Abel Erasmus Pass (R36)

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Abel Erasmus Pass, Limpopo Abel Erasmus Pass, Limpopo - Photo: Wikipedia

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 has 62 bends, corners and curves of which 12 exceed an arc of 90 degrees.

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.


Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....


[Video cover photo by Mike Leicester]

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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:

Getting there: To approach from the south, start off in Ohrigstad at GPS coordinates S24.751385 E30.556123. Travel in a northerly direction along the R36 for 24.3 km to S24.565229 E30.632960, which is the southern start point. To approach from the north, start off in Hoedspruit at the intersection of the R36 and the R40, at GPS coordinates S24.348968 E30.954247. Travel in a southerly direction along the R36 for 39.4 km to S24.433300 E30.621333, which is the northern start point.

Superb photograph by Hougaard Malan of the pass viewsSuperb photograph by Hougaard Malan of the pass views

Pass Description : The pass is essentially two passes connected by a large plateau, with the vast majority of the bends and steep climbs and descents being located along either end. Starting in the north, close to the eastern bank of the Olifants River, the views are simply spectacular with the towering and craggy cliffs of the mountains ahead blocking the view whilst to the right, the languid waters of the river provide a lifeline of water for farmers in the valley.

The road climbs 200 vertical metres in the first 3 km through a number of bends. All along this famous pass, you will find local vendors peddling their wares over a number of roadside stalls. If you intend pulling off to stop at one of these stalls, remember to indicate your intention early. 

Abel Erasmus PassLooking south just after the tunnel / Photo: Mike Leicester

The tunnel makes its appearance at the 3 km mark. Remember to switch your lights on, as drivers approaching from the other end will only see the glare from the natural light at the far end of the tunnel, so having your lights on is all about being seen. There is no overtaking allowed in the tunnel. Looking across the valleys soon after exiting the tunnel, a small waterfall can be seen. This is the Kadishi Tufa waterfall. Over the years, instead of receding, the Tufa falls grows outwards very much like stalagmites and stalactites.

At 4 minutes into our video there are large cliffs above the stalls of the locals. Amongst these is a guy by the name of Michael Kumako and, for a small gratuity, he will show you where to find the Taita Falcon. He has a telescope that was donated for this purpose by serious birders.

The road continues climbing steadily after the tunnel is cleared, first heading east into a side ravine to maintain gradient and then back into the west as an altitude of 792m is reached at the 5,3 km mark. The gradients suddenly ease off here, as the road sweeps through a wide left hand curve as the settlement of Thswenyane is traversed. Be careful of pedestrians, livestock and children and comply with the speed limit of 60 kph.

The Shoe Guest HouseThe Shoe Guest House / Photo: SA Venues

Once through the village, the road sweeps through another 90 degree left hand bend and begins the second part of the climb. This next climb is full of bends and heads mainly into the east. A second false summit of 1007m ASL is reached at the 9,8 km mark, where the road turns into the south-east, where the village of Ga-Moraba can be seen on the left.

The next 8 km is mostly a gently rising plateau with only three bends over 8 km.as the villages of Leboeng, Banar eng and Makgelane are passed. This fairly long section doesn't feel much like a true mountain pass, but this plateau effectively connects the northern and southern parts of the pass.

The summit of 1251m ASL is reached at the 17,9 km point and immediately the descent gradient kicks up to 1:16. The views down over the fertile valley to the left are superb, where the village of Mapareng can be clearly seen. Most of the bends on this section of the pass are well engineered, and although they turn through major arcs, the radii of the bends are comfortable.


[Video cover photo by Mike Leicester]

The pass ends at the 24,3 km mark at an altitude of 917m. At the foot of the pass, you have the choice of remaining on the R36 towards Ohrigstad, or you can turn left and take the R532 down the scenic route to Graskop.

History: Jacobus Abel Erasmus was born in Weenen, Natal, on 8 February 1845 to the Voortrekker family of Jacobus Johannes Petrus Erasmus and his wife, Maria. His father died shortly after his birth, and his mother decided to trek with a party led by Commandant-General Andries Hendrik Potgieter. She settled at Ohrigstad in the eastern Transvaal where she later remarried. Erasmus worked on the family property until he was 19 years old, when he was married to Gertruida Kruger. By then he was a man experienced in farming and familiar with survival and hunting in the Lowveld.

Abel ErasmusAbel Erasmus / Photo: Archives

The young couple moved to Krugerspos where Erasmus earned the respect of both whites and blacks for his approach to farming and for his hunting prowess. He acquired an option on die farm ‘Geelhoutboom’ (which was later renamed as “Mac Mac” by President Burgers).

