02 May 2012 by Kate Turkington

Go to Hell!

The world-famous Swartberg Pass is truly awesome, as is the descent into Hell, or Die Hell as the locals call it

The Road to Hell

I’ve been to hell and back and suggest you do too.

But first tackle the world-famous Swartberg Pass. Declared a National Monument (no longer a term in use, but interesting nonetheless) in its centenary year, 1988, it was hand-built by Thomas Baines (he of the famous paintings and drawings) and is his masterpiece. Oh yes, a few convict labourers helped him too. 

The breathtaking Swartberg Pass The breathtaking Swartberg Pass

Twenty-seven kilometres of untarred road climb to the 1 583 metre-high summit in a series of logic-defying gradients, winding loops, zigzags, switchbacks and hairpin bends, with dizzy drops, soaring peaks and breathtaking views on all sides. 

At “Die Top”, the vistas stretch 100km to north and south.

I made it to the top! I made it to the top!

You get to Die Hell – which was also a national monument when the term still applied – by the longest dead end road in South Africa. You’ll drive 57km of a precipitous mountain road that climbs and climbs high into towering, cloud-swirled peaks. 

from a steep bluff, you look down onto a hidden green valley where a small, proud, Afrikaans community lived in isolation for more than a 100 years.

It’ll take you a day there and back.  And be sure to pack a picnic lunch and some witblitz (the local moonshine) especially if you’re nervous of heights. 

Finally, from a steep bluff, you look down onto a hidden green valley, deep, deep in the Swartberg, where a small, proud, Afrikaans community lived in isolation for more than a 100 years. 

Are you ready? Are you ready?

Their only contact with the outside world was when they took their harvests of dried fruit and wild honey on a gruelling 2-day journey by foot or pack animal over the mountains to trade in Oudtshoorn. Or when it was time for the children to be baptised. 

Its original name is Gamkaskloof, and only when the road was built in 1962 did the valley people finally come into regular contact with the rest of the world, but then most drifted away. Today, just a handful of sole descendants of those times live in Die Hell. To drive through those magnificent mountains and then look down on this lush, unbelievably fertile 'lost' valley at the bottom of the world is something I won’t easily forget.

Some of the beautifully restored cottages and the little school are where you can stay a night or two on a self-catering basis. But on a bright moonlit night, when the wind howls round the peaks and the jackals call, listen out for angry ghosts who hate their perfect valley to be disturbed by uitlanders (outsiders) and visitors.

Looking down into Die Hell valley Looking down into Die Hell valley

Category: Routes & Trails

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