Mountain Passes

Karatara Pass is found on the 'Seven Passes Road' immediately after the forestry village of the same name. Like all gravel road passes in rainy regions, the usual cautionary of 'slippery when wet' applies. This road is usually corrugated, which can cause loss of traction and control, particularly on corners with non 4x4 vehicles. This was one of the easier of the seven passes in terms of construction and technical difficulties.

Like all of the preceding passes along the western approach, this pass has simialar vital statistics to the previous four passes, with a length of 2,6 km and a slightly smaller altitude variance of 62m. The vertical profile is once again the classic inverted shape of a pass that starts at a high point, then descneds down to a river crossing, only to rise back up again to virtually the same altitude as the starting point.

The bridge is almost a carbon copy of the Hoogekraal bridge in its design and also carries two lanes of traffic.

The Thomas Bain-built "Seven Passes" route between George and Knysna features the Hoogekraal Pass, covering 3 km of breathtakingly beautiful views along its narrow gravel road. It descends to and from the Hoogekraal River, and ends just before the Geelhoutsvlei Timber Mill - another Garden Route location, rooted in the history of the Knysna woodcutters. This pass ends west of the forestry village of Karatara.

Like the Kaaimansgat, Silver River and Touw River passes, this pass has very similar characteristics in terms of distance and altitude variance as well as the classic inverted profile of a pass that descends to a river and rises back up the other side again.

This is the first of 7 passes when driving from west to east which has a bridge wide enough to carry two lanes of traffic. All of the bridges were made from concrete and stone and designed in the Victorian style of the early 1900's. It is only the steel bridge over the Touw River which is different.

 

The Silver River Pass, is one of the Garden Route's 'Seven Passes', and covers 2,7 km of narrow, twisting tar-road driving through dense indigenous forests, descending to and from the Silver River starting where the Kaaimansgat Pass ends and finding its end at picturesque Wilderness Heights. The road is a national monument, and was built around 1882 by Adam de Smidt, who was Thomas Bain's Brother in law. The pass is the second of the official passes when travelling from west to east.

Many people consider the Kaaimansgat and Silver River Passes to be one continious pass as they run seamlessly from the one into the other. It has similar vital statistics to the Kaaimansgat Pass in that it is almost the identical length and displays an altitude variance of 86m. The difference comes in the number of bends on the Silver River Pass. It has 30 bends, corners and curves compressed within it's fairly short length, which equates to an average of one corner every 90m!

The historic "Seven Passes" route between George and Knysna includes 'Kaaimansgat' - a twisting, turning tarred road, close to the town of George, which traverses lushly indigenous forest to this area's famous 'black water' rivers. The road is old, narrow and the tarring is in sub-standard condition, but the beautiful indigenous forests through which it passes more than makes up for this minor inconvenience. The pass has an old bridge (a national monument) worth stopping at. 

Although the pass is fairly short at 2,8 km it has many sharp corners and drivers would be wise to keep their speed below 40 kph. The only safe place to stop as on either side of the bridge where there is limited parking for one or two vehicles.

 

 

The Kaaiman's River Pass boasts several records. Although a fairly short pass in terms of distance, the curves are extremely sharp and the gradient is steep. The pass connects George in the west with Wilderness in the east and traverses magnificent scenery with steep mountainsides, where the amber coloured waters of the Kaaimans River are crossed via the first curved bridge built in South Africa in 1952. The pass provides perfect views of the famous rail bridge at the mouth of the estuary and plays host to Dolphin Point - a perennial favourite with tourists offering 270 degree views including one of the best panoramas of Widerness beach. When commissioned in 1952 it ended a 70 year period where the Old Cape Road (including the 7 Passes) became much less used.

"White's Road" meanders gently up Wilderness Heights - a quiet, country road where Welsh ponies on the local stud farm add to the almost English charm.  This lovely drive is also popular with cyclists and walkers. 

 

The Grootrivier Poort on the R332, was one of the last passes to be built by South Africa's most famous road engineer, Thomas Bain. This masterpiece opened up the seemingly impassable 200 km mountain wilderness of the Baviaanskloof between Willowmore and Patensie.

The poort only has 16 bends,corners and curves with a very mild descent gradient that appears to be flat when driving it. The topography is magnificent as the river and the road follow each other faithfully through the towering cliffs of the poort amongst dense riverine vegetation. The road is generally quite good throught his section and most people drive too fast, which means you see less. Expect to see a range of animals, like kudu, reedbuck, baboons and monkeys - and more so if you drive through early in the morning. As the road was carved out of the mountainsides, it left an open display of the various rock formations, which range from solid Table Mountain sandstone to the unusual pebble conglomerate.

Of the 7 passes and poorts in the Baviaanskloof, there are five which are proper passes and two which are poorts. These are Studtis Poort and the Grootrivierpoort. Poorts are different to passes in that they generally have very easy gradients as they follow the course of a river through a mountain range. They are also notoriously prone to flooding and Thomas Bain famously recorded in his journal: "There are three major headaches for road builders. They are water, water and water". Bain had a singular dislike for building roads through poorts and ironically, whilst he was building the extraordinary Swartberg Pass, the nearby Meiringspoort all but washed away in a devastating flood. Bain was subsequently called in to realign the road at a higher point than the flood level.

If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend that you first watch the Baviaanskloof Overview and Orientation video clip. 

The Studtis Poort is exceptionally scenic and typical of all poorts, the gradients are very easy as the road essentially remains next to the river for most of it's length. You will be treated to towering mountains with near vertical cliffs and dense riverine vegetation. If you are able to comfortably clear the first river crossing, all of the other 8 crossings should be OK, as it is the same river and will have roughly the same amount of depth and current.

This lovely and spectacular poort on the R332 between Willowmore and Patensie links the two halves of the western section of the Baviaanskloof, covering 6,4 km and crossing over the Baviaans River nine times. In fair weather most of the main roads in the western Baviaanskloof can be driven in a normal car. Poorts are different to passes in that they usually have very gentle gradients. One of the downsides of this fact, is that water tends to remain in a poort much longer than on a pass and as a consequence, Studtis Poort is often prone to some deep-water crossings after periods of rainfall. We have two videos on offer. A completely dry traverse filmed in December 2017 and a much wetter version filmed in August 2012.

If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend that you first watch the Baviaanskloof Overview and Orientation video clip.

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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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