The pass is named after the small town of Bulembu just inside Swaziland at the southern terminus of the pass. It twists and turns its way through one of Mpumalanga's most beautiful valleys and over some of the oldest mountains on earth. A whole list of attractions make this a bucket list tar pass, which include magnificent scenery, mind boggling geology, a well-engineered road, dense forests and rich mining history. Allow plenty of time to stop at the various tourism points. Any visit to Barberton, should include a traverse of the Saddleback and Bulembu passes to make your visit complete.
The pass contains 124 bends corners and curves within its 26,5 km distance, which equates to a corner every 213 metres! Comply with the 40 kph speed restriction and your trip should go well.
The pass displays an unusual vertical profile with 8 individual summit points, which creates an undulating picture, rather than the usual classic pass profile of up-summit-down. The pass has something of a reputation for fatal accidents, but the frequency has decreased since the road was rebuilt recently.
This attractive gravel pass of 11,8 km length has a classic inverted profile of a pass that drops down into a river valley and rises up the other side. The river in question is the Mkomazi River - a small but powerful river that drains a sizeable portion of the Drakensberg escarpment. The pass forms part of the long and winding Lotheni Road that connects Nottingham Road in the north-east with Underberg and Himeville in the south-west.
Despite being a gravel pass, the road engineering is sound and the gradients never exceed 1:10. The usual gravel road cautionaries apply of wash-board corrugations, ruts, washaways, livestock on the road and loose gravel on the corners. The pass is named after the Bucklands farm over which it traverses and worth noting that a small nature reserve is crossed on the south-western side of the pass, called the Vergelegen Nature Reserve.
In fair weather this pass can be driven in any vehicle.
There are four passes in South Africa containing the word Braam, which is Afrikaans for Bramble. Besides this one there is also a Braambos Pass near Adelaide, as well as a Braamhoek Pass in KZN and another Braamnek in North West Province. It's easy to get confused!
As far as technical driving goes, Braamnek has become a mild pass, as once the new road was built over the neck, most of the bends and steep gradeints were removed when the old road was realigned and rebuilt. It has just 4 very gentle bends and the pass holds no apparent dangers from a design point of view.
However, this is the Eastern Cape, an area notorious for having free roaming livestock on the road. The behaviour of the local drivers is also a concern, as driver behaviour can best be described as erratic. On this road you will find modern cars being driven extremely fast and conversely there will be many very old unroadworthy vehicles crawling along at a snails pace.
Unless you earmark this mass with GPS cordinates, you might easily drive straight over it without realsing you have just driven an official pass.
This fairly long gravel pass on the secondary MR00668 road, measures in at 9,9 km and displays an altitude variance of 229m. It has 13 bends, corners and curves of which only one is fairly sharp at 80 degrees. The pass connects Burgersdorp in the north-west with Jamestown and Dordrecht in the south-east.
It's not a specifically dangerous or technical pass, but like all gravel passes, it can quickly deteriorate in rainy weather and especially after snow. It has an impressive summit altitude of 1853m ASL which classifies it into the second highest group of passes in South Africa. If you enjoy lonely, remote passes then add this one to that list. It ticks the right boxes.
Cautionaries: Loose gravel, ruts, wash-aways, corrugations, livestock on the road, dangerous at night.
Mayaba Pass is located just to the south of Tugela Ferry, a large scattered town which straddles the Tugela River in KwaZulu-Natal, north of Greytown on the R33 trunk route. When it comes to hazards, this pass ticks all of the boxes; terrible road conditions, steep unguarded drop-offs, lots of traffic, pedestrians, children, domestic animals and livestock on the road. There is some evidence that work has commenced to upgrade this road, but in the meantime we strongly recommend that you avoid this pass altogether if possible, particularly at night. It can be driven in any vehicle, but extreme care will need to be exercised. The pass is named after the small village located at the summit.
It contains 26 bends, corners and curves within its 10,4 km length and produces an average gradient of 1:21, but many sections especially on the northern side of the summit point reach gradients as steep as 1:7.
