Mountain Passes

This long, tarred pass connects the two old mining towns of Lydenberg - better known today as the premiere fly-fishing centre of South Africa, and Burgersfort on the R37. Lydenburg is another town which has had a recent name change and is today officially called Mashishing. No doubt because of the difficulty of pronouncing the new name, the vast majority of South Africans still call it Lydenburg.

Packed into its 19,6 km length are 51 bends, corners and curves - some of which are extremely sharp and include two hairpins and another two dangerous 90 degree bends. This is a high altitude pass with a summit height of 1621m ASL and offers excellent views, but is sorely lacking in places to stop safely. Despite the statistics, the gradients on this pass never exceed 1:16. There are a number of cautionaries for this pass, which include heavy mountain mists, lots of slow moving heavy vehicles, and some very sharp bends. Despite the dangers, the road is generally in a good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, but watch out for the occassional pothole.

Named after the little town of Van Reenen, which seems to stand guard at the top of this majestic pass which winds its way through the Drakensberg mountains between Ladysmith and Harrismith along the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg. Unfortunately, the only record that the pass can lay claim to is that of the most dangerous pass in South Africa. Despite this, the long pass provides beautiful scenery as it descends towards Ladysmith in the KZN Midlands from the Free State.

 

This steep, high altitude gravel pass is situated between the N9 route and the village of Nieu-Bethesda, where artist Helen Martins turned her Karoo home into a fantastical landscape, with concrete and ground-glass sculptures of owls, camels and angels. The town was established in 1875 and is dominated by the peak known as Kompasberg (Compass Mountain) which is the 6th highest mountain in the Eastern Cape and forms part of the Sneeuberg range. The town is very secluded and as such has become something of a retreat for artists and writers.

Viljoen's Pass was named after Dr Antonie Viljoen who founded the area's famous apple industry in 1902. It is a well designed modern pass with a good accident track record, not withstanding the extreme hairpin bend on the northern side of the pass. The pass was originally built to a different line in 1860.

Also known as 'Breedt's Nek', this gravel pass can be found just off the R763, near the Magaliesberg Nature Reserve. It provides a link across the Magaliesberg from the settlement of Maanhaarrand to Buffelspoort and the town of Mooinooi to the north-east. The road bears an official number (D568), and the condition ranges from poor to terrible. Expect gradients of 1:10 and deeply rutted and rocky sections. However, providing you are in a 4x4 vehicle or at least a commercial vehicle with good ground clearance, it is most certainly doable, but it is a long, slow drive. Don't drive this road if you're in a hurry.

 
 

A gravel pass in KZN between Harrismith and Bergville - in the vicinity of the Sterkfontein Dam. The pass starts at 1349m ASL and summits at 1751m. It is 5,6 km long producing an ascent gradient of 1/14 making it very steep. Be prepared to crawl along this road at less than 10 kph and allow plenty of time. Probably between 60 and 90 minutes to cover the 5 km. It is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles with good ground clearance and low range! Remember to drop your tyre pressures to around 1,0 to 1,2 bar to prevent punctures and improve traction. This road is a rough one!

 

It is almost impossible to determine the origin of the name of this pass, as Botha is a very popular surname in South Africa; it is in fact the second most common European surname after Jacobs. It has been established, however, that the pass name dates back to at least the 1880s, as there are some references to the pass in the chronicles of the 1st Anglo-Boer War, and this is also approximately when the nearby town of Barberton was founded.

This beautiful pass, which is not particularly well-known, is located on the tarred R38 route between Barberton and Badplaas, and offers up magnificent panoramic vistas over the De Kaap Valley from its many viewpoints. It gains a strapping 547 metres in altitude, and is nearly 12 kilometres long. The road is in an excellent condition, but it can be hazardous when covered by thick mist or rain which is common at certain times of the year.

Forming part of the R36 near the Kruger National Park and the Molatse Canyon (or 'Blyde River Canyon') the pass starts at 1011m ASL, then drops down the Drakensberg escarpment to the Olifants River at 508m ASL. It can be found between the towns of Orighstad (40 km to the South) and Tzaneen (95km to the North East) and incorporates the Strijdom Tunnel. This is a major pass with a big altitude variance and incorporates 26 bends, corners and curves over its length of 9,8 km, producing an average gradient of 1:20.

 

This short, easy pass is located close to the junction of the N1 and the R70, near Winburg in the Free State. The official route designation is the R70. This tarred road was in poor condition at the time of filming in February, 2016. It presents moderate gradients and only four very gentle curves. It lies to the east of the large irrigation dam - the Erfenis Dam, which is a popular weekend destination for locals offering fresh water angling, camping as well as a nature reserve at its north-western end near the dam wall.

 

On a minor gravel road between Ceres and Sutherland, this pass caused our team many hours of frustrating research, due to the fact that it appears in the incorrect place on most maps - including some very official ones! When we went to film this pass, we found nothing even vaguely resembling a poort or a pass at the designated place. We finally tracked it down on the 1:50,000 Government maps by accident, whilst scouring for another pass in the area. So finally, we have the Amandelnek Pass pinned down and properly mapped. 

We filmed this insignificant little pass during September, 2018.  The altitude gain is minor, as are the bends and distance. There is one farm gate to open and close right at the summit, but if you enjoy going to remote places then at least the scenery here will be appealing in this big and spacious landscape. Every pass has its own story to tell and this one too, leaves one with a sense of peace, with only the sound of birdsong and insects to keep you company once you switch your vehicle's engine off.

The Northern Cape cartographers were a diligent bunch, naming every climb through every neck, no matter how small, with an official name. This pass is a perfect example.

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Our website is 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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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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