* The Cooper Story
* Montagu Explorer - bookings now open
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge Official Tour - bookings opening soon
* Podcast - Aristata & Ben 10 discussion
* Pass of the week - Pietersfontein Pass
* Three new passes to review
This amazing father-daughter team have just successfully completed the Ben 10 Eco Challenge on bicycles. But not your normal high-tech 27 speed MTB's. They built their own bikes at home from scrap metal and designed them to have only one gear. Today you can read their incredible story (lower down..... )
Our newest tour coming up on the 18th November is the Montagu Explorer. It's a one day easy tour, packed with interesting features and a couple of surprises. The tour will include 7 gravel passes of which 5 you will unlikely even have heard of. Two lakes will be visited in the folds of the mountains as well as a drive up one of the highest peaks in the area with amazing views. We can take 4x2 vehicles with diff-lock or AWD vehicles with reasonable ground clearance. The 4x4 sections are not difficult and there is only one obstacle requiring careful attention.
This is a perfect outing for the whole family and covers a distance of 265 km and a total of 12 passes with enough variety to satisfy the most ardent pass enthusiast. It's affordable too at R790 per vehicle regardless of the number of passengers. It starts in Montagu and ends in Worcester. Our price includes the cost of the VHF 2 way radio rental.
Online bookings are open at the MPSA Shop
As mentioned in our previous newsletter, we have received many request to run a guided tour over the Ben 10 challenge passes. The good news is that it will happening from the 21st to the 25th March, 2019. We have already received over 20 provisional bookings, but we can only take 10 vehicles. Bookings will officially open within the next 7 days at our online booking page
[More lower down]
* New concept tours
* Ben 10 Tour
* Aristata Tour feedback
* Montagu Explorer Tour
* Ouberg Pass featured
* Three new passes to review
Our tours are going from strength to strength. On the cards are tours to the Gamkaskloof/Die Hel, Baviaanskloof and the big news is a tour of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge for which we have had many requests. So if you've been wanting to do the Ben 10 in the safety of an organised group, here is the opportunity..
Your team at MPSA is currently discussing our biggest tour concept ever and it's bound to be a winner. We have had countless requests to lead a group through the 10 passes of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge. Many people want to tackle it, but getting a group together can be problematic. The concept is to run the tour over a 4/5 day window some time between February and April 2019. The routing and accommodation planning will all be handled by MPSA. All you have to is pitch up and conquer!
We will be able to accept 10 vehicles on the trip. This promises to be the trip of a lifetime filled with spectacular views, some nerve wracking drop-offs, gradients steep enough to let the adrenaline overflow and some of the finest scenery to be enjoyed anywhere in South Africa - all packaged with good food and decent accommodation. The tour will have the two most experienced mountain pass experts guiding the group - One in the front and the other doing sweep.
Watch this space for details. Other tours in the planning room include an exclusive tour over the Swartberg Pass with an overnight stop in Die Hel. The other tour taking shape is a full traverse of the Baviaanskloof.
Last weekend we ran our successful Aristata Tour in the Western Cape, which followed in the footsteps of some of the great road engineers, like Thomas Bain and Adam de Smidt. Ages in the tour group ranged from 25 to 70 so we had an interesting mix of wonderful people who all joined this tour for the same reason - to travel the roads less travelled and learn about our old and new passes.
The Aristata Tour was not just about the beautiful Aristata Protea. The first pass was the old Du Toitskloof Pass with its many winding bends and stellar views. History discussed on this pass clarified the role of the Italian POW's and their strong bonds with the townsfolk of Paarl. The south easter was howling through the pass, so our stops were brief!
[Read more lower down...]
* Ride the Dragon Tour - report back and a particpant's perspective
* Links to watch some of the 4x4 action on video clips (Bezuidenhouts Pass)
* Featured Pass - Joubertspoort north of Montagu
* Five new passes to review
* Two upgraded videos of gravel passes in the Tankwa Karoo
* Listen on the radio (Joubertspoort podcast)
Our Ride the Dragon Tour was eventful, to put it mildly. These trips get planned a long way ahead of time and of course, the one unpredictable factor is the weather. The tour went ahead as planned to a point, but the going was slow as the first rain storm lashed the convoy with a vengeance on day one, reducing visibility and slowing the speed down to 30 kph (and that was on a tarred road!). Amongst the group were two riders on adventure motorcycles. Needless to say they got drenched. Even the toughest pass of the weekend was tackled in horrendous conditions. Two ladies in a Subaru XV joined the tour and we publish today a well written account of the tour from their perspective.
Mike Leicester did a great job caring for the safety and guiding the group up and down these passes in a trip they will all remember for a very long time. It would seem the greater the adversity, the stronger the team bonds.
Here is Verity Meijer's version of the tour:
"Renamed for this trip by the writer – The Dragon’s Wrath Tour!!
We are adventurous and love the roads less travelled. My travelling buddy and I are the travelling Grannies. I drive a Subaru XV. We have recently completed a solo trip of the passes in the Richtersveld – so we were bold.