This pass should not be confused with Botha's Pass in Mpumalanga. It's located near the beautiful Vondo Dam in the northern sector of Limpopo Province and is to all intents and purposes more of a forestry access road than a commuter pass, but for those willing to seek out the roads less travelled, this pass packs a big punch within its 5,7 km, featuring no less than 49 bends, corners and curves, of which 9 exceed an arc of 100 degrees. The folklore and myths that abound in this area are legendary and fascinating to read.
During fair weather periods, this pass can be driven in any high clearance vehicle, but in rainy weather, the roads become muddy and impassable for normal vehicles. Rather use a 4x4 in wet weather. During week days logging vehicles and heavy machinery dominate these roads. Drive with your lights on bright at all times and give way to forestry vehicles.
Finding this pass requires precise navigation. Make sure you have all the waypoints entered in your GPS in the directions sections below, otherwise you will more than likely get lost. As we have not yet physically filmed this pass, there might be locked gates or no access issues on some of the roads. Drive at your own risk.
This is one of several small poorts that have been carved through the east-west running mountains to the north of the R329 and R407 over a long distance stretching from Klaarstroom in the west to Steytlerville in the east. All of these poorts run along the north-south axis and many of them look like carbon copies of the previous one, yet there are subtle differences in each poort's geographical and geological features which sets one apart from the other.
Witpoort is a perfect example of one of these poorts. It is just 1,8 km long, has two minor bends and a tiny altitude variance of 19m. The railway line, road and river all compress within the confines of the poort and as is the case with all of these poorts, this one too is prone to flash floods.
The usual gravel road cautionaries apply of corrugations, loose gravel on corners, ruts, washaways, livestock on the road and ever present danger of punctures. Travel here well prepared and make sure you have pre-planned your route carefully noting all the intersections. Many of them have no signage, so it's easy to get lost.
This fairly long pass of 9,4 km winds its way over the mountains in the vicinity of the Nonesi village about 17 km north-east of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. The pass is tarred and is located on the R392 trunk route between Queenstown and Dordrecht
When the pass was rebuilt and realigned, many of the steep gradients and sharp bends were removed, making today's version of the pass is a much safer traverse. During winter, the pass is subject to snowfalls, in which case it's best avoided altogether unless you are in a 4WD vehicle.
As the case with all the roads (tar and gravel) in the old Transkei region, livestock on the road is an ever present threat and these roads are best avoided at night. The Bongolo Dam at the southern end of the pass has an interesting history dating back to the early 1900s and was apparently built making use of donkeys as labour. The word mbongolo means donkey in isiXhosa, hence the name of the dam and the pass.
This is an official pass, marked accordingly on all the government maps. Quite how this minor little dip down over a bridge ever got classified as a pass, is beyond our comprehension, but the reality is that there are at least 50 similar minor dips in roads all over South Africa, which some government official or cartographer decided it was good enough to get an official name.
The 'pass' has a classic inverted profile synonomous with a road that drops down to cross a river and then climbs up the far bank. It is just 1,7 km long, has only bends and a very mild average gradient. Common cautionaries here include livestock on the road and slow local trafiic.
This scenic drive provides an interesting and easy traverse of the poort that has been carved out by the Trakarivier. Although the road is virtually flat with only a 20m altitude variance over the 4,1 km length, it does include 4 crossings of the same river. For 99% of the year, these bridgeless crossings are very easy as the river bed is usually bone dry. The road forms a complex network of farm roads that service the remote farms west and north of Willowmore through a range of ridges and hills 15 km north the Swartberg mountains. It's easy to get lost here and many of the intersections have no signage. Travel well prepared with waypoints pre-plotted in your GPS.
Cautionaries: Like all gravel roads, conditions can change very quickly during or after heavy rain. Rivers in the Karoo are universally shallow and wide and prone to flash floods. If you're trapped inside a poort during a flash flood, it could prove to be life threatening. There are many similar poorts in this region and most of them display the same geographical tendencies.
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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