We have a jam-packed newsletter this week with lots of interesting information, but 'oudegewoonte' let's kick-off with our discovery of the week.....
Another marvellous gravel pass unveiled this week:
This week we feature yet another gem of a gravel pass in a remote and unsullied part of the Eastern Cape highlands about 24 km west of Barkly East (as the crow flies). There are some severe hairpins, deep washaways, and loose stones to keep drivers a little on the edge and then there are the incredible views. This one is for the purist. More lower down this page...
For Eastern Cape readers, you can tune in to Wild Coast Radio each Monday at 15h30 where we chat about a specific mountain pass for 10 minutes. We are hoping that the radio station will be sending us the podcasts soon, which we will upload onto the website, so that the whole nation can listen to these 10 minute 'live' talks on our passes and poorts.
Subscribe and win a GoPro
If you have not subscribed to the website yet, you still have time to do so and have your name automatically entered into the draw for a GoPro Hero4 Silver and we hope the lucky winner will film passes for us using this tough, high quality camera. More on that lower down....
Gamkaskloof and Die Hel revisited
We are planning on refilming this all time favourite on June 16th, so if you're in the area keep a look out for us and say hello. This will be the first gravel pass utilising a new motorised gimbal (imported from the USA) to smooth out corrugations for more enjoyable video watching. Our routing will include the towns of Worcester, Robertson, Montagu, Barrydale, Calitzdorp, Rooiberg Pass, VanWyk's Vlei, Cloetesville, Mossel Bay, George (Ballots Bay) - Oudtshoorn, Swartberg Pass, and Gamkaskloof. We will be spending some time with Annetjie Joubert, the last remaining 'klower' at Fonteinplaas in Die Hel and we will dig up some more history about this secluded and beautiful valley.
The Field Guide Book
We are being flooded with inquiries about the proposed book. More info lower down.......
Swartberg Pass Update
This week we have the first authenticated update on progress on the flood damage to the Swartberg Pass. Anyone who was hoping to include a drive over the pass in 2017 can now definitely cancel those plans, as the provisional time frame to complete the repairs is set at 15 months, which will take us to August, 2018. Due to the historical nature of the pass and it's status as a national monument, the process of getting the paperwork signed off for construction work to commence is more complicated than normal.
The budget for the repair work is estimated at between R25m & R30m. Heritage Western Cape still need to sign the paperwork off and they have been given 30 days to complete their inspections and considerations. More information lower down this page.....
Our featured pass this week is something very unusual in that it is fairly long at over 16 km and is without question the pass with the most (4) alternative names on our 700+ pass database. We take you with us on a dusty and corrugated drive between two tiny settlements, with quaint names like Kharkams and Spoegrivier and we dig into the wonderful history of the area and take a peek at Bethelsklip - an open air place of worship dating back to the 1800's and still utilised to this day. More on this lovely 'road less travelled' lower down this page....
Whilst the vast majority of South Africa shivers in ice cold temperatures, with ice and snow around, your editorial team in Cape Town continue to 'enjoy' summer style weather with daily temperatures in the upper 20's. The Western Cape now has a very serious water crises looming, which will be felt next summer, unless a lot of rain falls over the next four months. The city's biggest water supply dam - Theewaterskloof - is a frightening sight at the moment.
When snow falls, South African's get the fever - an almost reckless need to get to the snow to drive, ride, play or build a snowman. Whilst this eagerness is understandable, we wish to pass on some sage advice on the subject, which we go into some detail a bit lower down.
Each May we take a long hard look at our statistics. This helps us to gauge how we are doing, who we are connecting with and it forms the yardstick by which we measure our success. More below......
Our featured pass this week is in the Northern Cape. We take you on a faraway drive down the Bokkeveld Mountains on a very old gravel pass, which once had the involvement of Thomas Bain and it dates back to 1880. This one is for those with high clearance vehicles and a spirit of adventure, as it involves some tricky navigation. More below.......
The northern and southern filming crews have assembled a wonderful collection of new passes and poorts over the recent holiday cycle, both big and small - each with its own special beauty or story. So for the next few months these will all be progressively released onto the website. Mike Leicester uncovered a beauty of a "new" pass whilst filming in KZN recently. This wonderful gravel pass has easy gradients, magnificent Drakensberg scenery, a spooky old tunnel and can be driven in any vehicle with reasonable ground clearance. More about that lower down.
