The week that was
* Tours updates
* Swartberg Tour report back
* Old Postal Route closed
* Great South Africans
* South African cities
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
Trips & Tours (2020)
Atlantis Sand Training Day - 13th December (4 tickets available).
We have a wonderful tour programme lined up for 2021. Some of our popular tours will be repeated and some news ones are being created. We've listened to YOUR suggestions. The new tours will be published soon.
Swartberg Tour Report back
Day Zero: 19th October. Our rendezvous point for the start of the tour was the lovely Rotterdam Boutique Hotel. This old establishment has been lovingly restored and is located on a working cattle farm just outside the hamlet of Buffeljagsrivier, near Swellendam. A museum 'Die Waenhuis' is in close proximity to the Fraser-Jones suites with its burbling fountains and enormous rooms. We travel a lot, but those rooms were the size of a small house.
We had 10 vehicles on the tour, including two non 4WD vehicles. We held our drivers briefing promptly at 1800 on the stoep of the old thatched restaurant to the sound of sprinklers and frogs, nicely topped off with the fragrance of lavender and freshly mowed grass.
After the driver's briefing, Andrew Fraser-Jones (the proprietor) took us over to the museum for a fascinating 20 minute talk covering the history of the area. Dinner was excellent and a strong northerly wind ensured everyone was tucked in nice and early ready for the first day of passes.
Day 1: 20th October. After a hearty farm breakfast, we managed to get the show on the road by 0900. Our first stop was at the so-called Sugar Bridge, just a few kilometres from the hotel.
Mr Skirrow designed the bridge but died soon after, leaving the actual construction to Mr Atmore. Huge sandstone blocks were used for the piers and the bridge deck was solid teak salvaged from the shipwreck of the 'Robert' at the mouth of the Lourens River in 1847.
Portland cement was not available at that time in South Africa. Traditional local mortar was made from sand and lime but it took a long time to set to full strength, leaving the builders with concerns that the Buffeljagsrivier might flood during the construction phase and wash the new bridge away. So they imported gypsum from France but this set too quickly to allow the accurate placement of the sandstone blocks. To retard the setting time, household sugar was added as an admixture. Hence the bridge earned the nickname of the Sugar Bridge and opened to traffic in 1852. It did its job perfectly well for 101 years when the new road was opened in 1953.
After a 1 km stint on the busy N2, we detoured off to visit the missionary village of Suurbraak. Our routing then took us up Moodies Pass (named after a magistrate in Heidelberg), then along a magnificent stretch of gravel road all along the foothills of the Langeberg which included the Boosmansbos Pass, Doringkraal Pass, Seekoeigat Pass and Wadrift Pass. The flowers were amazing along the route and we had just one slightly deep water crossing to contend with.
That was just the entree. We had another three major passes to drive. Next up was Gysmanshoek Pass. This pass has very comfortable gradients with only one steep section of about 2 km. The route follows a river valley and the fragrance of proteas and fynbos greets those who drive with their windows open. We took a break at the summit for some photos and tackled the descent.
Our first town stop was Ladismith and like so many places in South Africa, the closures of busineses due to the lockdown was a stark reminder of what our country still has to work through, before things can return to some semblance of normality. Instead of driving along the R62, we drove a picturesque gravel route around the northern end of Ladismith, known as the Hoekoe Valley. One of the interesting points of interest is Stanley's Light. A local gentleman walked up the mountain armed with plastic pipes, a bicycle wheel and dynamo. At the source of the spring near the summit, Oom Stanley built his little water mill which powers the dynamo which in turn lights the bulb in the bicycle lamp. It can be seen from the town at night and its brightness (or lack thereof) is a sure indicator of how much water is flowing down the mountain.
