Mountain Passes

This record breaking pass has rocketed into the No.1 position as the steepest pass in South Africa with an average gradient of 1:5,567 and to add to this impressive statistic is that it is gravel all the way. It's a short pass at just 2,6 km but it packs no less than 9 hairpin bends into that short distance. We recommend a high clearance 4x4 for this pass.

It's named after the peak that forms the horseshoe bend near the confluence of the Tsitsa and Tina Rivers, called Mpindweni which has a summit height of 408m. The pass presents dense indigenous bush along the first half, wherafter it breaks out into open grassland where magnificent views of the three main rivers can be seen.

This is a road that ends at the last village at the north-western end of the horseshoe bend in the Tsitsa River. Only the most dedicated pass hunters will seek this one out as it involves a long and complex route to get here - and then you have to retrace your path all the way back to Libode. But for those who dare, the rewards will be immeasurable.

This steep pass is 5,9 km long and lies just a few kilometres east of it's twin pass, the Buwani Pass. The Dungu pass is longer and has a bigger altitude variance, but both join up in a common road along the northern bank of a big loop in the Umzimvubu River, about 57 kms SSE of Mount Frere in the heart of the old Transkei region.

It forms a perfect circular loop where both these passes can be driven in tandem. The Dungu Pass has an exceptionally steep average gradient of 1:10, but some sections get very steep at 1:5. In wet weather this pass should only be tackled in a 4WD vehicle.

Panoramic scenery, steep cliffs, deeply wooded mountain slopes and birds eye views of the Umzimvubu River valley are all on the menu. There are 59 bends, corners and curves which include 2 tight hairpins and 4 corners greater than 90 degrees.

We issue our standard cautionary for all Eastern Cape rural roads, and especially those in the old Transkei area: We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

This is another remote and difficult to get to old Transkei pass, which is 4,4 km long, displays an altitude variance of 408m and generates an average gradient of 1:11 making it amongst the steepest in the whole country. Add a high rainfall area, livestock on the roads, a rough and rutted surface with spectacular views of the Tina and Umzimvubu rivers, you have a wonderful recipe for an adventure pass that will set you into a small elite group of people that have ever driven into this remote area. Even the 1:50,000 government maps don't record this pass, so it's a fairly new one and only visible on Google Earth.

The pass has 45 bends corners and curves, including one hairpin and six corners which exceed 90 degrees radius. The views are breathtaking and include thatched huts that dot the hillsides, with imopressive views over the deeply incised hills smothered in grassland and pockets of indigenous forest.

We issue our standard cautionary for all Eastern Cape rural roads, and especially those in the old Transkei area: We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

This major gravel pass will enthrall and enchant even the most jaded pass hunter. It is long, steep, rough and peppered with 301 bends, corners and curves of which 7 are hairpins and another 29 exceed 90 degrees radius. It achieves top 10 status in two categories as the 5th longest pass and the 7th biggest altitude gaining pass in South Africa. It's named after the Mtzintlava River, which is one of the main tributaries of the Umzimvubu River with which it forms a confluence about 15 km to the south west of the pass.

It connects Tabankulu with the R61 (between Flagstaff and Port St Johns) and provides access to dozens of Wild Coast villages along the way and includes a crossing of the powerful Mzintlava River, now famous for its Mamlambo creature (or brain sucker as it became known).

We issue our standard cautionary for all Eastern Cape rural roads, and especially those in the old Transkei area: We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

This massive gravel pass is for the more serious pass hunter as it's well off the beaten track, is gravel surfaced and traverses some major climbs as well as crosses the mighty Mzimvubu River. It's a very long pass at 29,8 km and holds a number of challenges with some gradients reaching 1:6, which will mean traction issues in wet weather for non 4WD vehicles.

It displays a big altitude variance of 685m and the 192 bends, corners and curves will require your full attention. Add in slippery surfaces, livestock, children, poultry, slow vehicles and minibus taxis and you can expect a very eventful journey along this big traverse.

