An unexpected, tarred treat

Gauteng is not necessarily well-known for its passes. However, the province’s biggest pass in terms of distance, altitude gained and steepest gradient – the Hekpoort Pass – offers city slickers a decent pass, steeped in some interesting history. Trygve Roberts of Mountain Passes South Africa shares more.

Located on the tarred R563 between Hekpoort in the north and Krugersdorp in the south, the Hekpoort Pass is well above the national average in terms of length at 9.2km and offers some steep climbing near the summit at 1:10. It forms one of the most popular routes over the Witwatersberge into the Magaliesburg area for weekend adventure seekers.

From the village of Hartbeespoort to the south of the wellknown Hartbeespoort Dam, head west on the R512 for 10km and turn left onto the R560 at the T-junction. Remain on the R560 – heading in a south-westerly direction – for 21km and take the left-hand road, just after the village of Hekpoort marked as the R563 (GPS S25.887646 E27.611020). This is the northern start of the pass.

The first 6.7km of this poort is a very easy and scenic drive with a slight gradient of 1:35, but things change quite dramatically at that point. First you will pass the SAPS police station on the left, followed by the Hekpoort station a little further – both on the left (east) side of the road. The road is straight for the first 1.9km, then enters an S-bend. If you comply with the speed limit restrictions, you will have no problems here. After the S-bend the road gets back to its original heading into the SSE and the river is crossed via a concrete bridge and soon the R96 can be seen heading off to the right (west). The road then goes into a 40-degree left-hand bend as it follows a cleft in the mountain carved out by the Hekpoortspruit.

Just as the road straightens out, an Anglo Boer War blockhouse (Barton’s Folly Blockhouse) can be seen below the road above the western bank of the river. The building is still in a remarkably good condition and is well worth a few minutes of your time if you have an interest in history. If an eagle were to fly over the Witwatersberg with the mighty Magaliesberg to the west, it would see an old English blockhouse defending the break in the mountains which de la Rey and his men named Hekpoort. The blockhouse was built during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902), referred to by the locals as the English War of Aggression. Barton’s instructions were to build a fort to separate the Boer commandos in the Brits area from the Witwatersrand. There is some confusion relating to the name though. It is argued that the fort did not succeed in its aim, thus a folly. However, the more likely explanation is that it differed from the typical two-storeyed blockhouses of the time and was therefore something ‘foolish in design’ or something other than what it appeared to be.

Barton was a career soldier who served in Egypt and China, on Gold Coast, and in the Zulu War of 1876. Having been wounded at the Tugela River, he was transferred to Krugersdorp and had to face the military genius of De Wet and De la Rey. Far from the cool meadows of England, one can easily imagine him standing on top of the hill staring at the distant Magaliesburg and thinking of home. This is his monument, Barton’s Folly (history info courtesy of bartonsfolly.co.za).

A little further a gravel road heads steeply to the right up the mountain. This is a 4×4 route known as the Crocodile Ramble. There are two retreats along the poort here. The first is Barton’s Folly Trout and Nature Retreat and the second is Weaver’s Roost Retreat. Both offer relaxing weekend getaways for stressed-out city folk. For campers, there is a caravan park on the left side of the road just before the ascent begins.

There are two false summits along this section. The first one is at 3,7km and the second at the 4.8km mark. After the second summit, the road drops slightly in altitude and levels off until the 6.7km point, and then the real climbing begins. The road climbs 196 vertical metres over just under 3km, producing a steep gradient of 1:14 for this section of the pass. The pass ends at the summit point of 1 581m above sea level at the 9.6km mark.

FACT FILE

GPS START: S25.887646 E27.611020

GPS SUMMIT: S25.947118 E27.667809

GPS END: S25.947118 E27.667809

AVE GRADIENT: 1:32

MAX GRADIENT: 1:10

ELEVATION START: 1 284m

ELEVATION SUMMIT: 1 581m

ELEVATION END: 1 581m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS: 297m

DISTANCE: 9.6km

DIRECTION – TRAVEL: South

TIME REQUIRED: 7 minutes

SPEED LIMIT: 80km/hour

SURFACE: Tar (R563)

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