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Mountain Passes

This steep, high altitude gravel pass is situated between the N9 route and the village of Nieu-Bethesda, where artist Helen Martins turned her Karoo home into a fantastical landscape, with concrete and ground-glass sculptures of owls, camels and angels. The town was established in 1875 and is dominated by the peak known as Kompasberg (Compass Mountain) which is the 6th highest mountain in the Eastern Cape and forms part of the Sneeuberg range. The town is very secluded and as such has become something of a retreat for artists and writers.

Viljoen's Pass was named after Dr Antonie Viljoen who founded the area's famous apple industry in 1902. It is a well designed modern pass with a good accident track record, not withstanding the extreme hairpin bend on the northern side of the pass. The pass was originally built to a different line in 1860.

Also known as 'Breedt's Nek', this gravel pass can be found just off the R763, near the Magaliesberg Nature Reserve. It provides a link across the Magaliesberg from the settlement of Maanhaarrand to Buffelspoort and the town of Mooinooi to the north-east. The road bears an official number (D568), and the condition ranges from poor to terrible. Expect gradients of 1:10 and deeply rutted and rocky sections. However, providing you are in a 4x4 vehicle or at least a commercial vehicle with good ground clearance, it is most certainly doable, but it is a long, slow drive. Don't drive this road if you're in a hurry.

 
 

A gravel pass in KZN between Harrismith and Bergville - in the vicinity of the Sterkfontein Dam. The pass starts at 1349m ASL and summits at 1751m. It is 5,6 km long producing an ascent gradient of 1/14 making it very steep. Be prepared to crawl along this road at less than 10 kph and allow plenty of time. Probably between 60 and 90 minutes to cover the 5 km. It is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles with good ground clearance and low range! Remember to drop your tyre pressures to around 1,0 to 1,2 bar to prevent punctures and improve traction. This road is a rough one!

 

It is almost impossible to determine the origin of the name of this pass, as Botha is a very popular surname in South Africa; it is in fact the second most common European surname after Jacobs. It has been established, however, that the pass name dates back to at least the 1880s, as there are some references to the pass in the chronicles of the 1st Anglo-Boer War, and this is also approximately when the nearby town of Barberton was founded.

This beautiful pass, which is not particularly well-known, is located on the tarred R38 route between Barberton and Badplaas, and offers up magnificent panoramic vistas over the De Kaap Valley from its many viewpoints. It gains a strapping 547 metres in altitude, and is nearly 12 kilometres long. The road is in an excellent condition, but it can be hazardous when covered by thick mist or rain which is common at certain times of the year.

The spectacular Abel Erasmus Pass, named after a very prominent citizen of the area, was officially opened on the 8th of May 1959, and navigates the Manoutsa section of the Limpopo Drakensberg. It is regarded as an engineering triumph, with a sequence of bends and twists that can only give rise to admiration for the gold rush pioneers of the late 19th century that carved this route through the mountains with their wagons. The pass has 62 bends, corners and curves of which 12 exceed an arc of 90 degrees.

The pass also includes a 133 metre-long tunnel, named after J.G. (Hans) Strydom, who served as the prime minister of South Africa from 1954 to 1958. This huge pass is over 24 km long and has an altitude variance of 737 metres; the road surface is in a good condition, but the pass is sometimes plagued by heavy traffic. It can be very difficult to pass slow-moving trucks – please exercise a degree of tolerance and patience, and give yourself plenty of time to traverse this route.

This short, easy pass is located close to the junction of the N1 and the R70, near Winburg in the Free State. The official route designation is the R70. This tarred road was in poor condition at the time of filming in February, 2016. It presents moderate gradients and only four very gentle curves. It lies to the east of the large irrigation dam - the Erfenis Dam, which is a popular weekend destination for locals offering fresh water angling, camping as well as a nature reserve at its north-western end near the dam wall.

 

On a minor gravel road between Ceres and Sutherland, this pass caused our team many hours of frustrating research, due to the fact that it appears in the incorrect place on most maps - including some very official ones! When we went to film this pass, we found nothing even vaguely resembling a poort or a pass at the designated place. We finally tracked it down on the 1:50,000 Government maps by accident, whilst scouring for another pass in the area. So finally, we have the Amandelnek Pass pinned down and properly mapped. 

We filmed this insignificant little pass during September, 2018.  The altitude gain is minor, as are the bends and distance. There is one farm gate to open and close right at the summit, but if you enjoy going to remote places then at least the scenery here will be appealing in this big and spacious landscape. Every pass has its own story to tell and this one too, leaves one with a sense of peace, with only the sound of birdsong and insects to keep you company once you switch your vehicle's engine off.

The Northern Cape cartographers were a diligent bunch, naming every climb through every neck, no matter how small, with an official name. This pass is a perfect example.

Franschhoek Pass is also called Lambrechts Road, though - more poetically - a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as Olifantshoek ("Elephants Corner') after the now mythical herds of elephant which once roamed these valleys and mountains. This long, steep and dramatic pass with its variety of scenery was South Africa's first properly engineered road. During weekends city folk stream to the pass on bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards, cars and SUV's to enjoy it's sheer magnificence.

 

The gently-graded, tarred Horns Nek Pass (M17) cuts through the picturesque and much loved Magaliesberg mountain range just west of Pretoria. At 3.8 km in distance, it rises at a moderate gradient of 1:20, from 1312m ASL to 1452m, but there are some steeper sections near the summit at 1:14. Gauteng is the smallest of South Africa's provinces geographically, but it has a dense population statistic and is also the seat of economic power. The province was established on the rich gold reefs originally discovered in the Johannesburg area and led to a massive sprawling complex of towns and cities covering a vast area, which does not have much in terms of big mountain ranges and consequently (other than the Magaliesberg), there are few official mountain passes in this province.

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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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