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The week that was

* Weather watch

* Trips & Tours

* Tiffindell is for sale

* Wild Coast V3 Tour (Day 6)

* Revisiting the Oceanos

* Pass of the week


Some like it hot!

Whilst Gautengers are complaining they've been robbbed of their summer with cool temperatures and a vast amount of rain, those in the Western Cape are experiencing a heatwave of note. I guess it's nothing more than life in Africa. On January 22nd temperatures soared along the West Coast where Hopefield and Vredenburg recorded new record highs. It was slightly cooler in Cape Town at around 40C.


Trips & Tours

We still have some tickets open for May Wild Coast Tours. Check the itineraries and prices on the link below:

https://shop.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za/product-category/tours/


Tiffindell for sale

Tired of life in the city? Why not buy yourself some high altitude real estate in the Cape Highlands and become the owner of a ski resort. Isn't that a cool idea?!


Wild Coast V3 - The story continues

Day 6 - Coffee Bay to The Haven

It was time to say farewell to the charms of Coffee Bay and go in search of new adventures. Convoy ready to rumble with radio checks done and heading back towards Hole in the Wall, where we took a right hand fork and then very carefully negotiated our way into a very dense local forest with an unpronounceable name - Mgxotyeni. The forest is a mix of indigenous trees as well as gum plantations. The very rough track we followed is used as a service road for a water pipeline; and then mainly by trucks. 

The track is basic at best and consists of rocks (some of them quite sharp as we found out), mud, leaves, branches, lots of shade and many spiders (drive with your window open at your peril!). Derek van Eeden had the misfortune of being the first vehicle to pick up a puncture on Day 2 of the tour and in a cruel twist of fate the dreaded sidewall snake bit his Discovery a second time on this tour. He handled his misfortune with aplomb.

[Read more...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was...

* Meiringspoort closed (again)

* Trips & Tours

* Wild Coast Day 5

* Pass of the week


More Crazy Weather

Heavy rain, storms, floods and tornadoes have inundated large parts of the interior with welcome rain in the grerater Karoo area as well as the normally bone dry Northern Cape. Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KZN have all had plenty of rain. On the morning of 16th January Meiringspoort was once again closed to traffic as floodwaters had coursed through the poort, overtopping the road and leaving behind mud, debris and tree trunks. The Karoo National Park was forced to close all its tourists routes (except the main road) as the park received a huge amount of rain over a short space of time. In the Western Cape heatwaves have been the order of day with temperatures above the mean average being recorded for January


Trips & Tours

We still have a few spots ope on our two Wild Coast Tours in May, which is a great time to tour with lovely sunny weather being the norm at that time of year. If you want to join us on either of the Wild Coast Tours, you can read the full itinerary and pricing at this link: MPSA WILD COAST TOURS


Wild Coast V3 Tour - Day 5

Coffee Bay - Mapuzi - Hole in the Wall - White Clay

The good weather just kept following us (and we weren't complaining!) Local Xhosa guide, Mzo was ready and waiting to take us to some of the local points of interest. Mzo drove up front with us in the Land Cruiser and we handed the mike over to him. He is quite a character - full of good humour, knowledge and enthusiasm. 

Our first destination for the day was Mapuzi. Its only a few kilometres to the north-east of Coffee Bay, but the road getting there is well - to put it mildly - quite rough. The route traverses a few Wild Coast villages and then suddenly an amazing view opens to the right as a landscape filled with Wild Coast wonders is spread out at your feet. The Mapuzi river lazily flows into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean in the distance, but closer there is a dramatically steep cliff dropping straight down to thunderous surf some 60 metres lower down. The wind was pumping and photography was difficult trying to hold cameras steady in the strong updraft up the cliff face.

[Read more...]

 

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was....

* More wild weather

* The Misunderstood Dam

* Tours & New Tours for 2022

* Wild Coast Story - Day 3

* Pass of the Week

* New passes added

* Upgraded videos added


Wild Weather

This summer has produced a lot of rainfall with most of the country seeing overflowing dams and some torrential downfalls. Aughrabies has been massive and other videos have surfaced (Karkloof in KZN comes to mind) showing enormous amounts of water flowing in most rivers. All the Vaal and Orange River dams are more than 100% full, as is the Katse Dam in Lesotho.


