Gannaga Pass more than just a scenic route

The Tankwa plains are harsh, and the parched landscape merciless. When the silence becomes deafening, change your surroundings and explore the Tankwa Karoo National Park from the mountaintops.

A drive up the Gannaga Pass provides you with the opportunity to witness the striking contrasts between the top of the Roggeveld Mountains and the Tankwa Karoo plains below. There are a number of faunal and floral gems to look out for in this transition zone, especially if you have some time on your hands.

This beautiful pass starts about 5km from the Roodewerf offices on the road to the small village of Middelpos. The foot of the pass is like an open amphitheatre hugged by the surrounding mountains, towering high above the plains. The carved road may seem daunting, but will take you straight to the top in less than 7km.

Life can be harsh in this environment. But in the distance, five klipspringers nibble on some greenery in the rocky surroundings, showing that life can also be vibrant here.

In fact, “there is always something flowering on the escarpment. The Amaryllid bulbs found on the pass start flowering in March,” says SANParks regional ecologist Carly Cowell.

Depending on the time of year and how observant you are, you might even spot some rare species such as Babiana Virginia and Strumaria pubescens. These two only occur on the pass. While some are elusive, others grow in clusters and are easy to spot. Cowell says that the majority of bulbs on the pass flower in spring only, but during times of good rain, they can start much earlier.

Another gem can be found once you are halfway up the pass – a forest. While this is not a traditional forest, a thriving botterboom (Tylecodon paniculatus) population dominates this area. Short, stocky thick-stemmed succulent trees grow as far as the eye can see. These plants conserve energy by photosynthesizing through their stems. It is usually only during the cooler winter months when they carry leaves.

The other remaining tree species such as blue guarri (Euclea crispa) and star apple (Diospyros austro –africana) on the pass is important for conservation purposes. “The trees that still remain may look small, but they are very old. The majority were cut down for building and firewood years ago,” Cowell says.

The top of the pass is drawing nearer as you turn around a horseshoe bend. Due to the difference in temperature, the vegetation is much different with grassy plains dominating the scene. Finally, the viewpoint on the crest of the pass is the ideal vantage point from which to enjoy the scenery below.


The Gannaga Pass, was one of three trek routes up and down the Roggeveld Mountains. The first mention of the Gannagas Wagenpad was in 1778 but they did not travel down it. The upgrade of the pass was set out by the Bain family and built as part of a public works programme that started in 1895 during the Great Depression. No cement was used in areas with packed stone and it still stands today. This new single lane pass, rising up through 700m of Roggeveld escarpment, was completed in 1897.

René de Klerk

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