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Old Postal Route

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One of the canyons visible from the Old Postal Route One of the canyons visible from the Old Postal Route - Photo: Trygve Roberts

The Old Postal Route is a basic gravel track of 53,2 km that connects the Biedouw Valley in the Cederberg with the Eilandsvlei farm near the R355 in the Tankwa Karoo. This was once a route used to deliver post between these two remote communities.

The route consists of two mountain passes separated by a long high altitude plateau and includes a bridgeless crossing of the Doring River at the eastern end. It is not suitable for normal cars. Four wheel drive with high clearance is essential and low range is an additional benefit to have at your disposal.

Most of the route is Grade 1 and fairly straight-forward to drive, but here and there a few tricky sections raise the bar to Grade 3, depending on weather conditions. The two most likely places drivers will have problems, is the crossing of the Doring River and offroad navigation, as there are multiple unsigned intersections, so your navigation needs to be precise. Unless you have a GPS loaded with Tracks4Africa where you can see the route clearly, you will more than likely get lost. We don't recommend driving this route between June and October, when water levels in the Doring River will probably be too high. In summer, the river crossing is usually bone dry.

The route will take between 4 to 6 hours to complete, depending on a  number of factors. There are cottages and camping available at Mertenshof near the western start and good camping can be enjoyed at Die Mond off the R355 at the opposite end of the route.

The route is best driven in a group in case of a breakdown. Take full recovery gear with as well as a puncture repair kit that you know how to use. If you enjoy remote gravel road driving, with huge vistas and a unique stillness you will find in few other places in South Africa, then this route is for you.

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

FULL SCREEN MODE: Click PLAY, then pass yor mouse cursor of the bottom right hand corner of your video screen. The outline of a rectangle will appear. Clicking on it will toggle full screen mode. Press the ESC key to return to the original format.

Note: Google earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The vertical profile animation can generate a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide as what to expect in terms of gradients, distances and elevation. The graph may produce some improbable and impossibly sharp spikes, which should be ignored.


Digging into the details:

Getting there: To approach from the west (the direction we have filmed and described it), head east from Clanwilliam over the Pakhuis Pass on the R364 and turn right just before the tar ends at GPS S32.065919 E19.127281 - signposted as Wupperthal. Now head south on the gravel road (P2262) for 13 km over the Hoek se Berg Pass to arrive in the Biedouw Valley. Cross the low level bridge near the Mertenshof farm and within 700m you will see an intersection where you must turn left (GPS S32.158487 E19.189954). Drive along this road toward the Enjo Nature Farm for 630m, where you will see a closed (but unlocked) farm gate on the right hand side of the road, which is the western starting point of the Old Postal Route.

For those wanting to approach from Ceres, please use the following hyperlinks for accurate directions/navigation: Ceres > Gydo Pass > Op die Berg > Blinkberg Pass > Grootrivierhoogte Pass > Cederberg Oasis > Matjiesrivier > Eselbank Pass > Wupperthal > Kouberg Pass > Biedouw Valley.

We do not recommend driving this route from east to west for first time drivers. However, for those who want to approach from the east, the navigation is much more complex. You will find the precise directions with GPS waypoints at the bottom of this page.


Part 2 - The western start and ascent of the Kraaiberg Pass (5,1 km)

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

The beautiful Biedouw Valley lies in the heart of the northern Cederberg and is one of the most popular routes for flower spotting in late winter/early spring. It is also here that our tour of the Old Postal Route starts, very close to the Mertenshof farm.

Before you start the route, lower your vehicle's tyre pressures to at least 1,4 bar. This will provide a number of advantages which include improved traction (and therefore safety), a more comfortable ride and a reduction in the chances of getting a puncture, but do remember to reinflate your tyres before you commence your homeward leg once on the R355. If you don't have access to a compressor, then remember to keep your speed below 80 kph. The R355 has something of a reputation for destroying tyres, so reinflation is as important as deflation.

Gate at the startThe first gate at the western start. Remember to close it. / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The gate at the start is always closed, but not locked. Open the gate and drive in - this is a publicly accessible road, but please make sure the gate is closed behind you. If you're driving (or riding) in a group it's much easier being connected with two way radios. The lead vehicle can inform the rear-most (sweep) vehicle which gates must be closed and which should be left open.

