Hel se Pad Pass (P2290)

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One of the rugged and steep kloofs on the pass One of the rugged and steep kloofs on the pass - Photo: Trygve Roberts

This old pass which dates back to 1880 is exceptionally well designed with fairly easy gradients. It has been realigned and changed over the last 120 years and has the stamp of Mr. T.W.Bain on the first map plot. At 6,6 km it's not that long, but due to the slow speeds necessary, it takes a fair bit of time to complete the pass. Part of the allure of driving this pass, is the not inconsiderable challenge of navigating your way back to any main road from the foot of the pass. The pass displays a substantial altitude variance of 480m and produces a  stiff average gradient of 1:14

Whilst a 4x4 is not necessary to drive the pass, we strongly suggest a vehicle with good ground clearance, otherwise your vehicle will be likely to sustain some damage. Due to the complexity of finding a way out through the plains at the bottom of the pass, we suggest that this pass only be driven in the descending mode.

If you're a gravel pass fan, then put this one on your bucket list. It's for the purist.

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

FULL-SCREEN MODE: Click PLAY, then pass your mouse over the bottom right corner of the video screen. The outline of a square will appear. Clicking on it will toggle Full Screen Mode. Press ESC to return to the original format.

Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.


Digging into the details:

Getting there: From the R27 tarred road between Vanrhynsdorp and Calvinia, turn north at the Nieuwoudtsville intersection, onto the tar road to Loeriesfontein at GPS S31.369881 E19.108291. Drive north for 1,6 km and take the gravel road left at GPS S31.356049 E19.102591. Drive north for 12 km to arrive at a fork at GPS S31.261576 E19.057300. Keep LEFT at the fork. Drive for 2,4 km to arrive a second fork at GPS S31.240985 E19.047647 and take the right hand option. Continue driving north for another 11 km until you arrive a closed farm gate and chained cattle grid, marked "Perdekraal - J.P.Kotze". Turn sharp left just before the gate, which is the summit starting point of the pass. We do not recommend approaching the pass from the opposite direction, as it is very easy to get lost. Also the views are superior in the descending mode. We will explain the exit route in detail lower down.

Start and summit of Hel se Pad passTurn sharp left at this gate which is the eastern starting point of the pass / Photo: Trygve Roberts

From the start at the closed farm gate and cattle grid at the Perdekraal farm, the road bends very sharply to the left through 90 degrees. If you have not yet deflated your tyres, do so now. Take them down to between 1,2 and 1,4 bar. If your vehicle is equipped with low range, engage it at this point, as it will give you good braking control and allow for more precise driving. 4WD is not really necessary for this pass in fair weather, but good ground clearance is important.

The road is fairly level for the first 50m and it soon becomes apparent that there is a huge drop-off right in front of you. The road condition deteriorates quickly and your speed will be between 10 and 20 kph. The road remains to the left of the farm fence and after 170m there is a second sharp left hand bend, which changes the heading briefly into the south-east. Here the road levels right off and this is an excellent spot to switch your vehicle off and take in the sweeping views of the mountains dropping down to the massive dun coloured plain known as the Knersvlakte. Mostly there is little or no wind here and the silence is exquisite, except perhaps for the whirring of a small birds wings or the chirp of an insect. This view alone, is worth the effort of driving here.

180 degree view over the KnersvlakteIncredible views over the Knersvlakte / Photo: Trygve Roberts


Next up is a fairly sharp right hand bend, and the careful observer will note the stone supporting walls along this next section, strongly reminiscent of Thomas Bain's work. The gradients throughout this pass are very well thought out and seldom exceed 1:14, except on the sharper corners near the middel section. The direction gradually changes into the south-west and the track can be seen a long way ahead of you, as it heads in a straight line down a ridge of the mountain.

Thomas Bain map dating back to 1880An old map showing the early route - signed by Thomas Bain / Archives, Nigel Armschwand











The above map was sent to us as 5 separate photos, which we had to 'stitch' together to form one photo. In that process some of the writing was erased and the angle distorted. It reads: "PROPOSED ROAD OVER THE ONDER BOKKEVELD MOUNTAIN AT THE OUDE VOET PAD" It is signed as having been surveyed by T.W.Bain on the 18th April, 1880.

This long, straight section lasts for 700m and allows excellent views ahead and especially to the right. At the 1,2 km mark there is an easy bend to the left, as the track avoids a sharp rocky outcrop. This signals what is probably the trickiest part of the pass, as the road begins a series of very sharp and steep turns. The first is an S-bend, which leads straight into a horseshoe bend of 180 degrees. The road is quite rough along this section, so take care where you place the wheels of your vehicle and choose your driving lines carefully, making sure you avoid the many sharp rocks on the sides of the road.

