There are three passes that allow access to Lesotho from Matatiele. From west to east these are Ongeluksnek (4x4 only), then the bigger, more popular pass, which is Qachas Nek, but a little further to the east is the much more difficult and spectacular Ramatselitso Pass. All three passes end at the RSA/Lesotho border posts of the same names. With Ramatselitso being something of a tongue twister, the border post is locally known as Rama's Gate and no doubt over time, the connecting pass will also adopt the name of Rama's Pass. The official government large scale map lists it as Ramatseliso (without the 't'), so there are already a number of versions, but we are indexing it as per the spelling on the notice board at the border post.
It's a major pass at 14 km length displaying an altitude variance of 682m and an average gradient of 1:25, but there are many very steep sections that get up to 1:5. Three of the steepest sections have been concreted which include both hairpin sections as well as a section close to the summit, which now makes this pass accessible to normal vehicles.
When we drove this pass in 2012 it was a serious 4x4 route only doable by high clearance 4x4's with low range, but the road has now been upgraded to the point that a 4x2 utility vehicle (bakkie) will manage without a problem. Unless you have plans (and a valid passport) to enter Lesotho, you will need to turn around at the SA border control point and return the same way to Matatiele.
The Nungi Pass is named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile.
The Colonanek Pass further to the south lies on the same road, so these two passes will always be driven in tandem. The steepest gradients are at 1:7 which might present traction issues in wet weather for non 4WD vehicles. There was major reconstruction taking place during 2018 as can be seen on the virtual fly-past. This includes excavating cuttings to reduce the number of blind rises and corners and ease some of the steeper gradients as well as a substantial improvement to the road width.
As is the general rule in this part of the Eastern Cape, most of the area is unfenced, so finding livestock on the road is the norm. Add in slow vehicles, minibus taxis, rutted potholed and corrugated roads, and you have a recipe for having to stay wide awake on this pass. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.
This difficult to get to and remote gravel pass is well worth the effort of seeking it out. It's a long pass at 14 km and offers high views of deeply incised and heavily wooded valleys, several Transkei villages and the crossing of the powerful Mbashe (Bashee) River. Perhaps more importantly it is also the access road to the birthplace of Nelson Mandela at Mveso Village on the eastern rim of the Mbashe River canyon. He was buried near Qunu - a short distance from Mveso.
The pass has a typical inverted profile with a low point in the middle and contains 101 bends, corners and curves to keep drivers very busy. Ten of those are sharper than 90 degrees. With gradients that get as steep as 1:6 this will be a tricky drive in wet weather if not in a 4WD vehicle.
As is the general rule in this part of the Eastern Cape, most of the area is unfenced, so finding livestock on the road is the norm. Add in slow vehicles, taxis, rutted, potholed and corrugated roads and you have a recipe for having to stay wide awake on this pass. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.
This 5,1 km long pass descends into the Umnga River valley via one U bend and two very sharp hairpins. The pass descends from 1291m ASL at the village of Dalibango through an altitude drop of 342m producing a stiff average gradient of 1:15 to end at the crossing of the Umnga River at a low level bridge.
You will be treated to views of towering cliffs and steeply wooded slopes with the Umnga River winding its way down the centre of this fabulous scene.
It contains 14 bends, corners and curves and requires vigilant driiving. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.
This remote and spectacular pass is one of our best discoveries of 2018. It's located on the coastal escarpment about 15 km due west of the Langeni Pass. The pass, which is named after the Mkonkota Mountain along which it descends offers a smorgasbord of amazing scenery, including deep valleys with fast flowing rivers, towering cliffs and a winding gravel road of dubious quality which traverses open crags as well as deeply wooded forests.
It contains 93 bends, corners and curves along its 12 km length which includes 1 hairpin and 7 bends sharper than 90 degrees. It displays a big altitude variance of 670m and an average gradient of 1:18. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.
The Karretjies Pass is a rough, narrow track that descends down a side arm of the Bobbejaanskloof, itself a side canyon to the much bigger Doring River canyon. Although this pass is short at just 1,5 km and has an altitude variance of only 72m, it is the rough nature of the road that makes it something of a challenge. It offers majestic canyon views, steep drop-offs and a feeling of intense isolation in a harsh and barren landscape.
