Donkies Pass (4x4)

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A group of Toyota Land Cruisers ascending the pass A group of Toyota Land Cruisers ascending the pass - Photo: Photo - Guy Boardman

A serious off-road route up (or down) the Drakensberg escarpment between the Vulintaba Country Estate in KZN and the farming area in the Free State near Memel. This one is for very experienced 4x4 drivers and MTB riders only - and is challenging, technical and steep. The pass is 3,23 km long and ascends 378m over that distance producing an average gradient of 1:8,5 with the steepest parts being at 1:3, making this the second steepest pass in South Africa. Vehicles will need to be full 4x4 with high ground clearance, low range and be equipped with recovery gear. The route traverses private property, so permission is required from both land owners.

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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: From Newcastle head for the tarred D96 road that heads west out of town and traverses the Visierkerfnek Pass. Use the hyperlink provided for accurate directions to this pass and the Vulintaba Country Estate, wich is the starting point of the Donkies Pass. Please note that there are two similarly named passes in South Africa. This one in KZN is spelt in the Afrikaans way. The other one is called the Donkey Pass and is located in Free State.

Once you have reached the summit of  Visierkerfnek Pass, keep heading south-west on the D96, until you reach a fork. Keep right at the fork and follow the signs to Vultintaba Country Estate. Assuming you have obtained the necessary permits and permissions to travel the route, head through the main entrance and straight after the small traffic circle, continue past the dam on the left, where the road bends to the left. At the point where it bends back towards the right (580m after the main gate), a small gravel track heads off up the hill at GPS S27.773293 E29.777588. This is the starting point of the pass.

Donkies Pass ascentAbove: A convoy from the Land Cruiser Club of South Africa ascending Donkies pass / Photo - Guy Boardman

The track climbs quite gently at first at 1:33 as it heads through a wide right hand S-bend past a balancing tank. Over the next 700m the gradient gets a lot steeper at 1:5 and the going gets tougher as the track labours its way westwards via a double S-bend. At the 1,34 km mark, the gradient eases off again to 1:20 as the direction changes into the NNW. At the 2,0 km mark, the track enters a sharp hairpin bend, where the gradient changes back to 1:5 and the direction heads into the south. This section is the steepest on the pass where you will encounter gradients of 1:3,8

A tough 4x4 routeAbove: Only proper hardcore 4x4 vehicles should attempt this pass / Photo - Panoramio
The next hairpin is reached at the 2,5 km mark at an elevation of 1730m and this is also the best viewsite on the pass offering exceptional views to the south west. The track reverses direction again heading back into the NNW. This entire section offers spectacular views down into KZN on the left. The gradients here are around 1:6

At the 2,83 km mark, there is a sharp bend to the right and new vistas open up to the right, where you can enjoy a birds eye view of the Vulintaba Country Estate far below. Ahead the highest peak in the area, known as Kranskop [1903m] can be seen. According to reliable sources, this peak is not Kranskop, but Sneeuberg. The pass ends at 1846m ASL approximately 3,22 km from the start.

If you are not intending doing a U-turn and tackling the descent, you will need spot-on navigation to find your way to the main road to Memel. We highly recommend that this route not be attempted without being in the company of an experienced local guide.

Donkies Pass summit viewsAbove: Lofty summit views with sections of the pass visible and Vulintaba can be seen bottom/left of pic / Photo - Guy Boardman

Fact File:

GPS START  S27.773293 E29.777588
GPS SUMMIT S27.771792 E29.760648
GPS END  S27.771792 E29.760468
AVE GRADIENT 1:9 [Specific 1:8,54]
DISTANCE 3,23 km
SPEED LIMIT None - Offroad
SURFACE Gravel / Jeep track
DATE FILMED 08.05.2015
NEAREST TOWN Newcastle (18 km)

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Mountain Passes South Africa

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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