4X4 listings are always confusing for a Subaru XV driver, so a check with Mike Leicester prior to booking – all good except Bezuidenhout’s Pass. (We could drive a safer route and meet them at the bottom of the Pass). We booked.
[Read more lower down}
* Discovering Pietersfontein & Patatsfontein
* That Ashton bridge!
* Latest tours information
* Mpindweni Pass podcast
* Pass of the Week - Komsberg Pass
* Five new passes to review
* Four passes with upgraded videos to watch
* A Karoo poem to still the soul by Helen Lockhart
One of our followers, Mike Jones (a keen cyclist), wrote to us about some undiscovered passes hiding away in the mountains north-west of Montagu. His descriptions and photos were sufficient to get us out there armed with all our camera gear, but first we had to drive along the R60 via Robertson and Ashton.
As it is publicly known now, the construction company, Basil Read, that were contracted to complete the new road has gone into business rescue. The rehabilitation project covering the entire road between Ashton and Montagu has ground to a complete halt, leaving behind detours, half-built bridges, crunched up roads and some very frustrated residents.
We recently featured the ambitious looking arched suspension bridge in Ashton on our FaceBook page and were surprised to note (in the comments section) how upset the locals were about the bridge and the construction process. Clearly the roadworks have created more traffic congestion than there was before and tourism in the area has taken a big downturn.
Whilst the local government is figuring out how to get the project completed, the one thing we do know, is that the completion date has been extended by at least two years. So, once we worked our way through the three stop/go's along Cogmanskloof and cleared through Montagu, we headed into the north-west through the Koo Valley to locate the new passes.
[More lower down...]
MPSA is in the media again. This time on News 24. Here's the link:
Our 2018 Tankwa Tour has just been completed and as usual we prefer to publish the perspective of a tour participant which is published here verbatim:
"Have you ever wanted to try new adventures, visit those off the beaten track places, but thought that it was not possible, well we discovered over the last weekend that with the right organisation, leadership and caring it can be done, with ease.
My husband and I were part of a group tour which spent the last weekend driving on some of those roads less travelled through the Tankwa Karoo, which is in the Northern Cape. This was an absolute adventure from start to finish, with the added bonus of the most spectacular wild flower display which was totally unexpected.
I must add that we have a little Suzuki Jimny which our grandchildren call the “Noddy Car”, for those who don’t know what it is, it is a small 4x4 vehicle with low range capability, which we did not have to use at all, but in comparison to the other 4x4’s on the trip, it was tiny, so don’t let the size of your vehicle stop you from having the adventure of a life time. One can imagine our trepidation when we set off! Would it be able to cope with whatever was coming our way? The answer is yes, it did, so don’t let your fears of the unknown put you off if you are looking for the chance of a life time to explore the great unknown plains of South Africa. [More lower down...]
We have just indexed pass number 777. To put that into perspective.... It takes on average 22 hours to produce one pass (excluding the filming). So by process of simple arithmetic we have spent 17094 hours producing passes since 2013. That equates to 712,25 days or 23,74 months of working 24 hours per day. Believe it or not, we enjoy what we do!
You Tube - We have just passed the 1,475 million views milestone with our subscriber base climbing steadily.
Last month (August) we set all sorts of new records on our Instagram account which is being expertly managed by Lisa Roberts and the popularity of our Face Book page never fails to impress us with page views numbering well over 300,000 in August. Thank you for all that support!
Eureka City to the Tankwa Karoo
Last week the first of two multiple day tours took place. Mike Leicester took a group of guests on a 20 pass excursion of which the highlight was a trip up to Eureka City. We have a guest blogger to relate his experience of the trip (lower down).
In the Western Cape our fully booked Tankwa Tour heads off to the wonderful plains of the Tankwa Karoo early on Friday morning, where we will be driving 21 passes over 3 days, including the two big gravel passes of Gannaga and Ouberg. A celestial tour has been setup for Saturday evening in Sutherland, which should be interesting to see who can withstand the sub-zero temperatures. We will do a full report back next week once the dust has settled (in both senses of the phrase).
It's only just begun....
During October we will be heading off to the Eastern Cape to film another 40 passes over a 10 day period. We have already started producing and publishing these passes with provisional fly-over animated videos. Have a look at some of the statistics of these big passes which include the Mbashe (Bashee) River Pass, Ramatselitso Pass (9th highest in SA), Dalibango Pass, Kobonqaba River Pass, Nungi Pass, Mkonkota Pass and the breathtaking Gwangxu and Mzintlava passes. And then there are still many more waiting to be mapped, indexed and filmed. [More lower down]
South Africa has no shortage of mountain passes and interesting places to write about and this week our featured pass of the week lies in the rugged mountains between Sutherland and Merweville. It's the small villages that pique our interest, so we decided to explore the history of Merweville in some detail. And what a treasure chest of stories we uncovered!
There's an immaculate grave site in the village that is lovingly tended by the local townsfolk, but what makes this grave-site so special is that it's more than 110 years old and fulfills a promise made back in 1902 by the local villagers.
