When travelling from Sutherland to Ceres via the Tankwa Karoo, this is the first of three small passes that have to be negotiated, with the other two being Thyshoogte and Jukhoogte. The pass is moderate in all respects with an altitude variance of 172m over 3,7 km producing an average gradient of 1:22, with the steepest sections being on the eastern side near the summit where things ramp up to 1:8.
Despite the moderate statistics, there are a few dangers on this pass. There is one sharp right hand bend leading into the ravine section which has some negative cross-flow and there are also some unguarded drop-offs on the left, which would cause serious damage if your vehicle left the road. During the week you are unlikely to come across any other vehicles on this road, but over weekends it could be a little busier, when dust and overtaking suddenly become major issues. It's best not to be in a hurry on this road and take the time to stop frequently and savour the timeless beauty of the Tankwa Karoo.
The high altitude, fertile Witzenberg Valley lies hidden in a fold of the Skurweberg mountains, about 20 km north of Ceres. The Witzenberg Pass is the tarred accesss road that starts at the summit of the Gydo Pass and ends at the southern head of this long and attractive valley. The road is well engineered and in good condition. It passes through a neck in the mountains amongst weathered sandstone formations, revealing the starkly contrasting green orchards of the valley. Not many people drive this pass as it is a dead-end, but take 10 minutes and experience this lovely mountain pass in the heart of the Koue Bokkeveld.
The Thyshoogte Pass is named after the Thyskraal farm, through which it passes. This pass follows the Jukhoogte pass to it's south-west in fairly quick succession on the gravel R356 route between Ceres and Sutherland. Like the Jukhoogte Pass, this pass similarly has a few nasty surprises with negative banking, and some sharp dips and corners. There is one hairpin bend which also hosts the steepest gradient. This pass gets extremely slippery after rain or snow and it has no safety rail on the drop side, where the drops offs are very steep. Drive slowly and with caution.
Ceres has an abundance of passes connecting it to the outside world. One of the oldest is the Hottentotskloof Pass, which was the original wagon route between Cape Town and the Karoo through Ceres, long before the N1 was thought about. Together with the Karoopoort these two passes carried considerable wagon traffic to the northern parts of South Africa. The modern pass we drive on today does not follow the original wagon route, which is slightly further south, a little lower down the slope. The careful observer will be able to trace the old road and it is clearly visible on Google Earth, but no longer publicly accessible.
The Karoo Poort is a very old route followed by the first settlers, and together with the Hottentots Kloof, formed the only route to the north (and the Karoo) from Cape Town through Ceres. The road is a typical poort, with easy gradients, following the course of a (mainly dry) river-bed through a natural gap in the mountains. The construction was managed by Andrew Bain and built by Adam de Smidt, who would later become Andrew Bain's son-in-law and Thomas Bain's brother in law. The pass is gravel, except for a small section of just over a kilometer and a half, where the tarring was no doubt done to protect the Karoopoort farm orchards from dust. The original old farmstead is on the right hand side of the road (west) when driving from east to west and looking its age these days. It is the only farm in the poort.
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).
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 Bo-Swaarmoed Pass is located to the north of the much bigger Swaarmoed Pass, 3,5 km kilometers after the Matroosberg/Erfdeel turn-off. It is a gravel road that connects the summit area of the Swaarmoed Pass with the farm Uitkomst (Matjiesrivier) in the lower valley to the north. The pass is also sometimes called the Uitkomst Pass and the Bloubank Pass by locals. This is a very old farm with old buildings, dry packed stone walls and a unique and completely intact slave bell dating back to the early 1700's.
Most of the passes aound Ceres are tarred which tends to lull drivers into a false sense of security. When adding very steep gradients, sharp corners and several bends which have negative banking, this pass has the potential to become very dangerous and doubly so during snow or after heavy rain for unattentive drivers. Don't be fooled by the mild statistics or how easy it looks on the video. It is safer to ascend this pass than descend it. Speed needs to be drastically reduced if you have approached from the south via the Swaarmoed Pass.
Die Venster translates into The Window. This is an easy pass with gentle curves and a fairly small altitude gain/loss. However, what it lacks in technical drama, it more than makes up for in terms of grand scenery. The road ascends gradually from the west through a curve to the left as it heads for the lowest point between two mountain ranges. From the summit, a vast landscape opens up featuring flat plains stretching as far as the eye can see with rugged mountains interrupting the Karooscape.
The Winkelhaak Road is a 37 km gravel farm road which meanders through the Koue Bokkeveld north of Ceres between the many rivers, dams and lakes of this farming area, specialising in onions and potatoes. The scenery is richly diverse with the dominance of the rugged mountain-scape being omnipresent.
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