The Swaarmoed Pass is located approximately 20 km north-east of Ceres. The name translates from Afrikaans into 'Heavy Courage'. The 16 km long tarred pass descends 629 vertical meters from the summit at 1212 m ASL. It is the favourite access route to the snow fields on the highlands near Klondyke and Erfdeel farms, the latter perhaps better known as Matroosberg with a summit altitude of 2249m ASL - it is also the second highest peak in the Western Cape. (The highest being the Seweweeks Peak in the Swartberg range).
The pass is well engineered with gradients seldom exceeding 1:11 and is suitable for all vehicles. The pass offers excellent views over the Warm Bokkeveld and the vast plains of the Ceres valley surrounded by an amphitheatre of rugged mountains. It does snow on this pass and on the rare occassions that this happens, there will immediately be considerable traffic on this pass and if snow coincides with a weekend, expect chaos as thousands of sightseers flock to the area to see the snow. The pass is the main access route to get to Matroosberg, which is the most popular point to gain access to the snowfields and drive the Grade 3 4x4 route up to the Groothoek Canyon viewsite.
The Swartberg Pass is for many South Africans, the rubicon of gravel road passes. There is an allure and a mystique around this old pass, coupled with its status as a national monument, which elevates this pass to the very top of the list. It was Thomas Bain's final and best piece of road building. Most of the historical points of interest are signposted along the pass. There are names like Die Stalletjie (Small Stall), Witdraai (White Corner), Fonteintjie (Small Fountain), Skelmdraai (Devious Corner), and of course Die Top, the latter sign is almost completely obliterated by graffiti by some folk who might feel they have just crested Everest and have this burning desire to paint their name on the well known sign.
The pass is very long at 23,8 km and it takes about an hour to drive, excluding stops. You will be treated to a wide variety of incredible scenery. The pass is not suitable for anyone suffering from acrophobia. It can be driven in any vehicle in fair weather. The Swartberg Pass has almost too much to offer the traveller with a never ending changing set of views - each as awe inspiring as the one before.
The historic "Seven Passes" route between George and Knysna includes the Black River Pass or 'Swartrivier Pass' or in it's original format "Zwartrivierhoogte Pass"- a modern, tar road with smooth, sweeping bends making this pass seem almost effortless as it runs from the main road in George past the imposing Garden Route dam wall to cross over the Swartrivier and quickly rise up to the neck at Saasveld via a big S-bend. The original pass was first used circa 1853.
An easy tarred pass on the N2 between Wilderness in the west and Sedgefield in the east, offering sweeping views over Swartvlei - a large semi-saline lake forming one of the many lakes in this region with the typical transparent onyx colour. The pass is 5,4 km long and descends 115m to cross the estuary via a low level bridge at sea level. The pass has several corners and some steep gradients at 1:10, but the corners are properly banked, making the road safe. Overtaking is difficult and most of the pass is controlled by double barrier lines.
A short, steep, cul-de-sac road of 2,7km that gives access to the seat of the Afrikaans language situated on a beautiful granite rock system on the western slopes of Paarlberg. The road is tarred, modern and well designed, but it is fairly steep with an average gradient of 1:13 and the steepest sections being at 1:6 near the turn-off to the amphitheatre. Regardless of whether you are Afrikaans or not, a visit to this holy grail of the young language of South Africa's Dutch pioneers, is a must if you are in the Paarl area. The monument, it's design, and the grounds attract large numbers of visitors for the aesthetic beauty of the architecture and the immaculate grounds and gardens. It speaks volumes for the Afrikaans people.
This road falls under the category of a suburban pass and after a short steep ascent from Kloof Nek it climbs rapidly via two 180 degree hairpins to level out at the lower cableway station. Thereafter it runs more or less on an even contour line all along the north face of Table Mountain. Some years ago, rock slides caused the the road to be closed at the 4,1 km mark, leaving the remainder of the eastern section open only to hikers and cyclists. The road provides unparalleled views of Cape Town, the harbour, Robben island and the Cape Flats. It is usually extremely congested with tourist vehicles wanting to access the cableway and hiking trails.
Ceres has an abundance of passes connecting it with the outside world. One of the biggest is the Theronsberg Pass which forms a trio of passes into the north with the Hottentotskloof Pass and the Karoopoort. The pass (on the R46) connects Ceres with the R355 to Calvinia and Sutherland as well as linking up with the N1 highway just north of the Hexrivier Pass via another pass on the R46 - Die Venster (The Window).
This little pass is not for the feint hearted. The maximum gradient is 1:3 which means low range gear ratios are essential. This pass has claimed the 10th steepest pass statistic in South Africa with an average gradient of 1:9,1 It is unusual in that it only starts at the summit of the Koebee Pass, itself quite a spectacular and steep pass. It climbs up to the mountain plateau via a single hairpin, at which point some rudimentary concrete has been laid to aid with traction. The road services a single rooibos farm at the summit. Views from the top are superb with the thin ribbon of road of the Koebee Pass disappearing to the right with the Knersvlakte framed by a ring of peaks in the far distance.
Note: It has been reported that the gate at the start of the pass is sometimes locked, in which case there will be no access. Make allowance for this in your planning.
This fabulous poort provides a natural route for the regional R372 road which connects Prince Albert in the west with the tarred N12 north of Klaarstroom and Meiringspoort. The poort traverses two long mountains over a distance of just under 4 kms with a placid average gradient of 1:54, but hidden amongst the gentle gradients are a few desceptively sharp bends. This a lovely, quiet Karoo poort through a barren and wide landscape. A sense of timelessness exists here, which is a good tonic for the unhurried traveller. This is also Angora goat and sheep farming country.
The Tilney Pass is a 6,6 km long pass that runs along the east-west axis in the southern shadow of the Warmwaterberg in the heart of the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. There is an altitude variance of 107m over that distance, which produces a mild average gradient of 1:61, but there are some much steeper sections at 1:9 near the eastern end and summit. This pass is only drivable by paying guests of the reserve and is not freely publicly accessible. This pass forms a long and intricate traverse in tandem with the Sandfonteinspoort (or Tilney Gorge North) connecting the southern entrance gate with the Sondwana and Sanbona lodges in the north near the Bellair Dam, with the attractively sited Tilney Manor forming a small oasis between the two passes.
*Please carefully read the notes on public access to Sanbona lower down!
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