We had a new shape Suzuki Jimny as well as a top end Range Rover V8 Sport. Both vehicles from opposite ends of the price spectrum, coped admirably. We will be reporting in more detail on this tour over the next few weeks.
Lesotho-Sani Tour report back - Chapter 2
Maseru, whose name is a Sesotho word meaning “place of the sandstone”, is the capital city of Lesotho. It is situated on the Caledon River, which separates Lesotho from South Africa, and is Lesotho’s only sizeable city, with a population of approximately 250,000 people.
At the end of the Free State-Basotho War in 1869, Maseru was established as a small police camp by the British when Basutoland became a British protectorate. It was not long before it grew into a busy market town.
It is located at the edge of the “conquered territories” relinquished to the Orange Free State (now the Free State province of South Africa) as part of the peace terms at the conclusion of the war. It is 24 kilometres west of King Moshoeshoe I’s stronghold, Thaba Bosiu, the previous de facto capital. Maseru was the state’s administrative capital between 1869 and 1871, before administration of Basutoland was transferred to the Cape Colony.
Between 1871 and 1884, and much to the chagrin of the Basotho people, Basutoland was treated in the same way as territories that had been forcefully annexed. This led to the Gun War in 1881 during which many buildings in Maseru were burned. In 1884, Basutoland’s status as a Crown Colony was restored, and Maseru was again made the capital.
When Basutoland gained its independence and became the Kingdom of Lesotho in 1966, Maseru remained the country’s capital. Prior to Lesotho’s independence, Maseru had remained relatively small; it was contained within well-defined colonial boundaries and, as the British had little interest in developing the city, there was little growth. After 1966 Maseru expanded rapidly from a mere 20 square kilometres to the current area of 138 square kilometres, mainly thanks to the incorporation of nearby peri-urban villages.
Pass No. 1 - Lekhalo la Baroa
Once we had passed through the suburbia of Maseru, we reached our first pass of the day - Bushman's Pass or more correctly Lekhalo La Baroa.
This big tarred pass is located on the A3 main route between Maseru in the west and the much smaller village of Fosi in the east. It displays an altitude variance of 487m over a distance of 11.9 km producing an average gradient of 1:27, but there are several very steep sections at 1:5. The summit point is reached at an altitude of 2277m ASL.
(Click on the Read More link for the rest of today's newsletter)
* MPSA is on tour
* Lesotho-Sani Tour (Part 1)
* South African History (Final Chapter)
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
By the time you read this we will be in Kirkwood meeting guests for our Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour. We will as usual, provide comprehensive feedback on the tour and share photos and videos. The weather forecast indicates no rain with temperatures ranging between 5C and 33C. This will be our last tour of 2019 but rest assured we have a wonderful set of tours planned for 2020 and hope that YOU are able to join us on one of them.
Lesotho-Sani Tour report back
This was our most popular tour of 2019 with 12 guest vehicles and 2 guide vehicles making up a long convoy. Once again we were blessed with generally fine weather and the sights and sounds of Lesotho did not disappoint. But let's start at the beginning.
The tour was run right at the end of the winter period as we specifically did not want to be turned back by ice or snow on the roads, but the reality is that Lesotho experienced snow on Saturday 16th November. Planning tour dates is a matter of lowering the likelihood of bad weather.
We met up at the Zuikerkop Lodge near Clocolan in the Eastern Free State, where as the only guests, we had royal treatment by the staff and excellent food. We were able to utilise their conference facilities for our first driver briefing which was attended by 37 people from all over South Africa. We will definitely be supporting this business for future tours to Lesotho.
The convoy departed on time on Friday morning 27th September in perfect sunny weather. We chose the Peka bridge border control point as it is quiet and the bigger border posts can get very busy on Fridays. The crossing took less than 20 minutes for the entire group as we quickly turned left and joined the tarred A1 heading south towards Maseru. The 60 km trip from Peka to Maseru was however, painfully slow with the streets lined with car dealers, taxis, skedonk cars and careless pedestrians, dogs and goats.
It would be some time before we reached our first pass of the day - Bushmans Pass. To while away the time, we regaled our guests with some interesting information on Lesotho:
Lesotho, officially named the Kingdom of Lesotho, is an enclaved country within the borders of South Africa. It is just over 30,000 square kilometres in size and has a population of around 2,2 million people. Its capital and largest city is Maseru.