15 have conquered the Ben 10
As expected there were another batch of Ben 10 Eco Challenge finishers over the recent long weekend. One of these was Craig Fouche and his wife who completed the challenge in the diminutive, but very capable Suzuki Jimny. This couple entered into the true spirit of the challenge and if you look up their post on our Facebook page, you will see just how much fun they had. Well done!
In addition we have received video footage taken by a biker completing the ascent of the Ben MacDhui Pass, which we have embedded on that page. Take a look at the video and see just how tough it is physically to ride this pass on a motorcycle. Thanks to Grant Leicester for the footage.
Well, the April/May holidays are done and dusted and for all those of you that made it home safely - well done! Both the Jhb and Cape Town based film crews were also on the road during this period - mainly in the Eastern and Northern Cape with at least 40 new passes having been filmed. This material will appear progressively over the next few months.
Illegal road closures
One of the contentious issues raised this week is that of illegal road closures and how best to deal with them. We cover that thorny topic in more detail lower down this page.
Featured pass of the week:
The financially rich (and smallest) province of Gauteng sports a total of 11 passes - most of which fall under the category of suburban passes. It is one of these that is our featured pass this week. It offers fascinating history, great views and is very accessible to those living in the metropolis.
April &May are probably the months of the year that most people use for longer travel type holidays as can be attested by the flood of email inquiries we received this month from folk needing advice and assistance with travel plans. We legally may not plan a route for you, but the website is so designed to provide all the information for each person to watch the videos, look at the facts, routes and maps and so make informed decisions on their own routes - and to take responsibility for those choices.
How to use the best feature on the website - The Master Map
The first and best tool to plan a trip is the MASTER MAP which is the first item under the FIND A PASS tab. Zoom into your area of interest and hover your cursor over any of the dots - the name of the pass will pop up. If you want to know more about that specific pass, left click on the dot, and another balloon will open inviting you to take the click through to that pass page. The black dots indicate tarred passes and the red dots are gravel passes.
It's fun and takes some time, but by the time you've properly researched your intended route, you will be armed with superior knowledge, which will make your journey so much more enjoyable. The master map is available to anyone, but only subscribers can see the content of the individual pages and the videos. That makes another 700 good reasons to subcribe!
Our featured pass this week is a real gem. It's in the Drakensberg and offers steep gradients, serious drop offs, a mix of gravel and concrete, incredible views, sharp corners, technical driving and lots of crisp alpine air.
To Mpumalanga we go
With the Easter weekend behind us, we can now focus on introducing you to something different in the north-eastern corner of South Africa - in Mpumalanga Province, which is the region of our featured pass this week.
There is still time....
Things are hotting up with the Ben 10 Eco Challenge likely to produce the next batch of successful entrants over the spate of public holidays creating long weekend holidays with enough time for people to complete the challenge. As soon as the first 20 places have been filled, we will draw the first lucky winner for a two day weekend at one of our sponsor's hotels. Watch this space!
Our Facebook page featuring the news of the floods and subsequent closure of the Swartberg Pass had 76,000 views, whilst an amazing photograph (which we think will still win some awards) of the Elands Pass descending down into Die Hel, taken by Cape Town based photographer, Bipin Prag, was viewed by 151,000 people on the MPSA Facebook page alone. We feature his photo as our introductory photo of this news release. Do visit our Facebook page which has the full story of how the photographer spent the night on the pass, during the fateful storm, where he captured an image unlikely to be repeated in the future.
Swartberg Pass closed due to flood damage
Thomas Bain once wrote that the three biggest problems for road builders was 1. Water 2. Water and 3. Water! Prophetic words indeed from South Africa's most famous road engineer, who would be wincing in dismay as he looks down on the devastation that destroyed parts of his beautiful road, built 137 years ago. On the night of the 9th April, 2017 a freak cloudburst unleashed millions of litres of water over the northern sector of the pass, which sent a torrent down Mullers Kloof and washed away virtually the entire road from Malvadraai to Eerste Water. The repairs will be costly and take a long time. At the time of writing, the pass is still open from the Oudtshoorn side and Gamkaskloof, Elands Pass and Die Hel can (apparently) still be accessed. This is bad news for the little town of Prince Albert at the northern terminus of the pass, which relies on the tourism generated by the pass. Let's hope the local authorities see the repair work as a priority.
For those who had planned crossing the pass over the easter weekend, please make alternative plans. There have been reports that Meiringspoort also suffered damage from the same storm, so it's best to contact SAPS (De Rust) to find out the latest status on the poort.