The road heads resolutely up the hill at a fairly easy gradient. It can be seen much higher twisting and turning through big switchbacks towards a low point in the mountains ahead. The big mountain to your left is the real Kraaiberg, which has a summit height of 930,9m. The road remains on the western side of a narrow ravine formed by the Klein Doringrivier as it ascends at a gradient of 1:14 via a series of easy corners.

Kraaiberg PassLooking back towards Mertenshof farm & Biedouw Valley / Photo: Trygve Roberts

At the 2,2 km the first set of switchbacks have to be tackled. Here the gradient gets suddenly steeper to to below 1:5 as the road rapidly turns through the double switchback. The first hairpin has an angle of 170 degrees and the second is a full 180 degrees. As one drives through these big changes in direction, your passengers will be able to enjoy the rapidly changing vistas of the mountains, but once through the switchbacks, the direction settles back down into the south-south-east.

Once through the hairpins, there is a long, straight, stony climb of 600m, whereafter the road turns away to the west in a wide right hand bend of 90 degrees. This is the approach to the much wider third hairpin and lasts for 560m. Along this section there are beautiful views over the Biedouw Valley and Hoek se Berg Pass can be clearly seen in the distance on the far side of the valley snaking its way down the mountainside towards the Mertenshof farm.

Ascending Kraaiberg PassAscending the Kraaiberg Pass / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe next hairpin occurs at the 3,9 km mark and curves steeply through 155 degrees as the heading changes into the east. The gradient remains at or below 1:5 along this final climb towards the summit, as the road follows a very wide right hand curve for the next 500m.

Stop at the 4,4 km point, which is not the true summit, but it is the best place to stop to enjoy the views. From here the view is simply 'out of this world'.  The elevation gives one a great perspective of the size and scope of this part of the northern Cederberg and specifically the Biedouw Valley, which forms a green oasis in the centre of the mountainous landscape.

To reach the true summit, drive further for another 600m till you reach the 5,1 km mark, where the Kraaiberg Pass officially ends. The road can be seen heading away into the south, over the low, fynbos clad ridges on the mountain top.


Part 3: 5th km to 19th km (Kraaiberg Pass summit to Agterfontein Rooibos Farm) - 14 km

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

This next section of 14 km is easy and allows drivers to relax as the road winds its way into the SSE for 5 km via rooibos plantations, protea bushes and open landscapes. At the time of filming a massive mountain fire had destroyed eight large mountain-top farms. Whilst the visuals in the video look bleak and burnt, this part of the route is normally a blaze of blooming proteas and fynbos in the winter months. 

Once you have crested the summit of the Kraaiberg Pass, a distinct mountain dominates the mountain plateau dead ahead. This is Citadelkop and has a summit height of 1106,1m. This mountain is your automatic direction finder for the next 3 km as the road maintains a steady southerly heading. Here on the plateau the winter season reveals vast stands of waboom protea bushes, which when in bloom turns the landscape into a palette blaze of colour.

Citadelkop in the distanceHeading south towards Citadelkop / Photo: Trygve RobertsAt the 5,5 km point there is a smaller gravel track leading away to the right. Do not take this gravel road as it is on private property and ends at the main gravel road between Biedouw and Wupperthal at a closed and locked gate. This road forms the second half of the Biedouw/Breekkrans 4x4 route, for which you require a permit (and gate keys). These are obtainable at the Mertenshof farmstead. The descent of the Kraaiberg Pass forms the final part of the 4x4 trail, which forms a long anti-clockwise loop. Note that most of this trail is not part of the Old Postal Route and is only published here for your general information.

Continue along the road and at the 6 km point a small ridge appears to the right, named Bruinrug - a smallish, but distinct ridge of weathered Cederberg sandstone.

At the 9,9 km point, the road drops steeply down into a small transverse valley. These are the headwaters and source of the Kleindoringrivier. The road is rough here and speed should be lowered to cope with the rougher conditions. Once down this short, winding descent the road follows the valley into the north-west for 1 km., where a sharp right hand bend changes the direction directly into the east for the duration of this section.

