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Rooiberg Pass (P1661)

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Rooiberg Pass - view into gorge at 2nd hairpin Rooiberg Pass - view into gorge at 2nd hairpin - Photo: Trygve Roberts

The Rooiberg Pass was built in 1928 most probably under the supervision of the Divisional Council of Oudtshoorn. It joins the tiny village of Van Wyksdorp with Calitzdorp over the Rooiberg Mountain. This is not a pass to be trifled with and although it can be driven in a normal car, a high clearance vehicle would be better. It is also a long pass at 14 km and contains some fairly rough sections. There are a total of 69 bends, corners and curves which include 6 hairpins and many other bends with a turning radius in excess of 90 degrees. It's a road for the less hurried traveller and offers wonderful views on both the northern and southern sides with valleys and ridges bedecked in fynbos and in winter you'll be treated to the sight of the bright orange flowers of hundreds of thousands of flowering aloes.

The pass has an altitude variance of 509m over a distance of 14 km producing an average gradient of 1:27 with the steepest parts measuring in at 1:7. All these considered, it is one you simply have to drive at least once in your life.

 

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]

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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: For those approaching from the west, start at Van Wyksdorp and head east along the P1661 marked 'Calitzdorp'. Continue for 10 km down a long and steep descent to cross the Assegaaibosch River via a concreted drift. This crossing marks the western start of the Assegaaibosch Pass. Drive up this pass, still heading mainly into the east for 3 km and proceed along the P1661 for a further 7 km over a plateau known as Dwars in die Weg until you arrive at a very sharp hairpin bend at the crossing of a small river, which is a tributary of the Huisrivier. This marks the southern start of the Rooiberg Pass.

Rooiberg Pass signRooiberg Pass sign at summit / Photo: Trygve RobertsFor those approaching from the north (in the direction we have filmed it), depart from Calitzdorp in a southerly direction on the P1661 for 12 km until you reach a fork at GPS S33.634179 E21.700145. There are two other gravel options which both terminate at this fork, offering alternative approaches from further west of Calitzdorp as well as one of the back roads from Oudtshoorn. Consult your maps and GPS carefully when using these options.

At the fork keep right (approaching from Calitzdorp) and head west towards the mountains. After 5 km you will arrive at stand of dense trees, which is the entrance to the Groenfontein Nature Reserve. This is the northern starting point of the Rooiberg Pass.

The pass is surrounded by nature reserves, making this drive different from most other passes. At the start the road swings through a tight S-bend where the entrance to the old Rietvlei farm disappears into the well wooded valley. The entire northern sector of the pass falls within the boundaries of the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve or previously known as the Groenfontein Nature Reserve.

From this point the ascent begins at a gradient of 1:10 and the width of the road decreases. A number of corners need to be negotiated as views of the valley open up on the right. At the 800m mark, the first hairpin bend makes its appearance, which swings sharply to the left through an arc of 130 degrees. Drop your speed to 20 kph for this corner.

With the direction now into the east, the road continues climbing steadily following the contour of the mountainside in a long right hand curve which lasts for 500m. The cuttings on the right become more dramatic and to the left attractive views over the green valley you have just traversed, present themselves, with the white ribbon of roadway stretching away into the north.

Rooiberg PassRooiberg Pass looking north-west from the 2nd hairpin / Photo: Trygve RobertsThis northern side of the Rooiberg is carved into several ridges and steep gorges. The pass follows the middle ridge flanked by the biggest gorge, called Waterkloof to the west and an unnamed, smaller gorge to the east. At the 1,3 km point, you will get a good view of a substantial dry packed stone wall propping the road up just ahead of the second hairpin bend. This is an excellent place to pull over and enjoy the scenery. The apex of this hairpin is fairly wide and allows stopping place for one or two vehicles on a reasonably level section. Make sure you have fully engaged the vehicle's handbrake.

This hairpin bend is attractive and in a perfect setting, especially for vehicles descending. It is the most photographed point of the pass. Even from the relatively low elevation of 382m one can see for many kilometres over the irrigated orchards and fields to the south of Calitzdorp and beyond.

The road now heads back into the west and grinds its way up the mountainside towards Waterkloof for 600m with a few easy curves to arrive at the third hairpin at the 1,9 km point. This bend is very tight and turns through 170 degrees. Like the other hairpins, we recommend a speed of 20 kph through these corners. New chevron boards have been placed around this bend to warn drivers of the danger.

2nd hairpin Rooiberg passThe 2nd hairpin on the Rooiberg Pass / Photo: Keino Davie

Once through this hairpin, the road heads east again, through a long right hand curve at a gradient of 1:14. As altitude is gained, the views become better and the constant changes in direction on this pass, ensure that your views are constantly changing.

At the 2,2 km mark, the road enters a big U-shaped bend to the right, but the turning radius of this bend is fairly wide, so there is no need to lower your speed. Once through this bend, the direction settles into the SSW for the next 200m climbing steadily.

The road kinks to the right through 70 degrees at the 2,2 km point and follows the ridge very close to the very steep drop-offs down into the Waterkloof, which is on the right and just 40m from the roadside. If you have a head for heights, you can stop at this point (2,7km from the start) and take a walk over to the edge of the gorge to enjoy the stunning scenery. The views cannot be seen from the road unfortunately.

