Onbekendepas, Helderstroom Pass, Theewaterskloof Pass and Elandskloof Pass are all alternative names for the Rusty Gate Pass, named after a farm near the summit of this wonderful traverse of the Donkerhoek Mountains that separate the Theewaterskloof Dam from the Helderstroom Valley near Villiersdorp in the Western Cape.
Today we take a cyber drive over this lovely set of farms amongst proteas, fruit orchards, sparkling dams and pine forests as we uncover yet another gravel road gem. But it is in the research of the area that the real earthy history of South Africa comes to the fore. [More lower down...]
Our web-service host is moving the entire MPSA website to a faster, better server this week. By the time this newsletter is published it will all be fait accompli. The transfer to the new server will take place during the early hours of Wednesday morning, and the benefits to you will be a faster site with quicker page downloads. There might be a few gremlins during the switchover, but we are anticipating that most issues should be resolved within 48 hours.
Another innovation is that we are developing a more refined search system with variable parameters, which will make the search function more optimized. We will announce this refinement as soon as it's ready for rollout.
We experienced an issue with one of our old Mailing List providers, which meant that that about a third of our subscribers did not receive last week's newsletter. We apologise for that.
The incident helped accelerate our plans to switch over to a new Mailing List provider, that offers more potential for future growth, and this newsletter email is sent out via this new service. We also took the opportunity to update the look of our newsletter email. We hope you like it.
The cold weather, rain and snow seems to have kept all our intrepid Ben 10 Challenge competitors tucked away warmly under their duvets, as we have not seen a single finisher in the past few weeks. Before you know it, spring will be here and all the adventurers will up in the mountains, enjoying the big challenge passes again. Remember entry is free, so sign up and go for an adventure that you will never forget.
From the ghost towns of Mpumalanga we head far south this week to visit a town so small, you might not have even have heard of it. It has a population of 1,600, has three churches, a railway station and a museum. This tiny village, tucked away in the rolling wheatfields north of Moorreesburg, is called Koringberg (and it appears to be a well kept secret by city folk investing in country property).
Close to the village is a fair sized mountain of the same name and a narrow gravel pass that winds its way up and over the Koringberg and down the other side in a dazzling array of switchbacks, to put a smile on the face of even the most jaded offroad driver (but please read our cautionaries on this pass before you rush off to drive it).
Doing the research on this dorpie, we discovered why this bread basket region of South Africa is called Die Swartland. In just a few hundred years the entire vegetation system has been changed from natural Renosterveld to today's endless fields of wheat and canola. [More lower down]
Featured pass of the week
This week we head off to the north-western corner of Mpumalanga into the that geological wonderland known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt, where the ancient mountains deliver the richest minerals as diverse as asbestos and gold. But it's is the amazing scenery that attracts the adventurous traveller to this beautiful part of South Africa, tucked into the Makonjwa Mountains forming the border between South Africa and Swaziland.
One of Mpumalanga's best kept secrets is the Songimvelo Nature Reserve which hosts waterfalls, forests, mountains and valleys with swift flowing rivers where the flora and fauna are as diverse as the minerals locked into the surrounding rocks. A winding gravel road descends from the R40 off the Bulembu Pass down towards Badplaas via an old ghost town known as the Msauli Village. [More lower down]
Koringberg to Rusty Gate
Many of our readers send us pass suggestions. We investigate each and every one of them and often ask that reader to join us on the filming expedition once we've decided to add their pass suggestion to our database. Over the past two weeks we have filmed the Koringberg Pass near Moorreesburg as well as a new pass between the Helderstroom Valley and Theewaterskloof Dam, which will both be featured over the next few weeks, so there's plenty to look forward to for those of you that enjoy these remote routes that we uncover. Both of these are highly recommended.
