fbpx

The Eastern Cape

This is a complex contour road offering four small passes along its 27 km length. The road generally remains at the 2600m contour level and the vast majority of the route comprises contour road driving as it follows the shapes of the hills and buttresses. The route is doable in a high clearance 4x2 with diff-lock, but when things get muddy or snowy, it is definitely a 4x4 route. Although the road gets quite rough in places, these don't last long and most of this route is Grade 1 to 2. The road connects the Tiffindell Ski Resort in the west with the Tenahead Mountain Lodge in the east, and provides a shorter, but slower alternative to the Naudes Nek Pass. Beyond Tenahead Lodge, the road connects at the Naudes Nek lookout point at 2500m ASL.

Although we have named this route the TTT  (Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse) which aptly describes the purpose of the road, this is a more modern take on its routing. It's also referred to by the locals by three other names: The Cairntoul Road (named after a farm on the eastern side of the traverse); Die Patrollie Pad (The Patrol Road) and Die Grenspad (the Border Road). The road has been used for many years to patrol stock theft into Lesotho. There are several small patrol huts, linked with radio sets, which can be seen along the route. These are occupied by 'young local herdsmen' who keep an eye on the hillsides and relay any suspicious activity to the main SAPS base at Cairntoul, from where the heavyweights are dispatched on horseback or by 4x4.

The Toleni Pass is named after the village and river that it traverses. It's located on the busy N2 route roughly 19 km to the south east of Butterworth. The pass is 6.8 km in length and displays an altitude variance of 244m with a maximum altitude at its northern summit of 720m ASL. 

The road is well engineered and modern with 13 bends.corners and curves to contend with. As is the case with many of the passes in this part of the Eastern Cape, drivers need to be aware of livestoick on the road (this is particularly hazardous at night). Other hazards include minibus taxis, very slow moving traffic as well as very fast traffic. Mountain mists are also common here, which adds another element of danger.

Stick to the speed limits or slower and watch out for rampant barrier line infringements

This short, but scenic poort offers lovely, mountainous Karoo scenery on a very easy gradient of 1:124 with few dangers. The drive along the poort includes two river crossings. It ends in the north at the second crossing of the Kraairivier, the latter which should not be confused with the Kraai River near Barkly East. (Crows River). The little known poort lies on a farm road, the P1864, that parallels the R329 on its northern side for many kilometers and gives access to the well known Timbila Game Reserve as well as two other poorts in the area - Medenpoort and the much bigger Kamferspoort. The road is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather.

The Tutor Ndamase Pass is a new pass located on the R61 roughly midway between Port St. Johns and Mthatha. The pass offers exceptional scenery, modern engineering and is a joy to drive, but do watch out for speedbumps, livestock, taxis and pedestrians.
At 7.6 km it's well above the national average and displays an altitude variance of 344m, producing an average gradient of 1:22 with the steepest parts being 1:9.

This is one of the newest passes in the region which has greatly improved the time it takes to travel between the two towns. Current news (March, 2021) is that Port St. Johns is scheduled for a major infrastructure revamp with the Eastern Cape government billing it as South Africa's newest coastal city. We welcome this news as the town is currently in a sorry state.

This pass is well above the national average length at 8.7 km and is one of three back to back passes along the R61 between Lusikisiki and Port St.Johns. There are 58 bends, corners and curves compressed into that length and many of them exceed 90 degrees through tight arcs. It is necessary for drivers to have a high level of concentration on this pass, as it's a busy road and the many courier and delivery trucks and minibus taxis have scant regard for barrier lines.

The pass name is of course taken from the Umzimvubu River which is crossed at the foot of the pass near Port St.Johns. Drivers who do this route for the first time will be in for a few nasty surprises in that here you will find some of South Africa's severest speed bumps. These are unfortunately necessary to slow the wild drivers down - especially near villages and schools. There is one specific speed bump designs which consists of 5 sharp speed bumps, spaced about 1m apart. 

Despite all the dangers, the pass offers fabulous scenery and especially towards the middle of the pass where the Gates of St. John start making an appearance. The Xhosa version of the river and pass exclude the U - so "Mzimvubu" For Western tongues having the M and the Z following each other, make it difficult to pronounce. For purposes of indexing we have used the older version of Umzimvubu.

There is not much left of the old Van Ryneveld's Pass with most of it being either under the surface of the new road or under the sparkling waters of the Nqweba Dam. The 'new' pass which forms part of the R63 route, is just  2.1 km long and only displays an altitude variance of 40m. What this little pass lacks in vital statistics, it more than makes up in points of interest and lovely scenery.

You will be able to enjoy shady picnic spots, views over the dam, close up views of the old pass (built by Andrew Bain), a visit to the Gideon Scheepers memorial and gain access to the Camdeboo National Park. Andrew Bain started his road building career in Graaff Reinet where he first worked as a saddler and later gained experience as a road builder. His famous son, Thomas Bain was born here.

The original pass was named after one of the area's pioneer farmers - Marthinus van Staden, who was the first person to plot a rudimentary track through the Van Stadens River Gorge. By 1867 the Cape Government decided to rebuild the pass to acceptable standards for wagon traffic. The actual construction was managed by George Apsey from 1865 to 1867.

Over time the pass was modified and tarred in the 1950's. When the N2 was rebuilt and improved, a new bridge was built which would span the Van Stadens River gorge and in the process completely remove all aspects of a mountain pass. Similar changes took place at several big bridges along the N2, such as Storms River, Bloukrans and Grootrivier. It takes about 30 seconds to drive over the gorge on the N2 today, which is fine if youre in a hurry, but the charm of the old pass is still available to those with a some extra time to spare. The downside of the tall new bridge is that it saw its first suicide victim soon after being built. One suicide followed another and soon the new bridge became known as the Bridge of Death. Authorities have subsequently erected cages along both sides and a call centre is on standby to help desperately depressed people.

Whilst the old pass still holds its charm and allure, the new bridge casts a sombre mood on an otherwise beautiful river gorge.

This very small poort is located in an east-west running mountain range 22 km north-east of Willowmore (as the crow flies). The poort lies on private farm land, but a polite request to drive the little poort will be granted by the farm owner. Please close any farm gates. At 1,2 km, this poort is very short but nontheless displays typical poort characteristics as it crosses the small stream once near the northern end, then follows the western bank till the turn-around point, where you have to retrace your route back to the farmstead. The road is rough and very basic and not suitable for cars lacking ground clearance. This poort will typically only be driven by the more serious pass hunter. For the rest, cyber drive it here and forget about it.

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 name Waainek translates into 'Windy Neck' and windy it was on the day of filiming, making the name perfectly appropriate! Every now and again we come across a humdinger of a pass that not many people even know about. The Waainek Pass is one of those hidden gems. Tucked into the well wooded ravines of the Boschberg, Graskop and Witkrans mountains north of Somerset East and mostly falling within the boudaries of the Glen Avon Falls Kloof Natural Heritage Site, this long gravel pass will hold you spellbound, with breathtaking views, sharp corners, technical driving and a big altitude gain. You might even be lucky and spot some wildlife, as we did on the day of filming when a large group of warthogs sauntered over the road near the summit. There were also klipspringers, rhebuck and rooibok about. If you're in this part of the Eastern Cape and you have a few hours to spare, go and drive this one. It's a beauty!

COVID-19 Corona Virus South African Resource Portal

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter with News and Updates from Mountain Passes South Africa
captcha 

Subscribe to our Site

Subscribe for only R395 a year (or R295 for 6 months), and get full access to our website including the videos, the full text of all mountain passes articles, fact-file, interactive map, directions and route files.

Register

 

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.

View Master Orientation Map...