Hendriksdal Pass (R37)

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Pine planations near Sabie Pine planations near Sabie - Photo: Specials4Africa

Hendriksdal Pass is located just to the south of Sabie, on the tarred R37 route which connects the little town with Nelspruit (Mbombela). The pass is fairly long at 9,5 km and presents an altitude variance of 218m  via 22 bends, corners and curves, most of which have an easy radius.

The pass is named after the original farm in the area, which later also gave its name to a railway station dating back to the 1920s. The road is in a good condition (unlike many of the other roads in this area) and presents very few hazards, provided that the speed limit is adhered to. The pass offers up magnificent elevated views of Sabie itself, as well as the mountains and tree plantations which abound in this area.

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[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 vertical profile animation can generate a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide as what to expect in terms of gradients, distances and elevation. The graph may produce some improbable and impossibly sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

Digging into the details:

Getting there: To approach from the southern side, start off near Nelspruit at the intersection of the R37 and the R40, at GPS coordinates S25.448552 E30.962075. Travel in a northerly direction along the R37 for 39.8 km to S25.203306 E30.765201, which is the southern start point. To approach from the north, start off in Sabie at the intersection of Main Road and Trichardt Street, at GPS coordinates S25.100513 E30.778629.

Sabie forest fireForests fires cause devastation / Photo: Kishugu

Travel in a south-westerly direction along the R532 for 8.6 km to S25.148659 E30.756493, then turn left at the intersection onto the R37. This is the northern start point. You could also reach this intersection by driving east from Lydenburg on the R532 over the Masjiennek, Long Tom and Koffiehoogte passes. 

We have filmed the pass from north to south. Starting off at the intersection with the R532, the road bends sharply to the left through 90 degrees, bounded on either side by steep cuttings. It curves slightly back to the right, then straightens up for 600 metres, with the heading now towards the north-east. A gentle left-hand curve is followed by a big looping turn through 160 degrees to the right, but this corner has a very wide radius and could not really be called a hairpin bend.  

The old Bokkie posterThe old 'Bokkie' sign familiar to the older generation / Photo: Incite Sustainability

Just as the road straightens up again there is a layby on the left-hand side, with ample space to pull off and park. A stop here is well worthwhile, as it offers up beautiful views over the town of Sabie itself away in the distance, and a magnificent vista towards the east over the Sabie River Valley. From a photography point of view, it would be best to get here in the afternoon, as the sun would then be behind you. A small picnic table has been provided at this spot, and roadside vendors sometimes ply their goods here as well.  

The road now climbs slowly as it twists and turns to follow a natural contour line along the mountainside, with steep cliffs on the right-hand side. Pine plantations line the route, and there are some spectacular examples of the Kiepersol (Cabbage Tree) growing on the verges.  The gradient is fairly even through this section, but kicks up quite sharply just before you approach the summit, which is reached at the 4.0 km mark.  

The start of the descent opens up a stunning view towards the south, with the hills and valleys covered with pine plantations everywhere you look. The buildings which make up the Hendriksdal Station complex are visible amongst the trees far below you diagonally on the left. A long straight of 650 metres leads into a big S-bend, the road turning first to the right and then back to the left as it crosses over a small stream. The route now declines through a series of five consecutive corners, all with a set radius and with a constant rhythm – perfect motorcycle territory!  

At the 8.0 km mark, there is an intersection on the left which will take you to the old Hendriksdal Station. The defunct buildings were converted to a restaurant and guest house a few years ago, which then became a world-famous destination known as the Artist’s Café. Unfortunately, the establishment was the scene of a tragedy in 2009 when the owners, Leon and Hetta Steyn, were shot and killed, allegedly by a gang which included two of their domestic workers. The café was reopened a year later by new owners, but despite diligent research, we have been unable to determine its current status, and it is possible that it has been shut down. We will update this entry if further information comes to light. 

Hendriksdal station - Artist's cafeThe Artist's Cafe (old Hendriksdal station) / Photo: NightsAwayAfter this intersection, the road flattens out and straightens up for 600 metres, then bends gently to the right. The last section of the pass is a long downhill straight which underpasses the old railway line, and then the pass ends at the 9.5 km mark. Continue straight onwards in a southerly direction to eventually reach the outskirts of Nelspruit, about 40 km from this point.  

Sabie is surrounded by one of the largest man-made forests in the world. How this came about can be traced right back to 1871, when, during a hunting expedition led by Henry Thomas Glynn, a stray bullet chipped a rock and revealed a rich gold reef. This started a gold-rush into the area, and soon many of the indigenous forests were decimated to supply firewood and later mine props.  

Fortunately, a far-sighted man named Joseph Brook Shires realized the necessity for commercial plantations, and in 1876 the first trees in the area were planted. Today, South Africa has tree plantations covering more than 1.5 million hectares, representing 1.2% of its total land area. On average, 360,000 trees are planted every working day, which is more than 90 million every year. One of the largest afforested regions (0.6 million hectares, about one third of the total) is in the Mpumalanga province. 

Eucaplyptus plantationsEucalyptus plantations near Sabie / Photo Carbon brief

The forestry industry contributes 8.7% of the gross value of the country's agricultural output. The plantation forests of South Africa use just 3% of the country's total water resource. Irrigation, which is the norm in the growing of many agricultural crops, is never utilised in forest plantation management, and therefore the rainfall in these regions needs to be higher than 750 mm per annum to sustain commercial forestry.  

The plantations are serviced by a huge network of logging roads, most of which are closed off for public use. In the immediate Sabie area, there are approximately 16,000 km of these roads – to put this in perspective, this would be the equivalent of driving from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back – five times!  

Pinnacle RockPinnacle Rock / Photo: Frame to Frame

Most commercial plantations in the country consist of either pine trees or eucalyptus trees. Three different species of pine are grown; these are the Jelecote Pine (indigenous to Mexico), and the Slash Pine and Loblolly Pine (both of which are indigenous to the USA). Younger trees are used for pulp, boxes and crates, and older trees are used for building and construction. Most eucalyptus trees are blue-gums (Eucalyptus grandis) that originate from Australia, and these are used for mining, telephone & transmission poles, and fence posts.  

Forest owners spend an enormous amount of time and money in protecting timber plantations from fire. Open strips of land, which separate blocks of trees, are constantly cleared of all combustible material in order to create what is termed a fire-belt. Before each winter, the air around Sabie is occasionally hazy and smoke-filled as foresters prepare and burn fire-belts. Fires could be caused either accidentally or through natural occurrences such as lightning, but whatever the reason, they can devastate forests, destroy the wildlife and ecology of entire plantations, and expose the ground to erosion. All good reasons not to be careless, as Bokkie would say (some of you might not be old enough to understand this reference)!  

[Text & video footage by Mike Leicester] 

Fact File:


S25.148697 E30.756561


S25.162182 E30.769604


S25.203306 E30.765201














9,5 km




8 Mins


100 kph


Tar (R37)






Sabie (13 km)

Route Map:

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Route files:

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


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