The road has been hacked out of the side of the mountain and is only just wide enough for one vehicle. Overtaking or passing is impossible. You will need a high clearance 4x4 to drive this pass and low range will be an advantage for more precise control. The pass forms part of the Old Postal Route that connects the Biedouw valley in the west with the Eilandsvlei farm near the R355 in the east in the Tankwa Karoo. Do not attempt this pass without reviewing our page on the Old Postal Route first, which contains very important information on navigation and safety.
The Old Postal Route is a basic gravel track of 53,2 km that connects the Biedouw Valley in the Cederberg with the Eilandsvlei farm near the R355 in the Tankwa Karoo. This was once a route used to deliver post between these two remote communities.
The route consists of two mountain passes separated by a long high altitude plateau and includes a bridgeless crossing of the Doring River at the eastern end. It is not suitable for normal cars. Four wheel drive with high clearance is essential and low range is an additional benefit to have at your disposal.
Most of the route is Grade 1 and fairly straight-forward to drive, but here and there a few tricky sections raise the bar to Grade 3, depending on weather conditions. The two most likely places drivers will have problems, is the crossing of the Doring River and offroad navigation, as there are multiple unsigned intersections, so your navigation needs to be precise. Unless you have a GPS loaded with Tracks4Africa where you can see the route clearly, you will more than likely get lost. We don't recommend driving this route between June and October, when water levels in the Doring River will probably be too high. In summer, the river crossing is usually bone dry.
The route will take between 4 to 6 hours to complete, depending on a number of factors. There are cottages and camping available at Mertenshof near the western start and good camping can be enjoyed at Die Mond off the R355 at the opposite end of the route.
The route is best driven in a group in case of a breakdown. Take full recovery gear with as well as a puncture repair kit that you know how to use. If you enjoy remote gravel road driving, with huge vistas and a unique stillness you will find in few other places in South Africa, then this route is for you.
This gravel pass is located near the foot of the much bigger Mokobulaan Pass and forms a southern extension to it. It follows the course of the dominant river in the valley - the Houtboslooprivier, after which the pass is named. At 10,3 km it's well above the national average in terms of length and offers some lovely Lowveld scenery as it descends steadily to the valley floor and features some good views of the Wonderkloof gorge on it's northern side.
With an average gradient of 1:31 this pass can be driven in a normal car, but when conditions are wet, there could be traction issues on the steeper sections which max out at 1:10. There are 44 bends, corners and curves, including one very sharp hairpin of 180 degrees, compressed into it's length and the usual gravel road cautionaries for Mpumalanga passes apply here, which include rutted and uneven surfaces due to washaways, dense mountain mists, heavy logging trucks and livestock on the road.
Korfnek is a part of a rough track which forms a shortcut between Dullstroom and Stofberg in the high mountains of Mpumalanga, very close to the border with Limpopo. The name translates as “Basket Neck”. It was named after the Korf family who farmed near the foot of the pass. The pass itself and the approach road from the northern side are in an extremely poor condition, and it is obvious that the route is not being maintained by the authorities but probably only by the local farmers.
The use of a high-clearance vehicle with all-terrain tyres is strongly recommended, and a 4x4 will be required during or immediately after wet weather. The route offers up some splendid views over the Laersdrifspruit Valley, but drivers will be unlikely to experience these as extreme concentration is required when traversing this pass.
This short pass descends along the Groenkloof along the north-south axis and offers good views over the coastal plain in the Pearly Beach area. The road is generally in a good condition, but like all gravel roads things can change quickly in wet weather.
The pass is 3,6 km long and displays an altitude variance of 164m producing an average gradient of 1:22 with the steepest section measuring in at 1:14. It connects Pearly Beach in the south with the Baardskeerdersbos and Elim settlements and also provides an access route to the Salmonsdam Nature Reserve as well as Sandy's Glen Pass.
Editors note: Subsequent to us filming this pass, it has now been tarred.
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.
We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.