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What's inside?

* Lighthouses & Shipwrecks - a new branch of MPSA

* Face Book followers tops 20,000
* Droughts & Floods
* Bain Tour - The final chapter
* Limpopo Tour - Repart back Part 1
* South African History Chapter 16
* Pass of the week
* New passes
* Words of wisdom


Lighthouses and Shipwrecks of South Africa
As a natural extension of our passes project, we will be launching our brand new project on lighthouses and shipwrecks of South Africa. Content for the site will be provided by Mike Leicester, who has been actively studying this subject for many years and has accumulated a vast amount of knowledge. The new site will be launched in September and you will be the first to see it. Initially the site will be structured around the 31 lighthouses along our coastline and the shipwrecks (which number several thousand) section will be added as time permits. We believe the site will be a winner.

Face Book
Yesterday the counter ticked over onto 20,003 followers. Why do we put so much effort into our social media? It is far and away the best way for us to attract new subscribers to the MPSA website, yet the conversion rate is less than 1%. Those of you that follow our FB page might have noticed that we have gradually morphed from a pure passes page to embrace a far wider range of topics, yet each day will always take us back to our mountain pass roots. By posting on a wider range of interesting topics, whilst sticking to our formula of positivity and avoiding politics and religion, we have rapidly accellerated our follower group in the past 6 months.

 

Droughts & Floods
The Mother City breathes again - After an agonising and prolonged drought of 4 years, the drought is now officially broken, with the dams serving the greater Cape Town area standing at 81.3%. However, whilst Capetonians have reason to celebrate, there are still large parts of the interior that are far from out of the woods. Water is our single most precious resource. At MPSA we think that the use of potable water must never go back to where we were. Get rid of the water hungry lawns, English plants and get those succulents going. So many people have created exceptional gardens that use hardly any water at all. It simply has to be the way forward.

The Bain Tour (Cableway to Patensie)
This tour has so many fond memories and the lasting friendships that have been forged by the 25 people who shared this thoroughly enjoyable trip. We are already planning our next Baviaans excursion!

After taking the history of the old cableway (and it's only when you're standing on the lip of that deep gorge, that one can appreciate the enormous difficulties these hardy farmers had to endure) we headed over the plateau past the Bergplaas campsites and then on down the Combrink's Pass. This winding pass was another of the Baviaanskloof passes built by the farmers (with the lines pegged by Thomas Bain). The final descent down into the thick forests at Poortjies is a long, narrow, slow and winding and there are a number of sections with exceptionally steep and unguarded drop-offs.

Winston le Roux at his cableway
After descending 333 vertical metres over 5.3 km the road finally levels off in an almost fairly tale indigenous forest. This is Poortjies - a place of visual delight where gentle streams tumble over mossy rocks and shafts of sunlight provide the light for near perfect photography. A short wade/walk along the stream will get you to an attractive waterfall.

A few kilometres of enchanting and dappled forests brings the traveller out at the eastern control point of the bioreserve. Once through the booms, you are in the Cambria valley - a narrow, lush and well watered valley so named for it's similarity to a like named area in Wales. This is citrus country and as we head east, we drive through hundreds of hectares of ripening orchards - the air laden with that aluring aroma of citrus. [More lower down]

Published in Mountain Passes News

WHAT'S INSIDE?

* Spring flowers look promising
* Baviaanskloof - The story continues
* South African history - the 1st Anglo-Boer War.
* Podcast - how to prepare for your next gravel travel adventure
* Pass of the week 
* Words of wisdom


It's been an excellent winter for the Western Cape with drenching rain falling for many weeks. The wheat and canola fields are a blaze of green and yellow; the dams are full and the rivers are flowing strongly. The region's biggest dam, Theewaterskloof, is currently at 71% and water continues to flow strongly in the catchment area. The big question is, should water restrictions be relaxed or remain?

Springtime is arguably the best season to travel and destinations like the Namaqualand National Park beckon. Our fully booked spring tour into the Cederberg area will include a visit to the Biedouw Valley - a well-known area to see the wild-flowers. We will bring a full report on the tour towards the end of August. [More lower down]

Published in Mountain Passes News

What's inside:


* Tours update

* Bain Tour story - Chapter 6

* South African History - Anglo Zulu War

* Podcast - Social media impact and a chat about Jagersfontein

* Pass of the week

* Words of wisdom


Tours Update
August 17/18th - Back of Beyond Limpopo Tour - 1 place open. Bookings close on Friday 9th.
August 23 - 25th - Cederberg Classic Tour - Fully booked.

September 21st to 24th - Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour - 4 places open.
September 27th to 29th - Lesotho Sani Tour - Fully booked.

