Bastard Nek

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Looking south from Bastard Nek Looking south from Bastard Nek - Photo: Mike Leicester

Bastard Nek (also sometimes referred to as Bastersnek) is a fairly obscure gravel road pass, situated near Mokopane in the Limpopo province. The road is badly maintained, and the use of a high clearance vehicle is strongly recommended. As with so many of the other gravel road passes in Limpopo, we also issue a soft sand cautionary for adventure bikers. As you approach this pass from the north, you are faced with a daunting array of cliffs which form the Limpopo escarpment, but the road itself follows a natural cleft up through the mountains, and it climbs at a fairly mild average gradient of just 1:22 over the length of the pass.

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 cover photo and on-car footage by Mike Leicester]

FULL-SCREEN MODEMODE: 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 Mookgopong (Naboomspruit) at the intersection of Thabo Mbeki Street (which is the R101) and Nelson Mandela Drive (which is the R520), at GPS coordinates S24.520404 E28.713253. Travel in a north-westerly direction on the R520 for 10.6 kms to a T-junction at S24.443207 E28.659132, then turn left onto the P165.

Bastard NekLooking south from Bastard Nek / Photo: Mike LeicesterTravel in a westerly direction for just 500 metres to S24.443675 E28.654101, then turn right onto the D190. After 14.8 kms, you will reach the start of Bokpoort (detailed elsewhere on this website). Travel up the pass for 7.8 kms to S24.294739 E28.529812, where the tar road changes to a gravel surface. Follow this road for another 29.4 kms to S24.091626 E28.633384, which is the southern start of Bastard Nek.

To approach from the north, start from Mokopane (Potgietersrus) at the intersection of Thabo Mbeki Drive and Nelson Mandela Drive (which is the N11), at GPS coordinates S24.180877 E29.013851. Travel in a north-westerly direction on the N11 for 8.0 kms to S24.132871 E28.962486, then turn left onto the R518. Travel in a westerly direction for 21.5 km to S24.042731 E28.785805, then turn left onto the D345. Travel in a south-westerly direction for 11.4 km to a T-junction at S24.119378 E28.718608, then turn right onto the D192 – the road changes to a gravel surface at this point. Follow this road for 8.0 km to S24.073939 E28.667437, which is the northern start of the pass.

We have filmed the pass from north to south. The pass begins with a very gentle ascent, heading due west in a straight line for a distance of 1.2 kilometres. The surface is soft and sandy along this section, but this changes as the road makes a gradual turn to the left, and the gradient kicks up quite sharply. A guard rail appears on the left to shield you from the considerable drop-off, and a spectacular view to the south along the escarpment begins to open up. The road surface deteriorates very badly at this point, and you will need to slow down – beware of holes and dips which can suddenly appear, and watch out for rocks which have fallen down from the steep hills and cuttings on your right.

Rough surfaces cautionaryThe road surface is rough in places / Photo: Mike LeicesterNow heading in a south-westerly direction, the road flattens out for a few hundred metres, then continues to ascend up the mountain, winding its way along the natural contour line of the hillside. The vegetation gets considerably more dense as you traverse this middle section, and animal sightings such as baboons, monkeys, small antelope and dassies are common. The next segment becomes a little more tricky, as the gradient increases again and more washaways, holes, ruts and rocks become evident. The road makes a final long turn to the left into a heading that is almost due south, as the gradient decreases and the road surface improves. The last kilometre is dead straight, and the pass ends at the 4.4 km mark.

The town of Mokopane is situated close to Bastard Nek. Originally called Vredenburg by the early settlers in the region, the name of the village was changed to Piet Potgietersrust after the Voortrekker leader who was killed and buried there. This got shortened to Potgietersrus over time, and then in 2003 the town was renamed again to Mokopane, in honour of King Mugombane Kekana who resided on the land and ruled the area in the time of the Voortrekkers.

Makapan's CaveThe Makapan's Cave / Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

The nearby Makapan’s Caves have extensive cultural and paleontological deposits which have contributed significantly to furthering the understanding of later human evolution and the appearance of modern man. But the caves also played a dark and sinister role in the history of the region.

This transpired in 1854, when the MaNdebele warriors under King Mugombane tortured and massacred a group of the Vootrekkers, including Piet’s father Hendrik Potgieter, apparently as a result of months of clashes over land. The Voortrekkers retaliated, and the MaNdebele retreated into a network of caves in the mountains west of the Mogalakwena River. For months they lived in the caves with their cattle, barricading the entrance with rocks. The Voortrekkers, together with regiments of the Shangaan and Bakgatla people, discovered the site by observing women and children emerging from the caves to get water. They set siege to the caves, and a plan was hatched to force the MaNdebele out by burning logs and leaves at the entrance. It was at this point that Piet Potgieter was killed, shot from inside the cave as he stood up on a rock to peer inside. His body was recovered under the cover of darkness by Paul Kruger, who was a member of the siege force.

The siege lasted for a total of 58 days. When it ended, about 3000 of the MaNdebele had died, mostly as a result of smoke inhalation, sleeping sickness and dehydration. Some of the tribe managed to escape through a tunnel, and King Mugombane himself apparently made a daring escape from the caves when his subjects tied him to the belly of a cow which they chased out of the caves at night. It is rumoured that the death of so many of the members of his tribe rested heavily on his shoulders, and shortly afterwards he committed suicide by drinking poison.

[Write up and research by Mike Leicester]

Fact File:


S24.073939 E28.667437


S24.091626 E28.633384


S24.091626 E28.633384














4,4 km




6 minutes


60 kph








Mokopane (48 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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