There are three back to back passes between Tombo and Port St Johns. They are, from west to east Mngazi River Pass, Butyabuse Pass and the Isinuka Poort. At 7 km it's well above the national average and displays a moderate altitude variance of 138m. It connects the valleys of the Mngazi and Umzimvubu Rivers on the R61..
The pass is modern and well designed, but the local authorities have had to install several traffic calmers (speed bumps) to slow the taxis down, as the pass traverses several villages on its way to the coast. It offers good views of the Mngazi River and towards the middle of the pass the road passes through the villages of Mkanzini, Zitshece and Ndwalane.
There are a number of cautionaries for this road - Pedestrians and especially school children, dogs, livestock, slow and fast moving vehicles, speed bumps, school buses and minibus taxis. Drive with care.
This attractive poort forms the final part of the R61 between Mthatha and Port St. Johns. It is a typical poort following the course of the Umzimvubu River on it's southern bank. Near the western start lies the village of Isinuka after which the poort is named. There is a deep cutting just after the western start as the road slices through the mountain to reach the Umzimubu River Valley.
There are sections of very steep cuttings that tower some 60m above the road, but other than that the road is straight-forward, which is a relative term, as several dangers lurk along this stretch of roadway. Local traffic officers love doing laser speed traps here, where the speed limit jumps several times between 60 and 80 kph. There are also a number of poorly concealed and sharp speed bumps, which require a reduction of speed to 30 kph or lower, Dogs and livestock can appear out of the dense bush without warning and pedestrians tend to wander along the roadway as there is nowhere else for them to walk and of course, last but not least, are the numerous minibus taxis which ply this route and congregate in numbers towards the eastern end of the poort adjacent to the Pondoland Bridge.
The wide and sluggish Umzimvubu River welcomes drivers as it drifts lazily towards the estuary at Port St. Johns' 1st Beach.
This pass is well above the national average length at 8.7 km and is one of three back to back passes along the R61 between Lusikisiki and Port St.Johns. There are 58 bends, corners and curves compressed into that length and many of them exceed 90 degrees through tight arcs. It is necessary for drivers to have a high level of concentration on this pass, as it's a busy road and the many courier and delivery trucks and minibus taxis have scant regard for barrier lines.
The pass name is of course taken from the Umzimvubu River which is crossed at the foot of the pass near Port St.Johns. Drivers who do this route for the first time will be in for a few nasty surprises in that here you will find some of South Africa's severest speed bumps. These are unfortunately necessary to slow the wild drivers down - especially near villages and schools. There is one specific speed bump designs which consists of 5 sharp speed bumps, spaced about 1m apart.
Despite all the dangers, the pass offers fabulous scenery and especially towards the middle of the pass where the Gates of St. John start making an appearance. The Xhosa version of the river and pass exclude the U - so "Mzimvubu" For Western tongues having the M and the Z following each other, make it difficult to pronounce. For purposes of indexing we have used the older version of Umzimvubu.
This very steep and winding road starts in the town of Port St Johns and winds its way up the lush mountainside, eventually curling back on itself to terminate at the old runway on the top of the mountain. The road is tarred or concreted all the way, so traction is good (even in wet weather) making this drive possible in any vehicle.
The 9.8 km long road has 69 bends, corners and curves to contend with and some fairly steep gradients of 1:5. The views from the end of the airstrip are superb and include a bird's eye view over the Umzimvubu River, the Gates of St John as well as the river mouth itself.
The road was well built many years ago making extensive use of concrete to ensure it would not suffer water damage from the heavy rains that fall in this area. The road has a false summit of 240m ASL which is reached at the 2.8 km mark, where after it undulates and descends until the 5.4 km mark. From this point the gradient ramps up steeply as the road reaches its maximum gradient of 1:6 before reaching the top of the mountain, where you can drive along the tarred runway to the various lookout points.
