Bonnet Pass (R533)

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Bonnet Pass Bonnet Pass - Photo: Stef van Gasteren

This beautiful, tarred pass winds it's way up the escarpment on the R533 from Graskop in the east to Pilgrims Rest in the west. The scenery is breathtaking, with forests, waterfalls and birdlife in abundance. This is a very steep pass, especially on the eastern side with gradients as tough as 1:5. The pass has an average gradient of 1:11 which places it in the Top 20 SA passes in terms of average gradient.

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Digging into the details:

The pass is named after the geographical feature in the mountains west of Graskop known as The Bonnet. The pass starts at the junction of the R532 and R533 four kilometers west of Graskop. This is prime tourist territory steeped in gold mining and pioneering history. From the start the ascent is merciless as the road twists and turns its way up The Bonnet. There are 11 bends on the ascent over only 1.62 km producing a serious gradient of 1:10,3

The road marks the northern border of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (these days officially called the Molatse River Nature Reserve). The mountains are richly forested and the pass is subject to regular mountain mist, cloud and heavy rainfall. It is wise to drive with your headlights on at all times. Many fatal accidents occur in misty conditions, when visibility can be reduced to a few meters. In such cases, it best to pull completely off the road and wait for the weather to clear.

In the clouds on the Bonnet PassThe pass is frequently shrouded in mist and cloud / Photo: Henk Van Es

About halfway up the ascent, at the first right hand hairpin bend, you will have a perfect view of the towering Stanley Bush Kop [1807,7m]. The road then swings almost 160 degrees towards the north-west and continues ascending steeply towards the summit [1667m] where there are 2 minor gravel roads leading off to the right. Both of these lead to the Driekop Forestry Station (4 km).

From the summit you will have 360 degree views, which include endless tracts of forests and to the east the small town of Graskop perched on the lip of the Drakensberg escarpment, with famous landmarks like Gods window, Pinnacle Kloof and Graskop Kloof. Kowyns Pass can be seen as a tiny ribbon heading down towards Bushbuckridge and Hazyview.

After the stormAfter the storm / Photo LeboMThe descent is much kinder in terms of gradient with the road curling through a 180 degree horseshoe bend at the summit. The direction changes to south as the descent begins in earnest. After the first sharp right hand bend, the direction settles back towards the west as the road follows the contours of the mountain. There are a total of 19 bends on the descent, some of them are extremely sharp. Comply with the speed warnings, and you will be fine.

The pass terminates alongside a small farm, where a gravel road forms a fork with the R533. Continue straight on for another 5 km to Pilgrims Rest, which was once brimming with life with eager prospectors swarming into the area to find gold. Today it is a quiet little tourist town, trying to preserve it's rich and diverse history.
The gravel fork to the left would provide an interesting circular route through the Grootfontein forests. It joins the tarred R 532 about 12 kms further to the south-east.

Scenery on the Bonnet PassBeautiful scenery on the Bonnet Pass / Photo: tommyj

Fact File:


S24.931839 E30.809552


S24.927521 E30.800393


S24.928516 E30.781483


















20 minutes


40 - 80 kph


Tar (R533)






Graskop (5km)

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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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