Mountain Passes

A pleasant little gravel pass close to Robertson in the Breede River Valley that connects Worcester with the R60 halfway to Robertson and provides a slower more scenic alternative to the R60. The road traverses two farming areas - first Rooilandia, then Eilandia. These two areas are separated by a ridge of mountains known as Die Bloubanke. The road interconnects all the farms in the valley with their immediate market towns and runs along the east/west axis on the northern side of the Breede River. (Wide or Broad River) The pass is suitable for all types of vehicles.


A gravel road through a Karoo style poort of 5,56 km with comfortable gradients and rugged scenery. This is one of many farm roads that traverse the vast area of the Karoo. The towns are far apart and travellers need to be well prepared in case of a breakdown. This pass has the potential to form a clockwise loop from the Blounek Pass to rejoin the R381 much further north. This is a 'well off the beaten track' pass that will satisfy those that seek the wild and rugged roads of South Africa.


A short traverse of a natural gap between two Karoo koppies, known as Blounek - on the R381/P0058 about midway between the Molteno Pass in the south and the Roseberg Pass in the north. This is a relatively minor pass by modern standards and it involves only a single gentle right hand bend and a small gain in elevation of just 59m. This pass should not be confused with another Blounek Pass on the R63 between Williston and Carnarvon.


This fairly long, but easy gravel pass is located south of the Breede River in the Scherpenheuwel area and provides an unusual connection between the riverside road, which is interrupted by a nose in the mountain, making the continuation of the road alongside the river impractical. It offers an alternative routing to the R60 as it follows the southern side of the Breede River. The pass heads inland towards a mountain called Scheepershoogte, after which the pass takes its name. The scenery is lovely at any time of year, but it's best in spring time. The road follows the course of a small stream through the mountains, then levels off over a small plateau and descends again to the Breede River Valley, where the tar recommences. It can get quite slippery here in winter when the rains come.


This page deals with the phenomenal contribution to road building of the father son team of Andrew and Thomas Bain. We list all the passes that both these men built or assisted in building and provide direct hyperlinks to those passes. There are very few complete lists in existence of all the works including railway construction, bridges and other roads (other than passes). The most comprehensive research on this subject that we could find, was that of Dr. Graham Ross - a noted 'modern' padmaker himself, who has spent many years of his retirement researching the history of South African roads. Much of what you read here has been adapted from Dr Ross's meticulous research.

Andrew Geddes Bain was born in Thurso Scotland. He was a pioneer engineer and geologist and earned the tag of "Father of South African Geology". He arrived in the Cape in 1816 aged 19, originally as a saddler in Graaff-reinet, and later set about finding employment in the construction of roads. See the tables below (at the bottom of this page) for his list of passes built. He also built a bridge over the Fish River during that period. Bain Snr. then tackled the Gydo Pass near Ceres (1848) which he did as a side job, whilst constructing the considered masterpiece at that time, the Michells Pass just south of Ceres. The most famous pass built by Andrew Bain, was of course his opus magnum, which still stands today and named after him - the Bainskloof Pass (1853). He also built the road north out of Graaff-Reinet  which included the Lootsberg Pass and a series of smaller passes. His final pass was the Katberg Pass (1854), which he was unable to complete. It was completed by Adam de Smidt. 
Andrew Geddes Bain00

Above: Andrew Geddes Bain

Andrew Bain had 11 children, of which his famous son, Thomas Charles John Bain, was the second son and the seventh child. Many people confuse him with John Thomas Baines (1820-1875) - a traveller and explorer in South Africa who was also a prolific artist who died in Durban in 1875. Note the spelling of his surname is different to our two padmaker heroes. For the purpose of this page, we can put Baines the artist to one side.

Born in Graaff-Reinet, to Andrew Geddes Bain and Maria von Backstrom, on 29th September 1830, Thomas Bain died, after a full and energetic life, on his 63rd birthday, 29th September 1893, at his last residence “Woodside” in Rondebosch, Cape Town.
Thomas Bain x UCT Libraries and Lister Family G.Ross

Above: Thomas Bain

On 26th June 1854 Thomas married Johanna Hermina de Smidt, ninth child of Willem de Smidt, the Secretary to the Central Road Board, later to become a Member of the Cape Parliament. They had a long and happy marriage, being devoted to one another and to their thirteen children. Johanna's brother Adam de Smidt was also a road builder and worked for many years under Thomas' supervision. The two men did not see eye to eye - a result of a dispute in the routing of the 7 Passes Road, which turned into bitter acrimony, which would last a lifetime. The family followed Thomas where his work took him, and this entailed moving every few years, so they had nothing which could be called a “settled residence” until they bought “Woodside”, standing in 90 acres of ground in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town, for £1,300 in the 1880’s.

Thomas was essentially a quiet and gentle man, beloved of his family. At the same time he was able, as his works attest, to control large construction crews in remote areas and, when more senior, to guide and control work on a number of sites, often hundreds of kilometres apart. He was religious and a teetotaller.

Thomas was basically a road engineer and surveyor, with strong geological links. He was apprenticed to his father for five years on the construction of Michell’s Pass and Bain’s Kloof Pass, whereafter he sat for and passed top of the entrants the examination in Civil Engineering, set under the direction of the Colonial Engineer and the Superintendent-General of the Colony. He obtained his AMICE in 1877. He earned the nickname of "the man with the theodolite eye" for his uncanny ability to visualise the perfect routing for a pass with the naked eye.

In 1848 he was appointed an Assistant under the Central Road Board, and Superintendent of Convicts; then from 1854 Inspector of Roads for the Western Province, holding on several occasions the appointment of Visiting Magistrate of the convict gangs employed under his supervision. In 1873 he was lent to the Railway Department for eighteen months as District Engineer in charge of construction and he also surveyed three proposed railway routes. He then returned to the Road Office of the Department of Public Works until 1888, when he was appointed Irrigation and Geological Surveyor of the Colony.

