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Mpumalanga

This pass is straightforward with no sharp curves or steep gradients. It is of significant historical value in that this was the scene of a fierce battle during the Anglo-Boer war. The Battle of Allemansnek took place on 11th June 1900 between the Boer forces and the British army under General Buller. After this battle the Boers, fearing that they would be surrounded, retreated from Laingsnek. Buller occupied both Volksrust and Charlestown.

Bakenkop Pass is named after the prominent mountain near its western extremity, which is easily identifiable whilst driving the pass itself from the host of radio towers on its summit. The route forms part of one of the original trails which bisect the lower section of the Drakensberg escarpment, and is located just to the south-east of Sabie, running in a generally west-east configuration towards Kiepersol and Hazyview. The gravel track is extremely rough and rutted, and we strongly recommend the use of a high-clearance vehicle, or a 4x4 during or after wet weather. This is logging country, and the road traverses both pine and eucalyptus plantations for its entire length, also offering up some splendid views over the Lowveld.

 

Bergvliet Pass lies on the tarred R536 route between Hazyview and Sabie in the east of the Mpumalanga province. Named after the Bergvliet plantation through which it traverses, this pass forms the most curvy and scenic part of the “Infamous 22”. This stretch of road between Sabie and the Kiepersol turnoff is 22 km long (hence the name), and is acknowledged as being one of the best motorcycling roads in South Africa, if not the world.

The regional authorities are well aware of this, and the road surface is maintained in a pristine condition, in stark contrast to the other half of the R536 on the Hazyview side, and the Kiepersol road, which are riddled with potholes and broken tar. If you are driving this route in a car, bakkie or SUV, pay close attention and be on the lookout for motorcycles which could encroach onto the wrong side of the road, on any day of the week.

Take a 23 km drive along the rim of South Africa's most spectacular canyon - The Blyderivierspoort or nowadays known as the Molatse Canyon - and marvel at the scenic wonders the poort has on offer - like the Three Rondavels, God's Window, the Pinnacle and Bourke's Luck Potholes. The road (R532) connects the northern towns accessible from the R36 (Hoedspruit, Burgersfort and Orighstad) with the southern towns of Graskop and Sabie. There is a significant altitude gain of 480 vertical metres, but due to the length of the pass, the average gradient is a mild 1:47. The steepest gradient you will experience is on the eastern sector, where it gets to 1:10.

This is an unusual pass/poort in many respects. Firstly it does not in any way resemble the normal pattern of a road through a poort, where the incising river is always in close proximity. In this case the road follows to the southern rim of the canyon and for most of the drive the true beauty of the canyon remains unseen. Therefore it's important to stop wherever you can and explore the views on foot.

Secondly the vertical profle is much more of a pass than a poort with a large altitude gain, but there are 5 separate summit points, progressively getting higher from west to east. The road has 44 bends, corners and curves of which 6 exceed 90 degrees radius, but none of them are significantly sharp. If you follow the speed limits, it should be a perfectly safe drive. Be aware that this is a densely populated area, so you have the erratic behaviour of local drivers (some fast, some very slow), as well as tourist traffic, which can be equally erratic. There is also the chance of finding livestock on the road and mountain mists with the associated reduced visibility is also common along this road.

This beautiful, long, tarred pass winds it's down the escarpment on the R533 between Graskop in the east and Pilgrim's Rest in the west. The scenery is breathtaking, with forests, waterfalls, ghost towns, old mines and birdlife in abundance. This is a fairly steep pass, especially on the eastern side with gradients around 1:10.

With 59 bends, corners and curves, drivers need to stay alert and be particularly wary of oncoming vehicles appearing on the wrong side of the road on some of the blind corners. The single, continuous barrier line is badly faded which adds to some drivers essentially ignoring the overtaking restrictions. Having no safety shoulders and dense vegeattion which grows right up to the tarmac, adds to the dangers. There are a number of cautionaries for this pass which include a fairly narrow, shoulderless surface with the occasional pothole, some extremely sharp corners, negative banking, rain, dense mountain mists as well as heavy trucks and minibus taxis that use the road. To add to this the pass offers hardly any opportunities for overtaking. Drivers who end up behind slow moving trucks, tend to become frustrated and end up taking huge risks, which can results in a head on collision. There are very few places to stop safely.

It is almost impossible to determine the origin of the name of this pass, as Botha is a very popular surname in South Africa; it is in fact the second most common European surname after Jacobs. It has been established, however, that the pass name dates back to at least the 1880s, as there are some references to the pass in the chronicles of the 1st Anglo-Boer War, and this is also approximately when the nearby town of Barberton was founded.

This beautiful pass, which is not particularly well-known, is located on the tarred R38 route between Barberton and Badplaas, and offers up magnificent panoramic vistas over the De Kaap Valley from its many viewpoints. It gains a strapping 547 metres in altitude, and is nearly 12 kilometres long. The road is in an excellent condition, but it can be hazardous when covered by thick mist or rain which is common at certain times of the year.

The Bouldersberg Pass, together with it's sister pass, the Mpageni Pass forms the bulk of the old Nelspruit-Kaapmuiden road. It is a narrow tarred road [D286] that traverses the Crocodile Poort Nature Reserve. It descends 454 vertical meters over a distance of 8,7 km to produce a stiff average gradient of 1:19, with some sections as steep as 1:14. The pass terminates near the intersection with the tarred R38 to Barberton. Watch out for wild animals, especially at night and it should also be noted that there are two control booms, where you have to sign in and out. This pass should be reviewed with the Mpageni Pass as they virtually run back to back. The road parallels the Crocodile river for most of its length.

This short, gravel pass forms part of the Rooi Ivoor 4x4 route which includes another unofficial pass - The Doornhoek Pass (also featured on this site). Together these two passes form the ascent and descent towards a deep valley to the north. The Buffelskloof Pass traverses a mountain to the north of the Buffelskloof Dam and offers many viewing options over the dam, which get better as altitude is gained. This road can only be driven with a high clearance vehicle or 4x4 with low range. Access is restricted to permit holders. The route is gated along the lower parts of the Buffelskloof dam road as well as in the north at the Doornkloof farm. For more information on the full 4x4 route, please Google Rooi Ivoor 4x4

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.

Burgers Pass is a typical forestry gravel road with a classic midpoint summit. It's just above the national average at 5,7 km and has an altitude variance of 175m, which produces an average gradient of 1:32, but don't be fooled by that statistic as some of the gradients on the eastern side reach 1:5. There are plenty of bends corners and curves to keep drivers busy - 36 of them of which 10 have a turning arc of greater than 90 degrees and 5 of those exceed 150 degrees. There is one very sharp hairpin bend at the 3,8 km mark.

If you enjoy driving through dense forests, then this pass will tick most of the boxes, plus it carries very little traffic, other than forestry vehicles, so you should enjoy peace and quiet. This pass is best driven on a Sunday or public holiday, which will ensure an absence of forestry vehicles.

Cautionaries: This pass is in the very heart of the prime forestry zone around Graskop and Sabie. If you intend driving it in the week, expect forestry vehicles. Remember in forestry areas to always switch your headlights (not your parks) on. In bright sunlight the road is in a constant state of flux changing rapidly between deep shadows and bright sunlight. It takes a second or two for driver's eyes to adjust to these rapid changes, so by having your lights on, it makes you much more visible to other vehicles.

It's much easier approaching this pass from the eastern side, so although we filmed it from the west, the eastern approach is the better option, unless you enjoy navigational challenges.

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Mountain Passes South Africa

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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