The Misunderstood Dam

Even more surprising is the Beervlei Dam near Willowmore which never seems to have water in it, is now very close to being full. In fact has filled twice between November and January) This dam has an interesting story which many people don't know about. The dam was built in the 1950's as a flood control dam and it's meant to be EMPTY. When the Grootrivier floods, this is the dam that contains the inflow (it can hold 86 million cu.m.) and prevents flood damage further downstream. As the water in the catchment area is high in salinity, the Beervlei Dam was never designed to store water for irrigation due to the water contamination with salt. When the dam fills up it is quickly released in a controlled manner for irrigation downstream before the salinity has a chance to contaminate the water. 

The dam must be one of the most maligned infrastructures in SA and most people are critical of it as it is mostly empty. Urban legends have flourished about long term droughts, a poorly built dam wall, and bad planning by the DWA. Of course we now know that those stories are all hogwash. Water flowing into the dam is fed by the Grootrivier, which drains a large part of the Karoo.

There's always something new to learn!


Tours Update:

Ben 10 Eco Challenge (5th to 9th March) - Fully booked
Wild Coast V4 Pondoland Tour (6th to 15th May - 1 ticket left)
Wild Coast V5 Mbashe Tour (16th to 24th May) - 2 tickets left)


Garden Route Saunter (NEW!!)

We are busy adding the final touches to a brand new tour - the Garden Route Saunter, which will start in Riversdale and end at Storms River Mouth. This 5 day tour will be open to normal vehicles and include a mix of about 70/30% gravel and tar. The route will cover many passes including all the famous ones in the Garden Route like Garcia's Pass, Robinson Pass, Montagu Pass, 7 Passes Road, Prince Alfred's Pass, Grootrivier Pass and the Bloukrans Pass. Points of interest will include a forest walk, the Big Tree, Spitzkop, Jubilee Creek, Millwood, De Vlugt, World of Birds, Natures Valley, Storms River Bridge and the Storms River National Park.

The tour is scheduled to take place in July.


The Wild Coast Adventure

Day 4 - Port St Johns to Coffee Bay

The rain forecast didn't materialise, much to everyone's relief. We departed promptly after breakfast from The Spotted Grunter, heading along the new R61 towards Mthatha, traversing three passes in quick succession. These were Isinuka Poort, Butybuse Pass and the Mngazi River Pass, after which we turned south at Tombo. The R61 is in beautiful condition with a wide, smooth surface and adequate emergency lanes. The only negative are the speedbumps (or traffic calmers, as they are called these days), which appear regularly and speed has to be dropped from 100 kph all the way down to 30 kph. The minibus taxis with their very low front clearance have to cross them dead slow - and often at an angle. It makes driving on the R61 a bit frustrating, but with the high number of taxi accidents in the region, I suppose the authorities had little choice but to go that route.

[Read more]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was

* Goodbye 2021 / Hello 2022

* Tours

* Swartberg Classic Tour - Final chapter

* Wild Coast V3 Tour - Day 4 Waterfalls

* Pass of the week 


Happy New Year!

Just when we all collectively heaved a sigh of relief that 2021 was written into the history books, the very first thing that hit the headlines in 2022 was parliament being set on fire in Cape Town - and that under a bizarre and strange set of circumstances. As you all know we don't do politics here, but it does make one think.

Despite that, we wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2022. May your travel wishes come true.

We have a drawer full of plans for the year ahead with some innovative new ideas which you will see unfold as the year progresses. 

On the social media side we grew our followers by just over 40,000 on Facebook to reach 93,000 by the end of December, 2021. The growth has been phenomenal. Likewise our Instagram followers have increased by a whopping 112%. The formula we have developed of good quality photos coupled with interesting topics seems to have attracted the right audience of likeminded people. The amount of man-hours put into our social media efforts amounts to around 4 hours per day, seven days per week.


