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Mountain Passes

Sir Lowry's Pass was named after Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, Governor of the Cape in 1828. Today's modern, cantilevered four-lane highway is a far cry from the original pass, which was recklessly dangerous and steep. Prior to the pass being built, all wagon traffic from the Overberg routed through the Franschoek Pass - the preferred route for many years with its kinder gradients for wagons and oxen. 

The 13,4 km long Huisrivier pass lies on the R62 between two valleys in the Little Karoo between the towns of Ladismith in the west and Calitzdorp in the east. It has 39 bends,corners and curves packed into that distance, which requires vigilant driving. Not only is this a fairly long pass, but it has many sharp corners, steep gradients and exceptionally attractive scenery. Many lovely rest areas have been provided by the road builders. The perfectly banked corners will be a joy to ride on a motorcycle.

This pass is unique in that its geology is unusually unstable and several pioneering engineering techniques had to be applied to successfully build a safe all-weather pass. The pass, which includes three river crossings, is not particularly steep, where the engineers have managed to limit the speepest gradients to a fairly comfortable 1:12. The pass is suitable for all vehicles with the only natural dangers being rockfalls, but the substantial catch walls appear to be taking care of that as well. The road carries heavy trucking traffic and overtaking is sometimes difficult. Patience is required if you get stuck behind a slow moving truck.

The 11,7 km long Garcia's Pass has a long and winding history predating 1860. It connects the farming town of Riversdale on the coastal plateau, with the inland Karoo town of Ladismith. The effective combination of Garcia's Pass and its sister-pass, the Tradouw Pass, did much to extend trade into the interior during the pioneering days of the 1820 Settlers.

This lesser known, Southern Cape pass is often ignored in favour of the much more famous Tradouw Pass 30 km to the west, between Suurbraak and Barrydale. It is a beautiful drive at any time of year - particularly the upper-plateau section where the road winds gently between the hills, mimicking the course of the river.

It's a long pass at 11,6 km and has an altitude variance of 397m with mostly easy gradients, but the southern side closer to Riversdale can get a bit steep at 1:10. The road is maintained to a high standard and has a good safety record. It is suitable for all vehicles.

Combrink's Pass and the Holgat Pass are the descent and ascent respectively of the high plateau where the Bergplaas camping sites are found. Regardless of which direction you drive the pass, it is a visual feast. It is also the biggest of the five Baviaanskloof  passes (Nuwekloof, Grasnek, Langkop, Holgat and Combrinks) in terms of altitude gain/loss. This is the last pass you will encounter before exiting the bio-reserve and entering the Cambria valley.

Compressed within its 5,5 km length the road descends 333m via 73 bends, corners and curves, resulting in an average gradient of 1:16, but there are some sections as steep as 1:8. The road is single width for most of its length making overtaking impossible and passing difficult, where one of the vehicles will need to reverse back to a wider point.

This pass is a winner with stunning views for its entire length, however for anyone suffering from acrophobia, the very steep and completely unguarded drop-offs could be quite intimidating.

If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend watching the Orientation Overview video first. 

When travelling through the Baviaanskloof from west to east, the Holgat Pass is 5th pass you will need to traverse - the first four being the Nuwekloof  Pass, Studtis Poort, Grasnek Pass and Langkop Pass. The Holgat Pass is often confused with the Combrinks Pass which lies a few kilometers further east. The pass is essentially the ascent up the final big mountain climb for travellers heading eastwards,  interrupted by a high altitude plateau (where the Bergplaas campsites can be found) followed by the Combrinks Pass as the descent. If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation and Overview video.

The pass contains 49 bends, corners and curves within its 4,7 km length and 10 of those corners are greater than 90 degrees. The road is partially strip concreted and sections of the concrete are in poor condition, making for quite a bumpy ride. Most of the pass has steep, unguarded drop-offs and drivers need to be alert. Overtaking is impossible and passing vehicles travelling in the opposite direction will require both vehicles to move over to create sufficient passing space.

The Baviaanskloof has 8 magnificent passes and poorts of which the Grasnek Pass is probably the best in terms of scenic beauty. It’s fairly long at 8,3 km and includes in that length an astonishing 83 bends, corners and curves which equates to one bend every 100 metres. The pass is well designed (especially considering its age) and offers a fairly reasonable average gradient of 1:11 both ascending and descending. It rises from 247m to 447m ASL on it's western ascent of 3,7 km giving rise to some stiff gradients as steep as 1:6. Views from the ridge and summit zone are beyond description. We recommend a 4DW vehicle for this pass.

If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation & Overview video

The Baviaans-Kouga 4x4 route is a Grade 2/3 4x4 route starting (unofficially) at the turnoff on the tarred R62, one km east of Kareedouw and ends some 70 km further north at the Doringkloof farmstead in the Western Baviaanskloof. The 4x4 section officially starts at the neck at the final descent to the Baviaans Lodge. If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation & Overview video

The Uniondale Poort was completely rebuilt over a lengthy period after being seriously damaged by floods about a decade ago. Today one can enjoy this lovely scenic drive through the poort on a beautifully engineered, modern road taking in the stunning rock formations and some small waterfalls if you are lucky enough to drive it after or during good rains. The road was first built through the poort in 1925 and it was tarred in 1960. It carries a secondary name of 'Queen Street'. The major, modern reconstruction took place between 2007 and 2010 during which phase traffic was routed to Uniondale via the Potjiesberg Pass on the N9.

The Tradouw Pass (which means Womens Path in the old Khoi language) is a 16 kilometer drive through an altitude range of 219 meters through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery on offer in the Langeberg. This pass is undoubtedly in the Top 20 tarred passes in the Western Cape on an overall rating.

It joins the towns of Barrydale and Swellendam and was originally built by Thomas Bain. Extensively revamped in recent times, the engineering teams did an outstanding job of preserving the environment and retaining Thomas Bain's character in the design and supporting stonework. This is truly one of those mountain passes that you must drive. This one ticks all the boxes.

The Prince Alfred's Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably Thomas Bain's greatest work. Not only was this an extremely long pass, but it also presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders. Due to the length of the pass, we have filmed this pass in a 14 part series, which includes a separate 2 part video set covering the detour up to the Spitskop viewsite. At 68,5 km it is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use.  The video footage covers the entire pass starting at Avontuur and ending at the at the junction with the N2 just east of Knysna. 

We recommend watching the series of videos sequentially to gain a complete picture of all this wonderful pass has to offer. All 14 videos follow below and are placed in the correct sequence amongst the relevant text section. The pass is Thomas Bain's Opus Magnum - a work of monumental proportions carried out with rudimentary equipment and convict labour, but with science, ingenuity and Bain's "can do" attitude making it all possible. Bain constructed 29 passes mainly in the Cape colony in his lifetime. This pass epitomises all of his unique touches, but especially his exceptional dry walling method of construction.

Allow 1 hour and 15 minutes to watch the full video set and longer if you also want to study the text. Once digested you will be well equipped to deal with the rigours of the pass and the knowledge gained will greatly enhance your journey.

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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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