Vanrhyns Pass (R27)

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Van Rhyns Pass Van Rhyns Pass - Photo: Karoo Travel

This beautiful tarred pass forms part of the R27 between Vanrhynsdorp and Nieuwoudtville and was originally built and designed by Thomas Bain.  It is just under 9 km in length and climbs 595m to summit at 825m ASL,  producing an average gradient of 1:15 with the steepest sections being at l:12. This is a well engineered pass with a good safety record providing you stick to the speed limits. This is amongst the top 10 passes of the Northern Cape and is a must drive offering grand views, tight chicane style corners and lots of variety. The pass is named after Petrus Benjamin Van Rhyn - a clergyman, politician and member of parliament in the old mission settlement of Troe-Troe. The town's name was changed in 1881 to Vanrhynsdorp.


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Digging into the details:

The pass joins the two Namaqualand towns with Vanrhynsdorp lying 39 to the SW, with Nieuwoudtville 10 km to the east. It is perhaps best known for the two dramatic 180 degree hairpins near the summit (featured in our cover photo). From this vantage point you will enjoy 'forever' views out over a vast semi-desert plain known as the Knersveld. That translates into "Gnashing or Grinding Plains" and it's easy to understand why it is named so! The pass straddles the border between the Western and Northern Cape, which left us with a bit of a dilemma in terms of under which province to credit the pass. The bulk of the pass falls within the Western Cape, but since the Western Cape has the overwhelming majority of passes in South Africa, we have logged this one under the Northern Cape. The actual border is crossed during the chicane section at the first hairpin.

Bookeveld Mountains viewed from the KnersvlakteA brooding sky over the Bokkeveld Mountains viewed from the Knersvlakte / Daan PrinslooNote that there are three variants of the spelling of this pass's name. Vanrhynspas (Afrikaans); Van Rhyn's Pass (English) and Vanrhyns Pass (a mix of the two). Approaching over the vast plain of the Knersveld on the tarred R27 the approach is impressive, as the looming bulk of the Bokkeveld Mountains completely straddles your view. The sense of anticipation is palpable as the road can be seen climbing away to the left. Above the mountain plateau lies the large Oorlogskloof (War Ravine) Nature Reserve, which is a subject all on its own and well worth visiting at any time of year, but spring-time is best.

Approach to the Vanrhyns PassThe approach to the pass from the south-west on the R27/ Dominique HazardThis road and other roads in the Namaqualand area get the vast majority of their tourist visitors in August and September, when the annual miracle of the wild flower explosion is a much anticipated event and attracts nature lovers from far and wide in their droves - as far as Europe, USA and Canada. The mountain plateau around nearby Nieuwoudtville is a favourite destination for the flower spotters.

Getting there: Leave Vanrhynsdorp towards the north-east and Nieuwoudtville on the R27 and cross the quartz-gravelled plains of the Knersvlakte for 30km. The Bokkeveldberge can be seen from a far distance. The final few kilometers bring things into perspective as the scar of the road leading from right to left becomes visible on the mountain-side. The pass starts opposite the farm Rooikloof at the crossing of a small stream as the ascent begins via a double set of S-curves.

Above the cloud baseLooking down at dense white clouds covering the Knersvlakte from above the chicane section / A.P.BarnardIt then swings into the north and starts climbing in earnest. This is a long pass with a big altitude gain - almost 600 metres! The ascent gradient is around 1:11 which is reasonably steep. The road carries a lot of heavy commercial truck traffic and holds ups are common as overtaking is limited to certain sections only. This section is 3 km long and the road climbs incessantly, revealing expansive views over the Knersvlakte.

Soon you arrive at the first hairpin. The road turns to the right in a full 180 degree turn into the south-east. After 180m a view-site appears on the right, where there are some picnic tables. There is a second rest area on the left hand side and slightly higher than the road, which is less obvious to ascending traffic. Either of these spots are excellent for a leg stretch and the opportunity to enjoy the stunning scenery.

The chicane section with its double hairpinsThe beautifully designed double hairpin chicane section / Fanie GousBeyond the rest area, the road kinks slightly to the right, then enters the second hairpin, which curves through just over 180 degrees to the left, as the ascent reverts into the north and climbs to virtually under the vertical cliff faces of the mountain. The 200m long section curves more into the north-west and continues climbing steadily for another 500 metres. Those sitting on the left hand side of the vehicle will get perfect views of the multiple curves of the chicane section. Note that despite the stellar views, there is no stopping allowed here.

Above the chicanesLooking back at the second hairpin / Trygve RobertsThe final bend in the road comes up as the gradient eases and the road goes into another 160 degree right hand turn. This is a much wider turn and is not a true hairpin. Just as the road levels off, there is a small gravel track leading off to the right. If you want to get photos of the pass from this excellent vantage point, this is the place to do it from. The track leads to the very edge of the mountain, revealing the entire view - waiting to be photographed. The small, but interesting town of Nieuwoudtville lies 9 km to the east. The town has a museum, a few restaurants and many self-catering and B&B options. We recommend a visit to the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve - the entrance is to the right a few kilometers before the town. The canyon and waterfalls (in winter) can also be accessed by visitors to Papkuilsfontein, about 22 km to the south. (You need to book - and for those interested in spring flowers, this facility is already fully booked a year in advance)

Whilst filming in this area, we based ourselves at a small cottage on the Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm and produced this video featuring one of the self catering cottages. We highly recommend this establishment.

The ascent totals 595m to summit at 825m ASL. There are 29 curves and bends along the length of the pass including the two hairpins before the summit. Prior to the pass being tarred and modernised, the original pass was another of the great roads built by South Africa's most famous padmaker, Thomas Bain (circa 1880).

This pass comes highly recommended and is suitable for all cars. The pass carries a high volume of heavy trucks. It's is used as a shortcut by truckers, as they omit the Western Cape on their route to Namibia. Ny necessity their speeds can be excrutiatingly slow - both ascending and descending. You need to be patient and wait for the barrier lines to break, to allow a safe overtaking opportunity. Few people realise how much engineering goes into the barrier lines in terms of ensuring our safety. These days a large portion of South African drivers ignore barrier lines. They do this at their own (and our) peril. We see examples of this on every filming trip we do and have hundreds of clips on file showing flagrant disregard for the rules of the road. Offences are across the board with all race groups and over all ages. It's a case of monkey see-monkey do. It's a recipe for a head on collision.

Tight corners with stunning viewsTight hairpins and gorgeous views on Vanrhyns Pass - Put it on your bucket list! / Photo: Trygve RobertsWatch a short video clip below on the Waterfall Canyon at Papkuilsfontein which is part of the greater Oorlogskloof Canyon. The Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve offers four hiking trails, of which two are day hikes and the other two are multiple day hikes. These trails are only for experienced and fit hikers and a measure of agility is required which includes the use of ladders and ropes. A first aid kit must be carried as well as 2 litres of water per hiker in the dry months. Inquiries for the trails should be directed to the the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve - 027 218 1010 (Details accurate as at Jan 2015)



Fact File:


S31.422551 E19.000279


S31.370751 E19.016895


S31.370751 E19.016895














8,3 km




15 minutes


60 - 80 kph


Tar (R27)






Nieuwoudtville (10 km)

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Route files:

||Click to download: Vanrhyns Pass R27 (Note - This is a .gdb file which can be opened in most GPS software systems)

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