South Africa's steepest passes - expressed in height : distance ratio (eg 1:8). Note that these are AVERAGE gradients. Sections of each pass could be much steeper. For example Prince Alfred's Pass in the Western Cape is 68 km long and has an average gradient of 1: 96, but it has certain sections as steep as 1:8. As a consequence of simple mathematics, the shorter passes present steeper average gradients than the longer passes. Statistics should always be read in context.
We have hyperlinked the Top 10 for your 'one click' convenience
The Naudesberg Pass should not be confused with it's like named, but much more famous Naudes Nek Pass, which is also in the Eastern Cape. The Naudesberg Pass lies 40 km North of Graaff Reinet on the tarred N9 connecting with the Karoo town of Middelburg some 70 km further north. The pass was originally constructed by Andrew Geddes Bain circa 1858.
Shaws Pass is named after Shaws Mountain over which it traverses on the R320 route between Caledon in the north and Hermanus in the south. The 4.2 km long pass descends 154 m from a maximum altitude of 282m ASL providing sweeping views of the farming valleys to the south.
The Paardekop Pass delves a long way back into history and is recorded as far back as 1772 by the explorer, Thunberg in his journal. The original route was an elephant path which was later to become a bridle path, followed by the inevitable need for an ox-wagon route. It was considered to be one of the most dangerous passes in the colony in its day.
The Outeniqua Pass is a relatively modern pass connecting the coastal town of George with Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo. It was first built in 1951 to provide an alternative to the Montagu Pass. It has been widened and modernized several times since then and today carries the bulk of the traffic flow between the two towns and the Langkloof. Rockfalls and trucking accidents close the pass from time to time. The higher reaches of the pass are subject to heavy rainfall and dense mountain mists which can reduce visibility to a few metres. Under such conditions, this pass is dangerous especially due to the volume of commercial traffic that it carries.
This is a tough, high-altitude gravel pass that connects the Wartrail farming valley with the well-known Tiffindell Ski Resort, close to the RSA/Lesotho border. Relatively long at 9,6 km, it rises from 1916m ASL to 2567m. With its 1:14 average climb gradient, this pass can be called nothing but 'steep'! The first 4 km offers gradients of up to 1:5! This is strictly a 4x4 only route and high ground clearance, as well as low range, are mandatory. The pass is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Bidstone Pass.
Most of the climbing is done in the first 3,8 km, whereafter the gradient eases right off to around 1:20 until the 7,7 km point after which the road steepens again to 1:7 till the summit. The road levels off near a small solitary cottage, which marks the end of the pass at the 9,6 km point, but there is still a fairly long pull of 8,2 km before you will arrive at Tiffindell. Allow at least 2 hours to complete both sections, excluding stops.
Expect rapidly changing weather conditions including severe electrical storms, heavy rain, hail, snow and very strong katabatic and anabatic winds. It you break down on this pass, assistance will be either from Tiffindell or from the nearest farm in the Wartrail Valley. Either way, it will be a long walk. Go well prepared with recovery equipment, as well as appropriate clothing and emergency food rations. We recommend carrying a satphone.
The Bastervoetpad Pass is one of the most challenging true mountain passes in South Africa and it's rated high amongst the Top 8 high altitude passes of the Eastern Cape. Officially named the Dr. Lapa Munnik Pass, (although no-one uses this name), this rough gravel pass is located between the summit of the Barkly Pass and Ugie and traverses a southern arm of the Drakensberg along the east-west axis. The rugged mountains and deep, green valleys of the southern Drakensberg are strongly reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, with icy winters and mild summers. This is the only pass in South Africa named after a minister of Public Health. The route was first discovered in 1862 by Adam Kok lll, when he led the Griquas in their historic trek from Phillipolis in the Free State to their new home, called of course - Kokstad, over this route.
The pass boasts a summit height of 2240m, a length of 20 km and it loses 830m of altitude down the Drakensberg escarpment on the eastern side. Add to those rather impressive statistics, this pass can be treacherous in bad weather and is subject to electrical storms, violent winds, heavy rain, hail and snow. It also offers some of the finest scenery in South Africa, when the weather is good. If you intend driving this pass, watch all six videos first and then make your decision.
Please note that you need a 4x4 vehicle with low range & high ground clearance to complete this pass.
Travelling south, the Hex River Poort follows the Hex River Pass about 8 km towards the southern exit of the Hex River Valley and is a distinctly separate pass to it's northern cousin, with both providing entry and exit routes from then valley. Many noteworthy and well respected travellers from the 17th and 18th centuries, incorrectly recorded in their travel journals that this was the Hex River Pass. Not that the poort is unworthy of being called an official pass, with its wild and rugged terrain! Twenty years ago, rockfalls and flooding caused endless problems for the roads authorities. Nowadays, the excellently engineered renovation makes for safe and wonderfully scenic, comfortable driving.
Ranking closely alongside the notorious Kaaimans River Pass as one of the Western Cape's most dangerous passes for trucking accidents, it is not so much the gradient that is problematic, but the long, straight, momentum-gathering descent which leads suddenly into a dangerously sharp, left-hand bend. Thankfully, a substantial crash-barrier prevents out-of-control vehicles from crossing over into the oncoming traffic. A strategically place arrestor bed halfway down the pass has also helped to reduce the dangers of trucks experiencing brake failure. There are so many scars on that crash barrier that it leaves one wondering what story each scar has to tell!
Originally known as the Koo Pass (serving the fruit-growing region known as the Koo Valley), it was renamed after a local town councillor from Montagu who expended a lot of energy to influence the authorities to upgrade the road. 'KOO' products have stocked the cupboards of South African families for over 80 years'! The pass was originally plotted byThomas Bain and constructed by the Divisional Council in 1876, when construction stopped due to a lack of funds and was finally completed in 1887 at a cost of 1000 Pounds Sterling.
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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