fbpx

Mountain Passes

Die Venster translates into The Window. This is an easy pass with gentle curves and a fairly small altitude gain/loss. However, what it lacks in technical drama, it more than makes up for in terms of grand scenery. The road ascends gradually from the west through a curve to the left as it heads for the lowest point between two mountain ranges. From the summit, a vast landscape opens up featuring flat plains stretching as far as the eye can see with rugged mountains interrupting the Karooscape.

The Karoo has several dynamic passes and the De Jagers Pass is one of them. It's located on a good gravel road about 30km NNE of Beaufort West. Unless you're a local farmer, you'll have very little reason to be on this road. Of course, pass hunters don't care about these things, and this gravel pass will satisfy every cent spent on fuel, locating it. It's a farm road and leads only to other farms in the area, but it does offer many options to the adventurous traveller. Please note that our description covers an ascending route from south to north which is by far the easiest way to locate this pass, but our video was filmed in the opposite direction for maximum scenic value.

This is a very special pass, much loved by pass hunters, nature lovers and the gliding fraternity. It rises up from the wheat and canola plains of the Swartland just north of Porterville through a series of tight bends, steep gradients and two severe hairpins to summit at 700m ASL at the top of the Groot Winterberg mountain range. The pass was tarred a few years ago, taking away some of the excitement, but the benefits are a much safer pass with considerable savings in maintenance. Near the summit, on the left hand side of the road, you will see the hang glider and paraglider steel launch ramp, where the bird-men go airborne for hours soaring in the updraft of the mountains.

This is one of the most spectacular gravel passes in the Western Cape offering stunning scenery of craggy mountains, vertical rock walled poorts, old-school engineering, game spotting, birdlife and a fabulous 4 star lodge to ease weary travellers into the bushveld way of life. The pass has 60 bends, corners and curves compressed into its 7,6 km length with an average gradient of 1:13 which is remarkable considering that the lower part of the pass where it becomes a poort is fairly flat. Yet there is no point on the pass whichis excessively steep. There are some sections that reach 1:6 so this road with it's steep unguarded drop-offs requires focused attention by drivers.

This historic pass dates back to 1862 and was completed by Thomas Bain's brother in law - Adam de Smidt. The road is named after the many fossilised ticks found in the rocks when the road was built. This used to be the main road between Laingsburg and Prince Albert up till the late 1960's when the Dept. of Water Affairs built the Gamkakloof Dam, which had a number of consequences, including making this road obsolete.

Firstly it made the road a dead end as there was no way around the new dam and secondly it spelt the end of the farming community in the Gamkakloof, as the new road bulldozed eastwards through the Gamkaskloof gave this community access to Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. They left the kloof in a steady trickle until there was no-one left. That is one of the negative sides of progress. The full story on the on the Gamkaskloof can be read elsewhere on this website.

This long pass of 33 km runs on the east/west axis between Graaff Reinet and Cradock on the tarred R61 route. This is a tarred, high altitude pass summiting at 1768m ASL which puts it firmly into the snow belt. The average gradient is a mild 1:58, but there are sections where the gradients get as steep as 1:10, which translates into slow moving heavy trucks for ascending traffic. The engineering is excellent and double lanes have been provided for most of the steeper ascending sections. The pass is named after the mountain range over which it passes. Most of the corners have a comfortable arc and the deep cuttings ensure that the gradients have been kept to a level which prevents blind rises. This is a wonderful pass to drive at any time of the year and is suitable for all vehicles.

The original pass was named after one of the area's pioneer farmers - Marthinus van Staden, who was the first person to plot a rudimentary track through the Van Stadens River Gorge. By 1867 the Cape Government decided to rebuild the pass to acceptable standards for wagon traffic. The actual construction was managed by George Apsey from 1865 to 1867.

Over time the pass was modified and tarred in the 1950's. When the N2 was rebuilt and improved, a new bridge was built which would span the Van Stadens River gorge and in the process completely remove all aspects of a mountain pass. Similar changes took place at several big bridges along the N2, such as Storms River, Bloukrans and Grootrivier. It takes about 30 seconds to drive over the gorge on the N2 today, which is fine if youre in a hurry, but the charm of the old pass is still available to those with a some extra time to spare. The downside of the tall new bridge is that it saw its first suicide victim soon after being built. One suicide followed another and soon the new bridge became known as the Bridge of Death. Authorities have subsequently erected cages along both sides and a call centre is on standby to help desperately depressed people.

Whilst the old pass still holds its charm and allure, the new bridge casts a sombre mood on an otherwise beautiful river gorge.

This gravel road passes is fairly long at 20,8 km. It is (as the name suggests), virtually an extension of the Tarka Pass which ends where this pass starts. The road meanders on an East-West axis, through the mountains starting at an altitude of823m and traces the course of a small river past several isolated farms, before summiting at 1343m.

This 15,6 km gravel pass runs on the North/South axis approximately paralell (and to the West) of the tarred N10. The road mainly serves the local farming communities. Despite it's ascent/descent range of 353 vertical meters, the average gradient is a leisurely 1:44 with the steeper sections being 1:20. The pass is not a tarred pass, nor is it on the N10 as indicated by several well respected websites.

This small 2,7 km long poort drives through the natural gap in the northern-most of the four ridges comprising the Grootrivierberge between Willowmore and Jansenville in the Karoo. Typical of a poort, the road follows the path of the Plessisrivier and there is not much gain or loss in altitude. Both start and end points are at crossings of the same river. The road is generally maintained to a reasonable condition and is suitable for all vehicles.

The Swaershoek Pass (translated as Brother-in-laws Pass) is a major gravel pass located about 20 km south-west of Cradock. The pass is quite long at 8,1 km and has an altitude variance of  468m which produces an average gradient of 1:17, but there are many sections which are considerably steeper at 1:11. Despite the steep gradients and unpaved surface, the pass is well designed and is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather. The pass connects Cradock with Pearston 70 km further south.

This pass and its approach roads offer some of the best Eastern Cape scenery imaginable. Anyone willing to get a bit of dust on their vehicle will be richly rewarded travelling this route on the R337 which includes another great gravel pass much further south, called the Buffelshoek Pass.



Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter with News and Updates from Mountain Passes South Africa

Subscribe to our Site

Subscribe for only R300 a year (or R210 for 6 months), and get full access to our website including the videos, the full text of all mountain passes articles, fact-file, interactive map, directions and route files.

Register

 
 
 
 

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.

View Master Orientation Map...