The MPSA summit board wasn't too bad and we had it cleaned up and treated in 40 minutes. We then retraced our route north along the R328 and drove through Oudtshoorn and on to the sleepy village of De Rust on the beautifully resurfaced N12. We went directly to the MPSA sign at the main rest-spot in Meiringspoort, where we found the sign to be in perfect order with zero graffiti or stickers. All that was required was to change the url at the bottom of the sign. The local foreman in charge of the rest area, approached and proudly told me he was an MPSA follower. Note the compromise message bottom right of the sign. We are trying to make progress and cross the divide.
The fact that there are always staff present at the rest spot is a clear indicator that those that deface the signs are fully aware that what they are doing is wrong. We saw exactly the same at the Piekenierskloof sign which is right next to the shop and is very much in the public eye. That one too was in pristine condition. And so we learn! And when we name and shame the culprits, they say: "We didn't know"
Our overnight accommodation was booked at the Swartberg Hotel - that rambling old edifice of olde worlde charm which still upholds its 4 star status with pride and their food is really good! However, we were chatting away merrily and missed the turn-off to Klaarstroom and Prince Albert. (We are human after all!). Some 30 km later I realised my mistake and did a U-turn heading back towards Meiringspoort.
Our earlier ETA of 16h45 suddenly started looking bleak with a certainty of getting to Prince Albert in the dark. I did my usual trick and selected a gravel shortcut which looked promising on the GPS, but it was still a long way. The road we ended up on was the Kruidfontein Road (a first time for us - but it hid no passes or poorts) which was an interesting drive and infinitely better than the tar road option. We arrived just after sunset and felt the numbing chill of the Karoo air as the sun goes down. The hotel had given us a lovely ground-floor suite and they had warmed the room for us prior to our arrival. That's good service.
Being under strict Covid regulations, our dinner was brought to our room by the friendly staff and a good night's rest awaited us.
[Next week we will take you through Day 3 of this little adventure, which includes the Swartberg Pass, and the Kruisfontein Route back to Cape Town.]
Namaqualand Series (Part 3)
In this final series on Namaqualand, we will explore the Richtersveld National Park. There are 7 official passes within the park and we will explore them here briefly. If you wish to get more detail, please take the hyperlinks for the full smorgasbord of information.
As you drive in to the park at Sendelingsdrif, please note that this is the last place you can buy provisions and fuel. There is self catering accommodation available in neat, clean cottages, which are located right on the banks of the Orange River.
The first pass you will encounter is the Swartpoort. The Richtersveld National Park plays host to 7 official passes and poorts. The Swartpoort is easily the easiest of the seven in terms of terrain and gradient and provides a gentle introduction to this stunning mountain desert with its harsh and rocky landscape, sandy plains and absence of plant life - or so it seems to the first time visitor, but to the more astute observer there is a whole world of succulents that thrive in this dry climate, if you take the trouble to look properly.
The Swartpoort is an easy meander along a sandy plain amongst some mountain ridges which display black coloured rocks, hence the name, Swartpoort. The poort starts soon after entering the national park at the Sendelingdrif main gate. You will need to be in a 4x4 with low range and adequate ground clearance, as well as being completely self sufficient in terms of food, water, firewood and other necessary supplies. Click the link above for more info:
We now head south-east to arrive at the next pass which is the Halfmens Pass. This fairly tricky pass is the second pass one encounters when entering the Richterveld National Park at Sendelingsdrif. The 5,1 km long pass twists and turns through the rugged Richtersveld mountains ascending 103m, with the steepest part closer to the summit, reaching 1:11. The pass is named after the Halfmens (Half a Person) succulent Pachypodium namaquanum, which is endemic to this region.
There are a total of 36 bends, corners and curves several of which are sharper than 90 degrees. The road is rough in places and speed needs to be kept under 20 kph. Many parts of this pass should be driven in low range for precise control of your vehicle.
We continue heading south east to traverse probably the best known pass in the park which is the Akkedis Pass. This is the second of the more serious passes in the Richtersveld National Park. Only 4WD vehicles with good ground clearance will cope with conditions in the Richtersveld, with the biggest obstacle being soft sand.