If you're out on the highways and byways this coming weekend, please drive defensively and bring your family back home safely. With a nationwide bus drivers strike looming, things could become chaotic this Easter. Why not use our Master Map and plan your trip via some of the back roads, where all sorts of treasures await.
The late Dr. Graham Ross - a padmaker of note - was largely responsible for mentoring your scribe in the finer technical details of road engineering when this website was first started in 2012. One of the lessons we took from our relationship was that he wrote his thesis at the age of 74! You are never too old to tackle a new project! Dr. Ross was the consulting engineer during the construction of one of the Western Cape's well known passes, which we refilmed in December, 2016 and which is the subject of our featured pass this week.
We have a bumper news release for you this week and cover a wide range of topics and several new passes as well as refilmed videos, but let's get the obvious out of the way first.
OUTRAGE AND FURY: We studiously avoid the two dreaded topics - politics and religion, but this past week there has just been an avalanche of negative information flooding social media, radio, television and newspapers, so it's almost impossible to not be affected. We just want to say that the hundreds of thousands of people who intend protesting on Friday, please do so in a non-violent way and that somehow through this dense fog of uncertainty, that some level of sanity will prevail within our government.
WHAT'S ON THE CARDS? On the positive side: In the engine room of the MPSA production team, things are going full steam ahead and everything is on track for a bumper 2017 with lots to look forward to. Amongst the many new innovations we are considering or planning are the following:
1. The MPSA book, which will be in the form of a field guide and of a size that can be packed into the car with you.
2. Follow-me drone technology (intricate, expensive and riddled with rules and regulations)
3. Gyroscope technology to smooth out our video footage (especially on gravel roads)
4. An MPSA App which will enable any pass to be viewed directly from the App, without internet connection
5. Extended multi-day tours - the first of which will be into the Tankwa Karoo this winter.
6. The addition of the 31 passes of Lesotho as a separate section on the website
7. Many brand new local passes to be added to the website (approx. 130)
8. The upgrading of several of our earlier video efforts dating back to 2012/2013.
9. Prizes to be drawn for the Ben 10 Eco Challenge - we are expecting another rash of finishers during the next 6 weeks.
10. The lucky draw for the GoPro Hero4 Silver during September, where every subscriber's name will go into the hat.
11. The exploration and evaluation of the VoiceMap system, which is a GPS activated App which describes specific geographical or historic points of interest, as one drives over a pass, with audio via your smart phone.
FEATURED PASS: Our featured pass of the week is something completely different and takes us into Limpopo province near the town of Thabazimbi, from where we take a drive through South Africa's newest national park, to drive a very steep and convoluted road to the summit of the Waterberg massif - a drive that will take your breath away.
A Record Breaking Month
The month of March is almost history and it's been a month of breaking new ground. We have just reached our highest ever readership on this website with 108,000 page views so far for a single month and our FaceBook feature on the Langeni Pass last week, was viewed 72,490 times, generating 2,300 Likes, 128 shares and 143 interactive comments. Of interest was the number of people involved in the construction who posted relevant and fascinating comments.
We are honoured to have been nominated for an award by the Western Cape Government Department of Cultural Affairs in the category 'Standardisation and/or Public Awareness of Geographical Names' and we thank everyone who posted messages of congratulations and encouragement on the Face Book entry. More on the award lower down this page...
Ben 10 Eco-Challenge Update
We had the first lady, Llesyri Joa, completing the Ben 10 Eco Challenge on an adventure motorcycle, thereby setting the bar not only for other ladies, but for the guys as well. The top 10 places for the challenge have now been booked in perpetuity and can be seen on the website, where the entry form is also available. Ben 10 Eco Challenge - Results and Entry Form.
Win a GoPro
As an incentive for those sitting on the fence and a reward for those that have already subscribed, we will be drawing the name of one lucky subscriber to win a GoPro4 Silver video camera. This will take place after the 31st August, when the incentive offer closes. Subscribe on this link for just R200 per year. MPSA - SUBSCRIBE
Wild Coast Radio
Wild Coast Radio in East London have us live on air, every Monday at 3.30pm for a 10 minute mountain pass talk. We will be posting the podcasts of these interesting chats on the website as soon as we receive them.
Featured pass of the week
Our featured pass this week is one of the passes of the Ben 10 Eco-Challenge and ranks as one of our personal favourites for its wonderful scenery, big altitude and general enjoyment. It offers waterfalls, a challenging drive, complete isolation and some of the finest Southern Drakensberg scenery you will find. We plan on keeping the featured pass 'open' each week for a day or two, to illustrate to potential subscribers the value that they can enjoy.
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.