Rooibos plantationsRooibos plantations in the Cederberg / Photo: AfricanDawn

Vast stands of Rooibos dominate the areas between the rocky ridges and it is in this light coloured soft sandy soil at altitudes between 900 and 1100m ASL that the Rooibos plants thrive.

The road descends for a while, then the heading remains easterly for another 4 km., which brings the traveller to the final farm Agterfontein (also spelled as Achterfontein in the Dutch style). There are many side roads that all lead off to Rooibos plantations. It's fairly obvious which the main road is so navigating through this maze of side roads is actually not difficult at all.

The road conditions along the plateau section varies from fair to rough and the surface varies from stony to sandy. In the summer months the sand will be deep and soft and this is one of several reasons why you must be in a 4WD vehicle. Should you find yourself bogging down in the sandy sections, the first thing to do is to lower your tyre pressures some more. You can safely drop them to 1 bar. It will immediately provide you with the additional traction necessary to get through the soft sandy sections. If that doesn't help, try a little more momentum. In the colder, wetter months there will be many pools over the road, but none of these are deep and if crossed slowly should present no problems.

Snow proteaThe rare Snow Protea / Photo: Kromrivier Park

The Agterfontein farm, which is nestled in a small depression in the heart of the Tra Tra Mountains, is the final point of civilisation on the route (other than the Eilandsvlei farm at the eastern end). From the summit of the Kraaiberg Pass to this farm is a distance of 14 km. Do not continue beyond the farm without permission from the farm owner, who is a friendly person who runs a first class farm using modern methods, producing the finest export quality Rooibos tea, which is mainly exported to Japan. 

Should the farm gates be closed and the farmer not be on the farm (the farmstead itself is enclosed within a high electric fence), you will need to find an alternative route around the farmstead via the plantation's many alternative tracks. This will only involve a very short distance of approximately 100m. In such an event leave a note for the farmer that you have passed through his property with details of the number of people, vehicles and registration details - as a courtesy but also for your own safety in the event of an emergency - and remember to say thank you. (Don't touch the fence!)

As the road passes within 5m of the actual farmhouse, we urge every driver and motorcyclist to drive below 5 kph as a courtesy to the farmer and please do stop and introduce your party to the farmer - and if he is not too busy you might be fortunate enough to be shown around the farm and get a crash course in Rooibos tea production.


Part 4: 19th to 28th km (Agterfontein farm to 28th km) - 9 km

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

Once you have completed your visit to the Agterfontein farm, follow the road along the right hand side of the farm house, where the track once again becomes sandy, as the heading remains easterly for the next few kms. The road undulates across the rocky slopes, skirting a number of weathered sandstone formations. Rooibos plantations occupy all the flatter sections on both sides of the road. All of the route featured in this part of the video falls within the boundaries of the original Welbedacht farm. Please make sure that you take only photographs and leave only footprints.

Agterfontein farmApproaching the Agterfontein farmstead / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The track is virtually level along this section, but at the 21,4 km point at the crest of a small neck, there is a 4 way intersection. (Don't confuse it with another fork about 0.5 km further back) The better used track leads straight over the neck, which is the option most drivers would naturally take, but this will take you down to another big plain filled with Rooibos and even further along the ridge of a canyon known as Blomkraalfonteinkloof, after which point you will be seriously lost. It is imperative to turn right at this cross roads and take the lesser used jeep track up to another high point. The coordinates of this junction are at S32.176919 E19.332501. The intersection is marked by a rusted steel drum and a black irrigation pipe on the right.

At the intersection the direction changes from north to east. The track soon becomes very stony and rough requiring a slower speed as the road drops down the other side of the small ridge. From this point there is a long section of easy and flat driving. The road heads south-east as it follows the north-eastern lip of the Agterfonteinkloof canyon. You will have a vague notion that the canyon is there on your right, but there is nowhere where the road offers a good view of it.

Much of the footage in this video shows a bleak and burnt landscape. This is not the norm as these mountains are normally covered in proteas and fynbos. The further east along this traverse, the scenery changes from Cederberg type scenery to the more arid semi-desert Tankwa Karoo.