We also stopped in at the old Lutheran Mission Church at Amalienstein for photos and then arrived at the start of one of the main attractions for the day - Seweweekspoort. Just as one enters the poort from the southern side, a small road leads away to the right. It terminates 2 km later at the Tierkloof Dam, which is the main water supply to Zoar and Amalienstein. Its a narrow, deep dam that holds back 45,000 cu.m of fresh water with wall height of 17m.
We normally stop under the dam wall and enjoy a lunch break, but the authorities have since decided to padlock the gate. This is no doubt due to bad behaviour by certain individuals. What a pity. There is a large flat area just before the gate, which can accommodate ten or more vehicles, so we made good use of that.
Seweweekspoort never disappoints, but driving it after 1500 on a sunny day provides lots of glare from the front and does not show off its beauty to maximum effect. We always make provision for this and ensure that we when we drive back through the poort, it is in the morning with the light from behind.
Our last pass of the day was Bosluiskloof. Every time we take guests down this pass, there is always a sense of disbelief at the raw and rugged nature of this road and the achingly dry valley it provides access to.
We arrived right on schedule, ready to enjoy the excellent hospitality at Bosch Luys Kloof lodge. A magnificent Karoo sunset provided a perfect setting for happy hour on the pool deck with a warm and windless evening. The food at the lodge is very good and our band of travellers hit the sack tired and happy, looking forward to the next day, which was a 'free' day to be spent as they wished inside the reserve. More on that next week.
Old Postal Route closed
We have received an email from the owner of the farm, Achterplaas, (Henk Bekker), who has made the decision to close this much loved route. Reckless bikers roar through his farm, riding in the Rooibos plantations and racing past his farmhouse at high speeds, causing a danger to his children and farm animals. On weekends between 20 to 30 bikers use the route.
Henk has had to rescue dehydrated, lost and injured bikers at his own expense and intruding into his family time. Mostly the peace and quiet that they used to enjoy on the farm has been lost. The closure of the route takes place with immediate effect. A short section of the road is a publicly accessible road (from Mertenshof in the Biedouw Valley to just past the summit of the Kraaiberg Pass). The rest of the route is owned by three separate owners and all have agreed to close the route down.
Whilst this is a great pity that a few hooligans have caused the problem, we respect the farmers wishes. Please don't even think about removing fence posts, or cutting locks and chains. Moral of the story - Respect private property. Respect our farmers.
We will keep the page open on our website, so that those who have never completed the route, can at least watch the videos.
Great South Africans
Sir Herbert Baker KCIE FRIBA RA (9 June 1862 – 4 February 1946) was an English architect remembered as the dominant force in South African architecture for two decades, and a major designer of some of New Delhi's most notable government structures. He was born and died at Owletts in Cobham, Kent.
Among the many churches, schools and houses he designed in South Africa are the Union Buildings in Pretoria, St. Andrew's College, Grahamstown, St. John's College, Johannesburg, the Wynberg Boys' High School, Groote Schuur in Cape Town, and the Champagne Homestead and Rhodes Cottage on Boschendal, between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. With Sir Edwin Lutyens he was instrumental in designing, among other buildings, Viceroy's House, Parliament House, and the North and South Blocks of the Secretariat, all in New Delhi, which in 1931 became the capital of the British Raj, as well as its successor states the Dominion of India and the Republic of India. He also designed the East African Railways Headquarters, Government House and the administration building at the then Prince of Wales School in Nairobi, Kenya, now known as Nairobi School. His tomb is in Westminster Abbey.
Sir Herbert Baker / Photo: Wikimedia
He embarked for South Africa in 1892 ostensibly to visit his brother, and was commissioned in 1893 by Cecil Rhodes to remodel Groote Schuur, Rhodes' house on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the residence of South African Prime Ministers. Rhodes sponsored Baker's further education in Greece, Italy and Egypt, after which he returned to South Africa and stayed the next twenty years.
In South Africa, Baker first partnered with Masey and Sloper, from 1903 to 1907. In 1904, he appointed Francis Leonard Fleming as his assistant, eventually becoming partners with Fleming in 1910 and working together until 1918, when Baker cut ties with the South Africa office.
