* 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 - 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...]
Today as you read this news release, we are heading up to the Witteberg Nature Reserve to spend the pre-tour evening with our good friend Frik Linde, where we will be having a Karoo style braai under the crisp clear stars. The next morning (Friday 17th) marks the start of our Great Swartberg Tour. Our rendezvous point is the Laingsburg Flood Museum where we will be attending a talk on the great flood of 1981.
Our routing takes us to a national heritage site - Buffelspoort. A 12 km long canyon with near vertical walls of 650m and from there on to the Seweekspoort and Bosluiskloof passes to keep the kudus company at our overnight lodge. The next day we tackle the Swartberg Pass and Gamkaskloof with an overnight stop and group dinner at Fonteinplaas in Die Hel. We have arranged for Annatjie Joubert - (the last true descendant land owner of the original klowers) - to chat to us about the astonishing history.
Our last day includes a visit to Prince Albert, Meiringspoort, and then over the Rooiberg Pass to our final overnight stop at the Rooiberg Lodge. This tour was fully booked in short order and based on its popularity, we will be repeating it in 2020 or even sooner. Watch our FaceBook page for daily updates. (More lower down...)
It's been a busy week, but finally voting is done and dusted and South Africa can once again shrug off the insecurities and get on with life. Not always easy, but necessary.
We have a wonderful pass to unveil today. It's a big tarred pass that straddles the border of the Free State and KZN and has lots of history on offer. But more of that lower down.........
Our associate in Johannesburg, Mike Leicester has an avid interest in South African history and has compiled a wonderfully compact version for all of you to enjoy. The article is too long for a single publication, so we will be featuring a chapter with each news release over the next few months. The article is very well written and researched and if your knowledge of South African history is a little sketchy, this will be a perfect opportunity to expand your knowledge.
Podcast: Listen to a chat on Wild Coast FM on the Oliviershoek Pass and it's wonderful history. CLICK TO LISTEN
1. We depart on the 17th May on our Great Swartberg Tour. This tour was fully booked without any advertising other than mentioning it in our newsletter. As always we will post photos, videos and updates whenever we have an internet connection during the tour. This one promises to be a winner and we will repeat it later in the year for those who missed out.
2. The Thomas Bain Heritage Tour runs from the 21st to 23rd June and includes many of Bain's passes. We drive from Wilderness via the 7 Passes Road, then up through the Diepwalle forests (via the Simola Hill Climb!) to enjoy Prince Alfred's Pass. We spend two full days exploring the Baviaanskloof enjoying quality accommodation and fine food as we head towards the Cambria valley and Patensie where the tour ends. There are 3 places open on this tour. Click here for more details of the Thomas Bain Heritage Tour.
3. Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour (21st to 24th Sep - Long Weekend). 4x4 only with low range and minimum 2 years offroad driving experience is needed to participate in this tour. If you like stunning scenery, technical driving, adventure and a dollop of adrenaline, then this is the tour for you. Enjoy the camaraderie, fine food and friendship that results from a tour of this nature. Click here for more details of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour.
4. Lesotho-Sani Tour (27th to 29th Sep). Another hugely popular tour that traverses several passes above 3000m altitude and includes a tour of the massive Katse Dam, an overnight stay at Afriski with the highlight being on the last day as we descend Sani Pass. There only 3 tickets left. Click here for more details of the Lesotho-Sani Tour.
Whilst South Africa enjoys yet another public holiday, it's worthwhile considering the origins of why May 1st is celebrated globally.
Most people correctly believe that it is a celebration of the trade union movement and a day to acknowledge workers rights. Exploring the date a little further back in history, May Day, in medieval and modern Europe, represented the celebration of the return of spring.
The observance probably originated in ancient agricultural rituals, and the Greeks and Romans held such festivals. [More lower down...]
17th to 19th May - Great Swartberg Tour (Fully booked)
21st to 24th June - Thomas Bain Heritage Tour (3 Places open)
21st to 24th September - Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour (9 places open)
27th to 29th September - Lesotho/Sani Tour (Bookings will open in the next 7 days)
A chat about the unusual story behind the Golden Highway Pass near Barberton in Mpumalanga. Click here to LISTEN.
