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.....
SWARTBERG PASS REVISITED
For some time we had been planning a complete refilming of the Swartberg Pass. The problem is always finding a suitable weather window, which takes careful planning and being in the right place at the right time. We managed to get all those components to jigsaw together on Sunday, the 11th of February, 2018. We always try to film passes that run along the north/south axis from the northern side for optimum lighting. Our old 2012 video was filmed the other way round, so it meant that the entire page had to be rewritten. During the reconstruction of the page, it needed to kept open as it's the second most popular page on the website with over 70,000 views to date.
WESTERN CAPE GOVERNMENT AWARD
At a gala function at the Bay Hotel in Camps bay, Cape Town last Saturday, Mountain Passes South Africa were nominated and won the award in the category 'Substantial Contribution to Geographical Place Names'. Government recognition plays a pivotal role in our goal to attain national status as the leading organisation in all matters pertaining to mountain passes. The opportunities to expand our footprint and get noticed by SA Tourism are now considerably advanced.
On the first anniversary of our subscription system, we were watching the statistics with interest to see what the conversion rate would be. Whilst we will only have a complete picture by the end of March, the February numbers have been hugely encouraging, with only one person not renewing. This puts our current renewal rate at above 99%. We would like to thank each and every one of you for the ongoing support of this project and can assure everyone that we have a lot of fresh material on the way in 2018. Our standards will continue to improve and the quality of the research that we publish will remain of the best quality. We currently have subscribers from as far afield as USA, Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and Lesotho, but the vast majority come from South Africa. Many expatriats find solace in the website by being able to watch the videos of real South African places and it seems it fills their 'longing for home tank'
LIVE ON AIR
Subscribers that live in the Border/East London region can tune in to Wild Coast Radio on 98.6 MHz every Monday at 3.30pm where we give a 10 minute mountain pass talk on the 'Berg en Daal' slot. These informal chats cover various interesting passes all over South Africa. The station has promised to supply us with the podcasts, which we will publish on our 'In the Media' page on the website so that everyone can listen to them.
A man amongst men
Our admiration for the remarkable road engineer, Thomas Bain, never dims. His fame and life achievements are worth the respect of the entire nation for the enormous contribution that not only his roads, but also his bridges, railway lines and water reservoirs contributed to the economic progress of the Cape region - from Namaqualand in the north to Port Elizabeth in the east and most of the area in between. This one man devoted his life to South Africa and it's people.
Today we have a look at one his major passes - the 26,4 km long Pakhuis Pass, near Clanwilliam, which we refilmed over a double video set, replacing our 1st generation 2012 videos. We've also upgraded the page and added in fresh information and some new photos. More lower down.......
Ben 10 Eco Challenge update
The 23rd person to complete the Ben 10 is a young lady, Kirstin Arnold, who unlocked the magic of the passes in an old Land Rover Defender. What makes this somewhat different is that she carted her Jack Russell (with the unusual name of "The Edge") along for the adventure. We asked her to pen some of her personal insights of her adventure for you to enjoy. More lower down.
Renewals are streaming in and have kept our admins very busy. Some of our subscribers have sent in the funds, without completing the renewal form. This effectively means our system is unable to auto-match the payment with your name, so if you have renewed and not completed the renewal form, there might be an issue with your access. We have isolated most of those manually and contacted subscribers with a "how to" email. If you are one of those who have paid the renewal but not completed the renewal registration form, please do so via this link: https://www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za/members/renew.html
Today's news release takes us to the mountain range between Calitzdorp and Ladismith in the Western Cape, where the Huisrivier Pass mostly hides in the shadows of it's main competitors in this pass rich area. Those are the Swartberg Pass, Meiringspoort and Seweweekspoort. Many travellers don't appreciate the quality of the engineering on the Huisrivier Pass, but read on as we unpack the 200 year old story behind this big pass.
The year 1951 saw an energetic young road engineer by the name of Graham Ross, climbing the rocky slopes of the pass as a new all weather road was planned between the two Klein Karoo towns. Theodolites and Abney levels were carefully carted around the mountains as obstacle after obstacle challenged the engineers. It took almost ten years to complete the final planning.
Prior to the new road, the shortest route between the two towns was via a grizzly poort named Caledon Poort - a narrow and dangerous traverse through a steep sided gorge of towering sandstone cliffs, which proved to be hard on wagons as well as the oxen that pulled them. After some 80 years, the dry river bed was littered with broken wheels and oxen bones - a testament to just how tough the route was. But the great flood of 1885 completely devastated the route (as well as Meiringspoort) and left the road planners with the issue of planning a new road up and over the mountains, rather than through the shorter poort route. More lower down.....
