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Gysmanshoek Pass (P6402)

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Proteas and fynbos Proteas and fynbos - Photo: ShowMe

The Gysmanshoek Pass follows an historical ox wagon route dating back to the mid 1700's. This is an old gravel pass through a natural cleft in the Langeberg Mountains between Heidelberg in the south and the Little Karoo/ Ladismith area in the north. It is driveable in a normal car in good weather, but if it's been raining, a 4x4 will be a better option.

Depending on the weather, things can get tricky on this pass. Not too many people have travelled this delightfully scenic and off the beaten track pass. It was originally named Hudson's Pass after the local magistrate. Take your time over this pass and stop frequently to enjoy the proteas, ericas and other flowering fynbos species. See if you can find the ruins of the old English fort which dates back to the Anglo Boer war.

The pass is 11,6 km long and contains 51 bends, corners and curves. The average gradient is a mild 1:36 but there are two very steep sections close to the summit,where the gradient gets as steep as 1:5 and FWD cars might well experience traction issues here (especially if driving from south to north) - even in dry weather.

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.) We apologise for the bumpy video footage as the road itself was in a poor state over much of the distance. Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

[Video cover photo: 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: These directions are comprehensive and we recommend printing them out to ensure you don't get lost as many of the intersections are unmarked and along basic farm roads.

To approach from the north (the direction we filmed it), you have three options. (Note that in 2018 a "Road Closed" sign was in place at the northern end. The sign is old, so you can ignore it.

Option 1. From Barrydale on the R62, head east for 17 km towards Ladismith and turn right onto a gravel road at GPS S33.842940 E20.866077. Now drive east for 21 km and turn right at GPS S33.891227 E21.059950. Drive south-west for 1,7 km to arrive at the northern start of the pass as the crossing of a small river and concrete bridge.

Sign on the passSign on the pass on the northen side / Photo: Trailrider ReportsOption 2. Head west from Ladismith on the R62 for 17.5 km and turn left (south) onto the R323 (tar) at GPS S33.589038 E21.182887. Now head south for 43,5 km and turn right (west) onto a gravel road at GPS S33.894475 E21.214945. Now drive west for 18 km and turn left (south) at GPS S33.891227 E21.059950. Drive south-west for 1,7 km to arrive at the northern start of the pass as the crossing of a small river and concrete bridge.

Option 3. Head west from Ladismith on the R62 for 17.5 km and turn left (south) onto the R323 (tar) at GPS S33.589038 E21.182887. Now head south for 29 km and turn right (west) onto a gravel road signposted as Miertjieskraal at GPS S33.817503 E21.143514. Follow this road for 15 km first into the west and later into the south as it winds its way through a few farms and down the Brandrivier valley. This is a slow drive with about 8 farm gates to open and close, but for those with time on their hands, it is easily the best approach road to Gysmanshoek. The road forms an intersection with the Barrydale road at GPS S33.891785 E21.064031. Turn right and drive west for 300m and turn left (south) at GPS S33.891227 E21.059950. Drive south-west for 1,7 km to arrive at the northern start of the pass as the crossing of a small river and concrete bridge.

Proteas for Africa on the Gysmanshoek PassProteas for Africa on the Gysmanshoek Pass / Photo: Nightjar TravelTo approach from the south, the most scenic approach to the pass is also the longest and slowest. Use this option if you have lots of time. From Swellendam on the N2 drive east towards Buffelsjagsrivier. Continue past Buffelsjagsrivier for 1,5 km and take the first turn to the left onto the tarred R324 signposted as Barrydale/Tradouw Pass. GPS S34.0414500 E20.562683.

Now drive for 10,5 km to the small settlement of Suurbraak. Continue for 6 km until you reach the intersection that leads to the Tradouw Pass. Ignore this left hand option and continue straight on for another 10 km (the tar gives way to gravel after a few km) where you will reach the summit of Moodies Pass, where there is a fork at GPS S34.026689 E20.813364. Keep left and drive 1,5 km to a T-junction at GPS S34.022580 E20.828133. Turn left and drive for another 1,5 km where you will reach a Y-junction at GPS S34.015201 E20.835235. Keep right and descend the Boosmansbos Pass, followed by the Doringkraal, Seekoeigat and Wadrift passes. Use the hyperlinks provided to research exact details of each of these passes along the route. There are several intersections which are vital not to miss, so it's very important to review all the passes and make notes of all the turn-offs. From the summit of the Boosmansbos Pass to the start of the Gysmanshoek Pass is a distance of 30 km.

