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Gannaga Pass (P2250)

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The famous hairpin bend on Gannaga Pass The famous hairpin bend on Gannaga Pass - Photo: Trygve Roberts

The Gannaga Pass is a magnificent gravel road ascending 548 meters through the Roggeveld Mountains from the endless plains of the Tankwa Karoo to the high plateaux near Middelpos. The pass does not break any records in terms of altitude, gradient or length, but it possesses an almost ethereal quality from a combination of graceful curves, raw mountain beauty and scope of vision that is rarely repeated in other passes.

It contains 45 bends, corners and curves which include 4 extremely sharp hairpins and another three corners sharper than 90 degrees. The quality of this road can vary greatly depending on recent rainfall and snow and especially when last it was maintained. On the day of filming it was in good condition, but is not always in this state.

Although it can be driven in a normal car, it is the roads leading to the pass in the Tankwa that can be a bit rough for a vehicle without adequate ground clearance. The approach from the south via the south and R355 is often a real tester for tyres that are not in top condition. Come well prepared in terms of the real possibility of picking up a puncture and carry two tins of 'Tyre Weld' or similar product with you.

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[Video over photo: Trygve Roberts]


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Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.


Digging into the details:

Getting there: We filmed this pass in the ascending mode. To approach from the south, head out of Ceres on the R46 via the Theronsberg and Hottentotskloof passes. Take the R355 via the Karoopoort and once through the poort there is a fork showing Sutherland/R356 to the right and Calvinia/R355 to the left. Keep left at the fork and remain on the R355 for 62 km to arrive at an intersection with a road leading off to the right at GPS S32.681552 E19.708066. It is clearly marked "Tankwa Karoo National Park".

Start of the Gannaga PassWestern start of the pass blocked by the Roggeveld Mountains / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Turn right here and drive for 46 km heading generally north-east to arrive at a fork at GPS S32.421406 E19.991714 where you must keep left.

Remain on this road for a further 32 km to arrive at another fork at GPS S32.206649 E20.068767 and keep right. Drive for a further 11 km ignoring all the side tracks for 11 km as the road bends steadily towards the east to arrive at the foot of the Gannaga Pass. Stop in on the way just after crossing the Tankwa River, at Sanparks office for information and clean ablution facilities. Access into the park was still free at the time of filming in Spetember, 2018.

For those wishing to descend the pass, the pass can be accessed from its eastern side side from either Calvinia to the north or from Sutherland in the south via the R354 between the two towns. The only access to Gannaga pass from the east is via the tiny hamlet of Middelpos. Once in Middelpos, head south out of the "town" on the only gravel road to arrive 31 kilometres later at the summit of the Gannaga Pass.

Gannaga Pass looking westOne third up the pass looking west / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Accommodation options include self catering cottages and camping within the national park to the west or there is an excellent lodge close to the summit (recomended) called Gannaga Lodge, or a small hotel in Middelpos.

The pass was filmed in the ascending mode from west to east in early spring (2018). It starts at the crossing of a bridgelss and (usually) dry riverbed at an altitude of 678m ASL and heads into the north-east gently rising up the northern flank of the big ravine that dominates all the views on this pass.

The initial climb of 1,7 km has only minor curves and a very easy climb gradient of 1:25. This is the time to enjoy the veld and if you are fortunate enough to drive this pass in August or September, the landscape will probably be ablaze with wild-flowers and blooming succulents. Up ahead it soon becomes clear the route the road will follow and it can be seen high up in the mountains ahead as a thin line rising uo through the shale bands.

At the 1,7 km mark the road crosses the second stream and the first corner comes up at 2,2 km mark, which is a 90 degree right hander. From here the gradients start getting a lot steeper at 1:9 as the road heads back into the east following the shape of the mountain via a set of triple S-bends.

At the 4 km mark, the road bends towards the left through a wide bend and heads purposefully into the north towards a narrow side ravine. This is the point where the pass starts really coming to life with the geology painting a beautiful picture of eons of history. There is some space to stop at the apex of this sharp right hand bend, where the whole scene looking back towards the plains of the Tankwa are displayed like a giant painting.

Gannaga Pass side ravineThe start of the real action on the pass / Photo: Trygve Roberts

This vantage point also allows one to marvel at the skills of the roadbuilders, as each of the corners through the ravines have expertly laid out stone supporting walls - something that is rarely seen in modern roads, where the use of shuttered concrete is the norm.

The next 1,5 km is magnificent as the road has been hacked out of the mountainside, at one point having almost vertical rock formations forming a semi-tunnel overhead. the road is narrow here and there are very few places to stop for photos, but due to the low traffic volumes on this road, it will more than likely be OK to block the road for a minute or two to savour the geology.



[Video over photo: Trygve Roberts]

In general terms, passing can be managed along 80% of this road, and there are several small sections which have been widened to allow vehicles to get past each other. Both ascending and descending vehicles will have good visual contact and it's best to pull over into one of the laybyes ahead of time to facilitate passing. Do not attempt to overtake on this pass, unless the vehicle ahead is willing to pull over for you.

Gannaga Pass near the hairpinsThe final pull up before the hairpins / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The dramatic and switchback section comes up for the last haul up towards the summit. The fun starts at the 5,4 km mark as the road hugs the side of the mountain, clearing another side ravine. This takes place via a sharp right hand corner of 120 degrees and for a short while the road heads into the SSW, allowing different views on the right with the vastness of the Tankwa stretching away into a haze of blues and browns. For the driver, its both eyes on the road, as the drop-offs are very steep (and unguarded) and those suffering from acrophobia had best sit on the left hand side and close their eyes.