Important intersectionMake sure you turn sharp right at the rusted drum / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The canyon to your right is the Agterfonteinkloof and is one of the bigger side canyons of the main canyon of the Doring River. There is one side track that leads off to the right at the 28,4 km point which leads to an old stone kraal, which after a short walk, will offer a good view of the canyon. The coordinates of the intersection to this view point is S32.191914 E19.360744 

The Cederberg Wilderness is only three hours drive from Cape Town, but it feels like a completely different world. The Cederberg rocks, toned orange by iron oxide, dominate the landscape. Jagged sandstone rock formations, like the Maltese Cross and the Wolfberg Arch, and ancient San and Khoi rock art, make this area truly spectacular. Most of these popular attractions are not far from the Old Postal Route in distance, but in time it will take much longer to reach them due to the nature and ruggedness of the roads.

Clanwilliam CedarClanwilliam Cedar Tree / Photo: CapeNature

The Cederberg lies 200 km north of Cape Town, stretching from the Middelberg Pass in Citrusdal to north of the Pakhuis Pass at Clanwilliam. The wilderness area encompasses about 175,000 hectares of rugged, mountainous terrain, making it a top spot in the Western Cape for hiking and rock-climbing enthusiasts.

The Cederberg, which forms part of the Cape floral region, is a World Heritage Site, is covered in mountain fynbos, including the laurel protea, the red disa, rooibos, and the rare and endemic snow protea. Rare Clanwilliam cedars, the area’s namesake, dot the higher mountain cliffs.

The area is also rich in wildlife. Visitors with a keen eye may spot porcupines, honey badger, the Cape clawless otter and aardvark. The lucky few may even catch a glimpse of the elusive leopard. There are also smaller predators like the African wild cat, lynx, bat-eared fox, aardwolf and Cape fox. Other, more common animals include baboons, dassies, grey rhebok, klipspringers, duiker and grysbok.


Part 5: 28th to 37th km  - 9 km (includes the two northern canyons)

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

This section is mainly at an altitude above 750m where the track heads steadily into the south-east. It includes good views of the two northerly canyons of Kliphuiskloof and Bobbejaanskloof.

At the 30 km point, the road passes within 30m of the southern lip of the Kliphuiskloof. It's a short canyon of 2,5 km in length and 100m deep that reaches away towards the north-east and widens rapidly at the point where it joins the main canyon of the Doring River. It's best to mark the spot as a waypoint as it's easy to drive right past and not be aware that it's there, due to the flat nature of the topography. GPS S32.217962 E19.402153

KliphuiskloofThe Kliphuiskloof canyon / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Take the short walk of 30m to the rim of the canyon where you can soak up the raw beauty of the Tankwa, which stretches away towards the east in layers of ever fading colours. 

At the 30,4 km mark, there is another intersection with a jeep track leading away to the left. Ignore it and continue straight on. The going remains easy along this section, still descending gently into the south east. To the left and not visible from the road, is the much bigger Bobbejaanskloof canyon. Although it's shorter than Kliphuiskloof, it's much deeper at close to 400m with very steep sides. Don't worry about not being able to see it, as shortly you will be presented with a spectacular view of it, as you reach the summit point of The Karretjies Pass.

At the 33,3 km point, there is a fork, where a feinter track heads straight on and up the slope. It terminates a few hundreed metres further at a stone kraal named Karretjies. This is where the pass takes it's name from. If you want to take this short detour it will add about 20 minutes to your journey. Otherwise make sure you keep left at the fork and remain on the main track.

At the 37 km point, you will get your first view of the canyon on the left. This is actually a side arm of the main Bobbejaanskloof. Here the road suddenly deteriorates and becomes very rocky and narrow. This is the summit point of the Karretjies Pass and is one of the most dramatic sights along the entire Old Postal Route. This is also the right spot to change to low range for the descent down the pass, which will give you better control of your vehicle.

The Cape Leopard Trust aims to facilitate conservation of the Cape Mountain Leopard through simultaneously implementing conservation strategies, research projects and tourism. In the past the Cape Mountain Leopard has proved highly resilient, however the leopard has suffered extensive range loss in the Western Cape and is now extinct in many areas.