Lesotho was previously the British Crown Colony of Basutoland, but it declared independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966. It is now a fully sovereign state, and is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). [More lower down]
The week that was
* Euphoric rugby mad South Africa
* How to snap a U bolt on the Ben Mac Dhui Pass
* South African History - The Border War
* Pass of the Week - Blouputs Pass
* Words of Wisdom
Rugby euphoria - The Springboks have done more for nation building than all the politicians and media put together, but the manne are looking very tired. Their schedule on their return to South Africa has been brutally punishing with some disappointed fans voicing their dismay that the Boks weren't coming to their town or village. It just goes to show that you cannot please everyone all of the time. From Mountain Passes South Africa our message is: "Thank you for bringing the cup home; thank you for being embassadors; thank you for restoring our pride; thank you for all that positivity which will go a long way towards nation building. Go Bokke!!!"
As this newsletter is published there are just 2 days left to book if you want to join our final tour of 2019. It promises to be something really special. More info and bookings here: BEDROGFONTEIN TOUR
Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour
Our final day had started on time in good weather as we passed through the hamlet of Rhodes and on towards Naudes Nek Pass. A brief stop at the Naude family memorial site is always interesting and from there we tackled the climb up to the summit. This is a major pass but the road is usually surprisingly good and can still be driven in any vehicle. Never become too complacent on these big passes as things can and do, go badly wrong.
We were almost up near the summit, negotiating the last few sharp bends, when a bakkie descending in the Rhodes direction, suddenly appeared in the middle of the road on a blind corner and travelling much too fast. The driver slammed on brakes, but the vehicle just kept coming straight at us with its wheels locked up in a cloud of dust and gravel. All I could do was move as far left as possible and wait for the impact. It was desperately close - our side mirrors almost touching. It was a local - a young manager from a nearby hotel (as we later learned). And so we keep on learning to drive defensively.
(More lower down)
Rugby World Cup 2019 - It's a wrap!
It's impossible to not be swept up in the ebullient mood after the emphatic Springbok victory in Japan. Whilst we are keen rugby supporters at MPSA we don't profess to be rugby experts. So what have we learned from the event?
For starters the Japanese public and government totally embraced the RWC 2019 and did a magnificent job of it. There were hundreds of examples. The Japanese children that walked out with the relevant captain of the day, knew that country's national anthem off by heart; the respect that the Japanese people showed to foreigners; the way the public embraced the event was a thing of beauty. The next host country has a tough act to follow.
The stands were full at every match and when Japan were beaten in the quarter finals, the enthusiasm for the game of rugby intensified with Japanese fans painting their faces in the colours of whichever team they fancied. We rate it as the best world cup ever by a country mile.
Everything has been said about the Springboks. It's a like a fairy tale and no doubt there will be a blockbuster Invictus 2 on the big screen soon. Our congratulations to the Springboks - the whole lot of them - even the physios. We are incredibly proud of their achievement.
The petulant and dismissive behaviour of the English squad however does need a mention. The medal removal and sour faces put a blight on the sport, and must have been a huge embarrassment to the entire English nation; not to mention a slap in the face of the host nation. It was in extremely poor taste and at least Prince Harry was able to do some damage control.
The other negative was the decision by TotalSports to stop supporting Eben Etzebeth so close to the final. No-one seems to understand the rationale behind the move and in the process the brand and its parent company - the Foschini Group have no doubt shot themselves in the foot.
It is just wonderful to see South Africans from all walks of life dancing in the streets, laughing and singing. We are a great nation. Let's now build on all that positivity.
Bedrogfontein - Zuurberg Tour
With just 2 weeks to go before this tour, we will be closing bookings next week. If you want to be part of this wonderful tour, please get your mouse clicking or fingers tapping. Full information and online bookings here:
The Ben 10 Eco Challenge Tour - The final chapter
By the end of the third day things had gone rather well on this tour, with the only serious issue being Mark Heaton's Jeep Cherokee injector problem. It was in high spirits that we rose on Heritage Day to nail down the final three passes - Naude's Nek, the TTT and the Ben Mac Dhui Pass. All three passes are close to each other in distance, but time wise, it's another matter altogether.
