Waterval Pass

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Drakensberger cattle Drakensberger cattle - Photo: Twitter

Waterval Pass is located on a minor gravel road which connects Amersfoort in the west with Dirkiesdorp in the east, in the southern part of the Mpumalanga province. The pass is named after a farm in the area, which in turn derives its name from a small waterfall which cascades over a hollow bluff on the southern side of the road. Although a big pass by any standards (it is nearly 6 km long and gains over 300 metres in height), it is marked on very few maps and is relatively unknown, possibly because of its remote location. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, but like all gravel roads in South Africa, the surface can deteriorate rapidly in wet weather.

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[Video cover photo by Mike Leicester]

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Digging into the details: 

Getting there: To approach from the east, start off from an intersection on the R543 near Dirkiesdorp, at GPS coordinates S27.163782 E30.412202. Travel in a westerly direction along an unnamed gravel road for 14.9 km to S27.110510 E30.287964, which is the easterly start point. 

CosmosCosmos near the summit area / Photo: Michael Mocke

To approach from the west, start off in Amersfoort from the intersection of the N11 and the R35, at GPS coordinates S27.007749 E29.871183. Travel in a southerly direction along the N11 for 2.1 km to S27.024723 E29.876313, then turn left onto the Wakkerstroom road. Follow this road in a southerly direction for 17.8 km to S27.083887 E30.032037, then turn left. Travel over Latemanek for 6.9 km to a 4-way intersection, then turn right. Now travel in an easterly direction for 18.9 km to S27.110973 E30.243187, which is the western start point.  

We have filmed the pass from west to east. The pass begins where the road crosses over a small stream, followed by a gently-inclining straight of 550 metres up to the summit. The road bends to the left through a double-apex shallow corner of 90 degrees, then begins to descend slowly along another short straight. This leads into a gentle right-hander, then through a small copse of very large eucalyptus trees.  

Views from the passViews from the pass / Photo: Michael Mocke

Beautiful views over the valley formed by the Mpundu River start to open up, with the high mountains of the Drakensberg rising majestically in the far distance. Two more shallow left-hand curves are followed by a sharp 90-degree right-hand turn, the gradient decreasing significantly at this point. The road straightens up briefly then curves to the left around the nose of a mountain, with attractive sandstone cliffs and caves visible on the slopes above the road. The body of water which comes into view in the distance at this point is the Heyshope Dam, which was built in the Driehoek district and commissioned in 1986.  

Another shallow left-hand bend is followed by the first of three hairpins on this pass, a right-hander which comes up at the 3.2 km mark. The road straightens up for 350 metres, then kinks back to the left through a stand of small trees, unusual and exotic in this part of the world where the vegetation consists primarily of marshy grassland. The second hairpin is encountered soon afterwards, this time of very sharp corner of 130 degrees to the left.  

DirkiesdorpDirkiesdorp / Photo: Mapio

The third and last of the hairpins appears almost immediately, another right-hander which has a double apex. The second apex is much sharper than you would expect, so slow right down through this corner; there are no safety railings anywhere along this pass. A long straight of 600 metres heads down into a dip as the road crosses over a stream, then climbs briefly through a shallow left-hand curve. The last corner of the pass is a gentle bend to the right, and then the pass ends at the crossing of another small stream.  

The closest settlement to the pass is Dirkiesdorp, a small town situated approximately halfway between Wakkerstroom and Piet Retief on the tarred R543. There is very little information available about the village and its origins, but there can be almost no doubt that the town was named after Dirk Cornelis Uys (“Swart Dirk”), a very prominent citizen of the area. 

Signing of  the peace treaty in 1881Signing of the peace treaty in 1881

Dirk acquired his nickname from his dark complexion (some sources claim that it was because of his black hair and beard). The Uys clan certainly had a habit of nicknaming everyone in the family; these included the patriarch, Jacobus Johannes (“Koos Bybel”), Petrus Lafras (“Piet Italeni”), Johannes Zacharias (“Jannie Gyselaar”), another Jacobus Johannes (“Kruppel Koos”), and two more named Petrus Lafras (“Piet Hlobane” and “Vaal Piet”), amongst many others.  

Views from the passRiver crossing near the eastern end of the pass / Photo: Michael Mocke

Swart Dirk Uys was born in the Swellendam district in 1814, lived to the ripe old age of 96, and passed away on the 20th of October 1910 whilst residing on the farm Gryshoek near Wakkerstroom. He was very much a larger-than-life character, and his legacy lives on to this day.  

Dirk moved with his family from the Cape to Northern Natal during the Great Trek. He took part in many of the Voortrekker-Zulu battles during this process, and was then appointed as the first Commandant of the Utrecht district. Dirk loved the area, and it was with much enthusiasm that he took on the task in 1859 of finding and establishing a new settlement somewhere between Potchefstroom and Utrecht. He eventually located and settled on a marshy area north of Utrecht, today known as Wakkerstroom.  

Swart Dirk would not assist the British during the Zulu War of 1879, but made a good profit out of selling horses and provisions to them. His beautiful daughter, Sannie, and the young Prince Imperial of France were thought to be in love, but unfortunately the Prince was killed during a skirmish with the Zulus in June 1879.  

looking westLooking west on the pass / Photo: Mike Leicester

Dirk was an advisor to General Piet Joubert and served as the Commissioner of the Boer Laagers during the 1st Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881). His son, also named Dirk Cornelis, was killed at the Battle of Lang’s Nek. After this tragedy, the family joined the main Boer laager at Majuba. Swart Dirk's daughter, Sannie, played and sang to the Boers during the week that she remained there. The hard-bitten men loved her for her beauty and lilting voice, which reminded them of home and their loved ones. This is possibly the earliest recorded entertainment of Boer troops by their own people whilst on active service in South Africa. Dirk was one of the signatories of the Peace Treaty at O’Neill’s Cottage a couple of months later.  

Swart Dirk spent most of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War in a concentration camp, much to his disgust. When released, he immediately excavated the gold Kruger sovereigns which he had buried, then retired with enthusiasm back to Gryshoek to continue with his cattle farming.  

Swart Dirk is considered to be the father of one of South Africa’s indigenous cattle breeds. The breed was named after him, and was known as the “Uysbees” until 1947, when the name was changed to the “Drakensberger”. Although the origin of the breed goes back hundreds of years to when Friesland bulls and the black cattle of the Khoi were interbred for the first time, it was Swart Dirk and his family who bred and improved the cattle during the latter half of the 19th century, and who subsequently saved the race from extinction after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.  

Text & video footage by Mike Leicester 

Fact File:


S27.110973 E30.243187


S27.112279 E30.252457


S27.110510 E30.287964














5,8 km




7 minutes


60 kph








Dirkiesdorp (21 km)

Route Map:

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Route files:

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


More in this category: « Slaaihoek Pass Ossewakop »

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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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