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Mountain Passes

This lovely gravel pass with its alluring name connects Thabaneng in the west with Malealea in the east and offers beautiful rural scenery in the western corner of the Mountain Kingdom. At 3.7 km it's a fairly short pass by Lesotho standards and only displays an altitude variance of 120m, and all the corners are gentle as are the gradients, which reach 1:5 near the summit and immediately after it.

As the summit is crested a beautiful view is presented and where the pass got its name from. The pass is popular more by its name than any sort of driving challenge, so if you want to drive this pass, don't expect the usual Lesotho type statistics - just enjoy the easy drive and beautiful scenery.

The main destination on the eastern end of the pass is the lovely Malealea Lodge, where accommodation is available in individual thatched rondavels set in immaculate gardens.

This is a major pass covering 19 km and includes a huge number of bends, corners and curves - 122 of them in total. The altitude variance is a whopping 728 metres which produces and average gradient of 1:26 with the steepest parts reaching 1:7. The pass is tarred which reduces traction issues in wet weather, but when ice forms on the road things can quickly become dangerous. The pass has a classic profile with a central summit point, but the steeper section is on the western side.

With a summit altitude of 2553m ASL this pass is regularly under snow for many months of the year. It connects Maseru with Thaba-Tseka on the A3 route together with a string of other passes.

The Marakabeis Lodge lies at the western end of the pass at a river crossing. This little river flows northwards to form one of the many streams that feed into the Mohale Dam.

This beautiful pass is located on a minor gravel road, the R386, between Niekerkshoop and Prieska in the Northern Cape. It has two distinct sections; the northern half is a steep and twisty true pass, and the southern half is much more poort-like. The road is in a good condition and is well maintained, but some severe corrugations are evident, mainly on the steeper parts and on the sharper corners. Although it is situated in the transitional zone between the Kalahari and the Karoo, there is more greenery around than one would expect; this is because the mighty Orange River flows through this area just a few kilometres away from the pass.

This big pass is located on the A3 main route between Maseru in the west and the much smaller village of Fosi in the east. It displays an altitude variance of 487m over a distance of 11.9 km producing an average gradient of 1:27, but there are several very steep sections at 1:5.

The pass is also commonly known as Bushman's Pass or Bushmen's Pass. Most maps use the spelling Bushman's, but the official sign at the summit is spelled as Bushmen's Pass.

The pass has 65 bends, corners and curves compressed within its length and with a summit height of 2277m ASL it receives regular snowfalls. During very cold conditions ice might be present on the roadway, which is extremely dangerous - even for 4WD vehicles. Being one of the main routes in Lesotho the road carries a steady flow of traffic. Be wary of large trucks and buses that need the whole roadway to negotiate the sharper bends.

Although its is only 1.8 km long, the beautiful little poort packs 10 corners into its short length as it sinuously tracks the course of the Little Caledon River through a deep canyon. The poort terminates at the Caledonspoort Border Control Post, which manages access in to and out of Lesotho. This route can get very busy, particularly on Friday and Sunday afternoons, so avoid it during these times if you can.

The road surface is good for the most part, but there are a couple of sections where the tar has broken up. It is a real pity that the poort is so close to the border post, as the sheer stunning beauty of the surrounding area is not really noticed by most people as they rush through it in preparation for the border crossing.

This major pass is located between the town of Kala in the west and the Afriski Resort in the north in the northern quartile of Lesotho. It has a huge altitude gain of 896m that stretches over a distance of 15.3 km which converts into an average gradient of 1:17, but don't be fooled by that figure as it includes the descent. Most of the ascent from the western approach is between 1:5 and 1:8.

The 91 bends, corners and curves will require your full concentration. Amongst those there are 4 extreme hairpin bends and one full horseshoe. The A1 road is the major route across the northern sector of Lesotho and as such carries a fair volume of traffic including some very large trucks. These need the full width of the road to negotiate the hairpin bends, so be fully aware of this as you proceed along this pass.

The pass has been the scene of numerous accidents, mostly involving trucks and buses. All the passes in Lesotho are above the snow line, so driving here in winter invariably means having to deal with snow and ice, which is to be avoided if possible - and especially so if you are not in a 4WD vehicle.

This beautiful pass is cut into the side of a mountain, and angles down from a high plateau in the New England area to terminate at the historic Loch Bridge over the Kraai River. This part of the world is famous for its wonderful scenery, and in this case the pass also offers up spectacular views of the reverses and the rail bridge belonging to the now-defunct railway that was built through this gorge.

The road is in a mostly good condition and is suitable for all vehicles, except perhaps in very wet weather. The pass itself is fairly substantial, with a length of 3.6 km and a height difference of 172 metres. “Tier” translated from Afrikaans means “Tiger”, but, as everyone knows, there are no tigers in Africa. The word was often used in days gone by as a name for a leopard, so a correct translation of the pass name would be “Leopard Cliff Pass”.

The African Buffalo must have once been very plentiful in South Africa, and the name of this dangerous bovine is used in various original place names across the length and breadth of the country. Buffelsnek, Buffelsfontein, Buffelspoort, and Buffelskloof are all very common names. This Buffelspoort is located near the northern border of the North West province, close to the Borakalalo National Park, and should not be confused with another poort of the same name near Rustenburg.

The road is in a fairly good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, but care should be exercised after heavy weather. Because of the dense vegetation, the poort does not offer much from a scenic point of view, but it does make for a very pleasant, if somewhat lonely, drive through the countryside.

Although dwarfed by the many huge passes in this area, Grondnek is in fact a fairly significant pass, with a height difference of 112 metres and a length of 4.3 kilometres. Despite its name, which when translated from Afrikaans means Ground or Gravel Neck, the pass is tarred and is suitable for all vehicles in most weather conditions, but a summit altitude of 1997 metres ASL means that it is sometimes subject to snowfalls in winter. Located on the very scenic R58 between Lady Grey and Barkly East in the Eastern Cape highlands, the pass offers up spectacular views of the towering sandstone mountains, rolling meadows, fast-flowing rivers and isolated farmsteads that abound along this route.

The P1706 route offers far superior scenery to the well known R62 tourist route - especially the straight and often boring section between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. This back road offers multiple options and several small passes, each distinctly different to the other. The Kruisrivierpoort is the first of these passes when driving from west to east.

The pass is quite short at 2.2 km and only has an altitude variance of 134m, but what it lacks in vital statistics, it more than makes up for in attractive scenery and lots of tight corners. The average gradient is 1:16 but several sections get as steep as 1:6. The settlement at Kruisrivier after the eastern side of the poort, plays host to a number of artists and crafters and is a recommended stopping point.

Cautionaries: Be aware that this road is very narrow in places (single width) and it might be necessary to reverse back to a wider spot to allow safe passing. The rule of the road is to give way to ascending vehicles.

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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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