 

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

The road turns abruptly away from the gorge at the 3 km point, via A sharp 90 degree left hand corner and heads south-east for 300m, where it kinks to the right and heads straight up the middle of the ridge, heading south. This is a long, fairly straight climb, where the road can be seen for a long way ahead. This section ends at the 4,2 km mark, where the road bends to the left and enters a wide double S-bend section, still climbing steadily at a gradient of 1:14

Rooiberg Pass summit picnic siteThe picnic site at the summit is easy to miss / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The fourth hairpin is reached at the 4,7 km point, but this is the easiest of all of them with a wider turning arc. It swings through 150 degrees, as the heading once more switches into the south-east. The next 1,3 km has more bends as the road snakes its way towards the summit, which is still not visible from this point.

The summit plateau is reached at the 6,2 km mark, where a smaller track leads off to the left. Ignore the left hand option and keep right on the main road, which bends sharply to the right, taking the heading into the south-west. The ascent continues up the final ridge, called Grootkloof, to summit at 797m ASL. The high peak to your right (west) is Teeboskop [958m]. Here you can enjoy expansive views over the mountains, crags and rivers to the north towards Calitzdorp and the Swartberg Mountains beyond. Scout around for the large cairn of stones near the summit - about 300m before the cattle grid and on the left hand side of the road. Become part of history and add your stone to the cairn. It is a custom for all those who have reached the summit to add a stone as a form of gratuity to those who built the pass.

Rooiberg Pass - sharp cornerA brutally sharp right hand bend along the southern descent with the Gouritz River gorge visible lower left / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The gradient is much easier along this section and the summit appears incongruously at the 6,7 km marked by a cattle grid. Due to the shape of the mountain and the width of the summit plateau, the views from this point are not nearly as good as from view points lower along the pass on both the northern and southern sides.

At the cattle grid another small track leads off to the right, which is a nature reserve management track. Continue straight on as the long and winding descent into the south begins. Most of the first half of the pass falls within the confines of the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. By driving on the pass you automatically subject yourself to their rules and regulations, which for most pass travellers, should be second nature. (No fires, no graffiti, no littering, no removal of fauna or flora etc.)

 


[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

At the 9,4 point, after descending more or less directly into the south down a wide ridge, the road swings abruptly to the right. This corner is well signposted and has new chevron boards in place. Despite this, the corner is very sharp, so bleed your speed down to 30 kph for this bend as it curls through a full 140 degrees as the road sweeps towards a side ravine, then gradually bends back to the left and resumes its southerly heading.

Aloe CryptopodaAloe Cryptopoda / Photo: Wikipedia

Within 150m another sign warns of an S-bend coming up. This one is very tight with each of the three corners exceeding 120 degrees. Keep your speed low throughout this bend, which also descends quite steeply at a gradient of 1:10. Immediately after clearing the S-bend, the road straightens out and heads south once more remaining on the main ridge, with a small ravine visible to the west.

At the 10,3 km mark, the next bend is a 70 degree left hander, which changs the direction into the south-east for the next 600m, where the 5th hairpin has be negotiated. This hairpin is as tight as the previous 2 and rotates through 160 degrees to the right.

With the new heading now into the south west, the road descends continuously via an easy set of double S-bends, but don't relax too much, as at the 11,6 km point, the next set of switchbacks make an appearance. There are four sharp bends coming up, but the first two are the tighest, with the road bending through tight turns of 150 degrees each. The last two are easier bends and less acute with 90 degree arcs.

The views over the valley remain wide. With the Langeberg range forming a blue-grey backdrop in the distance to the south, the road can be seen far below, working it's way westwards over the lower plateau, known as Dwars in die Weg (Obliquely across the way). For the next 200m the road follows the line of the ravine on the right, then turns once more into he south-east, as the road loses the final bit of altitude, via a wide right hand curve.

At the apex of the last 90 degree right hand bend, there is an intersection. The smaller road leading into the east goes down to a private farm called 'Platterug' and is a dead-end. The final leg is at an easy gradient and heads into the south-west for 1,2 km, where the final hairpin bend takes the road through a very tight right hand bend over a small stream, where the pass ends at the 14 km mark. Continue for a further 7 km to arrive at the eastern start of the Assegaaibosch Pass and make sure you stop 10 km after that for a well deserved break at the tiny village of Van Wyksdorp, where you can enjoy some of the finest melktert in the Klein Karoo.

Fill your tank; mark your waypoints and go and drive this one. You will not be disappointed.


Fact File:

GPS START 

S33.642562 E21.647504

GPS SUMMIT

S33.682955 E21.645692

GPS END 

S33.728523 E21.633321

AVE GRADIENT

1:27

MAX GRADIENT

1:7

ELEVATION START

310m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

797m

ELEVATION END

288m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

509m

DISTANCE

14 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

South

TIME REQUIRED

30 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

60 kph

SURFACE

Gravel (P1661)

DATE FILMED

18.06.2017

TEMPERATURE

18C

NEAREST TOWN

Calitzdorp (20km)


Route Map:

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Route files:

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

 

 

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