Due to the 32,7 km length of this mega-pass, we have split it into six parts. We recommend that the pass be driven from west to east for maximum enjoyment. Many sources quote this as being the highest gravel pass in South Africa, but Naude's Nek Pass is actually the fourth highest altitude, publicly accessible pass in South Africa and is a much sought after personal trophy for pass 'hunters' to say: "I've driven it!"
It is superseded by the Ben MacDhui Pass, the Sani Pass and the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (in that order). Zig-zagging its way over the Southern Drakensberg, the pass is a long and slow drive with an average gradient of 1:41, but the steeper parts measure out at 1:7. Considering that the builders were not engineers, but humble farmers, the lines chosen and gradients achieved are remarkably good for the time. This is without question a bucket-list pass!
The Naudesberg Pass should not be confused with it's like named, but much more famous Naudes Nek Pass, which is also in the Eastern Cape. The Naudesberg Pass lies 40 km North of Graaff Reinet on the tarred N9 connecting with the Karoo town of Middelburg some 70 km further north. The pass was originally constructed by Andrew Geddes Bain circa 1858.
Munniks Poort is a straight forward drive along the tarred N9 highway, just 3 km south-west of Graaff Reinet - with few technical surprises, other than beautiful vistas of the Great Karoo, the unique and distinctive vews of Spandau Kop and the world famous Valley of Desolation - all part of the Camdeboo National Park. The naming of the pass is probably after Dr. L.A.P.A. Munnik - a parliamentary minister in the 1970's.
This gravel pass provides a link via several Xhosa villages along the old R61 between Mthatha (Umtata) and the coastal resort of Port St. Johns. It used to be part of the main road before the R61 was upgraded and tarred. In the process, this section of the R61 was bypassed. Take 15 minutes out of your day, and drive this little extra loop. You will be richly rewarded.
Spectacular views over almost the entire length of the pass will be your reward over the valley carved out by the Mngazi River with the main attraction being the massive block of rock called Mlengana with its many myths and legends that is the focal point of the pass.
The pass is 7.6 km long and displays an altitude variance of 421m producing an average gradient of 1:18 but it never gets steeper than 1:10 which makes it quite doable in a normal car in fair weather. The usual cautionaries of livestock on the road apply and this pass is also subject to frequent rockfalls, especially after heavy rain.
Michel's Pass is located in the Eastern Cape between Hogsback in the east and Seymour in the west. The 6,5 km gravel pass is in excellent condition (as at April 2018) but is subject to severe thunderstorms in summer and snowfalls in winter with a summit altitude of 1442m ASL. The track is marked strictly for 4WD vehicles with high ground clearance and low range, but since it has been recently repaired it is now doable in a 4x2. It is best to check with local busineses and B&B's in Hogsback whether the road is passable or not.
This gravel pass is one of the great gravel passes of the Eastern Cape and is held in awe by adventure travellers to the same extent as Joubert's Pass, Naude's Nek, Carlisleshoekspruit, Volunteershoek, Bastervoetpad, and Otto du Plesses passes. Lundin's Nek (which is also often spelled as Lundean's Nek) is a much bigger pass technically than any of the others and must rank as the most underrated big gravel pass in South Africa.
Not that many people have driven this pass as it really doesn't lead to anywhere significant, other than the Tele River border post with Lesotho. The pass is steep and peppered with 101 bends, corners and curves including four hairpins, several unbridged stream crossings and very steep, unguarded drop-offs. It's also long at 14,5 km and concentration levels need to be maintained throughout. The pass is not suitable for normal sedan vehicles. Whilst we recommend a 4x4 for this road, it is possible to complete it in a high clearance 4x2 vehicle in fair weather. It connects the small farming community of Wartrail with the Tele River border post at Lesotho.
This lovely pass with its sweeping curves around the buttresses of the Lootsberg, lies in the heart of the Great Karoo some 70km North of Graaff Reinet on the tarred N9. It is the highest pass in the Karoo and was named after Hendrik Loots who died on the old pass, after his carriage overturned. It is the first of a string of poorts and passes starting from the North East near Middelburg, with the final one being the Potjiesberg Pass to the South of Uniondale taking travellers from the high grounds of the Great Karoo down to the Little Karoo towards Oudtshoorn and George. The pass was originally constructed by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1858.
It is unclear how the Kwaaimans Pass acquired its name, which translates from Afrikaans as “Angry Man”. There is an area called Kwaaiman in South Africa, but this is located far from the pass, south-east of Umtata near Coffee Bay. The pass is situated on an unnumbered gravel road which runs on a north-south axis linking Cala in the north with the R61 near Tsomo in the south. The road is in a reasonable condition and shouldn’t present too many issues in dry weather, but a high clearance or 4x4 vehicle is recommended. Hazards include all of the usual rural Transkei problems, primarily free-roaming livestock. This is considered to be a high-crime area, and it would be advisable to tackle this route with at least two vehicles.
The Hemel en Aarde Pass is a tarred road connecting the coastal town of Hermanus with Caledon via the Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley - well known for its world class wine estates. The pass is longer than the national average at 8,2 km and it descends 231m to produce an average gradient of a mild 1:35, but there is one specific secrtion where things get decidedly steep at 1:8.
The pass offers access to a number of tourist attractions and is very popular amongst the mountain biking set, so be particularly aware of coming across cylists on this road - especially over weekends and holidays. The scenery is varied and includes open heather and fynbos slopes near the summit to neatly cultivated vineyards along the southern section.
The road had no safety shoulders, so bear this in mind when overtaking cyclists, who must be given 1,5m clearance space by law.
Shaw's Mountain Pass is named after Shaw's Mountain over which it traverses on the R320 route between Caledon in the north and Hermanus in the south. The 6 km long pass descends 185m from a maximum altitude of 282m ASL providing sweeping views of the farming valleys to the south. It contains 15 bends, corners and curves of which only one exceeds 90 degrees.
The pass offers attractive scenery over one of the most beautiful valleys of the Overberg, where proteas, fynbos and wildflowers abound. The pass was completely realigned and rebuilt during 2017 and is perfectly safe for all vehicle types. Note that a lower than normal speed limit of 80 kph applies.
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.