* History of Graaff- Reinet (Part 1)
* The Rebellion
* Stockenstrom - the game changer
* The Great Trek
* Pass of the week
Graaff-Reinet is the sixth oldest town in South Africa and had its origins as a far-flung frontier settlement at the very limits of the old Cape Colony. The first European inhabitants of the area were the trekboere, or nomadic farmers, who moved away from the restrictive rule of the Dutch East India Company at Cape Town in search of suitable grazing for their cattle and fat-tailed sheep. The first permits for establishing farms in the district were awarded in 1770, including the farms Uitkomst (Outcome), Vergenoegd (Far Enough) and Slegtgenoeg (Bad Enough).
These nomadic farmers first reached the plains of the Camdeboo and the Sneeuberge in the mid-eighteenth century and in answer to a dire need for a settlement to serve their needs Landdrost Mauritz Woeke was despatched to the area from Cape Town. He selected a beautiful site within the broad sweep of the Sundays River and the surrounding mountains in 1786, naming the new settlement Graaff-Reinet after the Dutch Governor Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff and his wife Reynet.
The trekboere had settled the surrounding countryside from the early 1770s and as was common in almost all parts of the Karoo they came into conflict with the indigenous San or Bushmen who had been resident in the area for countless centuries.
The hunter gatherer lifestyle of the San conflicted with the pastoral lifestyle of these early farmers and conflict was the inevitable result. As the San were increasingly deprived of their best hunting land they resorted to killing the farmer’s livestock in order to survive. A state of almost perpetual conflict between these early settlers and the San raged for almost 30-years with more than 3,000 San killed in the conflict. The few survivors from this unfortunate period either moved away into the vast northern spaces of the Great Karoo or were assimilated into the population of the Khoikhoi who worked for the new white settlers.
* Tulbagh - the 7th oldest town in South Africa
* Land van Waveren
* The Earthquake
* Michells Pass
This week in our series on the oldest towns in South Africa, we have a look at the town of Tulbagh. It's the 7th oldest town in SA est. 1795. The valley was discovered in 1658 by Pieter Potter, a surveyor who worked for Jan van Riebeeck. In 1699 14 farmers settled in the valley, and the town started developing around 1743. Tulbagh was the last stop for the Boers who took part in the Groot Trek before heading into the unknown interior of the country. The town was named after the former Dutch Governor, Ryk Tulbagh. In the 1860’s, the town grew exponentially and saw the extension of a railway and several roads were built.
Travel back in time over 300 years... Charming Church Street boasts the largest number of Cape Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian provincial heritage sites in one street in South Africa, all lovingly restored post the devastating earthquake of 1969.
Before road engineers conquered the forbidding mountains at Paarl and Wellington, Tulbagh was in fact the trekker's last stop en route from the Cape of Good Hope before entering the country's wild and untamed interior to the north.
In the heady days following the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in the 1860s, Tulbagh enjoyed a flowering of prosperity. Yet after the construction of Michel's Pass, and the advent of the railway effectively bypassing the town, it subsided into a rural backwater – which paradoxically preserved its historic character. While causing much structural damage, the earthquake of 1969 resulted in a national fundraising effort and a very successful restoration project.
* Oldest towns of SA (Series)
* Arrival of the railway yards
* Quality Schools
* VW (you and me)
* Pass of the Week
Over the next few weeks these newsletters are coming to you pre-written whilst we are on tour along the Wild Coast, and as such do not follow our normal format.
This probably comes as something of a surprise to learn that the 8th oldest town in South Africa is Uitenhage. It's the second oldest town in the Eastern districts of the former Cape Colony. Founded in 1804 by Jacob Glen Cuyler, the town was named in honour of the Cape Commissioner-General Jacob Abraham Uitenhage de Mist. It was originally part of the Graaff Reinet district, and was known as the administrative border for the Cape Colony.
When the Cape Commissioner-General split the two districts in half, Uitenhage was named a prime location for timber farming. Its abundance of water and picturesque setting made it quite popular, and the climate was regarded as so healthy that Cape Town patients were recommended by their doctors to recuperate there.