The Akkedis Pass (Eng. Lizard Pass) together with the Swartpoort and Halfmens Pass, connects the main entry point at Sendelingsdrif with the central and northern sector of the park. The scenery is truly magnificent and along this entire pass you are fully immersed in a true mountain desert. It takes a good 40 minutes to drive this pass and there are some sections on the northern ascent where low range should be utilised. The pass is 6 km long and climbs through 169m to summit at 578m ASL, but there are several short sections that get as steep as 1:5. The pass is also sometimes referred to as the Penkop Pass.
The Maerpoort (which translates into Thin Passage) is 9,4 km long when measured from intersection to intersection. It has an an altitude variance of 230m. The summit views are exceptionally dramatic and it's one of the photographic hotspots in the Richtersveld. There is only just over 1 km of the total length of this poort which is technically complex. The entire balance of the poort is an easy meander across the sandy desert floor and a reasonably good speed can be maintained, with the only cautionary being the perpetual corrugations. Remember to deflate your tyres or bear the consequences.
The views more than make up for the flat terrain as the composition of the geology changes around every corner with small black and ochre outcrops seemingly 'growing' out of the flat plains. Here and there a small shrub or small tree can be seen, but otherwise this poort is mountain desert in its purest form. Anyone wanting to access the campsites at Richtersberg, Tatasberg, Kokerboomkloof or Gannakouriep will need to traverse this poort first.
We continue in a south-easterly direction to reach the Richtersberg Pass. This is a dramatic, but fairly short pass which forms part of the final access road to reach the Richtersberg camp-sites and the Tatasberg chalets. The pass is 2,3 km long and has an altitude variance of 107m, producing an average gradient of 1:21. There is only a single, fairly short technical section, where low range should be used which is at the summit point, where the road is both very steep, as well as rough. The gradient gets as steep as 1:5 at this neck. The views throughout the pass are magnificent as the road produces a variety of mountain and desert floor perspectives.
Of the 7 official passes, the Domorogh Pass is easily the most technical, as well as being the shortest. The pass connects the upper plateau area of the Richtersveld with the Gariep River valley and was originally built by hand by a small handful of local men to create an access route down the small escarpment for their livestock to move between the winter and summer grazing areas. The pass is 1,4 km long and has an altitude variance of 139m of producing a steep average gradient of 1:10 with the steepest parts being at 1:4. This pass should not be driven in any vehicle other than a high clearance 4WD vehicle with low range. We issue a 'danger' cautionary for this pass, especially in the descending mode. There is some incorrect banking which can easily cause a rollover in vehicles that have too much weight on their roofs.
The final pass is a beauty. The Helskloof Pass starts off by being thoroughly confusing. It's difficult determining where it starts and ends and to add fuel to the fire, there are two Helskloof passes within the Richtersveld area. This one is located within the boundaries of the national park, whilst the other one is between Eksteenfontein and Vioolsdrif. (Featured last week)
This is a long, slow pass to traverse, which will take at least one hour, excluding stops, but the visual rewards are well worth the effort. The pass lies fairly close to the main access road to Sendelingsdrif near the SANParks control gate on the western side of the reserve. It can accessed from that point and can be driven in the ascending mode, or driven the opposite way, which is a great way to exit the national park via one of its best showcase passes.
The most distinctive feature of this pass is the presence of the unique purplish coloured aloe commonly known as the Helskloof Aloe, but correctly named Aloe Pearsonii after it's discoverer. The unique aloe only grows in the Helskloof and nowhere else on earth.
Pass of the Week
This long gravel pass is a gem, but definitely not for those in a hurry, as the going is generally below 30 kph and there 7 farm gates to open and close. The rewards are magical Klein Karoo scenery, isolation, zero traffic and simply being alone to enjoy an hour and a half of South African magic.
* * B R A N D R I V I E R P A S S * *
New passes added this week:
Kliphoogte - A short gravel pass on the MR00322 between Barrydale and the R328 with a serously badly designed corner which has seen the undoing of many drivers.
Kleinfontein Pass - A lovely little pass in the heart of the Klein Karoo between VanWyksdorp and Armoed.
Silly questions: Whose idea was it to put an s in the word lisp?