The Richtersberg Pass is a dramatic, but fairly short pass which forms part of the final access road to reach the Richtersberg camp-sites and the Tatasberg chalets. The pass is 2,3 km long and has an altitude variance of 107m, producing an average gradient of 1:21. There is only a single, fairly short technical section, where low range should be used which is at the summit point, where the road is both very steep, as well as rough. The gradient gets as steep as 1:5 at this neck.
The views throughout the pass are magnificent as the road produces a variety of mountain and desert floor perspectives.
The Helskloof Pass starts off by being thoroughly confusing. It's difficult determining where it starts and ends and to add fuel to the fire, there are two Helskloof passes within the Richtersveld area. This one is located within the boundaries of the national park, whilst the other one is between Eksteenfontein and Vioolsdrif.
This is a long, slow pass to traverse, which will take at least one hour, excluding stops, but the visual rewards are well worth the effort. The pass lies fairly close to the main access road to Sendelingsdrif near the SANParks control gate on the western side of the reserve. It can accessed from that point and can be driven in the ascending mode, or driven the opposite way, which is a great way to exit the national park via one of its best showcase passes.
The most distinctive feature of this pass is the presence of the unique purplish coloured aloe commonly known as the Helskloof Aloe, but correctly named Aloe Pearsonii after it's discoverer. The unique aloe only grows in the Helskloof and nowhere else on earth.
The Maerpoort (which translates into Thin Passage) is 9,4 km long when measured from intersection to intersection. It has an easy average gradient of 1:41 and has an altitude variance of 230m. The summit views are exceptionally dramatic and it's one of the photographic hotspots in the Richtersveld. There is only just over 1 km of the total length of this poort which is technically complex. The entire balance of the poort is an easy meander across the sandy desert floor and a reasonably good speed can be maintained, with the only cautionary being the perpetual corrugations.
The views more than make up for the flat terrain as the composition of the geology changes around every corner with small black and ochre outcrops seemingly 'growing' out of the flat plains. Here and there a small shrub or small tree can be seen, but otherwise this poort is mountain desert in its purest form. Anyone wanting to access the campsites at Richtersberg, Tatasberg, Kokerboomkloof or Gannakouriep will need to traverse this poort first.
This fairly tricky pass is the second pass one encounters when entering the Richterveld National Park at Sendelingsdrif. The 5,1 km long pass twists and turns through the rugged Richtersveld mountains ascending 103m, producing an average gradient of 1:50 with the steepest part closer to the summit, reaching 1:11. The pass is named after the Halfmens (Half a Person) succulent Pachypodium namaquanum, which is endemic to this region.
There are a total of 36 bends, corners and curves several of which are sharper than 90 degrees. The road is rough in places and speed needs to be kept under 20 kph. Many parts of this pass should be driven in low range for precise control of your vehicle.
The Richtersveld National Park plays host to six official passes and poorts. The Swartpoort is easily the easiest of the six in terms of terrain and gradient and provides a gentle introduction to this stunning mountain desert with its harsh and rocky landscape, sandy plains and absence of plant life - or so it seems to the first time visitor, but to the more astute observer there is a whole world of succulents that thrive in this dry climate, if you take the trouble to look properly.
The Swartpoort is an easy meander along a sandy plain amongst some mountain ridges which display black coloured rocks, hence the name, Swartpoort. The poort starts soon after entering the national park at the Sendelingdrif main gate.
This is the second of the more serious passes in the Richtersveld National Park. Only 4WD vehicles with good ground clearance will cope with conditions in the Richtersveld, with the biggest obstacle being soft sand.
The Akkedis Pass (Eng. Lizard Pass) together with the Swartpoort and Halfmens Pass, connects the main entry point at Sendelingsdrif with the central and northern sector of the park. The scenery is truly magnificent and along this entire pass you are fully immersed in a true mountain desert. It takes a good 40 minutes to drive this pass and there are some sections on the northern ascent where low range should be utilised. The pass is 6 km long and climbs through 169m to summit at 578m ASL, producing an average gradient of 1:36, but there are several short sections that get as steep as 1:5.
The poort is named after the Oryx antelope which used to roam these plains until mining changed the landscape more than 100 years ago. This is a very minor poort on the tarred R382 route between Steinkopf and Port Nolloth. It clears a natural gap through a ridge of mountains, which are a southern extension of the Vyftien Myl se Berge, where the altitudes range between 250 and 400m. The poort is 4,4 km long and has an easy average gradient of 1:133. It is the third of three passes and poorts between the two towns - the other two being the Anenous Pass and Windpoort. The poort is suitable for all vehicles.
The Skaapkraalpoort is a fairly minor gravel pass located just north of Tarkastad on the R344 route and connects Tarkakastad in the south with Sterkstroom 65 km further north. The pass only has 7 bends, corners and curves, two of which are sharp and in excess of 70 degrees. With a fairly low altitude variance of 49 m and a total length of 4,5 km this little pass presents and average gradient of a very gentle 1:92
This short pass is located on the gravel surfaced P2244 in the Koue Bokkeveld and forms a change in altitude between the last fork where the tar ends from the Op die Berg settlement and the Katbakkies Pass about 7 km to the east. The pass is only 1,7 km long, and has a minor altitude variance of 60m producing an average gradient of 1:28. It offers excellent views, but be careful of the two very sharp bends, one of which curls through more than 130 degrees. There is one view-point near the summit which offers perfect views out over the valley with its orchards and dams with the towering peak called Sneeukop in the background. The pass is named after the Klein Cederberg farm and nature reserve near the summit.
This poort is named after what is considered to be the world's toughest animal - the Honey Badger (Afr. Ratel). So fierce is it's reputation that the South African Defence Force named one of it's armoured vehicles the Ratel. It's possible that badgers were found here in the past, but a more likely scenario is that the land here is considered to be so harsh as to be compared with the 'tough as nails' Ratel. The poort is quite awkward to define, but the Ratelpoort itself is merely the traverese through the obvious nek towards the southern side of the poort over a distinct ridge of east-west running mountains. From there it continues climbing up a northern ridge known as Vrieshoogte (Freezing Heights), to summit between two prominent granite peaks on either side of the road at 913m ASL after 4,3 km.
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.