02 Nov Die Hel or Elands Pass– One of South Africa’s MUST DO passes
This road is in the Gamkaskloof that means the Ravine of the lion in the old Khoi language. Ask any 4×4 or dual sport motorcyclist where the Elands Pass is and they will most probably look at you to say, WHATTTT? However you ask them about Die Hel, and they all know what you talking about. This has to be one of the most iconic gravel roads in South Africa, holding almost pilgrimage status to gravel-road devotees. It winds through 37km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass, and terminates in the very hot, low-altitude Gamkaskloof – reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).
Although only 37km, don’t let this fool you. This pass can be extremely daunting, especially on a very hot day when temperatures could go up to 45 Degrees Celsius (113 fahrenheit). It has steep droppings, narrow road, sharp turns and can be just plain dangerous.
Even the drive to the start of this pass is spectacular – along the fabulously awe-inspiring Swartberg Pass. The turnoff to the Gamkaskloof is clearly marked about 7km from the summit, on the northern side of the Swartberg Pass. Close to the start is a little monument, dated 1962, which states the road is officially called ‘Otto du Plessis Road’ though it’s almost never referred to by this name. Note that the sign indicates a 2-hour drive — and that is just to get there!
Some signs indicate a distance of 37 kms – other show greater distances. The reason for this is that the the 37 kms is marked at the foot of the Elands pass. It is still another 12 km from there to the Gamka River. Unless you’ve booked accommodation at ‘Die Hel’ or at one of the guest farms in the valley, you will need to allow 4 hours for the there-and-back trip, as well as more time to get back down the Swartberg Pass to one of the towns nearby, like Prince Albert or De Rust. It is highly recommended to rather overnight at Die Hel and take in the tranquility and beauty of this rather misnamed spot.
If time allows and I have skilled riders, I will often include this route into the Swartberg experience. But then I need riders that is willing to get up early and ride long and hard. The pass is mostly only single-laned with only a few, very precarious spots for oncoming vehicles to pass by. Vehicles ascending have right of way, while those descending have a good view from above and should have ample time to find a space to pull over. The best spots are on the hairpin bends where the road is at it’s widest. Proceed with the utmost caution. The drop-offs are extremely steep with no barriers at all. You’ll arrive at your destination dosed high on good old-fashioned adrenaline!
Don’t hurry along the Elands Pass. Take it very, very slowly. There is a game ranger at Die Hel should you need assistance. Once you have successfully negotiated the Elands Pass you will have driven, in my opinion, one of the top three most spectacular mountain passes in South Africa!
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 number of hours it takes to get there. Motorcyclists should note that this is a very tiring trip.
This spot is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and run smartly by Cape Nature Conservation, offering camping and authentically restored atmospheric cottages. There is private accommodation on offer as well, which brings us to the farm Mooifontein, owned by Annetjie Joubert (neé Mostert). She is the only remaining “born and bred” inhabitant that has retained property in Gamkaskloof. She came back permanently in 1998 and skillfully converted the original farmstead into comfortable guesthouses, has a caravan park, camping sites and the only kiosk and licensed restaurant in Gamkaskloof. The farm is today referred to as Fonteinplaas . This is a must do for any dual sport motorcyclist, especially if you live in South Africa.