Over the next few decades the town grew steadily as English-looking and Georgian white houses sprung up accompanied by beautiful little gardens and a number of important buildings like the post office. The town’s first Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1843, and the Zwartkops River became the epicentre of the area’s wool washing industry.
Uitenhage became a municipality in 1877. Soon after, the construction of a railway line and station began, connecting the town to other parts of the Eastern Cape and beyond.
A proper town hall was erected in 1882, as well as a library and new school building. A number of new religious buildings also sprang up in the 1890s, including St Katherines Anglican Church, St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, the Congregational Church and the Wesleyan Jubilee Chapel.
By 1910 Uitenhage was a thriving town with a healthy economy built on agriculture and railway industries.
Uitenhage is known for the large industries situated there. The largest of these industries are the Volkswagen of South Africa and Goodyear factories. An automotive supplier park, Alexander Park Industrial, has also been created directly next to the Volkswagen factory, thus allowing automotive component manufacturers to construct their manufacturing plants close by.
(Read more) ....
* Wild Coast here we come
* Garden Route Classic Tour
* Seven Sisters Tour
* Pass of the week
As you read this newsletter we will be on our way to Cradock for our first overnight stop en-route to Matatiele where we will be meeting our first group of guests for the long awaited Wild Coast V4 Pondoland Tour. The two back to back tours cover a period of 21 days away from HQ and that equates into a trunk full of careful planning; writing newsletters in advance and ensuring the social media treadmill gets fed its daily rations.
As always we will be returning with fresh photos and videos and as a bonus, now that we are more intimately familiar with the Wild Coast, we plan on filming 19 new passes along the route, which we will process over the period June to December. We will divulge all our best passes to our subscribers.
We have just launched the Garden Route Classic Tour. Please note that we have deviated from our usual "per vehicle" pricing system to a "per person" system. Over the last few years we have monitored the number of passengers per vehicle. The vast majority book for 2 people, then there are the single drivers and by far the minority are those with more than two people in a vehicle. So we did some head scratching and came to the conclusion that it would please most of our guests better (especially the solo drivers) if we charged per person. We will be keeping an eye on bookings and monitor the feedback from guests. For two people the rates will be much the same as they were before, but for people with 3 or 4 in a vehicle it will be more expensive.
Go here for online bookings: GARDEN ROUTE CLASSIC
In 10th place is Caledon in the Overberg which was established in 1811. This one catches many people by surprise.
Caledon is situated on the N2 national road in the Overberg region in the Western Cape province of South Africa, located about 113 kilometres east of Cape Town next to mineral-rich hot springs. As of 2011 it had a population of 13,020. It is located in, and is the seat of, the Theewaterskloof Local Municipality.
The town has a Mediterranean climate of warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Temperatures are modified by its close proximity to the South Atlantic Ocean, just over the Klein River Mountains to the south. The place was originally known in Dutch as “Bad agter de Berg” (Bath Behind the Mountain). A bath house was built in 1797 and a village called Swartberg sprang up, which was later renamed Caledon in honour of the Irish peer Du Pre Alexander.
Caledon is famous for its hot springs, discovered by the early Khoi-Khoi people before the Europeans attributed healing properties to the iron-rich waters and opened a sick house and later a sanatorium, which was destroyed by fire. The seven springs, one of which is cold and the other six thermal, are warmed by contact with rocks heated by pressure deep under the ground to a steady temperature of 49.5° Celsius. Interestingly, the waters of Caledon are also free of any organic matter and when submitted, in 1893, to the Chicago World Fair, they were awarded first prize as the world’s top quality mineral waters. The Caledon district is primarily an agricultural region.
* Out and about
* Msikaba Gorge
* Oh Darling
* Seven Sisters Pass (New)
* Garden Route Gravel Travel Tour (New)
* Rivers of Joy and Sorrow
* Pass of the Week
It's been a busy week at the MPSA offices in preparation for our longest tour to date amounting to a total of 21 days. Bookings for the Wild Coast V4 Pondoland have closed (fully booked), but we still have a few places open on the Wild Coast V5 Mbashe Tour. Bookings close this Saturday at 18.00. Our next Wild Coast Tour will only be in 2023 so if you're keen, don't miss out on this opportunity.