Cape Mountain LeopardCape Mountain Leopard / Photo: Cederberg.com

Today, the long-term survival of Cape Mountain leopards depends on their densities within protected areas such as the Cedarberg Wilderness. It is believed that there are many of this beautiful and elusive predator in the Cedarberg mountains but as they are so shy, signs of them are rarely found, let alone actual sightings.

Reliable population estimates of the leopards are essential for effective conservation management and so the trust aims to collar 12 leopards and keep track of their movements.

The Cederberg was proclaimed a wilderness area in 1973. A reserve of about 5 250 hectares was established in 1987 to prevent the extinction of the area’s namesake: the Clanwilliam cedar tree. Over several centuries, these trees were felled for construction activities and telephone poles. Frequent fires also ravaged the species to the point of near extinction. Cape Nature works with partners and volunteers to plant cedar seedlings in the mountains. Each year, volunteers help plant about 8 000 nursery-grown young trees in the reserve.

In 1988, the Cederberg Wilderness Area was established as the centre of a leopard management area to protect leopards by minimising conflict between stock farming and  nature conservation. To protect the Cederberg’s rich heritage and extraordinary biodiversity, Cape Nature and  local landowners set up the Cederberg and Biedouw conservancies on the border of the wilderness area, covering about 312,000 hectares of private and state land.


Part 6: 37th to 41st km  - 4 km (includes the Karretjies Pass)

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

This section includes most of the descent of the Karretjies Pass. It starts at the 38th km and ends at the 41st km. If you are in a group of vehicles, it's best to pull off the road before the point that the pass narrows and begins descending. This will allow everyone to get good photos of the canyon and enjoy the spectacular and dramatic scenery.

Although Karretjies Pass is short at 1,5 km and only loses 77m of altitude, it is the rough nature of the track which requires driver's full concentration. If you have low range, use it for this descent, which will allow better control. Proceed very slowly and choose your lines carefully, avoiding sidewall cuts, as the rocks here are sharp and plentiful.

Miniature plants in the TankwaDelicate, yet hardy miniature plants (30mm) / Photo: Trygve RobertsAs you trundle slowly down the pass, there are dramatic views of the canyon on your left for the entire length of the pass. Once you reach the 38,5 km mark, the track levels off and begins turning away from the Bobbejaanskloof. This is also the end of the Karretjies Pass.

But there's plenty more on offer, as from the 40th kilometre, the road follows a spur of the mountain via a wide right hand bend of a full 180 degrees. As progress is made through this bend, new vistas open up revealing the bigger, more spectacular Doring River canyon.

The track meanders along the western rim of the canyon, descending slowly towards a smaller side ravine, where there is an extremely sharp hairpin bend of 160 degrees at 40,8 km mark. The road surface is badly eroded here, so take this hairpin at a dead slow speed.

The Tankwa Karoo National Park lies about 70 km due west of Sutherland near the border of the Northern Cape and Western Cape, in one of the most arid regions of South Africa, with areas receiving less than 100 mm of average annual precipitation. Moisture-bearing clouds from the Atlantic Ocean are largely stopped by the Cederberg mountains. In the hottest areas of the park, the mean maximum temperature in January is 38.9 °C, and in July the mean minimum temperature ranges from about 5 to 7 °C. Before this Park's proclamation, the only protected area of Succulent Karoo was the 2 square kilometre patch of the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, near Calitzdorp. Succulent Karoo has, together with the Cape Floral Kingdom, been declared a Biodiversity Hotspot by Conservation International.


Part 7: 41st to 47th km  - 6 km (Karretjies to Tra-Tra River)

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

This 6 km section of the Old Postal Route is easy, but the track gets quite rough in places. It starts just after the hairpin bend at 41st km. and descends gradually into the south-east towards the Tra-Tra River.

The Tankwa National Park's area has been increased from an initial 260 to 1436 km2. It is bounded on the east by the Roggeveld mountains, on the west by the Cederberg, to the north by the Kouebokkeveld mountains and on the south by the scattered foothills of the Koedoesberge and Klein Roggeveld mountains, and the Tankwa River.

