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Mountain Passes

There is not much left of the old Van Ryneveld's Pass with most of it being either under the surface of the new road or under the sparkling waters of the Nqweba Dam. The 'new' pass which forms part of the R63 route, is just  2.1 km long and only displays an altitude variance of 40m. What this little pass lacks in vital statistics, it more than makes up in points of interest and lovely scenery.

You will be able to enjoy shady picnic spots, views over the dam, close up views of the old pass (built by Andrew Bain), a visit to the Gideon Scheepers memorial and gain access to the Camdeboo National Park. Andrew Bain started his road building career in Graaff Reinet where he first worked as a saddler and later gained experience as a road builder. His famous son, Thomas Bain was born here.

Witnek is a very minor gravel pass located approximately halfway between the towns of Paul Roux and Rosendal in the Eastern Free State highlands. The name is derived from the exposed slabs of white and light-brown sandstone which are prominently visible all around the summit area of the pass. The road is in a reasonable condition, although the surface is quite badly rutted and covered with small sharp stones. It can be driven in any vehicle, but a high clearance vehicle fitted with all terrain tyres is recommended. In wet weather, a 4x4 would probably be required.

Lancer's Gap is a short, steep tarred pass on the eastern outskirts of Maseru. At 1.9 km it's the shortest of the official passes documented in Lesotho. Other than the chicane section of a set of very tight double hairpin bends, the drive is straight-forward and is suitable for all vehicles.

The average gradient on this pass is a stiff 1:12 but there are several sections that get as steep as 1:5. For vehicles approaching from the east in the descending mode, it is best to run against engine compression.

You will be treated to some gnarled and spectacular sandstone formations in the middle section of the pass.

The name of this pass translates from Afrikaans to English as “Swirling Winds Passage”, which would be typical of the weather in this area, usually hot, dry and windy. Although it is located in a fairly remote region of the Northern Cape, it is worth the time and effort it requires to get there, if you enjoy driving quiet country roads dotted about with sheep, cattle and game farms.

The poort itself is a very minor one, with only one corner and a height gain of just 16 metres, but the magnificent Karoo scenery makes up for this deficiency. The gravel road is an excellent condition and can be driven in any vehicle.

This lovely little poort comes as something of a surprise when driving along the R61 between Tarkastad and Cradock after many kilometres of flat Karoo driving. It only takes 4 minutes to drive it and the gradients are gentle, so typical of a poort. Lovely sandstone formations are visible during the second part of the descent and there is one well designed layby worth stopping at at the halfway point at the apex of a big right hand bend at the confluence of the two streams.

The poort is named after the Rasfontein farm over which land it traverses and is approximately midpoint between the Karoo towns of Tarkastad and Cradock. There is a blanket speed limit of 80 kph throughout the length of the poort, which is a sensible speed to cope with all the bends which come thick and fast during the lower part of the poort.

Generaalsnek is a very minor pass located on the tarred R26 road between Fouriesburg and Ficksburg in the Eastern Free State highlands, close to the border with Lesotho. The entire length of the R26 is generally in a very bad condition, with potholes and patches everywhere, but this route can be driven in any vehicle and in any weather.

There is nothing to distinguish this little rise of just 49 metres with any of the other rises and falls along this road, except that it has been officially marked on the 1:50000 maps. The name of the pass was no doubt derived during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, when this area was a hotspot of action, and there are many other passes in the vicinity that also have war connections. Perhaps it was named after that wily old fox very active in this region, General Christiaan De Wet?

The A25 route is home to a number of spectacular passes. Although the Laitsoka Pass is not the highest, if offers magnificent scenery and includes the crossing of the high level bridge over the upper reaches of the Katse Dam. The pass is long at 14.7 km and contains 75 bends, corners and curves, of which 16 exceed 90 degrees, but there are no hairpins.

The average gradient of 1:25 is moderated by a central summit point of 2649m ASL but the gradients do reach 1:5 on several sections of the pass, so it's steep by any standards. The pass is tarred and forms one of the main routes through the central part of Lesotho and has become busier since the completion of the Katse Dam and the ongoing Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

There are at least two good lodges in the Lejone area for travellers to overnight at.

If you blink, you will pass through this little poort without noticing it. It's an official poort duly noted on the government 1:50,000 maps. The vital statistics are frivolous with the poort only being 1.1 km in length with an altitude variance of only 8m. The scenery is however, quite pleasant as the road follows the poort between two large hills - both comprising sandstone formations typical of the area.

The region offers wonderful tourism opportunities for the adventure traveller with the town of De Rust being the springboard and focal point of the area. The town is something of an artist's and writer's haven as many of the old buildings have been beautifully restored, as city folk have moved here to live a quieter lifestyle. The region also makes excellent port wine and it is of course also the southern gateway to the world renowned Meiringspoort.

 

This is a mega pass by any standards. It's very long at 32 km and displays an altitude variance of 1066m. With a summit height of 3244m ASL, headaches and nose bleeds might be experienced by travelers from the coast who have not had time to acclimatise. It is the second highest pass in Lesotho and is also commonly referred to as the Black Mountain Pass.

Packed into that length is a total of 139 bends, corners and curves of which 8 have angles in excess of 90 degrees and of those, 6 are hairpin bends, all of which occur on the south-eastern side of the pass. The pass is subject to lots of snow in winter and ice on the roadway will make things highly dangerous, even for 4WD vehicles.

The pass is virtually and extension of the Sani Pass, separated only by a short 6 km plateau. It connects South Africa (KZN specifically) with the main southern town of Mokhotlong. It was recently tarred which makes this a relatively comfortable drive compared to the rough two spoor track prior to 2004.

Cautionaries: Snow, Ice, Livestock, Herdsmen, Altitude sickness.

This 3 km long pass packs plenty of action and grand scenery into it's short distance, gaining 208 vertical metres in the process. It's a slow, bumpy drive and you will be negotiating no less than 28 bends, corners and curves of which 7 exceed 90 degrees. The road surface is narrow and rough with a strong possibility of picking up a puncture on the hundreds of thousands of sharp rocks.

The road traverses the Koedoesberge (a strong indicator that kudu were plentiful here in the 19th century) and has its western end virtually on the border of the Western and Northern Cape.

When watching the video look for the truck and tractor wreck down the side of the ravine at 2min 05 secs.

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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.
 

Master Orientation Map

Master Orientation Map 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.

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