Brown's Cutting (D1939)

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The southern approach. Tighten your kidney belt! The southern approach. Tighten your kidney belt! - Photo: Mike Leicester

Brown’s Cutting is an obscure gravel road pass situated in the north-western corner of Limpopo province near Vaalwater, quite close to the Botswana border. It presents a challenge in that it is difficult to find, and will test your orienteering skills and sense of direction to the limit, particularly from the northern side. Although the pass itself is not very difficult to negotiate, the approach roads can be tricky, and some offroad driving experience would be helpful. You will need to be a dedicated pass-chaser to tick this one off your bucket list!

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....


[Video footage supplied by Mike Leicester / Video cover photo by Nick Roux]

FULL-SCREEN MODE: Click PLAY, then pass your mouse over the bottom right corner of the video screen. The outline of a square will appear. Clicking on it will toggle Full Screen Mode. Press ESC to return to the original format.

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 from the intersection of the R517 and the R33 in Vaalwater, at GPS coordinates S24.285668 E28.101720. Travel in a northerly direction along the tarred R33 for 10.6 kms to S24.195798 E28.115982, then turn right onto a gravel road, which is the D1042 (signposted as “Dorset”). Travel for 13.2 kms to S24.099414 E28.155184, then turn left onto the D1939. Travel for 21.0 kms to S23.941827 E28.091172, then bear right onto the D1959 for another 850 metres to S23.935374 E28.095617, which is the southern start of the pass. The last 10 kilometres requires driving through some very soft sand sections.

Prime cattle farming country countryThe approach to the pass is prime cattle farming country / Photo: Mike LeicesterTo approach from the north involves a long and arduous journey. Contrary to what your maps and/or GPS might indicate, there is only one route which will get you to this pass. The biggest problem is that there are a host of private game reserves in the area, and all of the roads leading to the pass, bar one, are blocked off by locked gates. If you choose to ignore these route instructions, there is a good possibility that you will end up travelling over a hundred extra kilometres, taking three or more hours longer than you should, and incurring major frustration. We speak from bitter experience!

Travel along the N1 to the small town of Mokopane (previously named Potgietersrus). Our directions start from the corner of Thabo Mbeki Drive and Nelson Mandela Drive, at GPS coordinates S24.180951 E29.013823. Travel along the N11 in a north-westerly direction for 8.0 kms to S24.133057 E28.962506, then turn left onto the R518 (signposted as “R518: Marken”). Stay on this road for 102 kms until you reach a T-junction at S23.590902 E28.389778. Turn left onto the R18/R518 (signposted as “R518: Lephalale”) and travel for 14.6 kms to S23.584563 E28.259408, then turn left onto the D2468 (signposted as “Overyssel”).

Lephalala RiverThe languid waters of the Lephalala River / Photo: Mike LeicesterAll of the roads from this point onwards are gravel, which vary in quality from poor to terrible. Travel in a south-westerly direction for 11.2 kms to S23.643899 E28.170620, then turn left onto the D580. Travel for 1.1 kms in a southerly direction to S23.653888 E28.169486, then turn right onto the D1460. Travel for 1.1 kms to S23.655435 E28.159098, then turn left onto the D1777. Follow this road for 12.2 kms until you get to an intersection at S23.718133 E28.169492. Turn left onto the D2180, and travel for 21.7 kms to a T-junction at S23.865675 E28.160497.

About halfway along this road you will encounter an unnamed pass, which in some ways is more challenging than Brown’s Cutting itself. At the T-junction, turn right onto the D1939, then travel for 6.3 kms to S23.913227 E28.132874, which is the northern start point of the pass.

Irrespective of whether you approach from the north or the south, do not attempt this pass or its approach roads unless you are driving a high clearance 4x4 vehicle. It would be better to tackle this route with at least two vehicles and all of the necessary recovery equipment. If you intend doing this route on an adventure motorcycle, make sure that your soft sand riding skills are up to scratch, as the sand monsters live here in abundance.

On the pass things get rough and narrowThe road is rough in places on the pass itself / Photo: Mike LeicesterWe have filmed the pass from north to south. As the pass begins, the road is fairly wide and in a good condition. The gradient is gentle at first and the pass moves through a wide right-hand turn into a westerly heading. A short straight section is then traversed, followed by two shallow reverse S-bends, as the gradient begins to increase and the road narrows considerably. A small gully begins to appear on either side of the road, caused by water runoff, and game fencing is evident on both sides. The road condition worsens as the pass continues to climb through a series of shallow bends, then degenerates into a “twee spoor” track. Be particularly careful from this point onwards that you remain in the centre of the road, as the water runoff has undercut the road in a number of places, and putting a wheel into a metre-deep hole would not make for an easy recovery.

The gradient ramps up as the pass winds its way up the mountain, although it never gets so steep that traction is an issue, unless it is wet. If you have oncoming traffic on this section, one of the vehicles will have to reverse to a safe passing point, which would be particularly dangerous given the deep gullys on either side, often hidden by vegetation. Fortunately, this road appears to be seldom used. Deep holes and bumps start to appear on the road and you will need to decrease your speed.

The last kilometre is the steepest part of the pass. It is also the narrowest, and the road is hemmed in by thick bush and a steep cutting on the left-hand side. As you approach the summit, the road widens again and the surface becomes a lot smoother, allowing you to relax a little as you near the end of the pass at the 4.8 km mark.

If you have approached this pass from the south, and you do not intend to do a U-turn to retrace your route, then use the instructions for the northern approach given above, in reverse, to extricate yourself from the maze of farm roads and dead-ends in this area.

Research and text write-up by Mike Leicester

Fact File:


S23.913227 E28.132874


S23.935374 E28.095617


S23.935374 E28.095617














4,8 km




7 minutes


60 kph


Gravel (D1939)






Vaalwater (60km)

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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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