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 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.
This rugged poort is located on the P2272 about 50 km south-east of Calvinia and 25 km WNW of Middelpos (as the crow flies) and paralells the north/south running Roggeveldberge, which form the western side of the Tankwa Karoo. Not many people know about this poort which with a length of 5,6 km, and an altitude gain of 144m hugs the western side of the Kareehoutrivierpoort. A huge bush fire had swept through the poort just days before we filmed it, leaving the poort looking barren, blackened and stony, but normally this is a fairly well watered poort offering lovely scenery and some greener vegetation.
With an average gradient of 1:39 this poort offers easy gradients and is suitable for all vehicles, but the road in its entirety is not suitable for normal cars. High clearance is recommended.
Thyshoogte is named after the Thyskraal farm, through which it passes. This pass precedes Jukhoogte to it's south-west in fairly quick succession on the gravel R356 route between Sutherland and Ceres.. Like Jukhoogte, 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.
The pass is 4,5 km long and has an altitude variance of 152m which converts into an average gradient of 1:30, but the steepest section near the summit gets as steep as 1:6
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 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.
The Bloukrans Pass on the R355 some 20 km south of Calvinia, is one of four Bloukrans Passes in South Africa. It is named after the majestic Bloukransberge over which foothills the pass traverses. This is a safe, well designed road in all, but very wet conditions and snow does sometimes fall on the pass's upper reaches (1029m ASL)
The pass only has 15 bends, corners and curves, most of which are fairly gentle but the average gradient is 1:19, which is on the steep side. The road is wide and the gravel surface has good run-off, so even in rainy weather, this pass should present few issues to normal cars. However it is the approach sections on either side,which can get extremely muddy and slippery, so if its been raining heavily in the area, it is best avoided unless in a 4WD vehicle.
This 6,7 km long gravel poort is located on the R354 between Sutherland and Middelpos in the Northern Cape. It is a fairly minor poort with an altitude variance of only 82 metres and an average gradient of 1:82 which makes it a very easy drive, but be especially careful of corrugations, which can become severe towards the southern side, once the gradients flatten out next to the river bank. The pass summits at an altitude of 1251m ASL and it does sometimes get snow in winter. The steepest section just before the summit has a gradient of 1:14
This is the Karoo, where there is plenty of space and the layers of sedimentary rock that make up the mountains, provide a perfect backdrop to the vast dun coloured plains dotted with low shrubs, but good enough to sustain sheep farming. The name Oupoort simply means Old Path and relates back to the original sheep trekking routes between Sutherland and Calvinia.
Like its neighbouring pass, Katbakkies Pass, the Peerboomskloof Pass was originally carved out by the local Khoi people as a cattle path. Farmers later used it as a wagon road to cross over the mountains from the Koue Bokkeveld to the Ceres Karoo. Only recently tarred and 4,5 km long, it provides picture-perfect views of the open, rugged expanse of the Tankwa Karoo and the mountain range separating it from the Koue Bokkeveld.
The first 2 km of the pass are tarred and sports a stiff gradient of 1:7. This tarring was done fairly recently and the road remains narrow with no road markings, so don't be fooled by the tar surface as it is still a dangerous pass. The pass initially enters the bottom end of the poort via an S-bend. The second part of the bend is very sharp and immediately a gravel track leads off to the left which goes to a picnic area. Once the top of the tarred section is reached at 704m ASL, the surface is once again gravel, but the gradient initially remains steep as the road heads up towards the plateau section, whereafter the gradients ease off to a more comfortable 1:20. The upper portion of the pass is relatively easy.
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