* Winter has arrived
* Great Swartberg Tour
* SA History - Chapter 7
* Podcast of the week
* Featured pass of the week
* New passes added this week
* Thought for the day
Whilst massive amounts of arctic ice are breaking off the northern polar cap following unseasonably warm weather in Europe - causing some hectic weather systems, South Africa is experiencing very cold weather with many towns recording temperatures below freezing over the past 10 days, not least of which is Sutherland, dropping to minus 7C.
Snowfalls have been reported across large tracts of the Drakensberg, the Malutis, the Swartberg and the Hexrivier mountains (and Matroosberg) in the Western Cape. Before you venture off to drive in the snow, remember that without traction your vehicle is nothing more than a slippery sled. Don't drive alone; know your limitations.
(the story continues...)
The Elands Pass looks interesting when you look at it on Google Earth and most of the photos are impressive, but when you see it with your own eyes for the first time, suddenly all the dimensions click in a like a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is depth at a level that a camera cannot capture. The sheer scale of the slopes down into the valley sharpens the senses as the road can be seen worming its way down the mountain in a series of switchbacks, but it is directly below your view-point that the road disappears out of your field of view - and that is where the mind starts playing tricks and the imagination kicks in.
We scan the road ahead and there are no vehicles ascending. Our 11 vehicle convoy starts the descent. Passing vehicles on this pass is not easy and the best places are on the hairpin bends at their widest points. Before we reach the first hairpin, someone in the convoy radios that there is a vehicle ascending. The rule of the road is that ascending vehicles have the right of way, but trying to move 11 vehicles out of the way is just impossible.
We reach the first hairpin and wait for the ascending vehicle, but it doesn't arrive. The driver had noticed our convoy coming down the pass and he decided to wait at a slight widening in the road but out of our field of view. After about 5 minutes it became apparent that there was a problem. We sent someone down on foot and asked the ascending driver to proceed up to where we were waiting, where we had left enough space for him to pull off the road. There is nothing to replace common courtesy and manners when dealing with situations like this. [More lower down...]
The southern ascent of the Swartberg Pass is such an eye opener for first time drivers. The smooth and wide tarmac of the R328 suddenly gives way to gravel just after Cobus se Gat as a sign warns that no caravans or heavy vehicles are allowed. Some tight hairpins appear fairly soon followed by a long sinuous pull up past some old ruins, reputed to be where Bain housed his convict gangs.
The altitude goes up steadily and then that magical moment happens when one gets the first glimpses of those towering hand packed stone walls - Thomas Bain's trademark construction signature. The road narrows and swings sharply to the left through a crook in the mountain and the gradient gets steeper. At the apex of the next right hand bend a brown sign announces that this spot is called 'Skelmdraai'. No-one really knows where the name originates from, but it is more than likely to do with the band of convict labourers. With some careful parking we manage to get the whole convoy off the road and get our first group photo done - quite an exercise getting 22 people to muster in one spot!.
The views of the Little Karoo to the south are amazing - a full sweep of 180 degrees over a patchwork quilt of orchards and fields with another big mountain range as a backdrop. The weather is glorious as the guests revel in the majesty of the Swartberg, but the sun is heading towards Cape Town and we need to move on as we still have a long, tough drive ahead of us.
Soon we are up and over the Swartberg past the sticker plastered signboard "Die Top" - clearly those allocating names had run out of enthusiasm and creative genius with that name, but then again, I suppose less is often more. [More lower down...]
* Great Swartberg Tour - Part 3
* The social media phenomenon
* South African History - Part 5
* Featured pass of the week
Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge is the kind of place you say "I wish we could stay a day longer"
The sense of timelessness is palpable as our group wake up to another perfect late autumn morning after a good night's rest. The biggest problem on the tours is over-eating and not getting enough exercise. The full breakfast is taken with the patio doors open as a young kudu bull wanders through the gardens a few metres away. What a heavenly place.
It's time to hit the road and soon our big convoy is rumbling up the Bosluiskloof Pass. It looks completely different in the ascending mode with the early morning sun making for wonderful photographic opportunities. The roads are as dusty as ever and our convoy soon stretches out to the standard 7 km from front to back. [More lower down...]
* Great Swartberg Tour - We continue with the story this week that takes us from Buffelspoort Canyon to Bosluiskloof.
* South African History - Chapter 4 - Early Portuguese explorers.
* Our latest upper level ad: Moving up into 7th gear.
* Podcast: A talk covering the first day of the Swartberg Tour. LISTEN
* Lesotho Update
* Pass of the Week: One of our subscribers bravely volunteered to film a few passes for us. This week we feature the first of those passes. Well done Fraser Mackintosh!
(Turn your sound up - the music is beautiful)
Dust on the Wind ~ Kansas.
The Karoo is much drier than we know it. Four years of drought have dried up the rivers and dams. As we left Buffelspoort it was evident that the dust on the roads was not normal. It's like talcum powder. It hangs in the air for many minutes and as there is no wind to blow it away, the dust becomes and ever increasing problem on our tour, with our convoy predictably stretching out to 7 km. [More lower down]
In our news release this week:
* GREAT SWARTBERG TOUR REPORT BACK
* SOUTH AFRICAN HISTORY CHAPTER 3
* PASS OF THE WEEK
* WORDS OF WISDOM
We can say with confidence that this was our best tour ever. The weather was sublime, not to say unusually warm for May and the time-frames ran like clockwork. We always seem to have a great bunch of people on our tours and this one was no exception. Our accommodation was mostly wonderful and the mechanical problems that did occur were of a relatively minor nature. It was 4 days of non-stop magical scenery with the only issue being a lot of dust, but dirt roads will have dust unless it's raining. But let's start at the beginning.....
We left Cape Town for Laingsburg on Thursday 16th to spend our pre-tour evening at the Witteberg Nature Reserve where we shared a meal and some champagne with the reserve owner and our long standing friend ~ Frik Linde. My wife and Frik both had birthdays during that week, hence the champagne! And what better place to celebrate a birthday than under the Karoo stars?
Friday 17th May and day 1 of the Great Swartberg Tour. We were up at 0530 and working our way along the jeep track towards the main control gate at Witteberg, when up ahead in the dark, we picked up the tail lights of another vehicle. We caught up to it as the driver was struggling with the electronic code to open the gate.
A stocky farmer climbed out of his Land Cruiser bakkie and introduced himself as "Hempies Du Toit - Aangename Kennis" In the reflected light from our headlights I immediately recognized the well known ex rugby star. We swapped contact details and now MPSA has driving rights between Witteberg and Anysberg Reserves. What a stroke of pure luck! I can already see a new tour in the planning!
[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.