This is the tragic story of yet another "Englishman's Grave" ~ On the outskirts of the village a signpost points the way to where a marble cross above a well-tended grave marks the final resting place of Lieutenant Walter Arnot from Australia who served with the British forces during the Anglo Boer War. His second name was 'Oliphant' which was particularly unusual and adds another question mark to this story.
Walter Arnot, was the son of Dr Henry Arnot, MD RN. He was born in Essex in England on 9 September 1860 and was educated at the Royal Naval School in New Cross, London. At the age of nineteen he moved to Australia to take up sheep farming and by the age of 20 was managing a large sheep station.
During the next eight years he held similar positions on other major sheep stations and was complemented on his stock management practices during a long drought. In 1888 he joined A Battery Field Artillery in Adelaide and was married in the same year. When the Anglo Boer war broke out in 1899 he joined the 3rd South Australian Contingent - the South Australia Bushmen Corps, as a sergeant. The Corps specialised in scouting and intelligence gathering. He arrived in Africa at the port of Beira in Portuguese East Africa and was promoted to lieutenant. [More lower down]
We have a jampacked newsletter for you this week which covers interesting characters like Prof. Chris Barnard, Andrew Geddes Bain and modern engineers who appear to be performing magic on a scale that defies belief.....
For those of you that travel the R60/R62 route through the Robertson/Ashton/Montagu area will be familiar with the major roadworks that have been taking place for the past two years. The complete realignment and refurbishment of this busy road, which attracts 7000 vehicles per day is a vital improvement to the roads infrastructure in the Western Cape.
The route through the impressive Cogmanskloof with its steep, contorted rock faces has been subject to blasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 12h00 and 14h00 causing long queues of vehicles on either side of the construction zone. When the entire project is completed by next year, it promises to be a wonderful new road with three impressive new bridges being constructed. We are waiting with bated breath to see how the new road is going to adapt to the old tunnel (the oldest road tunnel in South Africa) at Kalkoenkrantz as the tunnel is quite narrow and is unlikely to meet the new width standards. Will they widen it, especially considering that it's a national monument?
By far the biggest of the three bridges is the one in Ashton that crosses the Kingna River. We have been keeping an eye on the construction of this bridge over the last two years and did some further investigation into just how its peculiar design is going to work. [More lower down]
You've heard of the Whale Route, the Wine Route, the Fynbos Route and many others, but how about doing the Owl Route? This week we head off to the Eastern Cape to introduce you to a wonderful gravel pass that is both remote and impressive. It will leave you with a wonderful sense of peace and solitude and you won't get lost as the very distinctive shape of the aptly named Kompasberg will be there to guide you.
The sleepy Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda is the destination and offers a fascinating place to rediscover your sense of inner peace. [More lower down]
Another exciting venture taking shape for Western Cape readers is a three day trip through the Tankwa Karoo where we will offer limited spaces for visitors to drive with us as we refilm some of the classic passes with our new high-tech cameras and talk you through each pass via our crystal clear VHF radio sets.
The three day trip will include the Gannaga and Ouberg passes and at least 18 other passes and will include two overnight stays in lodges. The tour will include a stargazing event on the Saturday evening in Sutherland.
This trip is scheduled for mid September, but whilst a 4x4 is not a prerequisite, you will need a high clearance vehicle.
We are busy securing accommodation and pricing. We will have space to take 9 vehicles with us. The tour will also be detailed on our Facebook page.
Anyone interested in securing a spot should contact us via email or call 083 658 8888. [More lower down]
This week we head off to the bustling metropolis of Dirkiesdorp in the southern part of Mpumalanga, where the grass grows green in the summer and the cosmos lines the road-side in spring.
It is here too that some remarkable South African history can be uncovered and where real earthy characters like Swart Dirk Uys, Koos Bybel, Piet Italeni, Jannie Gyselaar, Kruppel Koos, Piet Hlobane and Vaal Piet seem unlikely characters from some forgotten novel.
We unpack the story of Swart Dirk Uys, his lovely daughter Sannie and an unlikely suitor in the form of a young Imperial French prince, whose flourishing relationship was cut short by the Zulus. Swart Dirk Uys is considered to be the founding father of one of South Africa's most succesful cattle breeds - the Drakensberger.
[Read more lower down]
Not only is that a name of good film, but snow has fallen over a wide part of South Africa - even on the bluegums! Tiffindell recorded over 20cm of snow - one of the best snowfalls in a long time. The benefit of snow is that it releases water at a slow rate, which is much more beneficial to the earth than normal rainfall, allowing for superior uitilisation. It also fires up the spirit of adventure in most South Africans, but in general terms most of us have little or no snow driving experience. It's best to tackle snow drives with good preparation and if you're really heading off into the thick stuff, a set of snow chains is a sensible purchase - and of course the knowledge of how to fit them.
According to Snow Report, last week snow started falling in the north of Lesotho in the Maluti Mountains (Afriski area) during the early hours of Thursday morning. By sunrise on Thursday, there was light snow all across the Drakensberg from the north to the south, mainly on the Lesotho side, with some flurries in the southern KZN areas north of Kokstad and around Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. [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.