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Tradouw Pass (R324)

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Tradouw Pass from Die Drupkelder Tradouw Pass from Die Drupkelder - Photo: Trygve Roberts

The Tradouw Pass (which means Womens Path in the old Khoi language) is a 16 kilometer drive through an altitude range of 219 meters through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery on offer in the Langeberg. This pass is undoubtedly in the Top 20 tarred passes in the Western Cape on an overall rating.

It joins the towns of Barrydale and Swellendam and was originally built by Thomas Bain. Extensively revamped in recent times, the engineering teams did an outstanding job of preserving the environment and retaining Thomas Bain's character in the design and supporting stonework. This is truly one of those mountain passes that you must drive. This one ticks all the boxes.

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.) This is Part 1 of a 3 part video series. The other two videos are embedded in the appropiate place in the text lower down this page. 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: The southern approach to the pass lies approximately halfway between Swellendam and Heidelberg and is designated as route R324. If you are driving from the Swellendam side, you will find the turn off about 2 kms east of the prison and crossing of the Buffelsjag River. This road will take you through the small mission village of Suurbraak . There is an alternative route from the Heidelberg side a further 30 kms to the east. Our video was filmed from north to south starting at the intersection of the R62 and R324 and ends at the junction of the minor link road between Suurbraak and Heidelberg.

Tradouw passSpectacular scenery on the Tradouw Pass / Photo courtesy of Dimitri MangiagalliThe approach from the north is from the R62 where the T-junction just to the west of Barrydale is located, Turn south at the clearly marked junction.

Barrydale has a rich history dating back to 1840, when John Barry (a member of the powerful Barry family and after whom the nearby town of Barrydale was named) opened up the small harbour of Port Beaufort at the mouth of the Breede River. In 1858 local farmers had petitioned government to build a road to the interior to help them get their goods to the port. By 1867 their efforts were rewarded when parliament approved funds of one thousand Pounds Sterling for the proposed road and the Divisional Council appointed 'wunderkind' Thomas Bain to do the job with the help of 300 convict labourers.

Bain moved into one of the Barry family homes named "Lismore" and proceeded with the project. It was opened in October 1873 by Sir Henry Barkly and named the 'Southey Pass', after a former Colonial Secretary, but the locals preferred the original Tradouw Pass version and so it has remained despite the whims of officialdom.

Tourist signTourism sign halfway up the pass / Note the bullet marks!The road has suffered severe flood damage in it's 130 plus years of existence with several rebuilds being required. In 1979 a major rebuild took place which was not only a huge engineering success, but also an environmental one. Much of Bain's original stonework has been preserved and near the bottom of the pass at the modern, curved Andries Uys (1966) bridge over the Gats River, you will still find Thomas Bain's original timber 12 meter span bridge more or less intact.

The Tradouw Pass is considered by many padmakers (road builders) as Bain's best pass in terms of technical ingenuity. The pass is kept immaculately clean and several well positioned lay-byes have been constructed providing spectacular views down into the gorge of the Tradouw River with its onyx coloured rock pools and waterfalls. This is one of the top 20 tarred passes of the Western Cape.

Once you have turned onto the R324 the road crosses a small river and about 1 km further there are some farm sheds on the left with a gravel road leading to the left. This is the northern starting point of the pass at an altitude of 348m ASL. Ahead the Langeberg mountains completely dominate the view and from this perspective it doesn't seem possible that there is a passage through the jumble of rugged mountains.

Near the northern end of Tradouw PassNear the northern end of the Tradouw Pass / Photo: WildThingThe road initially curves gently to the right and aligns itself on the eastern bank of the river which is unseen from the road. The gradient is fairly level along this section for the first 1,3 km, where the first of many bends, curves and corners commence adjacent to the farm 'Bronze Grove'.

The first bend is a right hand S-bend, but the angles are quite easy as the road mimics the course of the river. There are glimpses of the Tradouw River about 40m below the level of the road and Bain's old road can still be seen close to the river bank. Once through the first big S-bend, the road straightens out directly into the south. This straight section last until the 3,8 km mark, then enters a big right hand curve of 170 degrees as the road follows a U bend around a spur of the mountain. The radius of this bend is fairly gentle and is quite safe.

Towards the end of this bend now heading NNW, a tighter similarly shaped bend to the left had to be negotiated. The radius of this bend is twice as sharp as the previous one, so adjust your speed accordingly. With the heading now back into the south, the road almost immediately enters another S-bend - first to the left, then to the right. Both of these bends are around 90 degrees but the arcs are fairly easy.

For most of this first section of the pass, the descent gradient is very gentle at around 1:30. At the 6,1 km mark, there is a very sharp left hand bend of 160 degrees. It is clearly signposted, so drop your speed right down for this one. The rock faces loom vertically on the left hand side of the road and tower above the road, with distant peaks vivible high above on the skyline. This section of the pass is spectacularly beautiful. Keep a look out for the old toll house on the left.



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]


Thomas Bain's old road cans till be seenThomas Bain's old road can still be seen next to the river / Photo: Deon van der WesthuizenAfter the sharp left handed bend, the road curves through a wide right hand bend from the east back into the south, with sporadic views of the river tumbling over huge rocks in a multitude of rock pools and small waterfalls. There are many view-sites and picnic spots available on both sides of the road. Most of the better view sites are on the western side of the road, which makes them safe to access for north-bound traffic. Conversely most of the best picnic spots with good shade are on the eastern side and perfect to access for south-bound travellers.

At the 7,3 km point after a long, straight section, an easy right hand bend of 80 degrees takes the heading into the west until the 7,8 km point, where another very sharp left hand bend needs to be negotiated. The radius is tight and the angle curves through 90 degrees. This is followed by another straight section into the south for 500m, followed by a gentle curve to the left.

