Chunies Poort (R37)

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Northern approach to Chunie's Poort Northern approach to Chunie's Poort - Photo: Mike Leicester

Chunie's Poort is located on the tarred R37 road, about 40 km south of Polokwane (formerly known as Pietersburg). There are various spellings of the name, including Chuene and Tshwene, which translates as “Baboon”, but most sources and the signboards use the spelling as shown above. The pass follows the course of the Tudumo River, which flows southwards out of the Chuniespoort Dam. At the northern end, the river has cut its way through a narrow gorge, and an unusual feature of this pass is that the bridge over which the road is built does not cross the river, but parallels its path through this gorge, directly above the water.

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[Video cover photo by Herman Smit]

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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:
To approach from the south, start in Burgersfort at the intersection of the R37 and the R555, at GPS coordinates S24.668136 E30.324236. Travel in a northerly direction along the R37 for 104 km to S24.266211 E29.550606, which is the southern start point. To approach from the north, start 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 for 30.7 km to S24.210597 E29.492449, which is the northern start point.

Chunie's Poort circa 1950Chunie's Poort circa 1950We have filmed the pass from north to south. The pass begins at the intersection of the R37 and a road leading off to the left, very close to the Chuniespoort Dam wall and the villages of Chuniespoort and Tshwene. The road heads in a southerly direction, descending very gradually. At the 400 metre mark, there is a sudden sharp dip in the road, followed by a shallow bend to the right. The skyline in front of you is dominated by the massive slanting dolomite ridge on the mountain to the left, a rock type often associated with, and named after, this poort.

The road straightens up again, and a deep gorge through the mountains is presented directly ahead. The speed limit changes to 60 kph at this point, for a very good reason, as you are about to approach a nasty little kink. The road curves to the right, then drops down a short steep descent towards the ravine. As you move onto a bridge, there is a sharp turn to the left, the skid marks on the road being evidence of motorists that have been travelling too fast. The road turns immediately back to the right, then straightens up for 200 metres before curving through the gorge, all the while on top of a bridge following the course of the river.

Church in Polokwane - Hugh Exton Photographic MuseumA restored church housing the Hugh Exton Photographic Museum / Photo: Daan Prinsloo

As you exit the gorge, the road moves off the bridge and begins a long double-apex turn to the left. At the 3.1 km mark, a road, the R579, leads off to the right. This is a busy intersection, so please be careful. It could be argued that the poort ends at this point, but the topography indicates that the poort does in fact continue towards the east, following the path of the Tudumo River. Continue straight ahead along the R37.

A long undulating straight of 1.3 km is followed by a gradual turn to the right, as the road starts to approach the small villages of Standplaas on your right and Mooiplaas on your left. There are some tall trees, including Marula and Wild Olive, interspersed along the sides of the road. Stray animals abound, so obey the speed limit which changes back to 80 kph at this point. This is a very busy road, so please be patient if you are stuck behind slow-moving traffic – there are only a few places where you can overtake without crossing a double barrier line.

Pietersburg Post Office 1892The Pietersburg Post Office circa 1892 / Photo: AbleWiki

Another long straight of 1.8 km opens up a view over the surrounding landscape, and a tall red and white radio tower which marks the next small village is visible on the left-hand side. The mountains funnel in towards another narrow opening in the distance ahead of you, and the road moves closer to the river on your left. A sharpish right turn is followed by a short straight, then the road kinks to the left, hugging the mountain on the right-hand side. A low sloping cutting ensures the road angle does not change too dramatically, and the pass ascends briefly with a guard rail on your left, protecting the road from the steep drop-off to the river which now runs directly alongside.

A short sharp descent takes you down to a bridge over the river, then the gradient flattens out as you approach the village of Malemang. A very shallow S-bend follows, with the road first turning right and then left. Another straight of 450 metres is followed by the final corner of the pass, a long gradual turn to the left, which leads you towards the very busy intersection that marks the end of the poort at the 10.1 km mark.

Chunie's Poort VillageChunie's Poort Village / Photo: Mike Leicester

If you continue onwards along the R37, you will eventually end up in the small town of Burgersfort, another 104 km to the south-east. From this point, you will have many options to take you into the sublime attractions of the Mpumalanga mountains and the Lowveld. This area used to be called the Eastern Transvaal, the name often shortened and referred to by locals and frequent visitors as “ET”.

The town of Pietersburg was founded in the gold rush of the 1880's. The site of the town was initially owned by the Zuid Afrikaanse Volksraad who purchased the eastern half of a large farm known as Sterkloop in 1884. Pietersburg was named after a well-known General, Petrus (Pieter) Jacobus Joubert. On the 31st of July 1886 Magistrate Dietlof Siegfred Mare wrote his first official letter from the magistrate’s court and the town was officially recognized. The main street through the city centre is known as “Landdros Mare Street” to this day. The town officially became a city on 23rd of April 1992, and on the 25th of February 2005 was renamed to Polokwane – a Northern Sotho word which means “Place of Safety.”

The irish House in PolokwaneThe Irish House in Polokwane / Photo:Mapio

Attractions in the city include the Irish House, a bright green building with a comprehensive collection of exhibits from pre-history to Victorian and modern times, as well as the Hugh Exton Photographic Museum, which is located in a restored 19th-century Dutch Reformed church, and covers Polokwane’s first half-century as well as the second Anglo-Boer War through the work of this prolific photographer, who left behind some 23,000 glass negatives. North of the city is the Bakone Malapa Museum, an open air “living” museum that showcases traditional Northern Sotho culture.

The sharp, steep mountains of the poort provided a good strategic military position as it was here that the Boer commandos positioned themselves to defend their town from the British forces, but found themselves outnumbered and were routed and captured. In the 1840's, the Voortrekkers under the leadership of Andries Potgieter, established a town called Zoutpansbergdorp, approximately 100 km to the north west. 

The British built a concentration camp at Pietersburg during the Boer war, to house almost 4000 Boer women and children. The town offically became a city in 1992, but in 2005 the ANC government forced a name change to Polokwane. It's a large town and has an impressive new sports stadium as well as an international airport. Polokwane is South Africa's largest urban centre north of Gauteng.

The river flowing through this gorge of the Strydpoort Mountains is known as the Chunies River, one of the tributaries of the Olifants River. The name commemorates the name of an African leader, whose name would be spelt Tshwene in modern Northern Sotho orthography.

Fact File:


S24.210597 E29.492449


S24.210597 E29.492449


S24.266211 E29.550606














10,1 km




8 minutes


60 to 80 kph


Tar (R37)






Polokwane (40 km)

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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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