Ossewakop (“Ox Wagon Hill”) looms above the small Mpumalanga town of Wakkerstroom on its eastern side, the peak approximately 400 metres higher than the settlement. It is impossible to miss, as some enterprising residents have created the large outline of a Voortrekker wagon and the dates “1838 – 1938” (to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Trek) with whitewashed rocks on the slopes just below the summit. The route up the mountain is difficult and torturous, so please read the cautionary notes before embarking on this trip. The remarkable views over the town and its surrounds from the beacon on top of the mountain certainly make the effort to get up there worthwhile.
This pass bisects the wide Schoemans Poort on the R539 between eNtokozweni (Machadodorp) and Montrose, which lies 35km to the east. It is located approximately 12km south-east of the Kwena Dam (previously known as the Braam Raubenheimer Dam). It descends a substantial 196 meters over 5.2 km producing an average gradient of 1:26 with the steepest parts being at 1:8. It is a fairly straight-forward pass with no obvious dangers. Other than a few gentle S-bends near the summit, the road is virtually dead straight for 80% of it's length.
This minor pass is located on the tarred R38 close to the N4 junction at the eastern end of the Krokodilpoort. It connects Louw's Creek in the south with Kaapmuiden in the north. The pass is basically a straight road cutting through a small neck through the hills and is only 3,11 km in length with an altitude gain of just 57m - it produces an average gradient of 1:20. This is a pass that if you dont know about it, you probably wouldn't even notice it. However, what it lacks in technical drama, it more than makes up for in terms of scenery. This is, after all, the lowveld and the land of the Kruger. It's just a few kilometres to the Malelane Gate.
This long tarred pass offers diverse scenery through an area steeped in history and of course, stories of robbers of those who found gold in the area. There is the famous Robbers Grave which can be visited near the pass at Pilgrims Rest - a village inextricably linked to the pioneering days of the discovery of gold. Once a flourishing town, it is today a small village offering tourists a glimpse into a bygone era. Pilgrims Rest and the aptly named Robbers Pass are historically bound like a set of twins.
This is a long pass of 20,6 km which includes a summit height of 1789m ASL and 68 bends, corners and curves to keep drivers honest. The usual cautionaries apply which include heavy mountain mists, high rainfall, logging and mining trucks, potholes and impatient drivers who disobey the barrier lines.
Located in the north-west mountainous region of Mpumalanga, this long gravel pass that runs on the north/south axis along the western side of the Steenkampsberg mountain, and offers a slower alternative to the much busier R37. This road in its entirety is more commonly known as the Beetgeskraal Road. The pass is 15,5 km long and descends 421m producing an average gradient of 1:36 with the steepest sections being at 1:8. The pass provides beautiful scenery of rivers, valleys and mountains.
The Saddleback Pass is located to the south-east of Barberton and forms part of the R40 which connects with the border post at Bulembo, Swaziland. The pass is tarred and in fair condition with obvious signs of maintenance in a state of ongoing progress. There were however some signs of potholes appearing, but these were not many. It climbs 609 meters in altitude over 10,4 km producing an average gradient of 1:17 - This will put it amongst our upper end list of steepest passes in our Extreme Passes listing.
It is as well that it is tarred, as this road would have been something of a nightmare in wet weather, when it was still gravel. Beyond the summit and Lomati Dam, the tar continues and gets a name change - The Bulembu Pass.
At 17,5 km the Santa Pass is one of the longer passes in South Africa. It is also a high aItitude pass with many sections being above 2000m. It is named after the Santa forestry settlement in the first valley on the western side, through which the pass traverses. It's a tarred pass on the R540 between Dullstroom 15 km to the SW and Lydenberg 45km to the north. The pass descends 396m to produce an average gradient of an easy 1:44 with the steepest parts being at 1:10. There are no warnings or cautionaries for this pass.
The N4 is a national highway which connects Pretoria in the west with Nelspruit and Komatipoort in the east. Soon after passing Machadodorp, the road splits into two and offers travellers a choice of routes, both of which are wonderfully scenic drives. The southern route (designated as the N4) bypasses Waterval Boven then plunges down Elands Pass and on towards Ngodwana; the northern route (designated as the R36/R539) traverses a series of four separate passes, which are, in order from west to east, Crossroads Pass, De Beersnek, Patatanek, and lastly Schoemanskloof Pass. The roads, which are almost exactly of equal length (62 km) and which are both in excellent condition, join up again near Elandshoek and Montrose, about 30 km from Nelspruit.
Shiyalongubo Pass is located in the north-eastern corner of Mpumalanga, close to Barberton and the border with Swaziland (now known as eSwatini). The pass forms part of a trail that was originally established by Robert Pettigrew, after whom the nearby Pettigrew’s Neck is named, to avoid the tsetse fly infestation along the primary route from Kaapmuiden to Barberton, which tracked the course of the Kaap River through a low-lying valley.
The name Shiyalongubo translates as “leave your belongings behind”, and is derived from the belief that items such as warm clothing and blankets would become unnecessary when descending from the high mountains into the hot Lowveld valleys. The road is usually in a fairly good condition, but it does deteriorate rapidly after bad weather and a 4x4 will be required to traverse the entire route, in particular the logging road section on the western side.
The aptly-named Skurweberg (“Rough Mountain”) Pass winds its way down the upper Drakensberg escarpment between Machadodorp and Badplaas in Mpumalanga. The pass is much-loved by motorcyclists due to the curvy nature of the road, but it does have one or two corners which can be dangerous at high speed. It is relatively steep with an average gradient of 1:17 and descends a total of 448 metres, but the tarred road surface is good and free of potholes. Keep an eye out for monkeys and baboons, as well as domestic livestock. The pass can be driven in any vehicle and in all weather conditions.
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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