Ossewakop (“Ox Wagon Hill”) looms above the small Mpumalanga town of Wakkerstroom on its eastern side, the peak approximately 400 metres higher than the settlement. It is impossible to miss, as some enterprising residents have created the large outline of a Voortrekker wagon and the dates “1838 – 1938” (to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Trek) with whitewashed rocks on the slopes just below the summit. The route up the mountain is difficult and torturous, so please read the cautionary notes before embarking on this trip. The remarkable views over the town and its surrounds from the beacon on top of the mountain certainly make the effort to get up there worthwhile.
Waterval Pass is located on a minor gravel road which connects Amersfoort in the west with Dirkiesdorp in the east, in the southern part of the Mpumalanga province. The pass is named after a farm in the area, which in turn derives its name from a small waterfall which cascades over a hollow bluff on the southern side of the road. Although a big pass by any standards (it is nearly 6 km long and gains over 300 metres in height), it is marked on very few maps and is relatively unknown, possibly because of its remote location. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, but like all gravel roads in South Africa, the surface can deteriorate rapidly in wet weather.
This gravel pass traverses the Swartwatersberge between Riebeeck East in the north and Alicedale in the south. It has a substantial altitude variance and some very sharp corners, including two hairpins, but is well designed with gradients never exceeding 1:10. The pass offers exceptional views over the New Years River valley and dam and mostly falls within the boundaries of the Frontier Safaris Game Farm. It's named after the Kalmoesfontein farm, which is located at the foot of the pass on the southern side.
Riebeek East is 42 km west of Grahamstown. It is located in a hilly area, in the midst of game and sheep farming regions. It was founded in 1842, and initially named Riebeek after Jan van Riebeeck, one year after the local church was built. The name was later amended to Riebeeck East to separate it from Riebeeck West near Cape Town. It was erected on a part of the farm Mooimeisjesfontein, that was subdivided and sold by the subsequent voortrekker leader Piet Retief.
A settlement appeared around the church congregation after it was established here in 1830 by the Dutch Reformed Church. Since 1826 the local farmers applied to the colonial government to form a local congregation, as they previously had to travel to Uitenhage, 130 km distant, to attend communion services. Retief's farmhouse is just east of the village and has been declared a national heritage site.
On most maps, Sebico Pass is designated as a public road, but it is obvious when you arrive at the location that the traverse is across privately-owned land. We cannot discover any clues as to how this pass got its name. On the official 1:50000 topographical maps, the name is spelled as “Sebiko Pass”, with a “k”, but we can find no other references on the internet with this spelling. It is situated about 40 km south-east of Britstown, a small town located at the intersection of the N10 and the N12 in the Northern Cape. The “road” is nothing more than a rough track, and should not be attempted without a 4x4 vehicle. Although difficult to find and with potential permission issues, it is worth the effort if you are an avid pass-chaser, off-road enthusiast or adventure motorcyclist.
This is an official poort, and is marked as such on the 1:50,000 topographical maps, but it is almost impossible to distinguish the actual poort itself from the surrounding landscape. Unless you have a burning desire to drive every pass in South Africa, give this one a miss! It is far off the beaten track, and has no real redeeming features. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in a normal vehicle, provided that the weather is dry. It had rained in the area on the night before the day on which we filmed this pass (not on the pass itself), and the approach roads were a muddy nightmare. Our 4x4 vehicle coped admirably with the conditions, but it was evident that other vehicles had not been so fortunate, judging by the tracks snaking all over the road.
This is one of the shortest passes on our database at just under 1 km - (881 metres to be exact), but it offers magnificent and rugged scenery, despite being so short. It's name is something of a misnomer, as the topography and statistics are those of a poort and not a pass. Judging by it's name, lions no doubt once roamed this path.
What makes this drive even more dramatic is the obvious path of the substantial river which charges through this kloof after good rain, making this road a potential death trap as can be clearly seen in the video footage. The final river crossing on the northern side is the most dangerous spot. For the vast majority of the year, the river is nothing more than a dry, stony path as this is after all, the Karoo, but every adventure traveller should know and understand that the Karoo rivers are prone to flash floods, so if the weather is looking ominous, drive with your wits about you and dont take unneccesary risks.
The Mpate Mountain looms above Dundee on the northern side of the town, and the pass is basically an access road to the host of telecommunication towers erected on its summit. Spectacular views over the town and the surrounding river valleys make this a very worthwhile traverse, as does the scenery all along the access route as the road winds its way up the side of the mountain. The gravelled section of the road is in a fairly good condition for the most part, and can be driven in any normal vehicle that has a reasonable ground clearance. This pass should be avoided in bad weather. It should not be confused with the nearby Mpate Heights Pass.
Venterspoort is located near Philipstown, a small town which lies about 50 kilometres north-east of De Aar in the Northern Cape. It is difficult to establish exactly which Venter the poort is named after, as this was a very common surname in the area around about the middle to latter part of the 19th century, which is when the town was established. The actual poort is almost indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape, and unless you know precisely where it is, you would probably miss it altogether when driving on the R48. The tarred road is in a good condition, and should not present any problems other than the normal hazards associated with rural South Africa.
Neuspoort is unusual in that it consists of two distinct sections, separated by a flat plateau in the middle. It is named after the small range of mountains through which it traverses, called the Neusberge. It is located on the N14, the national road which connects Johannesburg in the east with Springbok in the west. The road is in an excellent condition and should not present any problems, provided that the speed limits are adhered to. The route between Keimoes and Kakamas is incredibly scenic, with spectacular contrasts between the Kalahari Desert on the northern side of the road and the hundreds of green vineyards located all along the Orange River on the southern side. The western portion of this road is also locally known as Bobbejaankrans or Baviaanskrans, which both mean the same thing.
Duiwelsnek is located just on the outskirts of the lovely Northern Cape town of Kakamas, very close to the banks of the mighty Orange River. There is no indication on the official topographical maps as to how this pass was named, but there is a good chance that the rocky hill on the northern side of the summit is called Duiwelskop, or something similar. The road is in a good condition and should not present problems for any type of vehicle, except perhaps in wet weather. There are few hazards on the pass other than the usual livestock and farm vehicles, but beware of the local farmers that seem to drive a little faster than they should!
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.
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.