Where to from here?
Every now and then we come across a pass, which appears to be insignificant when we do our initial research on Google Earth, but when we get there, we are sometimes gobsmacked - as was the case a few weeks ago, when Mike Leicester toured through the achingly barren north-western part of South Africa.
Lying within 15 km of the best known landmark in that area (which is the Witsand Nature Reserve with its impeccable dune fields), is a fairly short but exceptionally rugged pass that works its way up and over a neck in the mountains. There is a point as one approaches from the southern side, where the cutline of the road can be seen higher up the mountain slope and it appears impossibly steep from that angle. Enough to make you stop abruptly and say out loud: "WHAAAT?!" And steep it is, with a 400m long section reaching a gut wrenching gradient of 1:3. This is our featured pass today.
Swartberg Pass revamp
As you read this news release, the Cape Town film crew will be in the Garden Route area, filming a range of small passes, but more specifically we are going to refilm the Swartberg Pass. The videos currently on display for this pass date back to 2012 and much has happened since then, both from an MPSA technology perspective as well as to the road itself - especially the flood damage, so the time has come to obtain upgraded footage for the 2nd most popular pass page on the website with 68,000 views. This is probably our favourite South African gravel pass, so going to film it is pure pleasure!
We have recently also refilmed Meiringspoort, the Huisrivier Pass and the Pakhuis Pass, all of which will be republished with upgraded videos during February.
In the Media
Our new "In the Media" page showcases all external media features and under the same NEWS button on the main menu bar, you can access podcasts (live radio broadcasts). Try the page via this shortcut: https://mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za/news/in-the-media.html
The prize of a one year subscription to MPSA goes to Mr. James Bilsbury for this beautifully composed photo taken in the Karoo near the summit of the Nuwekloof Pass, Baviaanskloof. Of the top 5 photos selected, this one got the most votes from the public. James wins a one year subscription to MPSA. The next photo competition will be launched later this month. Thank you to each and every one of you that entered. There were some excellent photos and choosing the winner was a tough decision, which we finally left up to the public after selecting the top 5.
Pass of the Week
Our Jhb based associate, Mike Leicester, bravely trekked off to the Northern Cape in January to film around 20 passes and poorts. And brave it was, as he had to battle locked farm gates, long detours, lack of signage, corrugated roads and 45C temperatures. In the process he managed to capture some wonderful new passes and poorts, which will be featured over the next few weeks. Today we showcase one of these new passes which appears on the MPSA website for the first time. Not every pass has the knockout statistics of Sani, but each pass, no matter how short or steep, has its own bit of history to unlock.
For those of you that were not able to watch the SABC3 Expresso breakfast show, we have been able to get an edited (ads removed) copy and have embedded it lower down on the page. It has taken us 5 full years to be able to appear on national television and we hope that this first appearance will be a stepping stone in terms of more relevant programs like 'Voetspore' and similar travel shows. More lower down.....
Ben 10 Eco Challenge
A few days ago we were contacted by one of the journalists, who writes for the online magazine BikeSA. He has just recently completed the Ben 10 Eco Challenge on an adventure motorcycle and described it as one of the best adventures of his life. That is quite a statement coming from such a well seasoned traveller. Mountain Passes South Africa will soon be featured on BikeSA. It is heartening to see how much the challenge is benefitting tourism in the area and a reminder that from from a small idea, something big can grow if you're willing to persevere, be enthusiastic and sincere in your motives.
Expresso Show - SABC3
By the time you read this newsletter, we will already have completed our guest appearance on this well-known, popular and widely watched TV breakfast show. We will try and get a video copy to embed in our media page for those who were unable to watch the show. Getting television exposure will add a lot of gravitas to our bragboard and provide exposure into new markets which we would never otherwise be able to afford. What a great start to 2018!
Pass of the Week
Nestled in the first southern ridge of the Zuurberg range north of Port Elizabeth is the gravel surfaced Doringnek Pass which gives access to a popular hotel at the summit of the pass, called the Zuurberg Mountain Village, renowned for the quality of the food and graciously elegant decor. The original manor house dates back well over a hundred years.
The entire pass falls within the range of the Addo Elephant National Park, which when started in 1931 with just 11 elephants, has today grown into South Africa's third largest national park. It is a major tourist attraction (both national and international) and provides the local economy with opportunities, growth and employment.