Amongst the highlights of this tour are Mapuzi, Hole in the Wall, Coffee Bay, 4x4 tracks through beautiful forests, Mdumbi Beach, kayaking on the Mthatha River, lunch at White Clay, lots of unchartered passes, a 2 day stay at the The Haven, The Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve, dolphin watching at Kob Inn, Collywobbles Vulture Colony, take the pont over the Kei River and finish at the awesome Morgan Bay Hotel. Enjoy the oysters, fresh fish and calamari. Savour the friendliness of the local Xhosa people. Chill on the beach. Read a book. Make new friends. Tour in the safety of a group under expert guidance. Have FUN!
CLICK HERE TO BOOK: WILD COAST V5 TOUR BOOKINGS
This morning we have received news that we have been granted permission to take our guests to see the construction site of the Msikaba Gorge Bridge. This will form part of the many points of interest on the Wild Coast V4 Tour.
The cable-stayed bridge is being built by a joint venture of Concor Infrastructure and Mota Engil Construction. The bridge over the Msikaba Gorge near Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape forms part of the N2 Wild Coast project being undertaken by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral). It will have a main span of 580m supported from a pair of 127m-tall pylons.
The deck will be 194m metres above the valley floor, making it the third highest bridge in Africa, eclipsed only by the existing Bloukrans Bridge with a height of 216m and the Mtentu Bridge which, when completed, will be 223m high. Approach roads and the pylon foundations and anchor blocks for the Msikaba Bridge are under construction.
The week that was...
* Trips & Tours
* KZN Floods
* Affected areas along the Wild Coast
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge - Day 5
* Pass of the week
Bookings for the Wild Coast Tour V4 (Pondoland) close today.
Bookings for the Wild Coast Tour V5 (Mbashe) close on 30th April.
There is still one ticket left for the Swartberg Classic Tour in July.
Use the links above to review the itineraries and pricing.
A massive amount of damage and a tragic loss of life (mainly in the KZN coastal region) marks another dark period for the beleaguered province, but in the true South African spirit, communities are standing together and helping out with beach clean ups and other damage. Some areas are still without water and electricity. There has been criticism in the media and on social media as to how government have been slow/inept in responding to the disaster.
Further down the south coast, the damage was less, but the entire section down to East London, also received lots of rain with numerous reports of flood damage. With our Wild Coast Tours coming up in less than 2 weeks' time, we made a series of phone calls to the various venues we use to establish if roads, water, sanitation and electricity supply was intact.
Everyone is working flat out to ensure full services are in place. We might have to come up with some alternative routes to our usual ones, should there be significant flood damage to roads and/or bridges. It certainly adds some additional excitement to the tour! We will do our best to report on conditions via these newsletters (we will be in the Wild Coast for 24 days in total), as well as via our social media pages.
We asked the kitchen staff at the Rhodes Hotel to serve us breakfast a bit earlier as we had a really big day ahead of us. We had four major challenge passes waiting for us. It was going to be a long, tough day and towards the end of the day, I had to remind some of the older guests that things were going to be tough especially towards the end of the day.
* Floods in many parts of South Africa
* Easter - stay calm.
* Ben 10 Day 4
* Pass of the week
An incredible volume of rain drenched parts of South Africa from Gauteng all the way down to KZN and the Wild Coast. We don't have all the accurate figures yet, but the cut-off low generated huge damage to infrastructure, business and private property. Amongst the worst hit was Toyota's plant in Durban. The cost in lost revenue is incalculable. Mop up operations are underway at the time of this newsletter being written.
Our sympathies go out to all who have lost loved ones. As if KZN has not endured enough drama in the past 12 months!
Wishing all of our subscribers and followers (now totalling 98,500) a safe and relaxing Easter weekend.
Each year the carnage on the roads over the Easter weekend continues unabated with seemingly no real solutions at hand. We can only offer some sage advice:
1. Try and drive along secondary roads, which carry less traffic and a lower speed limit.
2. Rest if you feel tired
3. Stop every two hours for a leg stretch and some refreshment
4. Avoid driving at night.
5. Avoid rushing to your destination.
Bookings for the Wild Coast Tour (V4) Pondoland will be closing on the 20th April.
Booking for the Wild Coast Tour (V5) Mbashe will be closing on the 30th April.