 

Baviaanskloof - Smitskraal to Rooihoek

The water crossing at Smitskraal has seen the undoing of many a driver and rider. It is long and the underwater surface consists of thousands of loose fist sized stones. Most of the time the current is not swift, but bikers in great numbers have taken an unscheduled swim at this spot. One of our guests, Zena Becker, has a fear of deep water and built up a certain level of angst about this crossing. We have a habit of giving our guests nick-names and as soon as her fear of deep water became apparent, we dubbed her Zenaphobia. Once through that crossing she was all smiles and brimming with confidence!

The entire convoy waltzed through Smitskraal and no one had a bigger smile than Zena. This low altitude part of the Baviaanskloof offers fascinating geology and flora. A short while after Smitskraal, the next campsite (called Rooihoek) makes an appearance. There are toilet facilities and lovely campsites, but booking is essential. We stopped here for an early lunch break, before moving onto the next pass which is the Langkop Pass. [More lower down]

 

Published in Mountain Passes News

Inside:
* Tours update
* Bain Tour story - Chapter 5
* South African History - Discovery of gold
* Podcast - Golden Gate Part 2
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom


Tours Update

Back of Beyond Limpopo Tour (17/18 Aug) - 2 places left

Cederberg Classic Tour - (23/24/25 Aug) - Sold out. Bookings closed

Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour (21/22/23/24 Sep) - 4 places left.

Lesotho - Sani Tour (27/28/29 Sep) - 1 place left


Thomas Bain Heritage Tour (Zandvlakte to Rooihoek)

After a particularly humorous drivers meeting on the lawns at Zandvlakte, we got going by 09h30 and bade farewell to our hosts Piet and Magriet Kruger. If you want to enjoy old-school farm style hospitality, then book in at Zandvlakte. Their food was superb and a great evening was enjoyed by the group the previous night. It had rained steadily throughout the night and some of the more conservative ladies were already asking questions about water levels in the kloof - the level of concern being commensurate with the voice pitch.

The distance from the farm to the western entrance control gate of the bioreserve is just a few kilometres. The poor Parks Board official manning the gate really had his hands full. He was a relief person and it was his first day. The 'kerkbasaar' traffic heading back to Patensie arrived behind our convoy, causing a traffic tailback of about 25 vehicles. The one driver who reached the gate ahead of our convoy was already into the 12th minute of trying to get his payment done and his permit issued, when I figured those at the back of the convoy would be there for at least an hour.

I persuaded the almost frantic guard to allow me to help him and I wrote out a single permit for our entire convoy and ensured that he received a handsome bonus for being sensible. The gratitude shone through his eyes! The kerkbasaar group behind us did a copy/paste and in short order all 20 vehicles were on their way. We pulled over and allowed the hungover and hasty young bulletjies to be on their way. [More lower down]

Published in Mountain Passes News

Newsletter In a nutshell

* Bain Tour continued
* SA History Part 12
* Podcast
* Feature on the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
* New passes added
* Words of wisdom


Very cold weather weather has continued over most of South Africa and in the Western Cape the last frontal storm has boosted dam levels to a four year high, with Theewaterskloof - the bigggest storage dam in the area - currently sporting a level of 60% with the City of Cape Town's average level of all the dams currently at 69.6%. This is wonderful news for the province which has laboured heavily under a long and devastating drought. It also augers well for a good wild-flower display this spring,

Thomas Bain Heritage Tour ~ The saga continues...

The weather on Saturday morning in Uniondale was rainy, cold and blustery, necessitating a Plan B for our drivers briefing, which was to get everyone into their vehicles and the briefing was done over the two way radios. This was the day the frontal system was supposed to clobber us, but as the day progressed it became increasingly pleasant, much to everyone's surprise.

We took a quick drive up the tarred Uniondale Heights Pass, then left the tar a few kilometres later as we cut across the Karoo highlands to intersect with the R332 near the summit of the Nuwekloof Pass. The rain that had fallen overnight gave us the benefit of a dust free drive as we made good progress into the east.

The Nuwekloof Pass was designed by Thomas Bain and it's an odd pass being a mixture between a pass and a poort, rather than a true mountain pass, but after a series of long sweeping bends, suddenly a hairpin bend makes an appearance and it is here that a sign proclaims the spot to be Raaskrans (Noisy Cliff). A towering near vertical cliff of some 80m in height forces the road (and the river) to the north-east and although awkward to stop, the spot is really a place where you need to get out of your vehicle and take in the spectacular geology. The hairpin is concreted and although the gradient is fairly gentle it soon becomes apparent that the concrete serves as the bed of the river for a distance of about 100m. It was bone dry during our traverse, but this must be a particularly nasty section in a flash-flood. The rest of the descent sees the road criss-crossing the river multiples of times as the road winds down the ravine and finally the poort opens up onto the upper plains of the western Baviaanskloof, which we had the good fortune of viewing under the arch of a massive rainbow.

Published in Mountain Passes News

What's inside???