A small waterfallA hard to find little waterfall along the pass / Photo by Andrzej PacynskiThe other approach from the south is much quicker and simpler. From Heidelberg, drive east along Van Riebeeck Street and just after crossing the Duiwenhoksrivier, take the first turn left. This is a tarred road, which becomes gravel later. Head north for 7 km till you arrive at a fork at GPS S34.032989 E20.957071. Keep right at the fork and drive for 15 km to arrive at the southern start of Gysmanshoek Pass.

A third option for a southern approach is to drive along the gravel road west out of Riversdale where you will be approaching Gysmanshoek from the east. From Riversdale drive on the tarred R323 north-west for 3,2 km. Take the gravel road to the left at GPS S34.068246 E21.240291. Drive north-west for 25 km to arrive at the southern start of Gysmanshoek Pass.

Pass Description: (North to South). From the northern start after crossing the low level bridge the road bends to the left and bisects a set of farm buildings, some of which have been abandoned. The gradients here are very easy at 1:50 as the road heads into the south-west. Just after the first buildings, there is a fork, where you must keep left.

Here the road swings into the SSE and gently ascends the foothills of the Langeberge. Most of this first section which lasts for just under 3 km traverses agricultural fields and there is the possibility of coming across loivestock like cattle, sheep and goats. All of the buildings along this road are on the grounds of the Kortefontein farm.

At the 1 km mark the road dips through a short, sharp S-bend as it clears a side ravine, then resumes its previous heading. At the 2 km mark there is another similar short S-bend which clears a second side ravine, but this one is not as tight as the first one.

Immediately after clearing the second S-bend, the gradient picks up to 1:14 and a prominent fork appears ahead at the 2,5 km point. Make sure that you keep right here as the left hand fork ends in a cul de sac at a farm. Just 200m later there is another fork - keep left and continue with the ascent.

Visit the old English fortVisit the old English fort / Photo: Overland Forum


From this point the cultivated fields give way to fynbos and proteas (waboom) start making an appearance. The condition of the road can vary greatly depending on recent weather patterns and lack of maintenance. The road receives very little attention after the last fork and traffic volumes are excpetionally low - probably in the region of 10 vehicles per week.

The gradients get steeper at 1:11 and remain at that gradient or steeper all the way to the summit, Transverse earth mounds have been built across the road surface to divert rain water and these also serve as speed bumps, forcing a fairly low speed of around 20 kph.

In winter the proteas will be in bloomIn winter the proteas will be in bloom / Photo: FiveprimeAs altitude is gained the views become increasingly impressive to the left as the farms and valleys look almost toy-like in the distance. Most of the bends are easy up till this point, but at the 4,3 km mark, the road curves to the right through 160 degrees. The radius of this bend is not very sharp and no reduction in speed is necessary, but the condition of the track can become quite rough here, so choose your driving lines with care. The presence of lots of fist sized stones can cause traction issues for non 4WD vehicles.

If you're not in a 4x4, you will need to maintain some momentum to get up this final part of the ascent, which last for 400m. The summit point comes up quickly. The road is reasonably wide at the summit and a two spoor track leads off to the right, where you can park if you want to stop a while and enjoy the views or take photos.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

To the north, most of the road that you have just driven is visible and the views from the 736m high summit are breathtaking. The change in vegetation on the southern side is dramatic with greenery and lush vegetation being more prevalent. A wide valley can be seen to the south-west, which is where the road will take you next.

Gysmanshoek PassThe steepest section of the pass just to the south of the summit / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The next kilometre after the summit is probably the trickiest of the pass. There is a tall fence on both sides of the road, which also becomes much narrower from this point. The gradients reach 1:5 here and for non 4WD vehicles attempting this pass from the opposite direction, will more than likely experience traction issues even in dry weather. This is the reason that we recommend driving this pass from north to south for non 4x4 vehicles,

The descent is sharp and short for 500m, then levels off and swings through a sharp 90 degree bend to the right. This changes the heading into the west for the next 2 km. The river slices down the middle of this long valley and if you've ever visited Scotland, the feeling of being in the Scottish Highlands is uncannily similar to this valley.