Middel views on the Tradouw PassViews towards the middle of the pass / Photo: Danie van der MerweImmediately after this bend there is a gravel road that leads off to the left and marked as a picnic site. This loop and another similar loop almost immediately after it, are the remains of the more convoluted routing of the old Bain road. The padmakers have celeverly retained these and converted them into perfect picnic spots which offer good shade and great scenery in an historical setting.

The road changes heading slightly into the south-west and an easy section with impressive views follows until the 8,9 km mark. There are several curves along this section, but they are all of a minor nature. Next follows a short climb up to the summit point. The  next dangerous bend is at the 9,5 km point and its a 120 degree left hander. On it's apex is a small area to park and enjoy the views, but this is extremely dangerous to access for south-bound vehicles, as this corner is completely blind and has double barrier lines, which also makes it illegal.

Looking south from the main view siteLooking south from the main view site / Photo: Across5ContinentsThe summit of 353m ASL is reached at the 9,8 km point but there is no particular landmark to make you aware that you are at the highest point on the pass. There are two viewsites on the right hand side of the road offering good views of the river gorge with its many rockpools and waterfalls.

At the 10,4 km point, the road enters a complex m-curve starting with a left hand bend. The last (4th) corner of this particular set is a very tight right hand bend of 100 degrees. Judging by all the tyre marks on this bend, it catches many drivers by surprise.

The road straightens out back into the south and descends for 300m at a gradient of 1:10 to the next corner which is a tight right hander. The main view-site appears dead ahead on the apex of a very sharp left hand bend. Whilst the view-site is large and can accommodate many vehicles, it is extremely dangerous to access the site for south-bound traffic. Proceed just around the left hand bend, where you will find paved parking under an old willow tree at a sign marked as "Die Drupkelder". Park here and walk over the road to access the man view site.

Die Drupkelder on Tradouw PassThe cave and wllow tree at Die Drupkelder / Photo: Trygve RobertsThere is a good reason that the engineers created this view-site, as it's located at the tip of a spur which juts out over the river gorge and provides exceptionally good views in every direction. A bullet ridden signboard tells the story of the pass and a brief snippet of some of the history.

Before getting back in your vehicle, have a look at the aptly named 'Die Drupkelder" (The Dripping Cellar) where water drips constantly down the rock face over a partial cave overhang, where thick mosses grow and the steady feed of water provides sustenance to the old willow tree.



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]


The pass changes character from this point, with the steep and dramatic rock faces giving way to heather clad green hills. The road continues descending into the south at a steady gradient of 1:11 and at the 11,8 km mark, it makes a big change in direction into the ENE via a 110 degree left hand curve. The radius of this curve is quite comfortable and there is time to enjoy the scenery.

Bain's original bridge on the Tradouw PassThomas Bain's original timber bridge / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe road now heads into the east for 1km via a shallow S-bend as it uses a side ravine in the mountainside to lose altitude, where a curved bridge with a tight turning arc spans the little gorge, which becomes a raging torrent in the rainy season. This is Gatsrivier which cascades down the Gatboskloof, which is part of the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.

There is some parking on the right hand side of the road and again it's quite dangerous (and illegal) crossing to the parking area across the face of oncoming traffic coupled with a blind corner. There are other, safer places to stop around the corner.

This modern, curved bridge is named the Andries Uys bridge and has a construction date of 1966 embedded into the concrete. It forms a considerable hairpin bend. Walk onto the apex of the bridge and look up the gorge and about 40m away you will see the remnants of a very old wooden bridge. This was the original bridge built by Thomas Bain and was apparently contructed from stinkwood. It's quite a difficult subject to photograph as the light is almost always from the wrong direction.

Once around this bridge initiated hairpin, the road heads into the south west and the gradient eases off to around 1:16. The road sticks to the eastern side of the gorge carved out by the Gats river you have just crossed and at this point it feels like the pass is almost over, but there is still more to come.

The next kilometre features some very steep and almost vertical cuttings on the left, with beautifully built dressed stone supporting walls on the low side.

The last section of the pass features some beautiful stone supporting walls as the road follows a set of gentle S-bends, then curves to the left and settles back into a southerly heading, following the course of the Tradouw river. The confluence of the two rivers can be seen at the 14,2 km point.

The last leg of 1,8 km is easy and without any meaningful bends as the gradients ease off to 1:20 as the road descends gradually to cross another tributary, the Kruisrivier, at the 16,7 km point, where the pass ends. Continue up a short climb for 200m where there is a T-junction. Turn right onto the tarred R324 to go to Suurbraak and Swellendam or turn left onto the R322 (which becomes gravel) to go to Heidelberg via Moodies Pass.

The Tradouw Pass is considered by many to be amongst Thomas Bain's greatest works, exhibiting his many skills as one of South Africa's finest road engineers. If you have never driven this beautiful pass, make a plan, whilst you still can!


Fact File:

GPS START

S33.911480 E20.709974

GPS MIDDLE SUMMIT

S33.975219 E20.701353

GPS END

S34.005348 E20.707051

AVE GRADIENT

1:76

MAX GRADIENT

1:11

ELEVATION START

357m

ELEVATION  SUMMIT

357m

ELEVATION END

138m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

219m

DISTANCE

16,7km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

South

TIME REQUIRED

15 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

40 - 60 kph

SURFACE

Tar (R324)

DATE FILMED

26.08.2016

TEMPERATURE

22C

NEAREST TOWN

Barrydale (10 km)


Route Map:

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From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: Tradouw Pass - (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google Earth and most GPS software systems)

 

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