The Week that was:
* Easter - Floods, Accidents and Drinking and Driving Arrests
* Podcast on the Merino Monster Tour
* New Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour
* New Lesotho - Sani Tour
* Featured pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
Easter is a special time of year and the inevitability of the carnage on the roads starts unfolding in the days following. Not only have we had a major weather system moving across South Africa causing massive flooding in the Northern Cape, KZN, Eastern Cape and Gauteng, but several fatal accidents on the N3 and R318 have once again put a damper on the true spirit of Easter.
Whilst heavy rain falls over most of South Africa, the Western Cape is experiencing unseasonal gale force south easterly winds - enough to blow trucks over on the Miaspoort viaduct at the Hugenote Tunnel.
In KZN the floods have claimed 70 lives and the situation along the Wild Coast at Port St. Johns looks dire. Drunk driving arrests made up the bulk of the 1000 plus arrests made over the Easter weekend. One inebriated motorist was arrested with his drink still firmly in place in his cupholder. When on earth will we learn?
On a lighter note we bring you some feedback on our Easter Tour and news on two new tours which are starting to take shape and which we know are going to very popular with our readers. These tours are mostly in response to YOUR requests. [More lower down]
Featured pass of the week: We head up into the north-eastern sector of our beautiful country into the heart of the Mpumalanga historical mining region near Barberton, where we introduce you to a most unusual new pass with a fascinating history. [More lower down]
Podcast - Listen to a discussion on our recent Merino Monster Tour which took place over the Easter weekend. Click here to listen.
What's in the news this week?
* Easter message
* Coverage of days 3 & 4 of the Ben 10 Tour with overview videos
* Podcast (Bastervoetpad Pass)
* Tours updates
* A life lesson from Mark Twain
EASTER - We wish all of our subscribers and followers (currently 19,000!) safe travels this Easter weekend. Make sure you arrive alive and more importantly that you return alive too. Accident statistics over Easter are frightening, so take care and drive defensively. Get off the main routes. Use our master map to plan a slower more interesting, safer and relaxing route to your destination.
Notre-Dame - With the burning of one of the most iconic churches in the world and billions of Euros already being pledged for its reconstruction, we thought it would be fitting to use a simple little country church for our Easter photo, which was taken near the Bastervoetpad Pass. Simplicity itself and a raw beauty in it's own right.
21st April - Merino Monster Tour - Bookings have closed.
17th - 19th May - Great Swartberg Tour - Fully booked.
21st - 23rd June - Thomas Bain Heritage Tour - 5 places left.
September - Ben 10 Eco Challenge (Version 2). 5 days of mud and glory (and maybe some snow). Get your name down on the advance priority list.
October/November - Sani Pass/Lesotho/Katse Dam. 4 days. Get your name down on the advance priority list.
PODCAST - A discussion on some of the challenges facing drivers on Day 2 of the Ben 10 Tour. LISTEN
BEN 10 ECO CHALLENGE TOUR
We take you through Day 3 and the dramatic 4th and final day of the tour when the happenings on Bastervoetpad meant we had to implement a number of alternative arrangements. [More lower down...]
This weeks highlights
* Day 2 of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge Official Tour
* Tours update
* Baviaanskloof flood damage update
* Two new podcasts
The adventurous and sometimes dangerous tour tested our skills and experience to the limits as we struggled with not only our own convoy of 15 vehicles but also two other groups numbering around 10 vehicles who arrived at the western start of Bastervoetpad more or less at the same time. It soon became evident that we needed to assist some of the bikers in other groups, who were taking regular falls on the ascent. [More lower down...]
April 21st - Waboomsberg/Merino Monster - A mostly gravel, one day trip near Ceres of 145 km with one of the main passes being on private land. 5 places open. Bookings close April 17th.
Book online: MERINO MONSTER TOUR
May 17th to 19th - Great Swartberg Tour (1 place open due to a cancellation) - Latest edit: 13h50 Ticket sold!
Book Online: GREAT SWARTBERG TOUR
June 21st to 24th - Thomas Bain Heritage Tour (7 places left)
Book online: THOMAS BAIN HERITAGE TOUR
None of the above trips are suited to camping. No pets allowed (as we enter many nature reserves). Average accommodation costs are approximately R500 per person per night.
This week we offer two new podcasts which include details of the recent Baviaanskloof floods as well as an interview discussion around Day 1 of the Ben 10 Tour. [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.