Tours Availability

To see the full itinerary, pricing and online bookings click on a link below:


Swartberg Classic Tour - The final leg

Uitspan Pass

This was the highlight of the traverse of the P1649 route. There are three passes that traverse the Gouritz River. From south to north these are the Gouritz River Pass on the N2 national road, the Jan Muller Pass (Gravel) which bridges the river some 32 km further north (as the crow flies) and lastly the Uitspan Pass, which crosses the Gouritz River another 16 km northwards. The latter is the pass we selected for the tour.

The Gouritz River is an interesting river which has caused farmers and road and rail builders many problems over the years. Its gorge is deep and wide, yet for most of the year it is dry and dormant, but when the rains come, this river can be savagely lethal.

[Read more...]

 

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week (and the year) that was....

* 2021 in review
* Tours news
* Swartberg Classic Day 4
* Wild Coast V3 - Day 3
* Pass of the week


2021 in review

For most South Africans 2021 was a difficult one both financially, physically and emotionally. Lockdown regulations decimated the hospitality and tourism industries in particular. Many borderline businesses went under and with it their employees lost jobs and income. Families with plans to see relatives overseas have been put on hold or cancelled. The knock-on effects have been severe. Conspiracy theories have abounded leaving many people sceptical. Covid changed everyone's lives. The secret now is learning to work around it and continue to make a success of whatever you do. At MPSA we studied the graphs where the virus spiked and calculated when not to run our tours.  During an initial spike phase, most people are reluctant to book a tour, but as soon as the initial knee jerk reaction has passed (usually about 4 to 6 weeks) people start planning again and our booking system gets busy. 

We have also been fortunate that many of our clients that would normally have travelled overseas, decided to go local and in a bizarre twist of fate, worked out favourably for us. We are grateful.

Plans for 2022 are forging ahead with a very positive outlook. Already the first three tours are close to being fully booked. Two additional tours will be added over the next two weeks. 

We wish all of you a prosperous, healthy New Year filled with travel, love and happiness.


Tours Availability

To see the full itinerary, pricing and online bookings click on a link below:

March 4th to 9th 2022 - Ben 10 Eco Challenge V5 (4 tickets left)

May 6th to 15th 2022 - Wild Coast V4 Pondoland Tour (1 ticket left)

May 16th to 25th 2022 - Wild Coast V5 Mbashe Tour (1 ticket left)


Swartberg Classic Tour - Day 4

Day 4 - Thursday 14th October, 2021

After a hearty breakfast at the Patat Restaurant at the Swartberg Country Manor, it was time to prep the convoy for the last day and the easiest in terms of technical driving and distance.

We chose a different route this year, due to the fact that we had several 4x2 vehicles in our group. After leaving Swartberg Country Manor, we headed west, back over a section we had driven two days before via the Doringkloof and Huis se Hoogte passes.

At The Kruisrivier Valley, we turned left - destination Coetzeespoort.

[Read more...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was...

* Season's Greetings

* New Tours

* Wild Coast V3 Tour (Day 2)

* Swartberg Classic Tour (Day 3)

* Pass of the Week.


Season's Greetings

On behalf of the Mountain Passes South Africa we wish you and your family everything of the very best for a joyous festive season and may 2022 bring you good health, happiness and enough prosperity to make life easy. The past year was not an easy one for most of us, with Covid being the main culprit, but we are strong and resourceful. Our plans for 2022 are forging ahead with pass production (there is still a long way to go) and to offer our favourite tours like Ben 10, Wild Coast, Swartberg, Bedrogfontein, Baviaanskloof and one or two new tours to add some spice to the menu - and as Simon and Garfunkel said: "Keep the customer satisfied!"

Be careful on your journeys. This is the silly season and people will not only be silly; they will be downright stupid too. Stay sharp!


