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

A pass to a forgotten world

While only four-wheel drive vehicles with good ground clearance will cope with the harsh conditions of the Richtersveld, this dramatic mountainous desert in the north-western part of South Africa is on many adventurers‘ bucket lists. And with good reason – it is absolutely stunning. It also plays host to seven official passes and poorts, ranging in difficulty. Trygve Roberts of Mountain Passes South Africa explores one of the two most challenging passes, Akkedis Pass.

Akkedis Pass is the second of the more serious passes in the /Ai /Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and, 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 the entire pass you are fully immersed in a true mountain desert. It takes a good 40 minutes to drive this 6km-long pass, and there are some sections on the northern ascent where low range should be utilised. The pass – also sometimes referred to as the Penkop Pass – climbs through 169m to the summit at 578m above sea level, producing an average gradient of 1:36. However, several short sections get as steep as 1:5.

From Sendelingsdrif, enter the park through the main gate and drive on this road for 6km via Swartpoort to arrive at a fork (S28.113799 E16.934677). From here, the left-hand option heads to the river at Potjiespram, while the right-hand option takes you on a 5km-long drive to the start of the Halfmens Pass. Drive the Halfmens Pass (5km) to arrive at the second fork, which marks the end of the pass. Ignore the left-hand option (going to an old mining concession) and turn sharp right, heading south and marking the northern starting point of the Akkedis Pass.

From here, the road turns abruptly southwards and follows a dry riverbed, climbing at a gentle gradient of 1:20 for a distance of 4.7km. Along this section, the going is relatively easy. However, there are sections of very soft sand, so make sure you have selected four-wheel drive. The scenery is rugged, remote and wild. Rain falls very seldom in the park, but when it does, flash floods can cause devastating conditions – as such, it is never a good idea to camp on a dry riverbed! Although this first section is marked as part of the pass, it does not in any way qualify to be part of the pass. A small green SANParks sign at a dry riverbed crossing marks the actual start of the pass.

Immediately after this sign, the character of the track takes on a different mood as it becomes steep and peppered with twists and turns. For those interested in statistics – there are 70 bends, corners and curves along the ascent alone. The going is slow due to the roughness of the road surface, so be patient and know that your speed will be between 10 to 20km/hour for most of the ascent. Initially, the road heads east (for the first 400m), then crosses a wider riverbed and swings through a bend of 90 degrees as the track follows the contours of the big mountain on the left. The ascent is relentless, and if your vehicle tends to run hot, keep a sharp eye on the temperature gauge.

At the 1.1km mark, the road drops down briefly to cross the riverbed a second time and immediately starts climbing again. The scenery is breathtaking, and quiver trees (kokerbome) dot the rocky slopes, providing a small pool of shade for hot travellers… And be warned – it gets blisteringly hot in summer, with temperatures regularly soaring above 40°C.

The variety of rocks is astonishing, with granite, sandstone and dolerite all clamouring for a space in the Namaqualand sunshine. The track crosses the riverbed seven times on its way up to the summit, and there is one specific section with an alarming left-hand side slope, often catching inexperienced drivers by surprise.

The summit is reached at the 3.5km point, which makes for a good spot to get out of your vehicle and enjoy the mountainscape ahead, behind and both sides. Once you’ve reached the summit, you have conquered the toughest part of the pass, as the remaining 2.5km is an easy and gentle descent down the next plain, crossing three riverbeds in the process. The pass officially ends at the next fork at the 6km point at an altitude of exactly 500m above sea level.

Other passes in the Richtersveld include Swartpoort, Halfmens Pass, Maerpoort, Richtersberg Pass, Demorogh Pass and Helskloof Pass.

