This week we head into northern sector of Mpumalanga where it forms its border with Limpopo province. We take a closer look at an odd little village, whose name has given it almost cult status with modern adventure travellers and especially with the adventure biker groups. You've all heard of Blikkiesfontein, Pofadder, Hotazel and Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, but here is a hamlet with the quirky name of ~Tonteldoos.
It was established in 1883 and populated by poor, but resourceful burghers. The word 'tonteldoos' means tinderbox. While no-one is certain how the village got its unique name, the story goes that the local land surveyor lost his tinder-box in the area whilst surveying the farmlands and the name stuck. Tonteldoos is located in a peaceful valley near Dullstroom, a popular fly fishing destination. It is surrounded by farmlands and the town itself has a pub, a cheese farm, a country kitchen and some places to stay.
The valley is known for having three species of arum lilly including the rare yello arum, and has another rare plant species, the Aloe reitzil. Nearby is a rough and ready gravel pass waiting to test your driving or riding skills. [More lower down.....]
For the next few weeks our focus will remain on Mpumalanga as we start the production process of many new videos. Today's feature is a pass of drama and danger. It has a summit altitude of 1970m ASL and descends 1065m over 27,4 km via 117 bends, corners and curves, of which 8 are full hairpins and a further 12 bends have angles greater than 90 degrees. It ranks as the 3rd biggest altitude gaining pass in SA after Sani and Mariepskop passes and also ranks as the 10th longest pass. In short, don't take this one lightly!
The mountains are prone to heavy mists which can reduce visibility to 3m. Add into that recipe exceptionally heavy rainfall, potholes, badly cambered corners and the big baddy is/are the massive logging trucks that ply this route. We take you through all the do's and don'ts and guide you over the entire route via a brand new 4 piece video set.
We considered ourselves fortunate to have had a sunny day for the trip - a rarity in this part of Mpumalanga. The main player in this huge valley carved out by the Elands River is SAPPI's paper mill at Ngodwana. We explore the good and the bad angles of commercial forestry and the effects on the region. [More lower down....]
We remain in Mpumalanga this week as we explore an interesting gravel pass through one of the original gold prospecting regions near Lydenburg. We take a look at the first private effort at a water conservancy reserve and the wonderfully positive results that one man's vision has brought to improving the state of the rivers in the Kruger National Park, which is arguably South Africa's single biggest tourism attraction. Without water, there is no Kruger!
Mount Anderson Water Reserve (MAWR) is a substantial project named after the tallest peak in the area north of Lydenburg and the mastermind behind the project is Michael Rattray, who'se family previously owned the Mala-Mala Reserve adjoining the Kruger. His vast experience in nature conservation stood him in good stead to establish the MAWR and after just 8 years, the fruits of his labours are already showing much improved water flow and quality.
The river that flows through the MAWR is the well known Spekboom River, which sports two beautiful old stone arched bridges a little further downstream. We also take a look at the history of the road bridge in particular and its involvement in the second Anglo-Boer war. (More lower down...)
Mpumalanga - Province of contrasts
In our news release today, we devote the entire page to Mpumalanga - its pro's and cons - warts and all. It's an honest evaluation of our extensive tour across that province.
Six months of meticulous planning meant nothing, when the fickle Mpumalanga weather threw us many curved balls during last week's filming trip. It's a province of contrasts and we returned to Cape Town with a number of interesting observations and impressions. The first is that Mpumalanga has some of the best roads in South Africa, as well as some of the worst. We travel a LOT and I can confidently report that the R36 is the worst tarred road in South Africa. It's not mathematically possible to count the potholes. It would be better if what is left of the tar was removed altogether. Average speeds on this road are around 30 kph (and that is in a big high clearance 4x4). To be fair, reconstruction of the road has commenced. It is best to avoid this road at all costs.
It's a province with lots of natural assets and the priority of those assets shows in how the province is run. The three main assets are mining, farming and tourism, with the last mentioned being a fairly distant third. From a scenic perspective this province is hard to beat and is reputed to host the most scenic mountain pass in South Africa - the Bulembu Pass (which has not been marketed very well, as most of you have probably not even heard of it) Take this great abundance of natural scenic beauty and counterpoint it with towns which have too much litter lying about and delapidated streets and suddenly one gets a more balanced view.