Inside the kloofAt the 7,5 km point in one of the kloofs / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Despite how isolated and remote this valley is, there are still active farms here, so don't go exploring any of the side two spoor tracks as you will end up at a farmers home.  At the apex of the right hand bend at the bottom of the summit descent, a long and rugged kloof can be seen on the left,  this narrow ravine is called Watervalkloof and forms a stream that forms the headwaters draining this valley from the high slopes of the big mountain called Perdeberg [1236m]

At the 6,1 km point the road dips down over a small stream from Watervalkloof via concreted drift. If the area has experienced heavy rain recently, you might find this drift flooded and with a strong current running across it. Get out your vehicle and walk the crossing first which will give you a sound idea if your vehicle will make it or not.

These crossings could be problematic in the rainy season for non 4WD vehicles. Never cross these streams if they are flowing strongly - your vehicle could easily be swept away. Know your vehicle's wading depth. If in doubt, wait or retrace your route. There are several tracks radiating off on either side of the road, which lead to private farms - Please do not leave the main road as this could jeopardise access for future persons wishing to drive the pass.

Gysmanshoek southern sideMountains, valleys and fynbos / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Withn 50m there is a closed gate, which is not locked. Please remember to close the gate once you've driven through. The next two kilometres faithfully follow the left hand side of the valley through beautiful mountain scenery and if you drive this pass in winter the entire valley will be smothered in proteas and ericas. The gradients, although still descending, are very gentle and range between 1:50 and 1:100.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

At the 7,1 km point, a big left hand bend of 90 degrees changes the direction into the south as the road follows a natural poort through the mountains. The terrain changes here and the slopes get steeper with some big drop-offs on the right. This is one of the best sections of the pass as the river sparkles in a series of deep rock pools far below the road, but following the same route through the kloof.

Gysmanshoek southern sectionAlong the southern section of the pass through grass and bushland / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The number and frequency of turns increases here as the road hugs the side slope. There are no barriers on the drop-side, so proceed with due caution. The rainfall is higher here than on the rest of the pass, so expect some pools and mud in the wet season.

At the 8,9 km point, the road dips through a small section of indigenous forest and kinks sharply to the right, which brings the heading back into the south. Hidden in the thick bush on the left hand side of this corner is an old ruin. From this point, a number of side roads and gtwo spoor tracks start appearing. Ignore all of them as they are all on private farmland and all are dead ends.

The first cultivated fields start appearing on the right on the far bank of the river - a sure sign that you are heading back towards civilisation and the end of the pass. The farm on the right goes under the name of The Oaks.  At the 9,3 km mark there is a stream crossing, which is often muddy and wet. If you are not on a 4x4, check the obstacle on foot first, before deciding on a driving line, approach and the level of momentum required to clear the mud and water. There is usually water here even in summer,

The remainder of the drive is across cultivated fields and past farm buildings. As was the case at the start, be aware that these are working farms. Reduce your speed and be aware of livestock and slow moving farm vehicles.

There is one final big left hand bend of 80 degrees, followed by a short section of thick bush. The end of the pass is at the T-junction marked by a chevron board at the 11,6 km mark. Turn left to go to Heidelberg or if you want to enjoy more gravel passes, then turn right and traverse each of these pass in turn - Wadrift, Seekoeigat, Doornkraal, Boosmansbos and Moodies passes. Use the hyperlinks provided to read up on each one as the navigation is quite complex, making it easy to get lost. 

The stream that the road has followed since the summit point forms a confluence with the dominant river - the Duiwenhoksrivier just 2 kms to the west of the end of the pass at the low point of the Wadrift Pass.


Fact File:

GPS START 

S33.902868 E21.049988

GPS SUMMIT

S33.932666 E21.072475

GPS END 

S33.970408 E21.051372

AVE GRADIENT

1:36

MAX GRADIENT

1:5

ELEVATION START

412m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

736m

ELEVATION END

435m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

324m

DISTANCE

11,6 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

South

TIME REQUIRED

40 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

None (Off road)

SURFACE

Gravel (P6402)

DATE FILMED

23.10.2018

TEMPERATURE

23C

NEAREST TOWN

Heidelberg (10km)


Route Map:

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From Address:


Route files:

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

 

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