Tours added for the first half of 2022

We have carefully evaluated the time frames available and how best to fit into the Omicron puzzle without exposing ourselves or our clients to the virus and have just opened bookings for the newest Ben 10 V5 Tour. This time around it will be a little different - with the Rhodes Hotel having reopened for business in 2021, we will be basing ourselves there for the last 2 days of the tour, which will drastically reduce some of the tedious travelling and allow more "feet up" time. Sales for the ever popular Ben 10 got off to a roaring start yesterday. Are you ready for some adventure? Swiftly flowing rivers, waterfalls, mud, spectacular scenery and miles of smiles? Take the link below and book your spot. Earn the badge!

BEN 10 TOUR V5  (4th to 9th March, 2022)

There are only 2 places left on both the Wild Coast Tours scheduled for May 2022. You can read the full itinerary and do online booking via the links below:

WILD COAST TOUR V4 - PONDOLAND (6th to 15th May, 2022)

WILD COAST TOUR V5 - MBASHE (16th to 25th May, 2022)


Wild Coast V3 Tour Day 2

We all left Resthaven a little heavier thanks to Elrita's delicious cooking and bade our farewells to Philip and Elrita Rawlins as we headed east on the tarred R56 towards Kokstad. The first little town on our route was Cedarville - a proper little South African die-cast farming dorpie - where we turned right onto gravel and blissfully away from the impatient traffic on the R56.

This part of the route is special in many ways. The high altitude traverse is mainly hilly grasslands flanked by tall mountains and keeping just west of the Mzimvubu River. The first pass of the day was the Nungi Pass. It's named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile. It received a major rebuild two years ago and is now a wide road, but it is steep in places and it must be a nightmare in a 4x2 and especially front wheel drive vehicles during or after rain.

[Read more...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was...

* Dingaan's Day

* Tour bookings open for 2022

* Wild Coast V3 Tour - Day 1

* Swartberg Classic Tour - Teeberg to Elands Pass

* Pass of the week


Dingaan's Day

I was born on this day 72 years ago and amongst the many nicknames I endured as a kid (thanks to my unpronounceable Norwegian first name) was Dingaan or Dingane. Those were the days where the public holiday was known as 'Day of the Vow' or more colloquially 'Dingaan's Day'.

The Battle of Blood River (16 December 1838) was fought on the banks of the Ncome River, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, between 464 Voortrekkers, led by Andries Pretorius, and an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Zulu. Estimations of casualties amounted to over 3,000 of King Dingane's soldiers dead, including two Zulu princes competing with Prince Mpande for the Zulu throne. Three Voortrekker commando members were lightly wounded, including Pretorius.

The year 1838 was the most difficult period for the Voortrekkers since they left the Cape Colony, till the end of the Great Trek. They faced many difficulties and much bloodshed before they found freedom and a safe homeland in their Republic of Natalia. This was only achieved after defeating the Zulu Kingdom, namely the Battle of Blood River, which took place on Sunday 16 December 1838. This battle would not have taken place if the Zulu King honoured the agreement that he made with the Voortrekkers to live together peacefully. The Zulu king knew that they outnumbered the Voortrekkers and decided to overthrow them and that lead to the Battle of Blood River.

The story is unimaginably frightening on both sides of the fence and despite efforts at changing the name to Day of Reconciliation, the history remains indelibly etched into our minds.


Tour Bookings

Despite the latest wave of Covid (Omicron), bookings for our two Wild Coast Tours have been brisk. These waves generally last 60 to 75 days, so will have safely passed by the time the tours are scheduled to take place. We have 2 places available on the Pondoland V4 Tour and 3 places on the Mbashe V5 Tour. Come and join us for ultimate Wild Coast adventure tour which is a mix of excitement, fun, relaxation, amazing scenery, waterfalls, mountains, forests, valleys and exquisite beaches - all topped off with good accommodation and quality meals. You'll return home revived and ready to face the world again.