Fact File

GPS START: S28.163623 E17.017407

GPS SUMMIT: S28.181443 E17.035605

GPS END: S28.192900 E17.053463

AVE GRADIENT: 1:36

MAX GRADIENT: 1:5

ELEVATION START: 409m

ELEVATION SUMMIT: 578m

ELEVATION END: 500m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS: 169m

DISTANCE: 6km

DIRECTION – TRAVEL: South-east

TIME REQUIRED: 40 minutes

SPEED LIMIT: None

SURFACE: Gravel

NEAREST TOWN: Sendelingsdrift (30km)

Travel Guide: Park pleasures

The /Ai /Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park has seven campsites, of which three offer chalets. Since the Orange River floods from time to time, the chalets are set well back from the water, which is not ideal when the temperature in the shade is 45°C. But if you camp, you can roll off your mattress into the water. There are no marked-out sites, simply a general area where you can choose where to unroll your sleeping bag. All sites have clean ablutions with cold water, flushing toilets and showers.

Potjiespram is the first campsite after entering the park at Sendelingsdrif and is reached after only 20 minutes of driving along an easy track. There is only camping available. It’s near the river, but thick riverine forest between the campsite and the river makes it difficult to access the water.

The De Hoop campsite is undoubtedly the most popular in the park. You drive a spectacular road to get there, filled with twists and steep mountain vistas, including Swartpoort, Halfmens Pass and the Akkedis Pass. The campsite is situated on the river, with grass patches underneath big acacia trees. The wide riverbed has plenty of open areas, making it easy to set up camp beside the water.

Richtersberg campsite is further east along the river, and it’s also a special spot, right on the water. While there isn’t as much grass and shade as at De Hoop, the river view is more commanding, and there is less wind during the afternoons – a critical factor in summer when sand and dust can ruin a quiet afternoon.

The Tatasberg chalets are perched on boulders above the Orange River, with great views of the water and the mountains. They are accessed via the Richtersberg campsite road and comfortably equipped with two beds, en suite bathrooms and a separate kitchen with a fridge. While each chalet boasts a deck, there is no air-conditioning in the chalets, and the camp is exposed all day to the sun. The river is a 10-minute walk away.

At the park’s headquarters, Sendelingsdrift there are airconditioned chalets and several campsites to choose from. However, this will be the least attractive of the campsites if you are looking for solitude and quiet. There is a constant hustle and bustle of vehicles refuelling and SANParks vehicles to-ing and fro-ing most of the day. It is also the border control point and pontoon crossing point into Namibia, so expect some background activity and noise.

At Kokerboomkloof, there are chalets and campsites. This remote spot is up in the mountains away from the river and is murderously hot in summer, but rather exquisite during the cooler winter months.

The Gannakouriep chalets are deep in the mountains, and visitors must bring their own drinking water. The accommodation is similar to Tatasberg, and a permanent camp manager looks after comfortable and well-equipped chalets.

CONTACT: +27 27 831 1506 (park reception) / +27 12 428 9111 (reservations) | www.sanparks.org/parks/richtersveld

Tips for camping in the Richtersveld

• Never camp in the riverbeds. Apart from possible flash floods, a particularly nasty type of sandlouse comes out at night.

• Be careful of extreme temperature changes – one year (in September), we experienced temperatures exceeding 45°C one weekend, only to be freezing the following weekend.

• During summer, the Richtersberg campsite is lovely as there’s less wind than at other campsites and the views are incredible.

• During winter, Kokerboomkloof is magical as temperatures are cool but not freezing. For geology fans, there are lots of strange granitic structures.

• Paradyskloof in the west of the park is stunning, featuring an always-cool gorge that shelters some unique plants and animals, only found in this area.

• The best view in the park must be from the top of Tatasberg, which at 1 026m is a fairly easy climb. The sunset views are exquisite.

• The weirdest plant in the park is, without a doubt, the elephant’s trunk or halfmens (Pachypodium namaquanum).

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

You might also like

A TRUCK CALLED WANDA

With wanderlust virtually embedded in their DNA and a yearning to travel flowing through their veins, the Browns named their trusty Hilux Wanda. Together they

Read More »

A TRUCK CALLED WANDA

With wanderlust virtually embedded in their DNA and a yearning to travel flowing through their veins, the Browns named their trusty Hilux Wanda. Together they

Read More »