The naming of this long and interesting pass causes plenty of confusion. On the government map it is labelled as Systershoog Pass. This name has been inadvertantly altered by several map sources to read Syfershoog or Syfershoogte Pass. To add to the confusion, it is known locally as the Maermanskloof Pass, the Spoegrivier Pass and the Kharkams Pass. In Namaqualand the manner of word construction is somewhat different to the rest of South Africa and the naming of any word ending in 'heights' is called a 'hoog' as opposed to the more grammatically correct 'hoogte' Thus many names in this region end with the word hoog, which is the correct official name.
This pass is long at 16,2 km and contains 38 bends, corners and curves - some of which are very sharp and have negative banking. The road follows a very different vertical profile to the usual classic pass shape and ends in a steep descent down into the Spoegrivier valley. It connects Kharkams in the east with Spoegrivier in the west and provides an alternative (and much slower) route to Hondeklipbaai.
Katkop Pass is located on the tarred R56 in the Eastern Cape, almost equidistant between Mount Fletcher in the north and Maclear in the south. It is named after the Katkop mountain, which dominates the western side of the pass. The road has been refurbished, and is in an excellent condition. It is a relatively minor pass, dwarfed by the many huge passes scattered around this vicinity, but nevertheless holds its own in terms of scenic beauty. Besides one very tight hairpin corner, there are no real dangers on the pass other than animals and pedestrians. Many people (especially locals) confuse this pass with the Moordenaarsnek Pass, which is on the same road, but a few kilometres away.
This old pass which dates back to 1880 is exceptionally well designed with fairly easy gradients. It has been realigned and changed over the last 120 years and has the stamp of Mr. T.W.Bain on the first map plot. At 6,6 km it's not that long, but due to the slow speeds necessary, it takes a fair bit of time to complete the pass. Part of the allure of driving this pass, is the not inconsiderable challenge of navigating your way back to any main road from the foot of the pass. The pass displays a substantial altitude variance of 480m and produces a stiff average gradient of 1:14
Whilst a 4x4 is not necessary to drive the pass, we strongly suggest a vehicle with good ground clearance, otherwise your vehicle will be likely to sustain some damage. Due to the complexity of finding a way out through the plains at the bottom of the pass, we suggest that this pass only be driven in the descending mode.
If you're a gravel pass fan, then put this one on your bucket list. It's for the purist.
This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer.
Mhlwane Pass is named after the river which marks the start of the pass on the eastern side, also sometimes spelled as “Mhlwana”. It would usually be driven in conjunction with Collings Pass, as they are on the same road and follow one another almost back-to-back. The pass has a simple low-high profile and has fairly mild gradients throughout, making it an easy drive for most vehicles in good weather. It offers excellent views over the KwaZulu-Natal grasslands towards the high mountains in the west and to the north, where the nearby Normandien Pass is located.
This underrated tarred pass lies on the N12 route between George and Oudtshoorn. It's a long pass at 17,1 km and has a substantial altitude variance of 312m. It offers wonderful Klein Karoo scenery, several impressive cuttings and of course the well known horseshoe bend of 170 degrees, which in Afrikaans is a 'perdeskoendraai' and where the pass takes its name from. This is a very busy road with many trucks and other commercial vehicles in the mix - all of whom seem to be in a hurry. Factoring in a fairly uneven road surface, no safety shoulders and barrier line transgressions, you need to be focussed as this pass has a high accident rate.
The road and the railway line share the northern sector along the banks of the Kliprivier for 8 km, then part company as the road climbs steeply away to the east towards the horseshoe bend, whilst the railway line takes a longer, more gentle gradient towards the west.
This very minor road rises only 49m to clear a wide neck amongst the vast plains of Namaqualand about 25 km north-east of Nuwerus (on the N7) as the crow flies. It is one of the most northerly official passes in the Western Cape. The word 'poort' is normally associated with a road following the path carved out by a river, so Vetpoort is inappropriately named and should rather have been called Vetnek. Only die-hard pass-chasers will hunt this one down. It's difficult to find (especially from the south-eastern side) and has many farm gates to open and close in the process of getting there. For those that do take the trouble to drive this 'pass' you will be rewarded with a remarkable sense of peace and solitude as it is truly in the middle of nowhere.
This short but difficult little pass is located to the south of the town of Memel in the eastern Free State, on top of the Drakensberg escarpment close to the KwaZulu-Natal border. Named after a scenic farm situated along the banks of the Klip River, it is also sometimes referred to by the locals as Roodepoort. With a summit altitude of just under 2000 metres, the pass is subject to frequent snowfalls in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer, so careful planning is required if you intend to drive this pass. Even in good weather, a 4x4 vehicle is recommended.
Pienaarspoort is a north-south running poort through the local mountains north-west of Touwsrivier, which run along the east-west axis. It's slightly longer than an average poort at 5,8 km, but so typical of a poort, only has a small altitude variance of 97m. The poort is beautifully remote, despite it being only 20 km west of the busy N1 highway. You are highly unlikely to see another vehicle on this road, which will provide a sense of solitude and isolation. The surface is very stony and rough and we don't recommend this road for low clearance cars, but a 4x4 is not mandatory.
This attractive poort slices through the Nougashoogte mountains about 25 km south of Touwsrivier. The mountain consists of a series of peaks between 1100 and 1300m high, joined together by a string of necks running along the east-west axis. The 4 km long poort has a relatively small altitude variance of just 51m, which is par for the course for poorts. It provides perfect scenery of Cape Fold mountains on both sides of the road and there are a surprising number of bends considering how flat the terrain is on either side of the poort. The poort is surrounded by nature reserves on three sides. If you enjoy gravel travel, hop off the N1 and try this lovely option.
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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