Lootsberg Pass (N9)

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Lootsberg Pass approach Lootsberg Pass approach - Photo: www.MountainPassesSouthAfrica.co.za

This lovely pass with its sweeping curves around the buttresses of the Lootsberg, lies in the heart of the Great Karoo some 70km North of Graaff Reinet on the tarred N9. It is the highest pass in the Karoo and was named after Hendrik Loots who died on the old pass, after his carriage overturned.  It  is the first of a string of poorts and passes starting from the North East near Middelburg, with the final one being the Potjiesberg Pass to the South of Uniondale taking travellers from the high grounds of the Great Karoo down to the Little Karoo towards Oudtshoorn and George. The pass was originally constructed by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1858.


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Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

Digging into the details:

The flat Karoo landscape is peppered with the trademark flat-topped koppies, but these are spaced with sufficient distances apart for roads never to have to gain or lose much altitude. The Lootsberg was a different matter altogether requiring the road builders (padmakers) to cut through the low point in the range. The pass was first tarred in 1961.

The pass is 6.18 km long and gains/loses 200 meters in altitude. The resulting gradient is a very comfortable 1:20 with the steepest sections at 1:5. There are panoramic views over the vast plains of the Karoo to be savoured and enjoyed. Certain spots provide excellent photographic opportunities particularly at the low light of dusk and dawn. The pass joins the two towns of Graaff Reinet and Middelburg, with the latter being closer at some 45 km to the North East. With an altitude at the summit of 1798m ASL the pass is frequently subjected to snowfalls during the winter months.

Lootsberg Pass by Michelle KillianThe Lootsberg Pass - a river runs through it / Photo courtesy of Michelle KillianThe summit has some shady trees and a picnic table - a good spot to take a break and enjoy the expansive views. Careful observation will reveal a railway track running at a lower elevation. This was a great spot from which to photograph the majestic old steam trains, relegated to mere memories or at best a photo to remind us of the romantic era of steam. The rail link is still used today by diesel locomotives. Another way to enjoy the Lootsberg Pass, is to book the small railway caboose trolley (a single unit 9 seater diesel powered van)  fondly known as "Tubby" which takes travellers up the pass by rail, stopping at the summit and returning via a picnic stop. The trip starts and ends at the Blaauwater siding, approximately 57 km North East of Graaff Reinet  and takes about 2 hours. Bookings are essential and the caboose operates only on certain days of the week. For further info Google BLAAUWATER RAILWAY.

The descent has some sharp curves, but the pass is well designed with comfortable gradients and should pose no serious problems if speed limits are observed. Take note of the extensive reinforcing on the mountain side of the road, preventing rock falls.

There are several interesting places to visit in Middelburg, amongst them the old English Soldiers grave yard and the old Methodist church. The town also hosts one of the biggest agricultural colleges in South Africa.

Graaff Reinet is also known as the 'Gem of the Karoo' and has a range of attractions for the tourist including the Valley of Desolation and some exquisitely restored homes down the main street.  The town's attractions are featured in other passes geographically closer to the town, which can be accessed via this website's search function.

[Historical information courtesy of Chris Smit]

Fact File:


S31.854812 E24.871330


S31.835381 E24.858476


S31.818237 E24.860245














6,18 km




10 minutes


60 - 80 kph








Middelburg (45 km)

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Route files:

||Click to download: Lootsberg Pass (Note - This is a .gdb file which can be opened in most GPS software systems)

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