At the 5,9 km  point, there is a 70 degree degree left hand bend which is deceptive, as within 50m it begins turning more severely to the left again through another 90 degrees. This sharp corner leads up to the first true hairpin, which comes up at the 6,2 km mark. The hairpin is a classic, turning through 175 degrees with an extremely tight turning arc. There are often fallen rocks just above this bend, so be aware of possible debris on the road.

BotterboomHealthy specimen of a Botterboom next to the road / Photo: Trygve Roberts

After tthe hairpin, the gradients reach 1:6 and most vehicles will need to gear down. Drive 100m till the next sharp right hand bend, and a large viewsite makes an appearance on the left. This is easily the best spot to stop on this pass. There is a stone and concrete plaque, but it seems that whatever it was built for, has been stolen or vandalised as there was no inscription (on the day of filming).

Most of the pass can be viewed from this view point which is at 1100m ASL. It can be very cold and blustery here if there is strong wind present, but in general this view point is excellent. The pass is a delight on the eye, as the road curves this way and that, in a long and patient series of twists and turns through the beautiful Roggeveld mountains.

There is a good possibility that you wll spot a pair of Black Eagles as they effortlessly soar the high ridges using the natural lift. This terrain is perfectly suited to their successful breeding. Halfway down there is a large stand of Botterboom trees - a whole forest of them. Those interested in botany will find this an interesting place to investigate.

Gannaga Pass geologySome of the cuttings reveal perfect examples of sedimentary rock layers / Photo: Trygve Roberts

It's only a short distance to the true summit from this point, but there are still several sharp corners to negotiate. The second hairpin comes up at the 6,6 km mark, but it's not quite as sharp as the earlier one. It blends quickly into a wide U-shaped bend of 180 degrees, then straightens out for the last pull up to the true summit. The gradients back off considerably here to 1:11. Just before the second hairpin, the road had recently collapsed and repair work was still underway at the time of filming.

Building roads in soft rock types (as occur here) is fairly easy as the roadbuilders tend to follow the shale band, where the material is easily removed. Whilst this helps greatly in terms of the time taken to build the road, as well as the costs involved, there is a negative flip-side in that any roads constructed through sedimentary rocks and shale will be subject to regular rockfalls and therefore higher maintenance costs. In the Northern Cape with its low rainfall, this is usually not such a big issue, but when it does rain hard, the roads will be subject to rockfalls.

The summit is almost a disappointment after the magnificent drive  up the pass, as it occurs at a small triangulated intersection at 1226m ASL on top of a big plateau. Just a short distance away is the turn-off to the lovely Gannaga Lodge.

If you are proceeding on to Middelpos, simply follow the road for another 31 km. Middelpos has a police station, a general dealers store, a post office, an hotel and there is fuel available next to the shop. Do not rely on the fuel supply as it can be sporadic. Travelling through the Tankwa, we recommend carrying a spare jerrycan of fuel with you.

The Tankwa Karoo National Park especially in flower season is a visual delight, but that is not all you'll discover. Surreal desert moonscapes and scenic landmarks define this Northern Cape nature reserve in South Africa. The soulful Karoo has long been a place in which to find peace and tranquillity.

Gannaga Pass summitApproaching the final hairpin / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Tankwa Karoo National Park is also known for its spectacular birdlife. It's a regular stopover for bird watchers in search of at least 18 Karoo endemics, and a must do for birders visiting Southern Africa. This nature park hosts an abundance of reptile and invertebrate species and more recently antelope species have been introduced.

When you visit this Northern Cape nature park you will be within the Succulent Karoo Biome, one of only 25 exclusive hotspots for diverse plant and animal life found on earth - even more outstanding is that it is the only arid region recognised as a hotspot.

We put this pass in our Top 10 for sheer enjoyment. The adventure bikers and offroad enthusiasts often ride/drive the Karoo routes. The Ouberg Pass (Sutherland), Verlatenkloof and Gannaga make up a trio of passes that is in their 'all time favourites' category. The pass is driveable in a normal car, but those without reasonable ground clearance, might have some problems.

For enthusiasts and those visiting the Tankwa Karoo National Park, it is possible to drive the Ouberg and Gannaga passes in a circular loop with a possible lunch stop at the hotel in Middelpos. We recommend reading up on the Ouberg Pass with its rich history and technical difficulties, before attempting the route. If this route is being attempted in winter, after rain, we recommend that only 4WD vehicles tackle the route as the section between Middelpos and Gannaga can get extremely muddy and doubly so if there has been recent snow.


Fact File:

GPS   START

S32.138205 E20.069182

GPS   SUMMIT

S32.121394 E20.121293

GPS   END

S32.121394 E20.121293

AVE   GRADIENT

1:14

MAX   GRADIENT

1:7

ELEVATION   START

678m

ELEVATION   SUMMIT

1226m

ELEVATION   END

1226m

HEIGHT   GAIN/LOSS

548m

DISTANCE

7,9 km

DIRECTION  - TRAVEL

East

TIME   REQUIRED

20 minutes

SPEED   LIMIT

40 kph

SURFACE

Gravel (P2250)

DATE FILMED

14.09.2018

TEMPERATURE

16C

NEAREST   TOWN

Middelpos (31 km)


Route Map:

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From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: Gannaga Pass (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google Earth and most GPS software systems)

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