WILD COAST TOUR V4 PONDOLAND

WILD COAST TOUR V5 MBASHE


Wild Coast V3 Tour - Part 1

Resthaven Guest House in Matatiele was once again selected as our starting point for a number of reasons. (a) It allows immediate access to four wonderful gravel passes on the way to the first coastal overnight venue at Mbotyi. (b) It provides the perfect opportunity to visit the Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve, Mariazell Mission and Mountain Lake and (c) It's run by Philip and Elrita Rawlins who together provide excellent accommodation and sublime home cooked meals. Of all the venues our guests rated on this tour Resthaven came up with the overall best score. Now you know!

[Read more...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was...

* Wild Coast Tour (Prologue)

* Two new Wild Coast Tours

* Swartberg Tour (Teeberg to Die Hel)

* Pass of the Week


WILD COAST TOUR V3

The V3 designation is that this was the 3rd version. Each year we review every aspect of the tour and we always listen to comments from our guests. We then formalise that feedback in the form of a short survey and give all the venues our honest and transparent feedback. It's important to remember that almost all the venues along the Wild Coast are very old establishments - mainly they are family owned busineses - and all of them got whacked really hard these past two years with very little income. As a result maintenance in some of them was below par, but as we said at the opening drivers briefing: "Don't sweat the small stuff"

Having a formal review system is an excellent means to gather valuable information where we can ask the relevant hotels to pay attention to specific items. Our aim is to uplift and support them, rather than go somewhere else.

This tour was the longest tour we have undertaken to date. Borne from that, we had some fresh ideas about the Wild Coast and how MPSA could better meet the needs of it's clients. Considering the popularity of the Wild Coast Tours, we came up with the concept of offering four Wild Coast Tours each year (two in May and two in November). By halving the distances travelled and doubling the leisure days, we have come up with a unique set of tours which will offer a number of excellent solutions. 

As a taster, here are the basic itineraries:

Wild Coast Tour V4 (Pondoland) - 6th to 15th May:

This new tour will start in Matatiele and end in Coffee Bay, exploring the vast, rugged beauty of the untouched, pristine Wild Coast which is still as magnificent as it was 150 years ago.

We will be spending 2 to 3 nights at most of the overnight stops, allowing for a leisurely pace, with opt-out options for the ladies at some of the venues – like spa treatments, or just a relaxing lazy day on the beach.

  • Friday 6th May – Meet & Greet in Matatiele – overnight at Resthaven Guest House
  • Saturday 7th May – Matatiele – Visit Mountain Lake and the Mariazell Mission. Overnight at Resthaven.
  • Sunday 8th May – Matatiele to Mbotyi via the Mzintlava Pass. Overnight at the Mbotyi River Lodge.
  • Monday 9th May – Mbotyi to Luphathana – After a 2 hour 4x4 drive, we walk to the stunning Waterfall Bluff and Cathedral Rock. Overnight at Mbotyi River Lodge. For the not so fit, there are several other activities available at the lodge. Fishing, walking, swimming (beach, lagoon or pool)
  • Tuesday 10th May – Mbotyi to Port St Johns. We will visit Fraser Falls, Angel Falls, Magwa Falls, Magwa Tea Plantation, Port St Johns, Silaka Nature Reserve, the WW2 airstrip on top of Mount Thesiger. Overnight at Mngazi River Bungalows.
  • Wednesday 11th May – Excursion to The Gap, Execution Rock, and the Mlengana Pass. Afternoon at leisure and overnight at Mngazi River Bungalows.
  • Thursday 12th May – Drive to Coffee Bay via Mpande, Mthonga, Mnenu, Mdumbi and Mthatha River Passes. This is a big day full of amazing sights and lots of technical driving. Overnight Ocean View Hotel in Coffee Bay.
  • Friday 13th May – Tour of Hole in the Wall, Mapuzi, Whale Hill, lunch at White Clay Restaurant. Overnight at Ocean View Hotel.
  • Saturday 14th May – Kayaking on the Mthatha River or a Grade 3 4×4 drive through a local forest. Final night Chappies Awards. Overnight at Ocean View Hotel.
  • Sunday 15th May: Depart for home after breakfast
  • If you want to remain on the tour to continue on the V5 Mbashe section making it a back to back journey of 17 days, please book separately for that tour. You will qualify for R1000 rebate on the total package, which we will credit on your accommodation invoice.