GeologyRock samples from the canyon rim. Hematite or Manganese? / Photo: Trygve Roberts

In 1998 Conrad Strauss sold 280 km2 of sheep farm to the South African National Parks. The park has started the reintroduction of game that used to be found naturally in the area. Research was done beforehand to ensure that introduced animals would survive on the overgrazed veld. 

The vegetation in the park falls within the Succulent Karoo biome and has been described as very sparse shrubland and dwarf shrubland. The park is home to a large variety of birds (188 species), such as the black-headed canary, Ludwig's bustard, and the black-eared sparrow-lark. Peak birding season is August to October.

There is one fairly tricky obstacle on this section, which occurs at the 44,5 km point where the track crosses a small river bed (which is usually dry). The climb out on the far side is very rough and has a set of natural axle twisters to make the obstacle a bit more challenging. Watch out for the tyre slicing rocks here and use low range to clear the little climb-out.

There are three intersections which are vital not to miss. The first of these occurs at the 45,2 km point, where another track feeds in obliquely from the right. Just keep going straight on the existing track.

Doring RiverCrossing the Tra Tra River / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The second fork is reached at the 46,2 km point and this is the critical turn to be aware of. Similar to the 4 way intersection discussed in Part 4, here too it feels natural to keep left and head towards the river, but the correct option is to turn right here. Make a note of the waypoint and highlight it on your GPS. S32.292109 E19.511071

The road now heads south-west for 1 km as it drops down a small side ravine. The track is rough here and full of sharp stones, so drive with care. At the 47,1 km mark there is another fork. Here it's obvious that you must keep left. The track first crosses the flood plain of the Tra-Tra River and during the summer, the sand gets very soft here, requiring a little momentum to get through.

Within a hundred metres, the track reaches the western bank of the river. There are many Acacia thorn trees here, which might need some trimming to avoid scratches to your vehicle. There is plenty of space to park here and this point makes a perfect lunch time stop, with options for a swim if there's water in the river.

Part 8: 47th to 53rd km  - 6 km (Tra-Tra River to Eilandsvlei)

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

The crossing of the Tra-Tra River can range from being a simple drive over the flat rocks, to a life threatening challenge of trying to forge a raging torrent of white water. On the day of filming in late May, 2018 the river was flowing, but never got deeper at the crossing than 300mm. All the vehicles were able to cross with relative ease. Please note that there is a drop off on the right into a deeper pool, about 5m from the western bank. It's a good idea to mark the spot so that drivers have a visual of where the drop-off is.

Grade 2 obstacleA tricky section ascending the eastern side of the Tra Tra River / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The crossing of any river should never be taken lightly and more-so, if the water is not clear. There are a number of factors to be considerd and a simple golden rule worth remembering is this. If you're not prepared to walk it, then don't drive it!

Take a sturdy stick and walk along both proposed tracks, checking for holes or other underwater objects.

It's important to know the wading depth of your vehicle (look it up in the owner's manual).

Measure that depth (eg 350mm) from the ground up to a point on your leg and make a mark. Alternatively make a depth mark on the stick. If the water goes higher than the mark, there is a likelihood of water ingressing into the engine of your vehicle and that will be the end of your trip. If there's current running, try to gauge the strength of the current and then calculate if the weight of your vehicle will be able to witjhstand the drag of the current. For example a light 4x4 like a Suzuki Jimny (1 ton) will wash away far quicker than a Toyota Land Cruiser (3 tons)

If you decide the water level is too deep and the current too swift, you have the option of waiting to see if water levels will drop (unlikely in the winter months) or retracing your entire route back to the start, which will more than likely become a tough night drive. It is for this reason, that some people prefer driving this route from east to west so that if the river is too deep, abandoning the route is not too much of a hassle and only involves a 6 km back-track.

Tankwa plainsPlains on the eastern side of the Tra Tra River are criss crossed with tracks / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Once over the river, the embankment has been crudely (but effectively) concreted and turns very sharply through 110 degrees, where it rises quickly then levels off and follows the eastern bank of the river for 600m between jagged and weathered rocks. At the 48 km mark there's a fork (GPS S32.299648 E19.512589). Keep right and follow the track as it compresses up a narrow rock strewn gulley.