It was at the summit of the Doringnek Pass that the year 1848 saw the presence of the then colonial road engineer, Henry Fancourt White, with his 250 convict labourers arrive to commence construction of the 27 km long Zuurberg Pass northwards towards Somerset East, which was an obvious northern extension of the Doringnek Pass, all the way through to Somerset East. This would become the main road to the interior and be used for almost 100 years. More lower down.....
January Photographic Competition
Ben 10 Eco Challenge: by Anthony van Zyl
We now have 21 drivers/riders who have completed the challenge with another 23 hopefulls waiting for the right time and opportunity. Anthony van Zyl), the 21st entrant to complete the challenge, sent us this report
" I did this trip solo in my Land Rover Discovery Tdi (1996 model). It looks like this might be the first "original" Discovery to do the challenge. It was really an experience to enjoy the scenery of the Eastern Cape on the roads less travelled. (More lower down.....)
Pass of the Week
This week we put our focus on the magnificent Baviaanskloof and more specifically on one of it's two major poorts. The name Studtis goes far back into the kloof's history - all the way to 1817. Genealogy searches reveal the name to originate from the 1820 Settlers, which we assume were mostly British, but further research indicates the name to be spelt without the 's' on the end - 'Studti' and the added 's' was no doubt with an apostrophe - hence Studti's Poort, which switches the origin to German and somewhere along the line, the apostrophe was dropped, with grammar not being the main life focus in the Baviaanskloof!
One of the first farms to be registered in the western Baviaanskloof was Kamerkloof in 1817. Farmers reached the kloof by means of a handmade ‘ossewa’ trail from the western side of the kloof. Between 1880 and 1890 Thomas Bain built the Nuwekloof Pass giving entry to this unique valley. The farm played host to the first police station in the Baviaanskloof and today the original goal and the old tobacco drying shed can still be visited at Kamerkloof. More lower down...
January Photographic Competition
Entries are streaming in for our new photo contest. Submit your best (only 1 please) photo to us and stand a chance to win a 1 year subscription to MPSA.
The rules are simple. The subject matter must be South African. Only original photos will be considered and must be taken by yourself or a family member. Photos should be submitted in their original size and can be B&W or colour. Add a short explanation of where the photo was taken so we can caption it.
Back to work and back to school
We're starting 2018 off with lots of news and interesting stories. Our featured pass this week ( a new one) has just been added to the website and whilst the pass won't get your adrenaline pumping (unless you're a cyclist), it is interesting in many ways, but it is especially the history of the area which caught our attention and a specific story which dates back to 1833, when the son of one of Hankey's founders, William Philip, decided to build an irrigation tunnel through a strip of mountain along the Gamtoos River, to enable valuable arable land to be properly irrigated. The story has an exceptionally cruel twist at the end, making this a "must-read" More lower down....
MPSA Price Structure for 2018
As with all things, our costs have also increased over the last year. Improved video equipment, faster computers, fuel price hikes, vehicle maintenance and better quality hosting platforms - it's a long list and we have to unfortunately raise our subscription fees a little to keep this rather large ship on an even keel and heading in the right direction. We spent many weeks studying trends, consulting with experts and after thorough research, here is the 2018 structure: (Fanfare!)
1. For existing subscribers the fee is going up from R200 to R225 per year. A small increase and our way of saying thank you for your loyalty.
2. New subscrptions for 2018 will be R250 a year. Still one of the best bargains on the internet.
3. We are also bringing in a new category of subscription for 6 months at R180 a year. This is the 'convenience shopping' package. This is to cater for those who want a shorter subscription or just want to use the website to plan a single trip - for example overseas visitors.
4. Gift vouchers will obviously be priced the same as the new annual subscription rate at R250.
Our goal is to retain 100% of existing subscribers, all of whom will know the value for money they are getting.
Here's how things will happen when your renewal becomes due. More lower down.....
Brand new photo competition
Submit your best (only 1 please) photo to us and stand a chance to win a 1 year subscription to MPSA.
The rules are simple. The subject matter must be South African. Only original photos will be considered and must be taken by yourself or a family member.
Photos should be submitted in their original size and can be B&W or colour. Add a short explanation of where the photo was taken so we can caption it.
Ben 10 Eco Challenge
More entries have arrived and a new batch of adventurers have completed the challenge. The latest group of 3 vehicles all completed the challenge in the diminutive, but highly capable Suzuki Jimny. This brand is now numerically the top in the list of 4x4 finishers. If that's not an advertising opportunity for Suzuki, then nothing is! 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.