* Upcoming trips & tours

* Thomas Bain Heritage Tour feedback.

* SA History - Nongqawuse: The Dead Will Arise

* Pass of the Week - The Road to Hell

* New passes added this week

* Words of wisdom


Trips & Tours (Click for more info and online bookings)

17, 18 August - Back of Beyond Limpopo Tour

23, 24, 25 August - Cederberg Classic Tour

21, 22, 23, 24 September - Ben 10 V2 Tour

27, 28, 29 September - Lesotho-Sani Tour


Report back: Thomas Bain Heritage Tour - Day 1

The Langkloof section of Prince Alfred's Pass is our favourite part, as it is here that the road narrows significantly and the engineering feats of Mr. Bain still stand proudly 140 years on. Waterfalls and narrow bridges, ferns and forests all passed by as our convoy laboured up the final stretch towards the summit, past the bend known as Tiekielief Draai. The story goes that the convicts who had served their time in the prison works programme, then received their "ticket of leave". The prisoners struggled with the English, and the phrase morphed into "Tiekielief". It was on that part of the construction of the pass, that several of the prisoners received their freedom.

Once over the summit of Prince Alfred's Pass, we drove past Avontuur and took the new direct road via the Uniondale Poort to arrive at our overnight venue in Uniondale. The town was once the centre of the wagon manufacturing industry, but with the advent of the motor car, the area turned to farming and tourism as a new source of income. Part of the tourism package is the famous Uniondale ghost. A story so vivid in the retelling that it continues to draw visitors to the town in a regular stream. According to the locals, Good Friday is the right night to lurk on the lonely moonless roads. [More lower down...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was and still is!

* Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!

* Trips & Tours

* Thomas Bain Heritage Tour report back

* South African History - Chapter 9

* Featured pass of the week

* New passes added this week

* Words of wisdom


Brrrrr! Up in Gautengaleng temperatures today have plummeted to below zero, with decent snowfalls being recorded on all the major mountain ranges from the Hexriver mountains in the west to the Drakensberg in the east. Lesotho really got clobbered with the main route (A1) to Afriski being closed on Monday. Each year the snow draws visitors in their thousands and as always we issue a cautionary about snow driving. South Africans in general have little or zero snow driving experience. It is different to any other type of off-road driving, so think carefully before you rush out to experience the snow in your brand new 4x4.

1. Don't travel alone
2. Go prepared for an emergency. Pack blankets, dry clothes, beanies, gloves, emergency food, hire a satellite phone, record emergency assist numbers.
3. Know your limitations. Just because you are in a 4WD vehicle does not make you invincible. Think ahead.
4. Invest in snow chains and know how to fit them.
5. Be aware of the dangers of black ice (rhime ice) on tar. No traction means its like driving a vehicle on ice skates. Steering makes no difference. Your vehicle will slide in a straight line down the easiest route (which is usually down a cliff).

The expression 'cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey' is not rude at all. It comes from the days of the big sailing ships that carried cannons. The iron cannon balls were stacked in pyramids on a brass plate (brass to prevent the iron balls from rusting). This plate was called a "monkey" by the mariners. When the ship sailed into very cold weather, the iron cannon balls would contract faster than the brass and would end up popping off the monkey and around the deck. Thus the expression. There are a number of sources that claim this story to be "twak" but it sounds very plausible, so we'll roll with it for now!


Trips &Tours

August 9th -11th & 23rd - 25th:  We are offering 2 tours during August. One in the Cederberg (23rd-25th) and the other up north in Limpopo Province ober the long weekend (9th to 11th). Check our shop and tours page later this week for more details. Bookings have just  opened for the Cederberg Classic Tour.

September 21st to 24th The Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour - 4 places left.

September 27th to 29th The Lesotho-Sani Tour - 1 place left.

October or November - Wild Coast Tour - A multiple day tour taking you places you can only dream of and taking in some of SA's biggest gravel passes. Details will be published soon.

Thomas Bain Heritage Tour - Every tour we do, seems to be 'the best tour ever' and this one certainly felt like it deserved that tag. We met in the dreamy village of Wilderness and soon had our group kitted out with radios. During the introductions one of our guests introduced himself as Andre "I'm an undercover agent for SARS" That would set the tone of humour for the next three and a half days. [More lower down...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

Thomas Bain Heritage Tour -  Overview:

Another absolute winner, but the week before the tour showed alarming weather forecasts. As always the show goes on regardless of the weather. With a major frontal storm scheduled to arrive over Cape Town on Friday and Saturday, with gale force winds and bitterly cold temperatures forecast of 1C for Willowmore, we sent out an urgent bulletin to our guests to come well prepared for bad weather. 