On the geological side, Thomas was from time to time engaged in making collections of reptilian remains from the Locustrine beds of the Karoo for the British and Cape Museums, and reporting on the mineral resources and discoveries of minerals in the Colony, such as the Knysna, Prince Albert, Barkly West and Namaqualand Gold Fields, and the Coal Fields of the Eastern Province and the Free State. He also discovered new botanical species, collected other fossils and artefacts, made copies of pre-historic rock art – and played a variety of musical instruments.

A dedicated and extremely conscientious man, he had but one month’s leave in his 46 years in the Public Works Department. The records of his works, his reports to his Chief Inspector, and the near-perfection of the surveys and other maps which he produced bear witness to the excellence of his professional work.

Shortly before his death Thomas undertook a 1,600 kilometre trip, travelling in a small ox cart through the hot and dry interior regions to investigate possible irrigation sites near Upington on the Orange River. This most arduous trip appears to have further undermined his health, which was already suffering from the strain of his work and from worries about the (he considered inappropriate) reorganisation of his Department. He never recovered, and was bed-ridden for the last month of his life, gradually fading away. He was buried in the churchyard of St Thomas’ Anglican Church in Rondebosch. Plaques have been erected in his honour at five different places around the Cape, and his grave stone is housed in the Cultural History Museum in Cape Town.

When Thomas and Andrew Bain commenced working for the Central Road Board there were only three engineered mountain passes in the country, one of which Andrew had built. Andrew was responsible for seven major passes, and Thomas for twenty six. Thomas was responsible for 560 miles of major road construction which included minor passes, as also geological investigations, dams and other water supply works.

It can be said that the Bains, in conjunction with the Colonial Superintendent of Works and Surveyor-General Major Charles Michell, initiated the great age of road-building in the Cape. Thomas Bain especially has made a contribution to road engineering in South Africa which must rank among the greatest made by any engineer.

Sources: Dr.Graham Ross, Wikipedia, Flemingway, Cape Archives.


The Dassieshoek Pass is a gravel road just north of Robertson that connects the town with the Dassieshoek Nature Reserve, which nestles in the foothills of the Langeberg mountains. The pass is gravel and despite some extremely sharp corners, has relatively easy gradients and it can be driven in a normal sedan vehicle. The road is a dead–end. This is not an official pass, but qualifies to be listed in terms of our definition.


Located in the remote high mountain plateau north of Beaufort West and approximately midway between the Thomas Bain built Molteno and De Jager passes, The Trapvoet Pass winds its way steeply down a mountain and into a small canyon carved out by a river over the millenia. This road is long and rough and we don't recommend anyone attempting this one without a 4x4 with good ground clearance and low range.


The Klipspringer Pass is located within the boundaries of the Karoo National Park a few kilometres outside Beaufort west. The pass is tarred and in excellent condition, providing sweeping views over the rugged landscape and the mini canyon known as Rooiwalle. It is an extension of the main road through the park and is suitable for all vehicles. The pass is obviously only accessible to paying visitors.


This short, but steep gravel pass lies on private property at the farm Tierfontein, but can be accessed by guests staying at Ko-Ka Tsara bush camp. This pass is for experienced offroad motorcyclists and 4x4 vehicles with low range. The pass, named after the almost extinct Bontebok (but now flourishing, thanks to the efforts of conservationists) takes one from the Gamka river valley to the top of the mountain and provides access from there via the high plateau to the eastern side of the Gamka Dam.


An easy tarred pass on the R364 that traverses the Carstenberg mountain and connects Clanwilliam with the West Coast towns of Graafwater and Lamberts Bay. The pass rises 291m over 10,1km producing an easy average gradient of 1:35 with the steepest part being at 1:11. The road is in a fair condition (2015) and presents few dangers providing speed limits and barrier lines are complied with.


Namaqualand plays host to a number of great gravel passes. The Kamieshoogte Pass is the closest of them in terms of accessibility and commences just a stones throw away from the N7 highway. This pass is also called the Kamiesberg Pass and is sometimes spelt as Kammiesberg with a double 'm'. The pass ascends 319 vertical metres to summit at 1073m ASL after 6,98 km. It’s a popular pass amongst the MTB adventure set.


South Africa and especially the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo) has some of the finest gravel roads for the purpose of eco-tourism. With the popularity of the GPS, these minor roads are just waiting to be discovered. The Rust en Vrede Pass (Rest and Peace) is not an official pass, but provides a fabulous drive along a gravel road with sufficient gradient and curves to qualify it as a mountain pass. It follows the east/west axis of the Swartberg Mountains on its southern side.


This fairly steep gravel pass lies on the east/west axis on the southern side of the Swartberg Mountains and connects the Kruisrivier farming area in the west with the Swartberg Private Game Lodge at the eastern end of the pass. Continuing eastwards along this road (P363) will bring you to the foot of the Swartberg Pass as well as ultimately to the Cango Caves.


This little known poort lies just north-east of Calitzdorp and provides a superb, but slower gravel alternative to the R62. It connects Calitzdorp with the farming communities that lie to the north of the R62 and south of the Swartberg Mountains. The poort offers beautiful and dramatic scenery of the unusual red sandstone mountains.


This lovely unofficial gravel pass runs on the east/west axis over the coastal plateau connecting the Kleinvlei farming area in the east (north of Groot Brak Rivier) with the Hamelkop farms in the west, which lie north of Klein Brak Rivier. The pass is 4,2 km long and has some very steep gradients at 1:5



Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.

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