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Mountain Passes

This easy, tarred pass lies on the R327 between Mossel Bay and Herbertsdale, and finds its end amongst green fields on the banks of the Gouritz River. The pass dates back as far as 1850. It's above the national average at 8,5 km and descends a substantial 253m producing an average gradient of 1:34 via 13 bends, corners and curves.

The main geographical feature of this pass, is its proximity to the Gouritz River which has a huge drainage area of 45,715 sq.km. The Gourits River flows from the confluence of the Gamka River and Olifants River and is joined by the Groot River, before flowing through the Langeberg Mountains and coastal plain. It eventually drains into the sea through the Gourits Estuary near Gouritsmond. At the point where the pass kisses the banks of the river, is one of the few places where the river can be accessed in tranquil mood over a wide floodplain.

This is a tough, high-altitude gravel pass that connects the Wartrail farming valley with the well-known Tiffindell Ski Resort, close to the RSA/Lesotho border. Relatively long at 9,6 km, it rises from 1916m ASL to 2567m. With its 1:14 average climb gradient, this pass can be called nothing but 'steep'! The first 4 km offers gradients of up to 1:5! This is strictly a 4x4 only route and high ground clearance, as well as low range, are mandatory. The pass is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Bidstone Pass.

Most of the climbing is done in the first 3,8 km, where after the gradient eases right off to around 1:20 until the 7,7 km point after which the road steepens again to 1:7 till the summit. The road levels off near a small solitary cottage, which marks the end of the pass at the 9,6 km point, but there is still a fairly long pull of 8,2 km before you will arrive at Tiffindell. Allow at least 2 hours to complete both sections, excluding stops.

Expect rapidly changing weather conditions including severe electrical storms, heavy rain, hail, snow and very strong katabatic and anabatic winds. It you break down on this pass, assistance will be either from Tiffindell or from the nearest farm in the Wartrail Valley. Either way, it will be a long walk. Go well prepared with recovery equipment, as well as appropriate clothing and emergency food rations. We recommend carrying a satphone.

 

The Bastervoetpad Pass is one of the most challenging true mountain passes in South Africa and it's rated high amongst the Top 8 high altitude passes of the Eastern Cape.  Officially named the Dr. Lapa Munnik Pass, (although no-one uses this name), this rough gravel pass is located between the summit of the Barkly Pass and Ugie and traverses a southern arm of the Drakensberg along the east-west axis. The rugged mountains and deep, green valleys of the southern Drakensberg are strongly reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, with icy winters and mild summers. This is the only pass in South Africa named after a minister of Public Health. The route was first discovered in 1862 by Adam Kok lll, when he led an armed group down the footpath as a possible route for his historic trek, but found the locals too hostile. He subsequently led the Griquas in their historic trek from Phillipolis in the Free State to their new home, called of course - Kokstad, over another route further to the east, named Ongeluksnek.

The pass boasts a summit height of 2240m, a length of 20 km and it loses 830m of altitude down the Drakensberg escarpment on the eastern side. Add to those rather impressive statistics, this pass can be treacherous in bad weather and is subject to electrical storms, violent winds, heavy rain, hail and snow. It also offers some of the finest scenery in South Africa, when the weather is good. If you intend driving this pass, watch all six videos first and then make your decision.

Please note that you need a 4x4 vehicle with low range & high ground clearance to complete this pass.

Travelling south, the Hex River Poort follows the Hex River Pass about 8 km towards the southern exit of the Hex River Valley and is a distinctly separate pass to it's northern cousin, with both providing entry and exit routes from then valley.  Many noteworthy and well respected travellers from the 17th and 18th centuries, incorrectly recorded in their travel journals that this was the Hex River Pass. Not that the poort is unworthy of being called an official pass, with its wild and rugged terrain! Twenty years ago, rockfalls and flooding caused endless problems for the roads authorities. Nowadays, the excellently engineered renovation makes for safe and wonderfully scenic, comfortable driving. 
 

Ranking closely alongside the notorious Kaaimans River Pass as one of the Western Cape's most dangerous passes for trucking accidents, it is not so much the gradient that is problematic, but the long, straight, momentum-gathering descent which leads suddenly into a dangerously sharp, left-hand bend. Thankfully, a substantial crash-barrier prevents out-of-control vehicles from crossing over into the oncoming traffic. A strategically place arrestor bed halfway down the pass has also helped to reduce the dangers of trucks experiencing brake failure. There are so many scars on that crash barrier that it leaves one wondering what story each scar has to tell!

Over a distance of 7.6 km, the tarred Rooihoogte Pass displays 370m of altitude variance, with a comfortable average gradient of 1/20. Literally a stone's throw along the same road is Burgers Pass, formerly known as Koo Pass. Both of these passes were first designed by master road engineer, Thomas Bain in 1877.

The Rooihoogte Pass was originally known as Thomson's Pass and together with the Koo pass, both received name changes in the 1940's. This is reputed to be the pass with the highest summit altitude in the Western Cape. The pass is more enjoyable driving it in the descending mode with huge views over the rugged Langeberg mountains.

Originally known as the Koo Pass (serving the fruit-growing region known as the Koo Valley), it was renamed after a local town councillor, Mr. Burger, who expended a lot of energy to influence the authorities to upgrade the road. 'KOO' products have stocked the cupboards of South African families for over 80 years'! 

The pass was originally plotted byThomas Bain and constructed by the Divisional Council in 1876, when construction stopped due to a lack of funds and was finally completed in 1887 at a cost of 1000 Pounds Sterling.

Despite the modern engineering this pass has a combination of dangers - from long momentum gathering straights, to very sharp corners. Drive this one with a sense of vigilance. 
 

Clarence Drive is a magnificent scenic coastal drive between the windswept hamlet of Rooi-Els and the naval town of Gordons Bay, which nestles in the north-eastern crook of False Bay in the shadow of the Hottentots Hollands mountains. This beautiful, coastal drive stretches between the two towns over 21 km, hugging the wild turquoise Cape coastline all the way. If you like passes with lots of corners, then this one is for you, as it contains 77 bends, curves and corners of which four are in excess of 150 degrees. The road is in a beautiful condition and attracts tourists, locals, bikers and cyclists in their droves. Overtaking is fairly limited and in general one can expect to average well below 60 kph.

  

The rough gravel surfaced Wildeperdehoek Pass forms part of the Caracal Eco Route in the Namaqua National Park, with the the grassy flats of Namaqualand lying to the west and glimpses of the coast beyond. The 4,8 km pass is around 120 years old and has reasonable average gradients of 1:20

('Wildeperdehoek' roughly translates as 'wild horses corner'.) This pass is not suitable for vehicles lacking ground clearance. The pass was originally named Wildepaardehoek in the old Dutch style, but is today more commonly referred to in the Afrikaans version. This pass should be viewed in tandem with the Messelpad Pass as they are inseparably linked, both geographically and historically.

Some locals also refer to this pass as the Bandietpas, which translates into Convict's Pass.

Houw Hoek Pass was built shortly after Sir Lowry's Pass was completed in 1833. The distance between the two passes is approximately 25km and covers some beautiful mountainous terrain. This middle section was known as Coles Pass - so named after the very same Sir Lowry Cole. The name Houw Hoek translates into 'Hold Corner' and is derived from the need to hold back, or slow down the ox-wagons whilst negotiating the steep descent down the pass.

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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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