Swartberg Pass to The Hell, aka Gamkaskloof – 2 days (adventure bikes)

Gamkaskloof and The Hell should be on every adventure biker’s bucket list. The scenery is spectacular, the route is challenging (but not hell on earth) and you truly get the feeling that you have left the world behind. Johann van Tonder took a fortunate group of fellow bikers on a trip they won’t forget soon.

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1. Total distance of route and date of ride?
126 km. Early in January 2015

2. How long did it take to complete?
Part of a day ride, travelling leisurely. We spent about six hours on this section.

3. Why do you recommend this route?
Gamkaskloof, also known as “The Hell”, is where a small, proud community lived in isolation for more than 100 years. Petrus Swanepoel was the first to farm here and the valley supported the hard-working community until 1962, when a road was carved into the valley. A gradual exodus occurred and the last farmer to leave was Piet Swanepoel, in 1991.

This is regarded as one of the top-ten dual-sport rides in South Africa, a route that should be on every biker’s bucket list. If you are riding around the Southern Cape, it’s easy to include this route. It’s remote and runs through pristine mountains and countryside.

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The road to Hell

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View from the summit of Swartberg pass, looking north

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The pass descending into Gamkaskloof.

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4. Please give an overview of the route.
The route runs from the one end of Swartberg Pass on the Oudtshoorn side (S33 23.515 E22 06.549) to the northern end (S33 15.678 E22 02.874) near Prins Albert, including the section travelling to Gamkaskloof (S33 21.510 E21 41.376) and back from the turnoff at S33 20.370 E22 02.302.

Here’s a suggested and very simple route from Calitzdorp to Gamkaskloof (one way):

You can open it in Google maps here.

5. What kind of motorcycle is the route suitable for?
Adventure or dual-purpose bikes.

6. Please name points of interest along the way.
Apart from the kiosk in Gamkaskloof, there are no stores or petrol pumps on this section.

7. Are there petrol stations along the way?
The closest fuel or bike shops will be in Oudtshoorn or Prins Albert. There is no fuel available en route. Most bikes should be able to complete this section between the towns on one tank.

8. Are there any dangers along the route?
Establish what the road conditions are beforehand. Phone the kiosk in Gamkaskloof on 023 541 1107. The road is maintained, but sometimes it takes a while to repair after damage, because it is so remote. When the road is in a good condition it requires intermediate riding skills, with the only worry being the water crossings after rains. Usually most water crossings are dry bar one, and that is usually quite shallow (<10cm with loose rocks at the bottom). After heavy rain the difficulty rating goes up considerably, depending on the damage (mud and several water crossings possible). In the summer holidays the road can become heavily corrugated. Watch out for 4×4 vehicles driving in the middle of the road when going around corners.

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The kiosk in Gamkaskloof.

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Small water crossing during dry conditions.

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Additional water crossings after medium rains.

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Serious water after heavy rains

9. What did the trip cost?
Minimal cost. Fuel only.

10. Did you use any special gear?
Camelbak with water – no rider should be without it. Especially in remote areas.

 11. Any must-do activities on the route?
Spend a night or two in Gamkaskloof. Accommodation available ranges from camping to renting a historic house. Boplaas is the last property at the end of the kloof and the only way to see the whole kloof. For accommodation visit diehel.co.za. The kiosk is situated on the farm of Annetjie Joubert, the only remaining, born-and-bred Gamkaskloofer. They also have accommodation available, also at diehel.com. Lastly, Cape Nature owns portions of Gamkaskloof. They have restored the historic houses and offer accommodation. Visit capenature.co.za/reserves/swartberg-nature-reserve.

12. Do you have any other comments or advice about the route?
Swartberg Pass is Thomas Bain’s final engineering masterpiece. The 27 km-long Swartberg Pass is considered one of the most spectacular mountain passes in the world: an untarred road winds to the summit 1 583 metres above sea level in steep zig-zags and sudden switchbacks, with breathtaking views at every turn. Be sure to do both sections either side of the turn-off to Gamkaskloof, even if you travel from Oudtshoorn and back. The southern section is awe-inspiring, but the northern section, on the Prins Albert side, is absolutely breathtaking.

There is only one road into Gamkaskloof, so the route in and out are the same. If done in a day, you will ride the same road twice and most likely during the hottest time of the day on the return leg. I strongly recommend that you stay over in Gamkaskloof.

The pass into The Hell is a steep descent with tight turns and switchbacks. Within 3.3 km the altitude drops by 260 m. Use caution.

13. Are there any doctors or hospitals in the area?
The nearest doctor will be in Prins Albert (approximately 60 km). The closest hospital will be in Oudtshoorn (approximately 100 km) or major hospital in George (approximately 155 km). All distances calculated from the Kiosk in Gamkaskloof.

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View from the summit of Swartberg pass looking South 

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Route and photos by Johann “Trail Rider” van Tonder

 

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