The Free State

Sand River Heights (Sandrivierhoogte)  is located on the national N1 highway between the small towns of Ventersburg and Winburg, and is one of only three passes on this highway north of Bloemfontein. The road is wide, with two lanes in either direction, and is extremely well designed and built, so it presents few dangers, except for the “surprise” factor. After travelling on long straight roads for many kilometres, especially if approaching from the south, the pass seems to appear out of nowhere, and can catch an unsuspecting driver unawares.

An easy and straightforward gravel road flanked by big Free State mountains with sublime views. The road connects the important railway station called Slabberts (where there are large grain silos) with Bethlehem, some 30 km to the north. At 3,7 km the pass is of average length and has an easy average gradient of 1:37, but the final climb up to the nek is quite steep at 1:7. The road is mainly used by farming vehicles.

Although officially designated as a pass, Spiders Nek struggles to live up to its name, as it is a long, straight, almost flat gravel road near both Excelsior and Marquard in the central Free State, and should be considered more of a scenic drive. The rolling grasslands, pastures and dams, interspersed with beautiful sandstone koppies and mountains, make for stunning scenery and photographic possibilities. The peace and tranquillity of the area is enhanced by the birds and animals all around you, and disturbed only by the occasional farm vehicle. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, except possibly in wet weather.

This beautiful pass, which is situated midway between Clarens and Fouriesburg in the eastern Free State, is well-known and much-loved by motorists and motorcyclists alike. The road surface is extremely good, the corners are cambered correctly, and the views over the entire length of the pass, in particular near the summit, are breathtaking. This is also the location of one of the most defining moments of the Anglo-Boer War, after which this pass is named.

Despite some diligent research, we have been unable to establish the origins of the name of this pass, but it seems logical that it would have been named after a telegraph station established here in the early days of the region. It is located in the southern Free State province near Smithfield, in the centre of the sheep farming district of the Grassy Karoo. The pass itself is typical of the others that are scattered around this part of the country, with no significant corners and only a small gain in height of 68 metres.

 

Tienfontein Se Hoogte, also sometimes called Tienfonteinhoogte, is a minor pass located on the tarred R26 road near Zastron in the eastern Free State. This road forms part of the picturesque Western Maloti Mountains Route, which runs from Fouriesburg in the north to Rouxville in the south, following the border with Lesotho. It makes for an attractive and very scenic alternative to the N1 and the N6 when travelling from Gauteng to the Border region of the Eastern Cape, but be aware that some parts of this road are badly maintained.

This is a short, but steep tarred pass on an otherwise gravel road (the R722) which connects Memel in the east with Verkykerkop and Harrismith in the west. The road displays an altitude variance of 149 vertical metres in just over 2 km producing an average gradient of 1:13 with the steeper parts measuring out at 1:7. This is a high altitude pass with a summit height of 2023m ASL and is subject to winter snowfalls.

Victoria Nek is a tar road pass situated on the S109, an obscure road which leads to nowhere significant except the small airport which used to serve Thaba Nchu (now abandoned) and the Maria Moroka Game Reserve. The pass was named after Queen Victoria, and is mentioned numerous times in chronicles of both the Great Trek and the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. With a height gain/loss of just 58 metres and a length of just 3.3 kilometres, this is a small pass, but it is very scenic, and worth the slight detour off the N8 if you are in the area.

This is a minor pass on a gravel road through a neck, north-west of Memel, on a farm road with moderate gradients and no corners. The only time you need worry about driving here would be in heavy rain or snow conditions, as the summit occurs at 1853m ASL and it does occassionally snow here in winter, when temperatures are regularly well below 0C.

Wilgeboomnek (“Willow Tree Pass”) is a fairly significant pass, located near Thaba Nchu on the N8 national highway which connects Bloemfontein in the west to the capital of Lesotho, Maseru, in the east. It is the only official pass on this highway. The pass is dominated by the huge mountain on the southern side called Thaba Nchu (which translates as “Black Mountain”), so named because it looms over the settlement below, causing it to fall into shadow.

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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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