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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 Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.
Digging into the details:
Getting there: As this pass is an out-and-back route, it can only be approached in one direction, which is from the south. Starting from the intersection of the N1 and the R37 near Polokwane, at GPS coordinates S23.941495 E29.449278, travel in a southerly direction along the R37 via Chuniespoort for 66 km to S24.260006 E29.793216, then turn left (the road is signposted as “Mafefe”).
Travel in a northerly direction for 1.7 km to S24.246918 E29.801913, then turn left again onto a gravel road – there is no signpost. Travel in a north-westerly direction for 7.5 km, at which point you will reach the entrance gate to the Bewaarkloof Nature Reserve. The start of the pass is 200 metres from the gate, on the bridge over the Mphogodima River.
As the area is very isolated, there is no cellphone reception whatsoever, and we strongly recommend that you tackle this pass in a group of at least two vehicles in case you run into problems. Although not technically challenging, the road is rough and rocky in places, and should not be attempted unless you are driving a high-clearance vehicle, but a 4x4 would not be required. The vegetation is thick and overgrown, and you will probably end up with some surface scratches. There is also a strong possibility of a puncture or two.
There are cattle everywhere, which can appear suddenly out of the thick brush. There are multiple examples of this on our video. Fortunately, most of them appear to be wearing cowbells, the clanking of which are the only sounds which break the otherwise deathly silence. Drive with your windows open, as there is a good chance that you will hear the cattle before you see them.
Being an out-and-back route, you will have to start the pass from the coordinates as defined in our fact file. However, to take advantage of the lighting conditions and the views, we have filmed the pass from north to south (i.e. from the end point to the start point), and we have described the pass in this direction as well.
The pass begins on the banks of the Mphogodima River. There appears to be a difficult ford and a track leading north into the kloof, but we do not recommend that you cross the river in your vehicle, especially if you are on your own. Explore the area on foot if you are so inclined. This would be a good place to have a picnic before starting your journey back to the entrance gate.
The road begins with the most difficult section of the route, with some deep ruts and washaways. Use 4-wheel drive if your vehicle is so equipped. There are some abandoned buildings on either side of the road, occupied by squatters. The road takes you in an easterly direction, meandering through some sharp turns and curves, then turns into the south-east and follows a straight section of 300 metres through some heavily-overgrown thorn trees, all the while climbing steadily. The summit of the pass is reached at the 650 metre mark, easily identifiable by a steep bank and drop-off just on the apex of a sharp right-hand corner.
The road now heads in a southerly direction for a few hundred metres, then makes a sharp turn to the right through 120 degrees, taking you into a westerly heading back towards the river. The descent that follows is by far the steepest section of the pass, and this part of the road is rough and rocky. It should not present any problems, however, unless it has been raining. The route then swings to the left back into the south, and the gradient decreases.
The road runs parallel to the river at this point, so be particularly vigilant and aware in case of animals. More abandoned farm buildings are visible on the left, and there is much evidence of illegal wood gathering all along this section.
Still descending, although at a very mild gradient, the road makes a very long curve to the right, following the course of the river. The vegetation along the sides is not as thick at this point, allowing you good views of the surrounding mountains on the eastern side. There are some gravestones on the left, and the white buildings of what was at some stage a very large and beautiful farmhouse appear in the distance ahead of you. Although you might be tempted to stop here to explore and take photographs, we believe that this would be unwise and potentially dangerous. This farmhouse is at the 2.4 km mark.
Now heading west, the road surface improves and the vegetation opens up, presenting the very tall mountains on the western side of the reserve. The road runs arrow-straight through an avenue of low trees for about 1 km, then follows a long gradual curve through 90 degrees back towards the south. The river is visible through the bush on your right-hand side. The brush closes in and forms a complete canopy, dappling the road in constant flashes of sunlight and shadow. The trees are much taller in this area because of their proximity to the river and access to water. Again, watch out for cattle through this section.
As you come out of the canopy section, the road follows a very gentle S-bend, first turning left and then right, and suddenly the bridge over the river which marks the start and end point of the pass comes into view. Stop on the bridge and take some photographs – the views in all directions are spectacular.
This obscure pass is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you do take the time and trouble to get here, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a great pity that, through apathy and lack of funding, this beautiful reserve has been allowed to degenerate to such an extent. Although mentioned in numerous articles, very little information about this reserve is available on the internet.
[Write-up and research by Mike Leicester]
|GPS START||S24.191792 E29.781433|
|GPS SUMMIT||S24.162080 E29.778567|
|GPS END||S24.162377 E29.772984|
|DIRECTION - TRAVEL||North|
|TIME REQUIRED||30 minutes (out & back)|
|SPEED LIMIT||None (Self limiting)|
|NEAREST TOWN||Polokwane (89 km)|
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