This gulley gets very narrow and it's easy to scrape your vehicle on one of the many protruding rocks. This small obstacle is best tackled in low range for precise control. If you're nervous about picking up damage to your vehicle, rather let your passenger get out and guide you through the obstacle. It's only about 80m long.

Once you are clear of the gulley, which gets you to the top of the river bank, you are faced with a complete change of topography. A huge, featureless plain lies stretched out in front of you, seemingly devoid of life. This is the start of the Tankwa Karoo.

Immediately after cresting the top of the gulley, there is an intersection with 4 options. Keep going straight for another 1,3 km directly into the east (use the green oasis of trees up ahead as your visual waypoint). At the 49,5 km mark there is another track that feeds in from the left. Ignore it and keep going straight.

Tra Tra River crossingOne of three separate low level bridges over branches of the Doring River / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Just 300m further there is a second fork with a track leading in from the left. It's marked by a stone cairn with a pole. The road bends through 70 degrees here, so keep right and follow the track. GPS S32.302630 E19.531433. The track passes close by two distinct timber telephone poles here, which is your landmark that you're on the right track.

With the direction now back into the south-east, the road crosses another wide and featureless plain for 0,9 km where it suddenly dips down to cross the Matjiesfontein River. Drivers need to be wide awake here as it's easy to damage your vehicle along this section. Total concentration is needed all the way to the end.

The approach and exit of the river is convoluted and obstacles appear at every turn, which range from low overhanging branches with big thorns, to ruts, washaways and large round river boulders. The stream itself is crossed via a rudimentary concrete low level bridge, just wide enough for a single vehicle. Hitting one of the boulders with a diff or gearbox needs to be avoided. Switch to low range 1st gear and crawl through this section or get your passenger to guide you. It's good practice to place your wheels on top of the boulders, rather than straddle them.

Cable supporting a tree.Be aware of the cable that could snag higher vehicles / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Just as the track starts looking normal, it deteriorates quickly for the next river crossing which follows within 50m. Exactly the same design of bridge has to be negotiated and once again there are the big boulders that have to be driven over. This is the Doring River. The Matjiesfontein River is a tributaryof the Tra Tra River and the latter is a tributary of the Doring River. the confluence is about 3 km to the north.

There is a third and final bridge to negotiate, which is the longest of the three, but each follows a similar pattern of approach and exit with the big boulders.

On the far bank after the third bridge the road rises steeply up a sandy embankment, then passes through a final gate which is usually open. There's a fence running parallel to the road on the right. Two large old bluegums appear to block the way ahead, but the track zig-zags between the trees and swings sharply to the right. Note that there is an old steel cable strung between these old trees that could snag higher vehicles and especially radio aerials. Check the height clearance if in doubt. This final obstacle can be tricky in the summer as the sand will be soft, so momentum will be required to clear the little climb, byt extra caution needs to be applied not to slew into the cable or the trees.

The track now heads directly towards the Eilandsvlei farmstead, where the Old Postal Route ends at the 53,2 km mark. Remember to reinflate your tyres here or drive below 80 kph until you get to a garage. To get to the R355 turn right onto the bigger gravel road, and almost immediately left gain. Drive for 9 km heading east until you reach the intersection with the R355 at GPS S32.332652 E19.645546. Turn right to go to Ceres (160 km) or turn left to go to Calvinia (110 km)

Cautionary: The R355 has a reputation for destroying tyres. Driving on slightly deflated tyres (1,4 bar) will reduce the likelihood of getting a puncture, but it is very important not to drive fast on softer tyres as they could overheat and result in a blowout. Never exceed 80 kph on deflated tyres. The slower speed will add some time to return journey, but it will always be faster (and less expensive) than having to deal with a puncture. Try to drive in the centre two tracks of the R355, so that your vehicle is not on a camber. This prevents the right front tyre forcing sharp slivers of rock towards the left rear tyre, which is the most common wheel to puncture. Only move further left if there is an approaching vehicle, then straddle the centre of the road again.