Our Wild Coast Tours are legendary. Join us for 9 days of scenic overload, technical driving, fun, camaraderie and adventure as we take you safely through one of the most stunning parts of South Africa, where you will discover the true heart of the Xhosa people through stories, folklore and interaction.
The rain continued with the now familiar pattern of being partly cloudy in the morning, with the rain settling in around noon each day. Our route took us from the Mountain Shadows Hotel along the R56 to Barkly East and then a gravel road down to the Kraai River at Loch Bridge. The river was running strongly as we spent some time discussing the history of the Loch Bridge and the 7th and 8th rail reverses a little further up the Tierkrans Pass.
This beautiful pass is cut into the side of a mountain, and angles down from a high plateau in the New England area to terminate at the historic Loch Bridge over the Kraai River. This part of the world is famous for its wonderful scenery, and in this case the pass also offers up spectacular views of the reverses and the rail bridge belonging to the now-defunct railway that was built through this gorge.
* Fuel price and its recent history
* Wild Coast on the horizon
* Ben 10 Day 3 revisited
* Pass of the week
In my lifetime I have seen many fuel price hikes. The most alarming one occurred in 1980 when the fuel price suddenly rose by 42%. I can remember the day very well. I was working for a General Motors dealership at the time. On the showroom floor (amongst other GM products) we had 12 beautiful Chev Constantias (V8) - the GM flagship product at the time. In the timespan of 30 days they all became worthless. The knee-jerk reaction from the private and business sector was extraordinary. Our major clients like Mobil (Engen) cancelled new car orders with an urgency that is hard to imagine. MD's of large companies handed in their BMW's and Mercs and ordered Mazda 323's and Citi Golfs by the thousands. It was the most alarming business cycle I had seen in my first 30 years on the planet.
But like all things - "This too shall pass"
No fuel price increase ever reached the levels of overreaction than that first one. Nowadays we have come to accept fuel price increases as a fact of life. The latest one (significantly softened by the R1.50 per litre rebate) means we can still go on holiday, go on tours and generally enjoy ourselves. Time will tell what happens regarding the Ukranian invasion, but the world economy will find alternate means of fuel supplies. It's how the bigger picture works. Don't panic. Don't over-react. Travel is still the best investment.
Our V4 and V5 Wild Coast Tours start on the 6th May and 16th May respectively. There is still space on the V5 Mbashe Tour so if you're in the mood for some adventure in an unspoilt part of South Africa, travelling in the safety of a group, you can book online here: WILD COAST V5 MBASHE TOUR. Bookings will be closing on April 15th.
Once we had turned off the R56 onto the R392, it was back onto gravel, or rather mud. The route south would become increasingly muddy as we headed in the direction of Dordrecht. The Kraai River lured us once more time down its steep sided gorge to cross via a fairly new concrete bridge.
A few kilometres later we reached the bustling metropolis of Clanville, which consists of one set of farm buildings, followed by two old ruins on the right. There is an intersection here where the left hand option traces a short cut through the mountains with some excellent scenery delivering one to the R396. This road was as muddy as a farm road can get. Things were going along nicely with no punctures for the day at that stage.
Once we connected with the R396, we turned left again to ascend the Perdenek Pass (not one of the challenge passes) to arrive at Clifford. Similar to Clanville, Clifford is essentially just a farm, where locals get together from time to time for social events like shooting, archery, melktert and moerkoffie.
* State of Disaster
* Tours updates
* Ben 10 Eco Challenge (Day 2 & 3)
* Dawid se Kop
* The Castle Vulture Colony
* Jouberts Pass
* Railway History
* Pass of the week
* New videos and passes added
There are some odd things going on in government circles where the decision is all but fait accompli to end the State of Disaster (an appropriate play on words) on April 15th, but they are also tampering with the National Health Act to change it so that the government will still retain the ability and powers of controlling the population with the same powers as per the state of disaster. So the change is merely smoke and mirrors. More importantly is that discrimination of unvaccinated people should also come to an end and for the economy to return to normality as soon as possible. Covid-19 has dealt a heavy blow to thousands of businesses and seriously affected the economy.
