This week we head off to the bustling metropolis of Dirkiesdorp in the southern part of Mpumalanga, where the grass grows green in the summer and the cosmos lines the road-side in spring.
It is here too that some remarkable South African history can be uncovered and where real earthy characters like Swart Dirk Uys, Koos Bybel, Piet Italeni, Jannie Gyselaar, Kruppel Koos, Piet Hlobane and Vaal Piet seem unlikely characters from some forgotten novel.
We unpack the story of Swart Dirk Uys, his lovely daughter Sannie and an unlikely suitor in the form of a young Imperial French prince, whose flourishing relationship was cut short by the Zulus. Swart Dirk Uys is considered to be the founding father of one of South Africa's most succesful cattle breeds - the Drakensberger.
[Read more lower down]
Not only is that a name of good film, but snow has fallen over a wide part of South Africa - even on the bluegums! Tiffindell recorded over 20cm of snow - one of the best snowfalls in a long time. The benefit of snow is that it releases water at a slow rate, which is much more beneficial to the earth than normal rainfall, allowing for superior uitilisation. It also fires up the spirit of adventure in most South Africans, but in general terms most of us have little or no snow driving experience. It's best to tackle snow drives with good preparation and if you're really heading off into the thick stuff, a set of snow chains is a sensible purchase - and of course the knowledge of how to fit them.
According to Snow Report, last week snow started falling in the north of Lesotho in the Maluti Mountains (Afriski area) during the early hours of Thursday morning. By sunrise on Thursday, there was light snow all across the Drakensberg from the north to the south, mainly on the Lesotho side, with some flurries in the southern KZN areas north of Kokstad and around Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. [Read more lower down]
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.....
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.