A chat about the history of the Penhoek Pass between Queenstown and Jamestown – one of the coldest places in South Africa.
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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 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.
Olifantspoort is located on the N6, the national road between Bloemfontein and East London, about 20 km north-west of Queenstown. The road is in an excellent condition and can be traversed in any vehicle and in all weather conditions, with the possible exception of when snow falls, which does happen here from time to time. The poort is undoubtedly named after the herds of elephants which once frequented this area; unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and these giant pachyderms are today restricted to some of the larger game reserves, like the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth.
MacKay's Nek Pass on the tarred R410 route between Queenstown in the west and Lady Frere in the east, is a fairly short, but dramatic pass that can surprise unwary drivers with its steep gradients and very sharp bends. It's only 3,8 km long, but crammed into the first 2,5 km are two full horseshoe bends and one ninety degree right hand curve. The gradients are steep on the western side of the pass, reaching 1:7 and when added to an already high altitude of over 1200m ASL, many vehicles will experience a sensation of feeling underpowered.
This minor, but scenic poort is located on the tarred N6 route between Queenstown and Jamestown. It's only 2,7 km long and displays an altitude variane of just 18m producing a very easy average gradient of 1:150. The typical poort statistics allow the traveller to relax and enjoy the wonderful country scenery. The poort is suitable for all vehicles and on the odd occassion snow can be encountered. The road is in excellent condition with safety shoulders, but be aware that this is a fairly busy road and it carries large volumes of traffic.
The Penhoek Pass is a well engineered, high altitude tarred pass forming part of the N6 highway between Queenstown in the south and Jamestown in the north. The 5.6 km long pass traverses through the aptly named Stormberg to assert itself as one of South Africa's dangerous tarred passes. In earlier days (circa 1846) the original pass was known as the Stormberg Pass and featured some impressive retaining walls with very steep drop-offs. Some of the original lines can still be seen on the satellite imagery. Traversing the old pass was a major event, compared to the easy drive over today's version with it's perfectly banked corners, deep cuttings and easy gradients.
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