When gold was discovered the value of the property escalated and he sold his option at a huge profit. Gold was also found on a farm he owned at Graskop which he sold to President Burgers for £1000, an enormous sum at that time. In February 1876 at the age of 31 years, and now quite wealthy, he was elected to serve on the Lydenburg Council.

Chief Sekhukhune of the Pedi tribe was becoming troublesome and, in 1876, Veldkornet Henry De Villiers gave warning that a strong Pedi impi was heading towards their area. A laager was quickly formed around a store wherein the Boers took refuge. The initial stages of the defence were not well handled, and De Villiers was forced to hand command over to Abel Erasmus who was temporarily appointed Veldkornet in his place.

The laager, which contained only 33 white men and 25 black men, was attacked by a 5000 strong impi. The defenders managed to hold off the Pedi warriors who eventually retreated, making off with 2000 head of cattle belonging to the Boers. A further attack was made against Erasmus by one of Sekhukhune’s indunas who was supported by a Swazi force of 5000 warriors led by their chief, Matsafeni Mdhluli.

Erasmus was officially appointed Veldkornet and led a commando to the Blyde River valley to recover their cattle. Burgers attacked Sekhukhune’s mountain stronghold but, due to dissention amongst the Boers over his leadership, he was forced to withdraw and ultimately to abandon the campaign.

Interesting geologyRock strata on display for those interested in geology / Photo: Mike Leicester

Fortunately, a peace agreement was arranged by a missionary, but the debacle was one of the factors which led to the British taking over the administration of the Transvaal in 1877. The British brought the Pedi under control and finally, in 1879, had Chief Sekhukhune imprisoned in Pretoria and fined 2000 head of cattle.

While being held in detention the Pedi chief made accusations against Abel Erasmus which the British believed. They took Erasmus into custody, but he was later released without being charged. Following the 1st Anglo-Boer War of 1881 the victorious Boers released Sekhukhune, who was promptly murdered by his half-brother.

Chief SekhukhuneChief Sekhukhune / Drawing: Archives

The new Boer government appointed Abel Erasmus as the Native Commissioner for the Lydenburg district and, with his invaluable knowledge of the local tribes and their languages, he acted as guide and interpreter for many government expeditions, such as those which estab­lished the borders between the South African Republic (Transvaal), Portuguese East Africa, and Swaziland. In 1892, he was able to mobilize 3000 local workers to construct the Eastern railway line between Komatipoort and Nelspruit. He was well respected by the men and put much effort into countering gun smuggling and the arming of the local black tribes.

He was an outstanding hunter and was known by the blacks as “Ndabulu Duzi” (“he who shoots from close range”). He became concerned about the diminishing wildlife in the Lowveld, and in November 1880 he made a submission to the government calling for the establishment of a game reserve between the Crocodile and the Sabie rivers. His request was initially unsuccessful.

Erasmus purchased the farm “Orinoco” and there he developed a unique herd of prize cattle which were uniformly brown in colour with yellow muzzles.

During the 1890s Erasmus was approached, in his role as Native Commissioner, by a Shangaan chief, Mpisane Nxumalo, for permission to settle his tribe in the Transvaal Lowveld. These people were living in Portuguese East Africa where conditions had become unsettled due to wars and disruption. In 1896 they were settled on “Orinoco” and “New Forest”.


[Video cover photo by Mike Leicester]

When the 2nd Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899 Erasmus, together with his commando, was sent to the Natal front. In 1901 Steinaecker’s Horse (regiment) built a fort (Fort Mpisane) on the farm “New Forest” which abutted the eastern boundary of Erasmus’ property “Orinoco”. A patrol from the outpost at Sabi Bridge (now Skukuza) rustled his prize herd of brown cattle and drove them back to the camp. However, the Fort Mpisane garrison did not appear to have much, if any, involvement in the affair.

Local cattle breedLocal cattle / Photo: Farmers Weekly

 When Erasmus discovered that his herd had gone missing, he was furious. He approached the Boer General, Ben Viljoen, and maintained that the Mpisane garrison was nothing more than a nest of troublemakers and scoundrels. He requested that Fort Mpisane be attacked and the menace removed.

The attack occurred on 7 August 1901, and the Boers were victorious in the engage­ment, although Commandant Piet Moll was severely wounded, having had his jaw shot off.

Abel Erasmus died on the 31st of May 1912 at the age of 67, and is buried in a cemetery on the farm Krugerspos in the Lydenburg district.

[Text & video footage by Mike Leicester]

Fact File:


S24.433300 E30.621333


S24.529852 E30.643204


S24.565229 E30.632960














24,2 km




30 minutes


60/80 kph


Tar (R36)






Orighstad (30 km)

Route Map:

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||Click to download: Abel Erasmus Pass   (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google Earth and most GPS software systems) 


More in this category: Wyllie's Poort (N1) »

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