The reality was a beautiful, sunny and warm morning of around 22C on day 1 rising to 25C later in the day with the Saturday and Sunday being cooler, but very pleasant and certainly nowhere near the 1C predicted. Water levels in the Baviaanskloof were quite acceptable and all our vehicles (which included two Suzuki Jimnys) made it through the route without any problems or mishaps. Over the next few weeks we will bring you several instalments of the highlights of this tour. This is another tour which we will definitely repeat again.


Great Swartberg Tour - The final chapter

The final day of the Swartberg Tour involved a repeat of the Elands Pass and the Gamkaskloof but in the opposite direction. It's so interesting that a pass looks completely different when driving it in the opposite direction and at a different time of day. We were at the Teeberg viewsite by 10.30 and then tackled those magnificent switchbacks down Mullerskloof past Droewaterval and the Wall of Fire. Our weather was unseasonably good with the only damper being the dust (if you'll pardon the oxymoron).

A brief stop at Prince Albert for fuel and figs (in that order) saw us back on the road on the way to the magnificent geology waiting for us in Meiringspoort and a short stop at the famous waterfall with its 9m deep pool. After De Rust we cut west all along the foothills of the Swartberg mountains (mainly to avoid all the roadworks on the Oudtshoorn/De Rust road) along a delightful gravel road that included the Rust & Vrede Pass. It connected us with the main road to the Cango Caves and Schoemanspoort and then back towards Calitzdorp on the old cement road and on to tackle the Rooiberg Pass.
[More lower down...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was:

* Winter has arrived
* Great Swartberg Tour
* SA History - Chapter 7
* Podcast of the week
* Featured pass of the week
* New passes added this week
* Thought for the day

Winter has arrived

Whilst massive amounts of arctic ice are breaking off the northern polar cap following unseasonably warm weather in Europe - causing some hectic weather systems, South Africa is experiencing very cold weather with many towns recording temperatures below freezing over the past 10 days, not least of which is Sutherland, dropping to minus 7C.

Snowfalls have been reported across large tracts of the Drakensberg, the Malutis, the Swartberg and the Hexrivier mountains (and Matroosberg) in the Western Cape. Before you venture off to drive in the snow, remember that without traction your vehicle is nothing more than a slippery sled. Don't drive alone; know your limitations.


Great Swartberg Tour

(the story continues...)

The Elands Pass looks interesting when you look at it on Google Earth and most of the photos are impressive, but when you see it with your own eyes for the first time, suddenly all the dimensions click in a like a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is depth at a level that a camera cannot capture. The sheer scale of the slopes down into the valley sharpens the senses as the road can be seen worming its way down the mountain in a series of switchbacks, but it is directly below your view-point that the road disappears out of your field of view - and that is where the mind starts playing tricks and the imagination kicks in.

We scan the road ahead and there are no vehicles ascending. Our 11 vehicle convoy starts the descent. Passing vehicles on this pass is not easy and the best places are on the hairpin bends at their widest points. Before we reach the first hairpin, someone in the convoy radios that there is a vehicle ascending. The rule of the road is that ascending vehicles have the right of way, but trying to move 11 vehicles out of the way is just impossible.

We reach the first hairpin and wait for the ascending vehicle, but it doesn't arrive. The driver had noticed our convoy coming down the pass and he decided to wait at a slight widening in the road but out of our field of view. After about 5 minutes it became apparent that there was a problem. We sent someone down on foot and asked the ascending driver to proceed up to where we were waiting, where we had left enough space for him to pull off the road. There is nothing to replace common courtesy and manners when dealing with situations like this. [More lower down...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The southern ascent of the Swartberg Pass is such an eye opener for first time drivers. The smooth and wide tarmac of the R328 suddenly gives way to gravel just after Cobus se Gat as a sign warns that no caravans or heavy vehicles are allowed. Some tight hairpins appear fairly soon followed by a long sinuous pull up past some old ruins, reputed to be where Bain housed his convict gangs.

The altitude goes up steadily and then that magical moment happens when one gets the first glimpses of those towering hand packed stone walls - Thomas Bain's trademark construction signature. The road narrows and swings sharply to the left through a crook in the mountain and the gradient gets steeper. At the apex of the next right hand bend a brown sign announces that this spot is called 'Skelmdraai'. No-one really knows where the name originates from, but it is more than likely to do with the band of convict labourers. With some careful parking we manage to get the whole convoy off the road and get our first group photo done - quite an exercise getting 22 people to muster in one spot!.

The views of the Little Karoo to the south are amazing - a full sweep of 180 degrees over a patchwork quilt of orchards and fields with another big mountain range as a backdrop. The weather is glorious as the guests revel in the majesty of the Swartberg, but the sun is heading towards Cape Town and we need to move on as we still have a long, tough drive ahead of us.

Soon we are up and over the Swartberg past the sticker plastered signboard "Die Top" - clearly those allocating names had run out of enthusiasm and creative  genius with that name, but then again, I suppose less is often more. [More lower down...]

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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