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Mountain Passes

This long and sometimes extreme gravel pass is located on a secondary road (the R335) in the Eastern Cape approximately 35 km north of Addo and 75 km south of Somerset East. At 27,5 km it is one of the longer passes in South Africa and traverses all four tiers of the dominant Zuurberg Mountain range. It was originally constructed by Henry Fancourt White in 1849, but White resigned during the construction phase to take up a post in parliament, leaving the project in the capable hands of the assistant roads engineer, Mr. Matthew Woodifield, whose name appears carved into a rock slab near the southern end of the pass.

The pass contains within its length 158 bends, corners and curves. As progress is made northwards, the road surface deteriorates to the point where low range and high clearance is required. Allow two hours (excluding stops) to complete the pass and be patient and careful as this is true puncture country. Changing a spare wheel on a steep incline is a risky affair, so it's better to drive slower and choose your driving lines with care.

Note ~ Due to technical reasons we were only able to film the middle section of the pass from the 10th to the 20th km.

This was the first of the series of classic Garden Route/Tsitsikamma passes to be built by Thomas Bain in the late 1800's. The pass bears all of Bain's hallmark features, with sweeping curves and high retaining walls, whilst still retaining a reasonable gradient for wagon traffic - in this case 1:15.

Today the pass falls wholly under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Board and no vehicles are allowed to drive the pass. The good news is that you can walk it or cycle it.

Soutpansnek translates from Afrikaans as 'Salt Pan Neck'. This 7 km tarred pass is located on the R75, about 15 km north of the small Karoo town of Jansenville. The pass has a stiff gradient on its northern side of 1:14, but other than the one sharp bend at the summit, which is well marked, should present no real dangers. The road is suitable for all vehicles. There are several references to this pass also being called the Ravelskloof Pass. This stems from a sign at either end of the pass marked 'RAVELSKLOOF' which is the name of the kloof over which the Soutpansnek Pass traverses. In reality, there is no such pass as the Ravelskloof Pass.

Strangely there are two Soutpansnek Passes on the R75 just 43 km apart. This was always going to cause confusion, so we have labelled the two passes with a suffix to separate them distinctly. This one is the Soutpansnek Pass (Ravelskloof) and the more southern one is the Soutpansnek Pass (Wolwefontein).

 

This is an obscure gravel surfaced pass on a farm road, approximately 27 km due West of Dordrecht, in the Eastern Cape. The road starts at 1846m ASL and rises 70 vertical meters over 3,45 km to summit at 1916m. Expect snow here in winter and like the nearby Penhoek Pass, this region being part of the Stormberg can produce serious weather at any time of the year.

Satansnek is a big pass by any standards, as it is almost 17 km long and has an altitude variance of over 500 metres. It traverses the spine of a mountain to connect the Eastern Cape Highlands with the lower valleys near Engcobo. Its most outstanding feature is the Xuka River Canyon, an astonishing gorge which cuts through the mountains and which is visible on the eastern side.

The road is tarred but is badly maintained, so there are numerous potholes. Other hazards include local traffic and livestock. The pass is sometimes closed in winter because of heavy snowfalls, and under these conditions it should be avoided altogether, or only tackled with extreme caution using a 4x4. It is not as well-known as some of the other famous passes in the area, but is worth taking a little bit of extra effort to get to, and should be on any serious pass-chaser’s bucket list.

The Red Hill Pass is located on the tarred R352 in the dense forests of the Amatola Mountains between Keiskammahoek and the main trunk route - the R63 which it joins about midway between Alice and King Williams Town. The pass is  a fairly safe one in fine weather with a gradient of 1:21,but it is subject to frequent misty conditions and heavy rainfall and of course, you can expect stray cattle on the roadway at any time of the day or night. There are a total of 23 bends, corners and curves to negotiate, three of them which are in excess of 90 degrees with very tight radii.

Qacha's Nek Pass is a long, gravel road, high altitude pass leading to the border control point with Lesotho at the town of the same name. Go prepared for severe weather, including thunderstorms, electrical storms, rain, mist or snow. Beyond the border post, the road is tarred .

Potters Pass is a short suburban pass located in the West Bank area of East London (Buffalo City). It offers beautiful views over the Indian Ocean and the adjacent East Coast shoreline as you descend the pass from north to south. It is also unique in that the pass itself once formed part of the course over which the South African Grand Prix was held in the smoke-and-thunder glory days of motor racing in the 1930s, an era far removed from the clinical procession of Formula 1 racing today.

The Pot River sources in the Drakensberg, where the pass of the same name traverses its western flank. It's asurprisingly long pass, initially crossing over the Pot River about 22 km north-west of Maclear. This is a reasonable, gravel road and can be driven by normal cars in fair weather. In wet weather you are best off in a 4x4 or a 'bakkie' with decent ground clearance.

Most of the pass consists of a fairly straightforward ascent along the main spur of the mountain, with the only set of sharp corners, consisting of a set of double hairpins, being near the southern end of the pass. From the summit point at 1783m ASL the road displays an altitude variance of 461m over a distance of 8.9 km, producing an average gradient of 1:19 with the steepest parts measuring in at 1:6.

If you're driving between Rhodes and Maclear this is one of three passes you will traverse along the R396 - the other two being Elands Heights and the major pass is of course, the Naude's Nek Pass.

Pitseng Pass is dwarfed by the nearby Naude’s Nek Pass, but nevertheless it is a substantial pass in its own right. In good conditions the pass can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, but in wet weather or snow a 4x4 will definitely be required. Together with its sister pass, Luzi Poort, the road is often used as a shortcut by travellers wishing to get from Mount Fletcher to Rhodes or vice versa; it is a much shorter route than going via Maclear, and it is certainly more scenic. Either way, Naude’s Nek still has to be negotiated. There is a significant height gain / loss of 368 metres, and the pass is 8 kilometres in length.



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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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