Planning a pass filming trip
The week we selected to film in Mpumalanga was based on historical weather records. We wanted greenery in our footage with blue skies and of course, no rain. Records showed the third week in April to be perfect for the job, but the weather gods decided otherwise and threw torrential rain-storms and towering cumulus clouds in our path every day, in the process reducing our normal 6 hour filming window down to 2 hours - and sometimes less. (More lower down....)
Eastern Cape Highlands - the mecca of high altitude gravel passes
This news release comes to you whilst both the filming teams are very busy in Mpumalanga trying to peg down the 37 passes on our to do list. Whilst we are up in the forested mountains of Mpumalanga testing our skills against the elements and the back-roads, we take you off to a really remote, but stunning gravel pass in the Eastern Cape Highlands. This off the beaten track would not be out of place to be included in the Ben 10 Challenge. It offers breathtaking scenery, in a remote and wild setting with some technical driving added to the mix, which makes it a winner. (More lower down....)
Michel's Pass (Hogsback)
For the past 10 years or so, this pass (which could at one stage be driven in a Morris Minor), literally fell off the map, as local authorities completely disregarded and neglected it. Like so many minor roads in rural South Africa, it gradually became branded as a 4x4 route - a natural process of road deterioration marketed to the off-road fraternity as a tourist attraction. The road got worse and worse and eventually a major rockfall blocked the road completely. Infestations of black wattle formed a tunnel over the road, spoiling the fantastic views on offer. (More lower down.....)
In the path of the old sheep trekkers.
This week we introduce you to a remote gravel pass that was probably once a sheep trekking route as far back as the 1700's. It parallels the Hottentotskloof and Theronsberg passes north of Ceres in the Western Cape and offers a slow but exceptionally scenic drive along a long kloof, where you will see wild animals, spectacular scenery and quite possibly a pair of black eagles that roost in the lofty crags.
The route involves opening and closing farm gates and in the winter season, there will be many stream crossings across low drifts without any bridges. The route traverses several farms, one of which has been abandoned and stands forlornly alone without human occupation - a stark reminder of just how tough farming can be. (More lower down)
Eastern Cape Highlands update
In our last news release we reported storm damage to both Lundin's Nek and Jouberts passes. The latest reports trickling in appear to indicate that a local taxi operator in the Telle bridge area has forged a way through the rockfalls on Lundin's Nek and created a semblance of a driveable road through the northern sector. A number of vehicles have also driven over Jouberts Pass, but not without some difficulties and some vehicles have got stuck to the point of requiring assistance. If you are heading that way to do the Ben 10 Eco Challenge, please approach these two passes with due diligence and preferably not alone.
A bridge too far
It is the year 1915. The attractive dressed stone, single arch bridge that straddles the amber waters of the Keur River in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains between George and Oudtshoorn is one of the most popular places for locals to visit for a break in their journey. The lushly wooded valley is filled with birdsong and the gentle sound of water burbling over the stones and boulders creates a place of timeless tranquility. But on a fateful day in that year a drama involving a murder and a suicide unfolded at the bridge.
John Cooper of Oudtshoorn was in love with Alice Lee of Somerset East (both had spouses and children). After a three day lover's tryst at the George Hotel, they set out for Oudtshoorn. Their journey ended at the Keur River bridge. Mrs. Lee was found with her long hair down and in disarray, one arm of her coat was almost ripped off. Near her lay John Cooper. Within reach of his hand was a recently fired revolver. In Cooper's car were letters for his wife and eldest son.
Witnesses recounted that some nights when young men raced down the pass on their bicycles, they saw Cooper and his mistress gliding half a meter above the road. Theunis Muller and Izak Theron were two Georgians who swore that they saw the ghosts more than once. The George & Knysna Herald newspaper reported that Mr Cooper shot Mrs Lee and then shot himself. (More lower down)
A wide awake stream.
There's always something new or exciting happening at MPSA. This week we take a drive to southern Mpumalanga, close to the border with KZN, to pay a visit to the interesting town of Wakkerstroom. There's a large hill that looms above the hill and if you look carefully from the town's main street, you will see something of a work of art near the summit.
In 1938 the local high school undertook to decorate the mountaintop with a giant mural of an oxwagon with the dates 1838 - 1938 under it. This was to commerate the centenary of the Great Trek. These whitewashed stones are enormous with the numerals being 27m in height! More lower down....