[Read more...]

Published in Mountain Passes News

The week that was...

* Back in civilization

* Wild Coast Tour Overview

* Two new Wild Coast Tours launched

* Garden Route Floods

* Swartberg Tour - Prince Albert to Teeberg

* Pass of the Week


Back in civilization

It  takes a few days for the euphoria to wear off. The Wild Coast mud has been washed off the cars and dirty clothes have kept the Speed Queen humming for hours on end. Arriving back in Cape Town after two days of drenching rain was a mixture of relief and disappointment. After spending almost two weeks in the quiet back roads of the Transkei, the speed and urgency of traffic on the N1 and N2 comes as something of a culture shock. But I suppose you cant appreciate the one without the other.

Our return from the Wild Coast created a personal flashback to March 2020 on our Kouga-Baviaans Tour where we only found out about Covid 19 when we reached Patensie several days later. A local farmer broke the bad news to us. On this trip we arrived home to Omicron. Same story; different variant (and it's not a VW!)


Wild Coast v3 tour overview

We arrived back in Cape Town two days ago, after completing our most successful Wild Coast Tour to date. We made a number of changes to the agenda, routing and venues which added a lot more adventure. The weather was extremely kind to us as we only had a few minutes of light rain on two of the 10 days. That's actually very good considering it's right in the rainy season.

There were punctures. Six of them in total - of which 4 were sidewall cuts; one was a conventional puncture which was sorted out with a can of Holts Tyre Weld and the sixth one was a mag rim which cracked , causing the tyre to debead. We learned a lot on this tour and we now will ask owners with 4x4's that have roof top tents to rather remove them as the height clearance on all the forest drives is an issue. For future trips we will also recommend two spare wheels (if possible). After you've had the first sidewall cut, you don't have to drive with your heart in your mouth for the rest of the trip.

All 13 vehicles completed the tour successfully. Other than the punctures, there were no mechanical issues at all. We tried a number of new venues on this tour (some were fantastic; others not so good) and we initiated a guest review survey, allowing our guests to rate each of the venues with respect to service, food and accommodation. Once the numbers were averaged out, it gave us a sound idea of how to tackle issues on future trips and to guide the hotels and lodges we use, to improve standards in a transparent and practical fashion.

We will be providing you with a detailed trip report over the following weeks. 


Wild Coast tours for 2022

We have just launched the V4 and V5 Wild Coast Tours this week, opting for a new format which we think will meet the needs of our guests very well. In short the tours have less driving and more leisure time as this is what most of our guests want. The Wild Coast Tour V4 - (Pondoland) will run from the 6th to the 15th May, 2022, whilst the Wild Coast Tour V5 (Mbashe) will run from the 16th the 25th May 2022

The changes allow for each of the tours to run over 8 days/9 nights with substantially more leisure time. Guests who want to do both tours back to back will be in for a 17 day Wild Coast extravaganza.

Check out the details of each tour via the links below:


Garden Route floods

Our trip back last Monday (22nd) from Knysna to Cape Town took place during the peak of the floods in George. We resisted the urge to take a "look-see" and headed directly for the N2. Evidence of the volume of rain became evident as we traversed the Kaaiman's Pass just west of Wilderness. 

[Read more...]

 

Published in Mountain Passes News

The journey continues

In this newsletter we continue with our story on the Swartberg Classic Tour. This chapter deals with the drive from the  Meiringspoort to Prince Albert.


What a champ!

Meet the heroine of our tour - Liesel Fowler. Always bright and happy, Liesel was one of the guests who took the walk up to the waterfall in Meiringspoort. She slipped and fell awkwardly, breaking her arm. This happened at 3.30 in the afternoon. Her husband David, whisked her off to Oudtshoorn where she received excellent medical treatment. By 7.30 pm the Fowlers were back at our overnight venue to rejoin the tour.

(Read more...)

Published in Mountain Passes News

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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.
 

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