This easy gravel pass can be driven in any vehicle, although like any gravel pass, things get quite slippery during and after rain. It boasts an impressive hight gain of 730m, which places it in position 20 in the biggest altitude gaining statistics. The 48 bends, corners and curves will keep you busy as each bend reveals new vistas over the citrus farms of the Gamtoos Valley and the densely wooded mountains to the east.
The road services a number of farms and provides an alternative and much more attractive route to Uitenhage. It also is the access road to the 4x4 only Antoniesberg Pass and Steytlerville and forms part of the T3 baviaanskloof Tourism Route system.
The road holds no apprarent dangers if speed limits are adhered to, but normal farming vehicles use the road frequently, so be aware of them.
This is one of those official passes that barely resembles the normal characteristics of a true mountain pass. It is little more than an easy gravel road along a prominent ridge to the south west of Riversdale.
It is 4.3 km long and takes just 4 minutes to drive with a total altiutde variance of 90 metres. The road has very few dangers with perhaps the biggest being the speed at which the local farmers drive.
However the nearby town of Riversdale is full of history and points of interest. This flourishing farming town is the epicentre for farmers along the coastal hinterland between Mossel Bay and Swellendam.
The short but interesting pass offers gorgeous scenery, twisting and steep curves on a brand new road, but it also has several cautionaries which include two sets of fearsome speed bumps, several schools, slow intersection traffic and livestock on the road,
The pass has a typical inverted vertical profile expected of a pass that descends into a river valley and climbs out the other side. The modern engineering on this brand new road is interesting and almost unexpected considering the humble rural surroundings.
It's only 5 km long and drops 248m to the river crossing with steep gradients of 1:7. The winding R61 is peppered with small passes, some of them unnamed, so it's best to pre-mark the GPS coordinates on your unit, so that you know when it's coming up on your journey to the coast.
This attractive pass lies on the N2 national road between Colchester and Grahamstown. It can be quite confusing as the Komgha River is in fact nowhere near the town of the same name, much further north east by almost 200 km as the crow flies. It should be noted that the spelling of Komgha River includes an 'h" whereas the town is spelled without the 'h'.
The pass offers some nice twists and turns, impressive cuttings and sweeping views over the river valley. It's 6.3 km in length and displays an altitude variance of 194m with a classic inverted vertical profile. The gradients are fairly comfortable with the steepest parts near the river never exceeding 1:11. The road is so well engineered that a speed limit of 120 kph is valid for most of the pass, but in the sections with the sharper corners, the speed limit is reduced to 100 kph.
Cautionaries: Thick mountain mists, livestock on the roadway.
This very steep pass takes one from the coastal plateau down to the beach at Mbotyi. The pass is immersed inside the dense forest canopy for most of its length which is almost a pity as the views would be tantalizingly beautiful if visible. The pass has some very sharp corners and steep gradients as one gets to the halfway point. There is one particularly nasty hairpin bend which needs to be treated with respect.
Any pass that has an average gradient lower than 1:16 is steep and this pass at 1:13 will have your passengers reaching for their imaginary brake pedal and especially so on the very steep sections in the middle of the pass where the gradients get steeper than 1:5. This pass would be very difficult to drive if it wasn't paved. Although we have mapped it as a gravel pass, the steepest parts have been concreted, which provides essential traction to normal vehicles in wet conditions. The road is a cul de sac so it will always be driven from NE-SE first (descending). Due to available light we had to film the pass in the opposite direction, in the ascending mode.
This short, but scenic gravel pass is located on the same road as the Qora River Pass, but a little further east. Its short at just 1,7 km and sports and average gradient of 1:14 with the steepest parts reaching 1:9. Despite its relatively small altitude gain of 118m, the pass offers very attractive views over the surrounding countryside of Wild Coast hills and pasturage.
The pass is named after the village that it services near its summit and forms the eastern ascent over a long spine which eventually leads into the Qora River Pass. The two passes will always be driven in tandem.
The usual Eastern Cape cautionaries apply of being aware of the high likelihood of finding livestock and pedestrians on the road.
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.
We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.