[More lower down]
The week that was....
* RWC 2019
* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour
* Ben 10 Ecio Challenge (Chapeter 4)
* SA History (Chapter 24)
* Podcast (Volunteershoek Pass)
* Pass of the week
* New passes added
* Words of wisdom
It's interesting to observe how much a sporting event can unify a nation (and on occasion devide). As South Africa has marched through to the final, it's a nation in a state of euphoria with elevated emotions. We've been following the TOTALSPORTS debacle on social media and are watching with interest to see what the outcome will be. This is the week to forget about petty things, don your Bok jersey and get behind the national team.
Ticket sales for our final year end tour are moving along briskly and we have just 3 places left at the time of publishing. If you own a 4x4 with low range and reasonable ground clearance, here is an opportunity for a great escape for a few days of glorious offroad driving, fascinating history, pampered overnight stops, gorgeous scenery and an abundance of wildlife that will delight. It will stand you in good stead for the onslaught of the silly season.
Online bookings here: BEDROGFONTEIN-ZUURBERG TOUR
Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour (Chapter 4)
From the Wartrail Sports Club we took a sharp left and drove the attractive approach road alongside the Funnystone River and soon the gates to the Funnystone farm made their appearance, but the track sweeps sharply away to the left and crosses the crystal clear stream via a causeway. Here a sign warns that the road ahead is only suitable for 4WD vehicles and that you drive it at your own risk. This is the start of the Volunteershoek Pass. This is the one pass that gets the bikers nervous and frequent falls are the order of the day. For less experienced riders, this is where nerves get rattled and mistakes are made.
A group of five bikers had passed us near the clubhouse, some 15 minutes earlier in a whirr of exhaust pipes and dust, but now they were stuck on the first part of the ascent. The weakest rider had taken a number of tumbles and the mountain had gotten the better of him. He had decided to throw in the towel and return back down the pass. His buddy, who had returned to help him, now had the daunting task of getting his bike turned around on the steep gradient with loose sand and stones and proceed back up the pass. We had a first class view of just how difficult it is trying to achieve this "simple" task on a 270kg motorcycle. [More lower down]
It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the Rugby World Cup. We wish the Springboks success for the remaining matches and hope to see them in the final.
2019 has flown by and been packed with challenges. Perhaps the biggest progress we have made is in the presentation of our tours. In the space of just over a year when we launched our first day tours, these have quickly evolved into multiple day tours, where we have tried to find a happy balance between driving passes, enjoying scenery, adding in points of interest and providing our guests with affordable but quality accommodation and food. Every tour has been fully booked so we must be doing something right.
Our final tour of the year is the Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour (22nd to 24th November) - a three day tour through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in South Africa, coupled with game viewing, wonderful accommodation and some technical driving to keep everyone on their toes. You will need to have a 4x4 vehicle with low range. We have 5 tickets left on this tour.
Final arrangements and accommodation bookings have been concluded. Here is a foretaste of what's on offer:
Thursday 21st November: Meet at 1800 at our guest lodge in the citrus farming town of Kirkwood for meet & greet, radio fitment, happy hour and drivers briefing followed by dinner.
Friday 22nd November: 08h30 Tour starts with a traverse over the Olifantskop Pass, then the gravel fun starts as we loop westwards to drive the challenging Zuurberg Pass from north to south with a lunch stop at the Zuurberg Mountain Inn. After lunch we tackle the Doringnek Pass and return to Kirkwood.
Saturday 23rd November: An easy day entirely within the Addo Elephant National Park with free driving included.
Sunday 24th November: We save the best for last as the Bedrogfontein 4x4 route will be driven. This is generally a Grade 1 to 2 drive (weather dependent) and will take the whole day to complete with a return leg to Kirkwood via the Darlington Dam and Paardepoort. Final night Chappies awards and celebrations.
Monday 25th November: Depart for home after breakfast.
Online bookings can be done here: BEDROGFONTEIN-ZUURBERG TOUR
If you want to review driving conditions for the two big gravel passes, here are the links to watch the videos:
Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour (Chapter 3)
We continue with the story where we left off 2 weeks ago at the summit of Lundean's Nek Pass. What was immediately noticeable as we started the ascent, was that the SAPS anti stock theft unit buildings had been abandoned. Either stock theft has ceased or SAPS have not found it financially viable to operate the unit any longer.
