The word spectacular describes this pass perfectly. It has all the elements of a classic gravel road pass of intrigue, danger, amazing views and technical driving. This pass ranks in position 31 nationally in the 'most altitude gained' category with a walloping 658 vertical metres! This was one of our favourite passes in the Eastern Cape. The pass is driveable in a normal car in fair weather, but when it rains heavily and the surface gets muddy, you will need a 4x4. Gravel roads can change overnight, so always take this into consideration before attempting this pass. The rather obscure road is neither a short cut, nor a main route to any specific place, but finally the two tiny settlements of Ida in the south and Clifford in the north get a mention, as they just happen to be at either terminus of this pass over the Drakensberg.
The pass was named after Dr. Otto du Plessis, a popular political figure at the time and one time Minister of Health. He was born in 1905 and passed away in 1983. There is a hospital near Bredasdorp named after him, as well as the road down the Gamkaskloof to Die Hel, which also officially bears his name. One of the main roads in Cape Town's Atlantic suburbs is also named the 'Otto du Plessis Drive'.
Olifantskop is a beautiful tarred pass located on the N10, a major arterial national road which bisects the country from the Namibian border in the north to Port Elizabeth in the south. Surprisingly, it is one of only three passes which reference elephants in their title, the other two being Olifantspoort near Queenstown and Olifantsnek near Rustenburg. Although the road is in a good condition, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous passes in South Africa for a number of reasons, including severe weather conditions, rockfalls, wild animals, multiple blind corners, steep gradients, and last but not least, the large number of heavy commercial vehicles which ply this route.
This tarred pass is located between the Eastern Cape towns of Queenstown and Lady Frere on the tarred the R410 route. The pass descends through 216 vertical metres over 5,6 km producing an average gradient of 1:26 with the steepest parts presenting at 1:10. The pass contains 15 bends, corners and curves, one of which exceeds a radius of 90 degrees. This is a safe, well engineered road and is suitable for any vehicle. We do however issue a cautionary for bad weather as this is a high altitude pass and is subject to winter snowfalls and heavy thunderstorms in summer. Always adjust your speed according to conditions and watch out for livestock on the road.
The Nico Malan Pass is located between Whittlesea and Seymour along the tarred R67 route towards Sada in the east. This is a serious pass climbing a massive 673 vertical metres over 13.8 km, ranking it in position number 25 in the top altitude gaining passes in South Africa. The pass is well engineered and modern and underwent an upgrade in 2016. There are many impressive steep sided cuttings, dense forested sections, sweeping views and fairly easy gradients, with nicely banked corners, making this pass a joy to drive. It is suitable for all traffic and although it is a safe pass in fair weather conditions, it is prone to thick mountain mists and heavy rain, which suddenly changes the safety rating to poor. Adjust your speed according to conditions. Excessive speed and human error have led to several fatal accidents on this pass.
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 Tenahead-Tiffindell Traverse and the Sani Pass (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.
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.