We are back in the Western Cape this week with our featured pass pass being a major gravel pass peppered with sharp corners, very steep gradients and breathtaking Cederberg scenery. I recall the first time I ever drove this route back in 1988 in a VW Kombi on a very wet and cold winter's day. I fell in love with this road and have been back so many times, I've lost count. To be honest, I would rank this as my personal favourite gravel road. It plays host to a number of excellent passes, depending on your approach. On the southern side there are Michells, Gydo, Katbakkies, Peerboomskloof and Blinkberg passes. To the north there are Uitkyk, Kromrivier, Nieuwoudts, Pakhuis, Kouberg, Hoek se Berg and Eselbank passes. (More lower down)
Pretty strange (The grammar police are roaming)
We're quite relaxed about grammar in general but this week we would like to focus on one of the most abused words in the English language and maybe we can have an influence on at least 100,000 people by creating an awareness - and from there it can grow. Everytime I hear it being misused, I cringe. The word is "pretty." Most of us have become so anaesthetised to it's misuse that we are not even aware of what we are saying in everyday language. Remember the complete and total abuse of the word "like" just a few years ago? "I'm (like) going to the movies (like)"
Synonyms for pretty are: Attractive, lovely, good-looking, nice-looking, fetching, prepossessing, appealing, charming, delightful, nice, engaging, pleasing.
But these days 'pretty' is used to describe pretty much anything (see what I mean!). More lower down.....
The filming of the Mariepskop Pass right on the Mpumalanga/Limpopo border formed part of a week long filming trip bedevilled with heavy cloud, mountain mists and copious quantities of rain. Juggling rain showers with our filming schedule was never going to be an easy task and an entire day was set aside to film the second biggest altitude gaining pass (of 1100m) in South Africa. Just getting to the pass requires good planning and lots of spare time.
Based in Graskop, we first had to descend to the Lowveld via Kowyn's Pass with its old but futuristic tunnel design and multitude of potholes, as we headed towards a large and impressive dam - the Injaka dam, which provides water to the Bushbuckridge region.
Perhaps the most dangerous part of the Mariepskop Pass is navigating the numerous hazards on the southern approach road - the R40. It straddles a huge suburban area of mixed economic housing ranging from simple shacks to multistoried mansions - all falling under the universal name of Bushbuckridge.
This 35 km long drive to reach the Mariepskop turn-off is not for the faint-hearted. You have to pay radar-like attention to everything going on around you with taxis, slow cars, fast cars, trucks, buses, cattle, goats, dogs and pedestrians all adding to the alarming number of obstacles on the roadway. Traffic officers appear everywhere with radar traps and road blocks being the norm on any day of the week. In short, this is a rather chaotic place, that has new shopping centres popping up all over the show, so clearly there is investment and enough money around to make the place as busy as it is. [More lower down]
Good weather - Bad weather
The huge frontal storm system that hit the Western Cape on Sunday brought with it plummeting temperatures, widespread snow from the Cederberg all the way to the Drakensberg and of course, lots of rain. Water levels in the dams of the drought stricken Western Cape have risen steadily since June and are now at 50,3% and climbing as rivers flow strongly through the catchment areas of the major dams like Theewaterskloof. Level 6B water restrictions remain in place in Cape Town and are unlikely to be lifted until a figure of 85% is achieved and only then will there be a gradual reduction in the level of restriction. It seems unlikely that Cape Town will be entirely free of water restrictions for the next 5 years.
In Sutherland the mercury dropped to minus 8 on Tuesday night. The infamous "Vries jou gat af" weekend was planned two weeks too early! A number of passes were closed between Sunday and Monday, which included the Theronsberg and Swaarmoed passes in the Western Cape and the Lootsberg Pass in the Eastern Cape.
The old Du Toitskloof Pass on the R101 is one of the best places to go waterfall chasing. With grim weather in the forecast last Sunday, we took the trusty Land Cruiser (plus the cameras just in case) and decided to see if we could film some of the waterfalls. Our previous highest count in the kloof was around 40. To say the weather was wild was putting things mildly as torrents of rain and gale force winds raged over the mountains. We counted and logged 147 proper waterfalls, although some of them were quite small, there were many much higher up the crags that we had never seen before. Dense clouds and heavy rain, prevented any photography, but the drive was something to behold. Despite the heavy traffic this is the place to go during or just after a storm if you want to see waterfalls.
Pass of the Week
This week we take you into the heart of the Cederberg to one of the oldest farms in the area, where recent changes to the infrastructure have breathed new life into this well known tourist farm, which has been servicing the needs of hikers, backpackers, climbers and campers for almost 80 years. [More lower down]
Beauty right in front of you
One of the problems with main routes (those with the N prefixes) are that they are almost always frenetically busy and those who ply these routes become caught up in the general traffic behaviour whether they like it or not.