The northern descent of Lundean's Nek Pass is one of the best drives you will experience anywhere in South Africa. The condition of the road is generally reasonable, so there is time to enjoy the scenery. The road winds its way from the 2162m high summit towards the Telle River via a series of loops and switchbacks. Beautiful black streaked sandstone formations keep the road company as streams and waterfalls come into view with each new change of direction. Here you can see the influence of the Basotho lifestyle and similar to Lesotho, the herders wear a blanket with stick and gumboots being the standard attire. Their dogs all looks the same - a type of long haired Anatolian sheep-dog. Sheep and cattle appear often but the 20 kph speed makes avoiding them easy. [More lower down]
What's inside ?
* Doing the Ben 10 on foot
* Pass of the Week
* New passes added
* Words of Wisdom
Tours: Our Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour is around the corner (22nd to 24th November). If you own a 4x4 with low range, this tour will tick all the boxes. We have 5 places open at time of writing. Bookings can be done here: Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour.
Throwing down the gauntlet
A few weeks ago I met a remarkable young man from Pretoria at the Mountain Shadows Hotel in the heart of Ben 10 Country. He was there to attempt to be the first runner to complete the Ben 10. Coincidentally we were at the same hotel with our second MPSA group tour of the challenge. Jaco Pretorius (aged 45) is tall, lean and clearly very fit. He quietly approached me in the food queue to introduce himself. Today we bring you his story, the planning, the toughness, the elation and the prize. There will be more trail runners after him, but this man was the first. It's one heck of an achievement to complete the challenge in 4 days on foot.
Our newsletter this week is devoted entirely to Jaco's story, so sit back relax and read on. Next week, the newsletter will resume the format you are accustomed to. Here is Jaco's story:
"Our Challenge preparation started early in 2019, when a colleague, Dirk, and I started talking about doing the challenge. I’ve only been in the area once (April 2018) when I drove via Rhodes over Lundean’s and Naudes Nek on my way to Maclear. This was enough to wet my appetite for this beautiful part of South Africa.
Our early thoughts were to do the challenge over 6 days, as running those passes could be rather tough. Dirk and his son, Christo, would do it on the motorcycles, and I would attempt to run it. By May 2019, we had entered on the www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za website, and the real preparation had to start. We had targeted the long weekend in September as the best week to try to do it. This would then also be ideal preparation for my first Skyrun100 race happening mid-November in the same area.
A lot of “google mapping” and reading on the passes happened between May and July to work out the optimum route, and we agreed to commit by August, as we could not delay the booking of accommodation any further.
By early August, after a less than ideal winter for me, I abandoned the thought of running Ben10, as I felt that my fitness level was not where it should be. I told Dirk the news, and he and another colleague, Gerhard, proceeded with their arrangements to do it. Gerhard would be the backup driver in the Ford Ranger, and Dirk and his son would do it on motorcycles. Seeing that they did not have to cater for me, they decided to do the challenge in 3 days, as it required less leave from work.
[More lower down]
The week that was:
* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg bookings open
* Sani Pass update
* Ben 10 Eco-Challenge V2 Tour (Chapter 2)
* SA History (Chapter 22)
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom.
Sani Pass Update
On Sunday 29th September we descended the iconic Sani Pass and for the first time, managed to capture crystal clear footage of the entire descent. Over the next month we will be producing a brand new multiple video set and YOU will be the first to see them.
The condition of the road varies greatly, depending on recent weather systems. Much of the pass has been widened and only a few sections still exist where two vehicles cannot easily pass each other. The road is however very stony and bumpy and it is still necessary to ascend with a 4WD vehicle. Having said that we saw a gent driving up in a 4x2 Ford Ranger, but he had considerable difficulty going up the switchback section - amidst flying stones, dust and lots of wheel spinning. It's really not a clever thing to do.
There is lots of small scale construction happening along the section below the SAPS border control point. New bridges have been built and some are still under construction. Where the road has been widened, the cuttings have been stabilised with shotcrete (gunite) which is unattractive, but cost effective in the long term.
No tarring has taken place at all and at this stage the entire Sani Pass is still gravel. If you are one of those adventurers who wants to drive it whilst gravel, you probably have a two year window to do so.
[Read 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.