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Mountain Passes

This impressive gravel pass has a typical inverted profile with the lowest altitude in the middle of the pass. It descends and ascends over the  Kobonqaba River valley and offers fabulous scenery of green clad hills and a deep winding river gorge.

The pass contains 29 bends, corners and curves within its 8,5 km length and exhibits what initially appears to be an easy average gradient of 1:44 but as is the case with all passes that have both and ascent and descent in its length, the averages are always easier than passes with a single incline. This pass gets very steep with gradients at 1:6 (closer to the approaches ot the river crossing) and might present traction issues for non 4WD vehicles in very wet weather.

We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

There are three passes that allow access to Lesotho from Matatiele. From west to east these are Ongeluksnek (4x4 only), then the bigger, more popular pass, which is Qachas Nek, but a little further to the east is the much more difficult and spectacular Ramatselitso Pass. All three passes end at the RSA/Lesotho border posts of the same names. With Ramatselitso being something of a tongue twister, the border post is locally known as Rama's Gate and no doubt over time, the connecting pass will also adopt the name of Rama's Pass. The official government large scale map lists it as Ramatseliso (without the 't'), so there are already a number of versions, but we are indexing it as per the spelling on the notice board at the border post.

It's a major pass at 14 km length displaying an altitude variance of 682m and an average gradient of 1:25, but there are many very steep sections that get up to 1:5. Three of the steepest sections have been concreted which include both hairpin sections as well as a section close to the summit, which now makes this pass accessible to normal vehicles.

When we drove this pass in 2012 it was a serious 4x4 route only doable by high clearance 4x4's with low range, but the road has now been upgraded to the point that a 4x2 utility vehicle (bakkie) will manage without a problem. Unless you have plans (and a valid passport) to enter Lesotho, you will need to turn around at the SA border control point and return the same way to Matatiele.

The Nungi Pass is named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile.

The Colonanek Pass further to the south lies on the same road, so these two passes will always be driven in tandem. The steepest gradients are at 1:7 which might present traction issues in wet weather for non 4WD vehicles. There was major reconstruction taking place during 2018 as can be seen on the virtual fly-past. This includes excavating cuttings to reduce the number of blind rises and corners and ease some of the steeper gradients as well as a substantial improvement to the road width.

As is the general rule in this part of the Eastern Cape, most of the area is unfenced, so finding livestock on the road is the norm. Add in slow vehicles, minibus taxis, rutted potholed and corrugated roads, and you have a recipe for having to stay wide awake on this pass. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

This difficult to get to and remote gravel pass is well worth the effort of seeking it out. It's a long pass at 14 km and offers high views of deeply incised and heavily wooded valleys, several Transkei villages and the crossing of the powerful Mbashe (Bashee) River. Perhaps more importantly it is also the access road to the birthplace of Nelson Mandela at Mveso Village on the eastern rim of the Mbashe River canyon. He was buried near Qunu - a short distance from Mveso.

The pass has a typical inverted profile with a low point in the middle and contains 101 bends, corners and curves to keep drivers very busy. Ten of those are sharper than 90 degrees. With gradients that get as steep as 1:6 this will be a tricky drive in wet weather if not in a 4WD vehicle.

As is the general rule in this part of the Eastern Cape, most of the area is unfenced, so finding livestock on the road is the norm. Add in slow vehicles, taxis, rutted, potholed and corrugated roads and you have a recipe for having to stay wide awake on this pass. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

This 5,1 km long pass descends into the Umnga River valley via one U bend and two very sharp hairpins. The pass descends from 1291m ASL at the village of Dalibango through an altitude drop of 342m producing a stiff average gradient of 1:15 to end at the crossing of the Umnga River at a low level bridge.

You will be treated to views of towering cliffs and steeply wooded slopes with the Umnga River winding its way down the centre of this fabulous scene.

It contains 14 bends, corners and curves and requires vigilant driiving. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

 

This remote and spectacular pass is one of our best discoveries of 2018. It's located on the coastal escarpment about 15 km due west of the Langeni Pass. The pass, which is named after the Mkonkota Mountain along which it descends offers a smorgasbord of amazing scenery, including deep valleys with fast flowing rivers, towering cliffs and a winding gravel road of dubious quality which traverses open crags as well as deeply wooded forests.

