The Matroosberg 4x4 is arguably one of the most popular off-road routes in the Western Cape and is without question the most popular route to access snow in winter. Matroosberg originally received its name due to a rock formation visible from the Hex River Valley and N1 highway. This rock formation, about three quarter of the way up the mountain, shows a very distinct pinnacle, which is the “Matroos” (the Afrikaans for ‘sailor’) alongside his ship. “Berg” is the Afrikaans for ‘mountain’. Therefore “Matroosberg” roughly translated means ‘sailor mountain’. The road climbs 993m over 8,8 km to summit at 2230m ASL. For those wanting to reach the true summit, it involves a short walk to the beacon (2250m). The average gradient is a very stiff 1:9 with some sections being at 1:3. This route is currently rated as a Grade 4 in terms of difficulty, with the final few kilometres above the Groothoekkloof Canyon viewsite being a Grade 5. This route is not recommended for novice off-road drivers.
The village situated near this pass is called Skrikfontein (“Fright Fountain”), so it is quite possible that the name of the pass has been misspelt, and should be in fact be “Skrikfontein Se Nek”, but all official sources use the given name. “Strik” translates as “snare”, and given the high wildlife population in the area, this could just as easily be correct. The road, which bisects the Masebe Nature Reserve, is in a fairly good condition, but there are one or two sections near the summit which have been heavily eroded, therefore necessitating the use of a high clearance vehicle.
This is an easy tarred pass on the R357 main route between Nieuwoudtville in the south and Loeriesfontein in the north. The pass is fairly short at 2,8 km and has an altitude variance of 118m, producing a moderate average gradient of 1:24 with the steepest section near the summit as steep as 1:10. The road surface was good at the time of production in June 2016 and the pass holds no obvious dangers. It is suitable for all vehicles, subject to fine weather and speed limits and barrier lines being adhered to.
When you're on your way to Rhodes and heading for the major gravel passes in this mountainous part of the Eastern Cape, this is the first little pass that gets you off the R58 main route and into the remoter part of the southern Drakensberg. From here you won't see tar again for a long time.
At 5,7 km the pass is of moderate length, and it has an equally moderate altitude variance of 156m. The steepest parts are at 1:9 and should present no problems for any type of vehicle in fair weather. However, with a summit altitude of 2088m ASL this pass is regularly smothered under a thick blanket of snow. It's best avoided under those circumstances. On the day of filming, after heavy rain, the road was slippery requiring 4WD.
Jakkalskuilnek (“Jackal Den Pass”) is a rough and tough 4x4 pass located on the eastern Limpopo escarpment. The official guide to points of interest in this area, the Waterberg Meander, lists the name as Elandskuiling Pass, but all other references use the given name. Although the pass appears to be fairly innocuous based on its statistics, it is definitely worth your while to make the effort to seek it out, provided that you are driving an appropriate vehicle.
The pass is obviously named after the Doornrivier which course it follows for some distance. It is also sometimes called the Doringrivier Pass in the more Afrikaans style. The most notable feature of this pass is that the Nieuwoudtville waterfall is located close to the southern end of the pass. At 8,8 km this is a moderately long pass with a total altitude variance of 245m which produces an easy average gradient of 1:36, with the steepest parts being just after the summit point at 1:9. This is a safe, well engineered road with gentle curves and nicely banked corners and presents no obvious dangers in fair weather. It is suitable for all vehicles.
Wilgeboomnek (“Willow Tree Pass”) is a fairly significant pass, located near Thaba Nchu on the N8 national highway which connects Bloemfontein in the west to the capital of Lesotho, Maseru, in the east. It is the only official pass on this highway. The pass is dominated by the huge mountain on the southern side called Thaba Nchu (which translates as “Black Mountain”), so named because it looms over the settlement below, causing it to fall into shadow.
The Richtersveld National Park plays host to six official passes and many more unofficial ones. Of the six official passes, the Domorogh Pass is easily the most technical, as well as being the shortest. The pass connects the upper plateau area of the Richtersveld with the Gariep River valley and was originally built by hand by a small handful of local men to create an access route down the small escarpment for their livestock to move between the winter and summer grazing areas. The pass is 1,4 km long and has an altitude variance of 139m of producing a steep average gradient of 1:10 with the steepst parts being at 1:4. This pass should not be driven in any vehicle other than a high clearance 4WD vehicle with low range. We issue a 'danger' cautionary for this pass, especially in the descending mode.
This relatively unknown tarred pass forms part of four passes along the R410 route between Queenstown and Elliot in the the high altitude region of the Eastern Cape - the others being from west to east the Nonesi's Nek Pass, the MacKay's Nek Pass, this pass and finally the Cala Pass forming a set of huge stepping stones towards the highest region of the Eastern Cape and the gateway to all the major gravel passes close to the southern Drakensberg and Lesotho. The pass offers lovely mountainous scenery and a traverse alongside a river filled with white water during summer. It's modern, well engineered and is suitable for all traffic. It's 12,3 km long and has an altitude variance of 323 vertical metres to summit at 1566m ASL producing an average gradient of 1:38 with the steepest section being at 1:11 The pass is subject to winter snowfalls.
Windnek is a minor gravel road pass which weaves its way through the conical koppies and flat plains in the heart of the Karoo. Situated some distance off the beaten track, the pass offers the intrepid traveller some stunning semi-desert scenery, and an insight into the hardships of farming in this arid region. Paradoxically, it is also located adjacent to the largest inland body of water in South Africa – the Gariep Dam. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, weather permitting.
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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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