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

Map showing old and new routesThe red line shows the existing pass and the green line shows the original route / Trygve Roberts

Straight after the horseshoe bend, the road drops over a small stream (mostly dry) and then commences a very wide left hand curve of just under 1 km as a buttress is skirted. This leads into a deep, rough and rocky ravine at the 3.9 km mark. When it does sometimes rain here, a series of waterfalls drop rapidly down this little gorge and this is one of the most likely places that the road will suffer damage. Some under-road drainage is in existence, but more often than not, the water will flow right over the roadway. It's quite a dramatic spot and those with a keen eye for photography will find this gorge appealing. It is featured at the start of our Part 2 video as well as the first photograph on this page.

Soon another small river bed is crossed, which has a vertical drop off on the right. The descent remains at a steady gradient as the heading once again, resumes its south-westerly direction. Soon a fork appears ahead. Ignore the left hand option which leads to a stone walled kraal. Keep right and continue descending. There's still a long way to go before you reach the plain below, so keep your concentration levels up.

Long and steep gradientsThe gradients are generally around 1:12. use engine compression instead of brakes / Photo: Trygve Roberts

From this point, the steep drop-offs are left behind and the gradient becomes easier as westing is made.The track runs along a spine of a ridge with a small river on the left. The bends become fewer and soon a complex (unmarked) intersection is reached with no less than five roads to choose from. Some of these options are very tempting, not to mention misleading.

Avoid the first two which both are dead-ends. Take the third road from the left. This spot is one of the likely places that many people get lost. The road continues descending very gently and crosses the river bed within 1 km after the intersection. To the newcomer it looks as if the road ends here, but if you cross through the thorn trees, you will be able to pick up the track on the far side without too much difficulty. This especially true after water has flowed down the river, which obliterates vehicle tracks. Now comes the tough part - finding your way back to a main road. During your drive out over the Knersvlakte, keep a look out for antelope and especially springbuck. On the day of filming we saw the standard coloured ones, but the rare white (albino) and black springbok as well - all in the space of a few kilometres.

Exit Route: (Print this and take it with you). From the end of the pass at the river crossing (usually dry) at GPS S31.186175 E18.980121 follow the vague two spoor track and make sure you mark each of these GPS coordinates on your GPS before departure. There are a maze of tracks along these plains and getting lost is a simple matter.

Lots of sharp corners and switchbacksThe switchback section is quite steep and rough / Photo: Trygve Roberts

1. From the end coordinates of the pass, drive over the dry river bed, through some scraggly thorn bushes and pick up the track on the far bank.

2. Drive WSW for 2,6 km and turn left at GPS S31.190808 E18.951321 remaining to the left of all the fences

3. Drive for 2 km remaining on the northern side (right) of another small riverbed and check your next waypoint at GPS S31.194140 E18.929544 (altitude 256m), making sure you are still on track.

4. Now drive for 1,8 km dead straight into the west along the left hand side of a fence until you arrive at a very sharp left turn of 90 degrees at GPS S31.192402 E18.909972 adjacent to a cultivated field with a gate and fence on your right.

5. This road heads arrow straight into the south-west for 2,8 km, past a small farmstead, after which it later intersects with a bigger gravel road. (Look for the telephone poles as your indicator of being on the correct road). Turn sharp right here (140 degree turn) and drive due north for 2,3 km where the road overpasses the Saldanha-Sishen railway line.

6. Immediately after the crossing the railway line you have three options. Left and right will take you onto the service road for the railway line and straight on (through an unlocked farm gate) takes you along a maze of farm roads where it's even more easy to get lost. We do not recommend you drive the middle road as it is serious 4x4 stuff along some sections, plus there are many unmarked intersections.

Knersvlakte succulentsMagnificent world of succulents on the Knersvlakte / Photo: Panoramio

There are notices advising that the railway service road is a private road and that a permit is required. A left turn (SW) following the railway for 37 km will get you to the N7. A right turn (NE) and a 42 km drive will connect you with the R355 to Loeriesfontein. We leave the issue of permits up to the individual driver.

CAUTIONARY: The distances are big and the terrain is rough and desolate with very low traffic volumes. Your navigation needs to be spot-on. Make sure you have plenty of fuel and appropriate equipment to repair punctures and deal with roadside emergencies. There is hardly any mobile phone signal in these parts. It is advisable to carry a satphone with you.

If you find the exit route navigation too tricky, rather turn around at the bottom and retrace your route back to Nieuwoudtville. For those without Tracks4Africa and a good GPS, we strongly recommend doubling back the way you came.

Fact File:

GPS START  S31.150867 E19.004622
GPS SUMMIT S31.150867 E19.004622
GPS END  S31.185931 E18.979706
DISTANCE 6,6 km 
TIME REQUIRED 20 minutes
SPEED LIMIT None - Self limiting
SURFACE Gravel (P2290)
DATE FILMED 27.04.2017
NEAREST TOWN Nieuwoudtville (29 km)

Route Map:

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From Address:

Route files:

||Click to download: Hel se Pad Pass (Note - this is a .kmz file, which can be opened in Google earth and  most GPS models)


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