It contains 93 bends, corners and curves along its 12 km length which includes 1 hairpin and 7 bends sharper than 90 degrees. It displays a big altitude variance of 670m and an average gradient of 1:18. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

STOP PRESS - 9th Nov, 2018: We've had reports from two reliable sources that the gate at the eastern end of the pass has been locked, which means this pass is temporarily out of bounds. Please respect the landowner's decision. Should the situation change, we will announce it here.

This 14,5 km long unofficial gravel pass crosses five farms as well as forestry zones and connects the Helderstroom valley in the east with the R43 close to the western side of the Theewaterskloof Dam. The pass is named after a farm near the summit of the same name, but it's also known by a variety of alternative names which include Onbekendepas (Unknown Pass), Elandskloof Pass (there is another Elandskloof Pass just to the north-west of Villersdorp), Theewaters Pass and Helderstroom Pass.

The pass contains 79 bends, corners and curves of which four exceed 90 degrees, but there are no hairpins. In addition there are some very steep gradients of 1:5. The road is generally wide enough for two big vehicles to pass, but the surface can be rough and stony, depending on recent weather. There are also some sections where it degenerates into nothing more than a basic two spoor track, so there's lots of variety on this route.

We recommend driving this route from east to west for a number of reasons, which include your general safety, convenience, prevention of getting lost and maximising on the scenery. Although this pass could be driven in a high clearance 'bakkie' in fair weather, we recommend a 4WD vehicle. It is not suitable for normal cars (except rentals of course!)

This basic 8,5 km route over the Koringberg connects a string of telecom towers along the summit ridge with farms to the north and south and varies from fairly mild to quite complex. The route can be done in a circular format starting and ending at the farm Hoogele√ęwith its campsite known as Die Ark - or it can be driven as an out and back route returning back from the summit the same way you ascended. Driving it as an out and back route will peg it at Grade 1 to 2. Driving down the southern side will escalate it to Grade 3 (and higher if the weather is wet)

You will need a high clearance 4x4 to complete the entire route, but it is doable in a high clearance 4x2 'bakkie' in fair weather by turning around at the summit and retracing your route. The descent down the southern side of the mountain is extreme in places, depending on recent rainfall and this more difficult section is probably best tackled by more experienced drivers. The route traverses two privately owned farms, so permission is required to drive the route.

 The Sudwalaskraal Pass is to all intents and purposes a southern extension of the slightly longer Sudwala Pass on the same road (R359) and together form one long pass of 16 km. At 7,4 km the Sudwalaskraal Pass is well above the national average and displays a substantial altitude variance of 285m. The pass is named after the Sudwalaskraal farm near the foot of the pass. The road was in good condition at the time of filming and has nicely radiused corners and well engineered gradients never exceeding 1:11.

The famous Sudwala Caves lie near the southern foot of the pass and offer visitors a glimpse into the dark and distant past of Africa millions of years ago. The pass contains 17 bends, corners and curves of which two are U bends exceeding an angle of 130 degrees. The usual Mpumalanga pass cautionaries apply of heavy mountain mists and slow moving logging and mining trucks.

The Karretjies Pass is a rough, narrow track that descends down a side arm of the Bobbejaanskloof, itself a side canyon to the much bigger Doring River canyon. Although this pass is short at just 1,5 km and has an altitude variance of only 72m, it is the rough nature of the road that makes it something of a challenge. It offers majestic canyon views, steep drop-offs and a feeling of intense isolation in a harsh and barren landscape.

The road has been hacked out of the side of the mountain and is only just wide enough for one vehicle. Overtaking or passing is impossible. You will need a high clearance 4x4 to drive this pass and low range will be an advantage for more precise control. The pass forms part of the Old Postal Route that connects the Biedouw valley in the west with the Eilandsvlei farm near the R355 in the east in the Tankwa Karoo. Do not attempt this pass without reviewing our page on the Old Postal Route first, which contains very important information on navigation and safety.

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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.
 

Master Orientation Map

Master Orientation Map We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.

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