Grootkloof Pass (P89)

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Enjoy refreshments at the Old Imperial Inn Enjoy refreshments at the Old Imperial Inn - Photo: Mike Leicester

Although this six kilometre gravel pass is fairly ordinary and has no particular characteristics to make it stand out above the rest, the roads around it and its location make this a very special pass. It is situated inside the Bergland, a contorted series of hills and mountains that were formed by what was probably the most apocalyptic event ever to befall this earth. Despite the approach roads being mostly gravel, they are usually in a good condition, and this route can be driven in any vehicle, subject to the weather. It is also a great route for adventure motorcyclists.

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 and video cover photo by Mike Leicester]
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:
Our directions start from the small picturesque town of Parys, situated on the banks of the Vaal River. Make your way to the intersection of Bree Street (R59) and Van Coller Street (R53) at GPS coordinates S26.903841 E27.450130.

To approach the pass from the south, travel in a south-westerly direction along the R59 for 4.2 kms to an intersection at S26.932399 E27.423159. Turn right onto the S254, and travel due west for 2.7 kms to an intersection at S26.931608 E27.396444. Turn left onto the S210, and travel along this road for 21.2 kms (its designation changes to the S80 after a few kilometres), ignoring all side roads, until you reach an intersection at S26.970900 E27.214953. Turn right onto the P89, and immediately in front of you will be a long single-lane bridge over the Vaal River, called Schoemansdrift. This is the southern start of the pass.

Great gravel travelGood quality gravel roads make this drive a pleasure / Photo: Mike LeicesterTo approach from the north, beginning from the same start point in Parys as above (the intersection of the R59 and the R53), travel in a north-westerly direction along the R53 across the Vaal River for 2.5 kms to an intersection at S26.884737 E27.443048. Turn left (the road is still designated as the R53), then travel for 2.4 kms to an intersection at S26.877413 E27.421782. Turn left onto the D2790, and travel along this road, which parallels the Vaal River, for 12.5 kms to an intersection at S26.845194 E27.343590, then turn left onto the D85. 9.8 kms from this intersection you will reach the tiny settlement of Venterskroon, where a stop at the Old Imperial Inn (S26.887938 E27.267899) for some refreshments is definitely warranted.

From the inn, travel for another 7.2 kms to an intersection at S26.879710 E27.222138. Turn left onto the D1673, and travel for 2.1 kms to an intersection at S26.889537 E27.206128. Turn left onto the P89, which is a tar road. Travel for 4.6 kms to S26.928009 E27.193775, at which point the road changes from tar to gravel. This is the northern start of the pass.

Whether you decide to start from the north or the south, we strongly recommend that you drive this pass as a circular route. The roads will take you through the heart of the Vredefort Structure and along the banks of the Vaal River, with magnificent scenery and peaceful surroundings. This is a hidden gem, easily within reach as a day drive from Pretoria or Johannesburg.

A ruin on the routeAn old ruin to explore along the route / Photo: Mike LeicesterOur video of the pass has been filmed from north to south to take advantage of the lighting conditions, so if you do approach Grootkloof Pass from the south, please invert the description and the coordinates.

The pass begins by taking you in a southerly heading, at first almost level, then through a slight descent, until you reach a wide 90 degree turn to the east after a few hundred metres. At this point the road starts to ascend at a fairly gentle gradient, through a narrow kloof, with a private game farm to your left – keep an eye out for animals! After about a kilometre, the road turns again through 90 degrees back to the south, and continues to ascend until the summit is reached at the 3.0 km mark. The valley opens up and the road continues to head in a generally southerly direction down a long descent of 2.6 kms, with some lovely farmland scenery and the occasional glimpse of the Vaal River to your left. At the 5.6 km mark, the road begins a wide 90 degree left-hand turn back towards the east, then starts to descend at a slightly steeper gradient until the long single-lane bridge which crosses the Vaal River at Schoemansdrift appears before you. This is a great place to stop and admire the views, have a picnic, or even do some fishing!

Geological MapGeological map showing the extent of the Vredefort DomeThe Vredefort Structure, more commonly known as the Vredefort Dome, was formed about 2 billion years ago when a massive asteroid, some 10 kilometres in diameter, slammed into the earth travelling at a speed of 20 kilometres per second. To put this into perspective, the asteroid was about the size of Table Mountain, and would have covered the distance from Cape Town to Johannesburg in less than 1 minute! The impact formed a crater about 50 kilometres deep and 300 kilometres in diameter, with its centre near Vredefort and the outer edges stretching from Welkom to Johannesburg. The crater itself has been heavily eroded over time, and all that remains today are the remnants of the central uplift, or “dome”, as well as the surrounding upended strata which form a semi-circular ring of mountains called the Bergland. These are situated to the north and northwest of Parys, and it is in these mountains that Grootkloof is located.

The structure was formed by the world’s greatest known single energy event, and would have resulted in massive global change, possibly even major evolutionary changes. This is the biggest meteorite crater that geologists have found on earth to date, and was twice as big as the impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It is also the oldest impact crater to be discovered on earth, and it is for these reasons that it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2005.

Satellite image of the DomeSatellite imagery clearly showing the Vredefort Dome

Only from space is the entire structure visible, and it has been photographed numerous times from the space shuttles and from satellites. Even from within an aircraft flying over the area at 10 000 metres, it is not possible to see the entire crater and its rings. But visitors can drive up to the ridges of the Bergland and hike to the top, from where at a lookout point such as Boplaas, above Venterskroon, the core and the ring of hills that partly surround it on the northwest side can be seen. There are a number of organisations which offer tours and informative lectures about this structure, based in and around Parys and Vredefort.

Text, photos and video material submitted by Mike Leicester.

Fact File:


S26.928009 E27.193775


S26.945539 E27.201601


S26.970772 E27.210973














6,3 km




6 minutes


60 kph


Gravel (P89)






Parys (29 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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