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The spectacular Abel Erasmus Pass, named after a very prominent citizen of the area, was officially opened on the 8th of May 1959, and navigates the Manoutsa section of the Limpopo Drakensberg. It is regarded as an engineering triumph, with a sequence of bends and twists that can only give rise to admiration for the gold rush pioneers of the late 19th century that carved this route through the mountains with their wagons.
The pass also includes a 133 metre-long tunnel, named after J.G. (Hans) Strydom, who served as the prime minister of South Africa from 1954 to 1958. This huge pass is over 24 km long and has an altitude variance of 737 metres; the road surface is in a good condition, but the pass is sometimes plagued by heavy traffic. It can be very difficult to pass slow-moving trucks – please exercise a degree of tolerance and patience, and give yourself plenty of time to traverse this route.
The pass has 62 bends,corners and curves of which 12 exceed an arc of 90 degrees.
This fairly steep gravel pass lies between Rankins Pass in the east (40 km) and Thabazimbi 18 km to the south-west. Note that Rankin's Pass is not a pass, but a tiny SAPS outpost and a small general dealers store. Bakkers Pass summits at 1464m and descends a total of 314 vertical metres producing an average gradient of 1:14. The steepest sections are at 1:8. We recommend using a reasonable clearance vehicle for this road as it gets a bit rough in places. An SUV, bakkie or 4x4 will cope well.
Bastard Nek (also sometimes referred to as Bastersnek) is a fairly obscure gravel road pass, situated near Mokopane in the Limpopo province. The road is badly maintained, and the use of a high clearance vehicle is strongly recommended. As with so many of the other gravel road passes in Limpopo, we also issue a soft sand cautionary for adventure bikers. As you approach this pass from the north, you are faced with a daunting array of cliffs which form the Limpopo escarpment, but the road itself follows a natural cleft up through the mountains, and it climbs at a fairly mild average gradient of just 1:22 over the length of the pass.
Nestled amongst the beautiful Wolkberg mountains, the 21,000 hectare Bewaarkloof Nature Reserve appears to have become completely neglected and abandoned. There is no fencing, water or electricity, and illegal squatters are using the reserve as a pasture for their cattle and to collect timber for firewood. This does not, however, detract from the natural beauty of the landscape, and the pass itself, which is an access road into the reserve, is worth seeking out if you are a dedicated and intrepid pass-chaser.
Bokpoort is a tar road pass that follows a natural poort through the mountains from the lowlands of Limpopo up onto the plateau. It is one of the five original passages into the Limpopo interior used by early explorers and settlers. From the south, the roads leading to the pass are tarred, but all approach roads from the north have a gravel surface and are not in a particularly good condition, so be aware of this if driving a normal sedan vehicle. The pass has a height gain of 177 metres over a distance of 5.6 kilometres, producing a fairly gentle average gradient of just 1:32.
Brown’s Cutting is an obscure gravel road pass situated in the north-western corner of Limpopo province near Vaalwater, quite close to the Botswana border. It presents a challenge in that it is difficult to find, and will test your orienteering skills and sense of direction to the limit, particularly from the northern side. Although the pass itself is not very difficult to negotiate, the approach roads can be tricky, and some offroad driving experience would be helpful. You will need to be a dedicated pass-chaser to tick this one off your bucket list!
Chunie's Poort is located on the tarred R37 road, about 40 km south of Polokwane (formerly known as Pietersburg). There are various spellings of the name, including Chuene and Tshwene, which translates as “Baboon”, but most sources and the signboards use the spelling as shown above. The pass follows the course of the Tudumo River, which flows southwards out of the Chuniespoort Dam. At the northern end, the river has cut its way through a narrow gorge, and an unusual feature of this pass is that the bridge over which the road is built does not cross the river, but parallels its path through this gorge, directly above the water.
“Die Noute” translates directly into English as “The Narrows”, and this pass is probably named as such because it climbs up the mountains through a narrow kloof. But the term is often used idiomatically in Afrikaans, as in “as jy in die noute beland” which loosely translates to “if you have to tighten your belt”, so it could also refer to hardship and trouble. The pass is just 1.1 kms long and has a height difference of only 36 metres, but it traverses neatly through dense riverine forest, and in some ways is briefly reminiscent of the 7 Passes road between Knysna and George.
A bigger pass of 10,2 km which loses 408m in altitude, producing an average gradient of 1:25 and the steepest parts being at 1:5. It offers dramatic views over deep kloofs and valleys with a jumble of green peaks wherever you look. It forms part of the Rooi Ivoor 4x4 route on the north/south axis which includes the Buffelskloof Pass as well as access to the Buffelskloof Dam. The route is restricted/private and there are control gates at both the Doornkloof farm in the north as well as near the Buffelskloof dam in the south. Only open to proper 4x4 vehicles with good clearance and low range.
This well designed pass is a safer, shorter and faster alternative to the better known Magoesbaskloof Pass (R71) as a connecting road between Haenertsburg and Tzaneen. George's Valley runs north-east from the Ebenezer Dam to Tzaneen Dam. It is named after George Denys who designed the road (R528). He was convinced he could design a better road to Tzaneen than the Magoesbaskloof traverse. Georges Valley Road is an equally scenic drive and linking the two passes for a circular trip is well worth the drive. New Agatha State Forest is also accessible from the R528 (high clearance vehicle required). At the time of publishing many reports have come in of bad potholes developing on the R528.There is no indication from the authorities when the road is scheduled for maintenance.
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.