Tourism and hospitality were first in line victims of Covid and now that the pandemic is virtually over, the sector can now finally get back into gear and start rebuilding.
Tickets are still available for upcoming tours. Details available here:
We had a heavy rain forecast for the day, so we moved the rest day into place and allowed our guests to sleep in a little later. At breakfast time I noticed that the cloud cover was higher than the Sentech towers on Dawid se Kop (2500m) and thought it was worth the risk of driving up there, before the rain settled in for the day. Despite it being the rest day we had an almost full turnout for the excursion, with the notable absentee being Marco who had the very legitimate excuse of having a new set of tyres fitted at Supa Quick in Elliot. It's worth mentioning the owner of Supa Quick was ready, willing and able to open his shop for Marco on a Sunday. Give that man a Bells and please support his business.
We left Mountain Shadows Hotel at 09.30 and drove the little known Fetcani Pass on the R396 towards Mosheshes Ford. After about 8 km we arrived at the turn-off to Sarel Vorster's lovely farm. We signed the register at the farm (we had made prior arrangements for the visit) and soon got into the swing of opening and closing farm gates, making sure no livestock escaped into the adjacent fields.
Soon we arrived at the foot of one of the steepest roads in the area. It doesn't have a name other than the service road to the Sentech Towers at Dawid se Kop. The steepest parts are concreted or strip concreted where the gradients get extremely steep, to the point that 2nd gear low range is required to make it up the last bits where it gets as steep as 1:3. The traction is however very good, but even so, drivers have to keep their wits about them as the road is narrow.
* Out & About
* Trips & Tours
* Ben 10 V5 Tour - Day 1
* Pass of the week
Covid is on its way out. Travel restrictions have been lifted and this will create a surge in bookings - especially by international travellers. The travel and tourism sector of the economy is amongst those the most badly affected by the pandemic. For many the easing of restrictions has come too late and for those remaining, we hope there is now finally some light at the end of the tunnel. It has without doubt changed the way South Africans are thinking about travel as can be attested by the high levels of bookings on MPSA tours, which precluded PCR tests and other similar off-putting requirements. We are just waiting for Lesotho to come to the party to drop those requirements as well, when a new tour to Lesotho by MPSA will be on the cards.
Beautiful Western Cape autumn weather coupled with a long weekend presented a few opportunities to get out and explore. We decided to upgrade our video footage on the Du Toitskloof Pass (N1), so set aside Saturday 19th March for the task. Most people have no idea how tricky it is filming a major mountain pass. Du Toitskloof Pass is specifically difficult due to the fact that it runs along the east-west axis. Then there is the big lighting adaptation as the tunnel is entered and exited, coupled with heavy traffic. We have filmed this pass no less than six times, seldom achieving a stellar result. The current version is quite good, other than the remnants of a bug on the camera lens, which created a soft orange blur on the video. There is only a small time frame where the lighting is OK for the whole pass and that is from 11h45 to 12h15. Any time out of that slot, creates heavy shadows or over exposure.
There is a road leading away up the mountainside near the summit of the old Du Toitskloof Pass, barred by a sturdy locked gate. I have always wondered about that road. Since I was going to film the Du Toitskloof Pass, I decided to follow up on a long standing offer of a friend, Kuba Miszewski (yes he is Polish), to organise access for the day. I picked Kuba up mid morning from his cottage in the mountains on the slopes of the Hawequa Mountains in Wellington. Kuba does voluntary work for Mountain Rescue and is intimately familiar with the terrain. He took me up a dodgy jeep track through pine plantations, to join the R101 at the old pass' summit point. Various snippets of valuable information was pointed out by Kuba - like the old manganese mine and some of the original pylon bases for the aerial cableway - as we headed east to Rawsonville to our turnaround point to film the N1 Du Toitskloof Pass from east to west. We started filming exactly at 11h45.
After filming the pass (which went very well), we returned to the summit point via the R101 filming panoramics of the Hugospoort Viaduct as well as the tunnel entrance point. We turned off the R101 and accessed the narrow tarred road via the locked gates. Looking at the tamper-proof system on those gates, I reckon it will take a Houdini of sorts to work their way opening all those catches and locks, coupled with electronic access codes via Cape Nature.
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.