Yet, there are some magnificent passes and poorts on our main routes. A good example is Du Toit's Kloof Pass on the N1 or Van Reenens Pass on the N3. There are many more examples and our featured pass today is one of those gems (on the busy R539 in Mpumalanga) that are often ignored, until you slow down and start looking around.
Today we take a drive along the 20 km Schoemanskloof west of Nelspruit, where we uncover some wonderful places to visit and history that you will find fascinating. In the summer months the kloof is lined with the pink flowering Kapok trees. We have a look at the origins of the trees and how useful they have been to modern man. [More lower down]
Turning back the clock
Some years ago, we heard about a wild and woolly route through the Cederberg and Tra Tra mountains that connects a farm in the Tankwa region near the R355 with the Biedouw Valley in the Cederberg. It even has a name - The Old Postal Route - and legend has it that the post was delivered by a lady! Some say she travelled the route on foot. Others she was on horseback and yet another legend has it that she used a horse and cart. This was apparently done twice a month. Whatever the mode of transport, this lady has our utmost respect as this route is tough even by modern standards in a 4x4.
As tough as the post-lady
It's been difficult establishing exactly which version is accurate, but as is the case in so many of our passes and poorts, the folklore and legends get manipulated to suit the tongue of the story teller. Once you've driven this tough route, you will see why it's fairly easy to dismiss the first version, as the route is over 53 km long and traverses two substantial passes and a bleak plateau area where there is hardly any water or shade in the blistering summer season and in winter is subject to icy temperatures and snow on the high ground.
A marathon video editing exercise
We filmed this route in late May this year and took a number of guest vehicles with us as a tour option, which proved to be highly successful. Like the Bedrogfontein 4x4 route, the Old Postal Route proved to be quite a challenge to film, resulting in an 8 piece video set. The information is comprehensive and for those intending to drive the route, the information and videos will prepare you thoroughly. For those who don't have a 4x4, you can cyber drive the route kilometre by kilometre via our videos. [More lower down]
The minions have been messing around with our publishing dates, resulting in this news release being published two days too early. Apologies for that. We shall beat them about the head with a wet toothbrush.
Passes and Canyons
This week we leave the lush forests of Mpumalanga behind and head off to the lofty peaks of the Eastern Cape Highlands, where we introduce you to a major tarred pass, which few people are even aware of as we explore one of the biggest canyons in South Africa - The Xuka River Canyon. (More lower down)
Listen on the Radio
For the past year we have had a regular slot on the radio station - Wild Coast FM 98,6. Each Monday at 3.30 in the afternoon we have a 10 minute interview on their 'Berg en Daal' show, where we chat about one of South Africa's passes and the fascinating stories that are interwoven into the building of these roads. (More lower down)
The Feminine Touch
The MPSA office in Cape Town is a frenetically busy place and as the popularity of the website keeps growing, we need to grow our administrative side of things to keep pace. As from 1st June, Lisa Roberts will be joining the MPSA team and taking charge of some of the social media side of things. She will be mainly involved with the subscription, marketing and developement side of things on the social media front, which is her field of expertise. (More lower down)
When delivering the post was a real job
The story goes that postal deliveries between Wupperthal and the Tankwa Karoo were done by a lady on horseback in the late 1800's. She must have been a character of note as riding that route is definitely not for sissies, with blistering hot summers and ice cold winters (including occassional snow). We say: "Give that girl a Bells!"
This old postal route still exists today and can be driven by the public in suitably equipped 4WD vehicles and with the appropriate permissions. We drove this wonderful route last Sunday and opened it to guests to experience how we do the filming and come up with the final product which you see on this website. We take a look at some of the highlights of the trip in this news release, but this is not our featured pass of the week, as the videos still have to be produced (about 700 Gb worth of footage!)
Over the Bonnet
Our featured pass is a real gem and provides fascinating history dating back to the original gold rush in the old ZAR. We head off to Graskop and take a very winding pass past old gold mines - through lush vegetation, dotted with Kiepersol trees and stories of murder, mayhem and the folly of man's greed.
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.