Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

“Die Hel” The final descent: Part 4

In this, our fourth instalment on the famous Gamkaskloof, Trygve Roberts from Mountain Passes South Africa completes the descent into “Die Hel”.

The Elands Pass is the final descent into the long, low altitude valley called Gamkaskloof, more commonly known as “Die Hel”. This pass descends 477 m over a distance of 4.7 km, producing a very stiff average gradient of just under 1:10.

This pass, although relatively short, ranks up there with the biggest and best passes in South Africa. It is without a doubt a bucket list pass that every adventurous traveller should do. You will have to deal with five very tight hairpin bends and 49 other bends, corners and curves of varying degrees, but it is the very steep, unguarded drop-offs that tend to be unnerving for many drivers and passengers. The design of the pass is actually outstanding, because at no point does the gradient exceed 1:7.

As altitude is lost, one gets the first glimpses of Die Hel as a tiny wisp of greenery very far below in the valley. Via multiple switchbacks, the road can be seen dropping down to the miniature-looking buildings in the valley – a breathtaking sight!

Should you encounter a vehicle ascending the narrow pass, one of you will have to reverse back to a suitable place. It is etiquette to allow the ascending vehicle right of way, but this is not always practical. If you are the vehicle that is reversing, be extremely careful and take your time, as one small mistake here could end in disaster. At the first viewpoint, you will be able to see most of the pass, and any vehicle climbing up towards you will easily be spotted. It takes about 15 minutes to drive the pass, so it might be prudent to sit tight at a wide section and wait for the ascending vehicle to pass you safely.

“Helse” beauty

Your views are now on the left-hand side, allowing your passengers to see Die Hel in all its grandeur. With the heading now into the north and the roadway that you have just descended directly above you, the road follows the contours of the mountainside. You will pass a section where wired cages of packed rock (called gabions) are stacked on the right-hand side, designed to help prevent landslides over the roadway. The scree slope can be seen all the way up the next level of the road and has caused problems in the past. Three tall chevron boards mark a narrow concreted drift over the stream on the drop-side. The dip and exit after this little bridge are steep, and you will have a brief period where you will not be able to see the road.

Take care, drive slowly and keep your steering straight ahead. The chevron boards will still be visible and are placed there so that you have a visual fix of where the left-hand side of the road is. There are hundreds of tall aloes on both sides of the road, and in the right light (especially early in the morning) they make for some incredible photo opportunities. This part of the Elands Pass descends for most of its length down a long ridge which is formed by two kloofs. The more easterly kloof is formed by the stream that you crossed earlier, while the more westerly kloof is known as Lemoenkloof.

A sign-board is passed at the 4.4 km point, as the road loses the last bit of altitude via an easy S-bend. The road plunges into thicker bush, and suddenly – after clearing a slight dip – the stone entrance gates of the Die Hel rest camp appear directly ahead. A small dun-coloured traditional farmhouse located right next to the road is one of several cottages in the kloof that have been carefully restored. Nearly all the cottages run on solar power and gas, and have cosy fireplaces for those chilly winter nights.

The game ranger’s house is off to the left, should you require assistance with anything. It is, however, important to book accommodation and campsites in advance through Cape Nature. The campsites are attractively laid out in the riverine bush and provide good shade and spotless ablutions. After the recent devastating fires that swept through the Kloof, some of the cottages and campsites have been destroyed and are in the process of being rebuilt.

It is highly recommended to overnight at Die Hel and rest in the tranquillity and heavenly beauty of this inaptly named spot. Most people badly underestimate the time it takes to get there – it certainly is not only a day excursion. Motorcyclists, particularly, should note that this is a very tiring trip.

Fact file:

GPS START S33.339753 E22.038251

GPS SUMMIT S33.344532 E21.990721

GPS END S33.352865 E21.743457

AVE GRADIENT 1:42

MAX GRADIENT 1:5

ELEVATION START 1 374 m

ELEVATION SUMMIT 1 442 m

ELEVATION END 570 m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS 872 m

DISTANCE 37 km

DIRECTION – TRAVEL West

TIME REQUIRED 120 minutes

SPEED LIMIT 40 km/h

SURFACE Gravel (P1722)

About Swartberg Nature Reserve

Gamkaskloof is located in the Swartberg Nature Reserve, a 121 000 ha reserve open to the public and situated between the Great Karoo and Klein Karoo. It was declared a World Heritage site in 2014 and is bordered by the Gamkapoort Nature Reserve immediately to the north (8 000 ha) and the Towerkop Nature Reserve immediately to the west (51 000 ha). Although these two areas are not open to the public, the combined 180 000 ha conservation area is critical to managing mountain catchments and water yields in the region.

Some activities open to visitors include:

Angling: Visitors to Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) can enjoy angling at the Gamka River with permits for angling in the Western Cape (freshwater and dams), available at the reserve office and valid for one year. Species include Yellowfish, which provide many passionate fishermen with their favourite fly-fishing. There are also Black Bass, Mogga and Eel for those who prefer stationary fishing.

Bird watching: With the presence of a combination of birds associated with eastern and western habitats, both Cape and Pririt Batises and Karoo and Olive Thrushes are found in the Swartberg Nature Reserve. Avid birders can look forward to ticking off over 180 species, including the Green-backed Camaroptera, Sombre Greenbul and Southern Tchagra.

Hiking and walking: A variety of walking and hiking trails, varying in intensity, are available in the reserve. These include the Ou Tol (currently closed for maintenance), Platberg and De Hoek trails. The best time for hiking is April to May and September to October each year because of the milder weather. Permits – available through Cape Nature Central Reservations or at the reserve office – are required (R50 per adult and R30 per child).

Mountain biking: Permission is needed for mountain biking in the Swartberg Nature Reserve. It is prohibited during certain times of the year.

Picnicking: Picnicking is permitted at Meiringspoort and Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), where fantastic scenic views are on offer.

CONTACT: +27 87 087 8250 | reservation.alert@capenature.co.za | www.capenature.co.za

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