He had the patronage of Lord Milner, and was invited to the Transvaal to design and build residences for the British living there. Much taken with the country, and notably with the Cape Dutch homes in the Cape Province, Baker resolved to remain in South Africa and to establish an architectural practice, which went under the name of Herbert Baker, Kendall & Morris. Baker undertook work in widespread parts of the country including Durban, Grahamstown, King William's Town, Bloemfontein, George and Oudtshoorn, and even further afield in Salisbury, Rhodesia, where he designed the Anglican Cathedral and a house for Julius Weil, the general merchant.
In 1902, Baker left his practice at the Cape in the hands of his partner and went to live in Johannesburg, where he built Stonehouse. On a visit to the United Kingdom in 1904, he married his cousin, Florence Edmeades, daughter of Gen. Henry Edmund Edmeades, bringing her back to Johannesburg, where two sons, the first of four children, were born. Baker quickly became noted for his work, and was commissioned by a number of the "Randlords" (the wealthy mining magnates of Johannesburg) to design houses, particularly in the suburbs of Parktown and Westcliff. He also designed commercial premises and public buildings.
South African Cities
Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) is a city in north-eastern South Africa. It is the capital of the Mpumalanga province. Located on the Crocodile River, Mbombela lies about 110 kilometres by road west of the Mozambique border, 330 kilometres east of Johannesburg and about 82 kilometres North of the Eswatini border, Mbombela was one of the host cities of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Mbombela was founded as Nelspruit in 1895 by three brothers of the Nel family who grazed their cattle around the site during the winter months. During the Boer War, it served briefly as the seat of government for the South African Republic (not to be confused with the Republic of South Africa), an independent Boer republic.
The settlement was a key stopover for the Eastern railway built by the Netherlands-South African Railway Company in the late 19th century which ran from the newly discovered Witwatersrand goldfields to Delagoa Bay (modern day Maputo) in Portuguese East Africa (modern day Mozambique).
Nelspruit (Mbombela) from the air / Photo: Google Images
The discovery of gold in the region at places like Pilgrim's Rest and Barberton, Mpumalanga further encouraged development.
Mbombela hosts the University of Mpumalanga which was established in 2014, initially accommodating a modest intake of one hundred and forty students. The city has a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college. The Lowveld Agricultural College is located just outside the city across from the Mpumalanga provincial legislature.
Tshwane University of Technology has a satellite campus in Mbombela with well over 1,500 students. UNISA has an office in the city and offers distance courses. The city has four major public high schools. There has been a recent increase in the number of private schools in the area.
Mbombela is home to the Agricultural Research Council's Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops and the Lowveld National Botanical Garden. Citrus Research International (CRI) has a major facility in the city. The Lowveld Agricultural College also conducts research in the field of botany.
Mbombela is on the Maputo Corridor, a major trade route linking Pretoria to Maputo in Mozambique which, with the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, forms a transport trunk that crosses the entire sub-continent from Walvis Bay in Namibia on the Atlantic Ocean to Maputo on the Indian Ocean. The N4 toll route is the main arterial route with a double lane highway all the way to Johannesburg and Pretoria.
We chat about the first day of the Swartberg Tour. Click to listen
PASS OF THE WEEK
We cyber drive the Boosmansbos Pass near Heidelberg this week and take in the magnificent scenery.
This steep gravel pass offers spectacular views over the Duiwenhoksrivier valley tucked right up into the green rolling foothills of the Langeberg, between the Tradouw and Garcia passes on a minor gravel road, which offers several pass driving options as it is also the access road to the Gysmanshoek pass.
The road is suitable for normal sedan vehicles, providing it has not been raining in which case some of the low level bridges might be impassable. On the steeper gradients, FWD cars might have traction issues in wet weather.
Words of wisdom: "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream" ~ C.S.Lewis