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.
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 pass is also sometimes referred to as the Penkop Pass.
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 very scenic pass is located on a minor gravel road - the P3222 - that connects farms in the Wartrail and New England areas with Rhodes and the R393 in the east and Barkly East and the R58 main road in the west. It has an unusual inverted vertical profile with a steep drop down into a valley bisected by a river, followed by a climb up the eastern side, which is a false summit. Despite it being a remote country road, the pass is well designed and has fairly easy gradients of 1:10 and higher. It will always be driven in tandem with the Wintersnek Pass a few kilometres further to the west. The pass is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather, but like all gravel roads, it can deteriorate rapidly in heavy rain or snow conditions.
Wintersnek is located on a minor gravel road - the P3222 - about 21 km north of Barkly East, as the crow flies. It's a fairly straight-forward pass, with a long, almost straight climb to the 1991m high summit, after which there is a direction change into the east, followed by a short double apexed left hand curve to the end of the pass next to an unmistakable group of very tall cypress trees close to the roadside. The pass is 5 km long and has gradients of 1:11. It offers spectacular views over the New England area and the Witteberg mountains. However, due to the gentle nature of this pass, it would be best to plot its position on your GPS otherwise you might miss it. It can be driven in any vehicle in fair weather, but will be slippery when wet.
This off the beaten track gravel pass is part of several gravel passes located along the gravel road between the N7 at Kharkams and Hondeklipbaai. The 5,1 km long pass runs along the NE-SW axis along the flank of a large mountain ridge, from which the pass takes it's name. The pass is not difficult in terms of gradients and bends but the road surface can be rough, depending on recent rainfall, which in this part of the Northern Cape, is a rare occurence. The average gradient is a mild 1:27, with the steepest sections panning out at 1:10 within the final kilometre near the summit. The pass connects the tiny village of Spoegrivier with Hondeklipbaai at the coast.
Although a 4WD vehicle is not necessary, high clearance is important. This road is not suitable for normal cars.
Nestled amongst the beautiful Wolkberg mountains, the 21,000 hectare Bewaarkloof Nature Reserve appears to have become completely neglected and abandoned. There is no fencing, water or electricity, and illegal squatters are using the reserve as a pasture for their cattle and to collect timber for firewood. This does not, however, detract from the natural beauty of the landscape, and the pass itself, which is an access road into the reserve, is worth seeking out if you are a dedicated and intrepid pass-chaser.
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