Hints and Tips
If you ever want to find out the newest passes we have published, simply left-click on FIND A PASS menu tab, which will pull up the latest passes with the newest one on top. This is a neat shortcut to know if you want to find out what's brand new on the website.
Not receiving our Newsletters?
We've had a number of inquiries from subscribers who say the weekly desktop delivery of our newsletters have stopped. After some investigation we figured out what the problem was and have taken steps to remedy the problem. The problem is growing pains and the number of people wanting toreceive the news feed has grown larger than our allowance. We are working on a fix and should have the gremlins resolved within a week or so. Future newsletters might have a slightly different look as we are plannng to change to a different format. Those of you who had not received the last two newsletters, might have had a belated copy delivered to your email over the weekend. Our apologies for that.
Remember at any time in the future, should you for some reason not receive the newsletter, simply go to the MPSA website and click on the NEWS tab, where the newest newsletter will always be at the top. The news letter is published every Thursday at 07h00, whereas the emailed version only goes out at 13h00, so you'll get it first on the website - always!
Ben 10 Eco Challenge update
IMPORTANT NOTICE: WE HAVE HAD REPORTS THAT BOTH LUNDINS NEK AND JOUBERTS PASS ARE CLOSED AFTER FLOOD DAMAGE. IF YOU INTEND ATTEMPTING THE BEN 10 ECO CHALLENGE OVER THE EASTER HOLIDAYS, IT MIGHT NOT BE POSSIBLE. AND WILL UNLIKELY BE REPAIRED IN TIME.
When we first conceived the idea of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge, we wondered where we would find the budget to widely publicise the challenge. The experts say there's nothing more powerful than personal referrals and word of mouth. It seems they are right, as the Ben 10 Eco Challenge has seen a remarkable growth over the past 6 months and no doubt the exposure it has received through magazines like Getaway, have helped to make this one of the top eco-challenges to tackle in South Africa. (More lower down)
MPSA back in the News!
Getaway Magazine's editor, Tyson Jobson, managed to complete the Ben 10 Eco Challenge recently and came back raving about it. In their April edition he takes you through some of the pain and pleasure of the Ben 10. It makes for a good read. Getaway Magazine has expressed interest in the MPSA project as far back as 2013 and have regularly published articles about us. Get yourself a copy.
Commiting fraud at the fountain
This week we take you on an amazing South African journey, where we showcase our biggest video set ever produced with no less than 14 videos covering this historic pass. We spent over 80 hours editing and producing the videos and about the same amount of time doing the write-up and research. Just as one shouldn't drive this route in a hurry, likewise you should watch the videos at a leisurely pace. The video series have been produced to include most of the history of the area and unfolds in a logical format to form almost a full length movie (66 minutes) when watched in one sitting. More lower down.....
Making the most of mid-week holidays
March and April are the months of public holidays, so why not get out of the city and grab yourslef a mountain pass or two to help shed those city frustrations. With a sobering absence of rain in the Western Cape, planning filming trips is quite straight-forward in terms of rainfall predictability, but the other side of the coin is that we have to contend with dust. With the 21st March looming as a perfect example of a mid-week holiday, we've decided to refilm some of our old footage (still in the fish-eye format).
Britstown in the news
This week we are heading off to one of the most unlikely places to find a mountain pass - the small village of Britstown in the Northern Cape, where we head about 40 km south east of the town to locate the unusually named Sebico Pass. The area is better known for it's vast, flat plains of endless Karooscapes, but here and there we find a gem and our featured pass today is certainly something different - and not for the average sedan vehicle either. More lower down....
Complexities of filming 4x4 routes
In the early days of the MPSA project, most of the passes that we filmed were on fairly decent roads. We started filming with a GoPro HERO 1 and switched to a HERO 3 BLACK in 2015 and in December 2017, we upgraded once more to a GoPro HERO 6 BLACK. This latest GoPro delivers really punchy footage that is crystal clear, with better colour saturation, but perhaps the biggest plus is the ability to remotely activate its stabiliser function. On normal tar roads and good gravel roads, the stabiliser function is not really required, but on the rougher roads and especially on 4x4 routes, this extra function makes a huge difference to the quality of the video. It even handles severe corrugations with aplomb! 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.