We issue our standard cautionary for all Eastern Cape rural roads, and especially those in the old Transkei area: We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

 

This impressive gravel pass has a typical inverted profile with the lowest altitude in the middle of the pass. It descends and ascends over the  Kobonqaba River valley and offers fabulous scenery of green clad hills and a deep winding river gorge.

The pass contains 29 bends, corners and curves within its 8,5 km length and exhibits what initially appears to be an easy average gradient of 1:44 but as is the case with all passes that have both and ascent and descent in its length, the averages are always easier than passes with a single incline. This pass gets very steep with gradients at 1:6 (closer to the approaches ot the river crossing) and might present traction issues for non 4WD vehicles in very wet weather.

We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

There are three passes that allow access to Lesotho from Matatiele. From west to east these are Ongeluksnek (4x4 only), then the bigger, more popular pass, which is Qachas Nek, but a little further to the east is the much more difficult and spectacular Ramatselitso Pass. All three passes end at the RSA/Lesotho border posts of the same names. With Ramatselitso being something of a tongue twister, the border post is locally known as Rama's Gate and no doubt over time, the connecting pass will also adopt the name of Rama's Pass. The official government large scale map lists it as Ramatseliso (without the 't'), so there are already a number of versions, but we are indexing it as per the spelling on the notice board at the border post.

It's a major pass at 14 km length displaying an altitude variance of 682m and an average gradient of 1:25, but there are many very steep sections that get up to 1:5. Three of the steepest sections have been concreted which include both hairpin sections as well as a section close to the summit, which now makes this pass accessible to normal vehicles.

When we drove this pass in 2012 it was a serious 4x4 route only doable by high clearance 4x4's with low range, but the road has now been upgraded to the point that a 4x2 utility vehicle (bakkie) will manage without a problem. Unless you have plans (and a valid passport) to enter Lesotho, you will need to turn around at the SA border control point and return the same way to Matatiele.

The Nungi Pass is named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile.

The Colonanek Pass further to the south lies on the same road, so these two passes will always be driven in tandem. The steepest gradients are at 1:7 which might present traction issues in wet weather for non 4WD vehicles. There was major reconstruction taking place during 2018 as can be seen on the virtual fly-past. This includes excavating cuttings to reduce the number of blind rises and corners and ease some of the steeper gradients as well as a substantial improvement to the road width.

As is the general rule in this part of the Eastern Cape, most of the area is unfenced, so finding livestock on the road is the norm. Add in slow vehicles, minibus taxis, rutted potholed and corrugated roads, and you have a recipe for having to stay wide awake on this pass. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

This difficult to get to and remote gravel pass is well worth the effort of seeking it out. It's a long pass at 14 km and offers high views of deeply incised and heavily wooded valleys, several Transkei villages and the crossing of the powerful Mbashe (Bashee) River. Perhaps more importantly it is also the access road to the birthplace of Nelson Mandela at Mveso Village on the eastern rim of the Mbashe River canyon. He was buried near Qunu - a short distance from Mveso.

The pass has a typical inverted profile with a low point in the middle and contains 101 bends, corners and curves to keep drivers very busy. Ten of those are sharper than 90 degrees. With gradients that get as steep as 1:6 this will be a tricky drive in wet weather if not in a 4WD vehicle.

As is the general rule in this part of the Eastern Cape, most of the area is unfenced, so finding livestock on the road is the norm. Add in slow vehicles, taxis, rutted, potholed and corrugated roads and you have a recipe for having to stay wide awake on this pass. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

This 5,1 km long pass descends into the Umnga River valley via one U bend and two very sharp hairpins. The pass descends from 1291m ASL at the village of Dalibango through an altitude drop of 342m producing a stiff average gradient of 1:15 to end at the crossing of the Umnga River at a low level bridge.

You will be treated to views of towering cliffs and steeply wooded slopes with the Umnga River winding its way down the centre of this fabulous scene.

It contains 14 bends, corners and curves and requires vigilant driiving. We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.

 

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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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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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