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Video: Merc-AMG GLA on the road to 'hell'
See how a GLA 45 copes on one of the world’s most dangerous and inhospitable roads
Deep in the Swartberg mountains in South Africa lies the remote settlement of Die Hel, accessible by just one highly dangerous road… well, dangerous if you bring the wrong car. You must have a 4x4, a local guide told us, so in the interests of making this a proper adventure, we found ourselves the least appropriate 4x4 in the world.
The road itself is a mere 48km long, but the drive is two and half hours if you’re lucky enough to avoid a puncture, cracking your sump or plummeting to an untimely death. All the while you know that with just one way in and the same way out, every km closer to hell is a km to be relived fleeing in the other direction.
The plan, wonderfully simple and perfectly foolish, was hatched with the spirit of adventure coursing through us… in the sanctuary of an air-conditioned office in London. There is a town, well, a smattering of small buildings, buried deep in the Gamkaskloof valley, itself sandwiched like the filling in a taco by the mighty Swartberg mountain range five hours from the hive of Cape Town. It’s known simply as Die Hel, “the hell”, a name given to it by all those that experienced first hand just how brutal the climb then descent into the valley could be, whether via donkey tracks in the oldene days or the rubble road today.
The first settlers were clearly mad, but stumbled their way into the valley in the 1830s and finding fertile soil and plenty of water decided to make it home, living in isolation for 130 years. In 1962 a chap called Koos van Zyl showed up and announced that with a team of just eight workers, he was going to build a road into the valley. The 100 or so residents rejoiced, and then promptly scarpered the moment the project was complete, lured by the prospect of earning actual money in nearby towns over perpetually gruelling self-sufficiency. The last farmer called it a day in 1991, poor fella, but the road remains…