R355 eats tyres for breakfastMost punctures occur in the LR wheel on the R355 / Photo: AfrikaBurn

 

DIRECTIONS FOR AN APPROACH FROM THE EAST 

We do not recommend driving this route from east to west for first time drivers. However, for those who want to approach from the east, the navigation is much more complex. The main motivation for wanting to tackle this route from the east is that the Tra-Tra River crossing is quite close to the eastern end and if the river is too deep to cross, it's a relatively simple exercise to abandon the route with a minimum amount of doubling back. Please make a careful note of each of the waypoints below and insert them into your GPS. (Note this is only necessary for those traveling east to west)

From Ceres head north on the R46 over the Theronsberg Pass > Hottentotskloof Pass > Karoopoort > then drive on the R355 towards Calvinia for 112 km where you must turn left at GPS S32.332652 E19.645546. Now drive west for 9 km to arrive at a staggered junction at GPS S32.319426 E19.559312. Now turn right (note the big farmstead on your left. Drive 100m and take the first turn left under the big bluegum trees. This is the eastern start of the Old Postal Route.

Waypoints and directions from the eastern start to the Tra Tra River crossing: (NOTE - Only for those driving east to west)

1. Eastern start: GPS S32.318506 E19.558717
2. Follow the road which skirts the right hand side of the farm house and out-buildings.
3. Drive NW for 1 km via a big S-bend where the road turns very sharply to the left under some dead bluegums (watch out for the cable which might snag higher vehicles and tall aerials). Change to low range from here until you have cleared all three streams of the Doring River and Matjiesfontein River.
4. The road dips down to cross the first of three side streams. Be careful as the concrete bridges are narrow and very bumpy as are the approaches and exits with large round boulders strewn over the road. Choose your driving lines carefully and avoid undercarriage contact.
5. The second river crossing with a similar bridge follows within 400m. Both of these little bridges have thorn trees merging over the roadway, so there is a high possiblility of scratching your vehicle. (Take an axe, small saw or pair of secateurs with). The third bridge follows within 50m.
6. Once through the third crossing the road heads NW for 1,8 km where you will arrive at a Y-junction. It's marked by a stone cairn with a 1m high pole in the middle. Keep left. GPS S32.302630 E19.531433.
7. After 370m there is another Y-junction. GPS S32.302937 E19.527698 where you must keep left again.
8. Drive for 1,3 km - direction WNW, where you will arrive at a multiple intersection. Here you have the options of left, straight or right (plus there is another track heading north which parallels the road you are on).
9. Proceed straight over this intersection towards a small cleft in the rocks ahead. These are the eastern cliffs of the Tra Tra River flood plain.
10. Just before you start the descent through this small neck, change to low range (if you have it) and proceed very slowly through this rough and rocky section. It's also very narrow here, so bigger SUV's might need a passenger to guide them.
11. After 250m you will arrive at another Y-junction close to the river bank. Keep left here at GPS S32.299648 E19.512589 and drive along the river bank for 640m to arrive at another Y-junction at GPS S32.300906 E19.605161.
12. Turn sharp right here (on a mix of concrete and stones) to arrive at the crossing point of the Tra Tra River. Be careful at this crossing and make sure that you walk it first on both proposed tracks (yes, even in winter) as there is one point near the western bank with a drop-off into a deeper pool. Preferably put an upright stick or object next to the hole, so every driver can use it as a guideline. 

Start your trip as early as possible in case of mechanical breakdown or getting lost. We advise printing these directions out and taking them with you. Do not drive this route without an adequate GPS loaded with T4A.


Fact File:

GPS   START

S32.155439 E19.195688

GPS   SUMMIT

S32.190226 E19.311946

GPS   END

S32.318506 E19.558717

AVE   GRADIENT

1:79

MAX   GRADIENT

1:5

ELEVATION   START

357m

ELEVATION   SUMMIT

953m

ELEVATION   END

276m

HEIGHT   GAIN/LOSS

677m

DISTANCE

53,2 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

East

TIME   REQUIRED

4 - 6 hours

SPEED   LIMIT

None

SURFACE

Gravel & Jeep track

DATE FILMED

27.05.2018

TEMPERATURE

23C 

NEAREST   TOWN

Clanwilliam (47 km)


Route Map:

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From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: Old Postal Route (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software)

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