The Buffelshoek Pass lies on the R337 linking Pearston in the south with Cradock in the north-east. This rugged and beautiful pass offers sublime scenery towards the south over well wooded valleys and expansive plains packed with game. The pass quickly deteriotes in heavy rain or snow conditions and becomes dangerous for non 4WD vehicles, but in fair weather the road is perfectly suitable for all cars.
The pass is 3,9 km long and has an altitude variance of a 330m producing a challenging average climb rate of 1:12 with the steeper sections measuring in at 1:6. It's located just 15 kilometres north-east of Pearston.
Nearby Pearston dates back to the mid 1800's and is today one of the prime towns associated with hunting. The village is looking a little dog-eared these days with poverty and unemployment taking its toll on tourism.
The Bulhoek Pass is a gravel road with a stiff gradient averaging out at 1:15 with some of the steeper sections at 1:10. The road links the R390 via the Bulhoek farm with the R56 south of Steynsberg. Sheltering within the magnificent Eastern Cape Zuurberg mountain range, Steynsburg is a quiet little Karoo town where the air is clean and the local sheep farming community are very friendly.
The man who took on the mighty British Empire, Oom Paul Kruger, and another Afrikaans legend, Marais Steyn, were both born here. So if you fancy a bit of heritage, mountains, grassy plains, strange geological formations, blue cranes and some arts and crafts, this is a lesser road worth seeking out.
This is another remote and difficult to get to old Transkei pass, which is 4,4 km long, displays an altitude variance of 408m and generates an average gradient of 1:11 making it amongst the steepest in the whole country. Add a high rainfall area, livestock on the roads, a rough and rutted surface with spectacular views of the Tina and Umzimvubu rivers, you have a wonderful recipe for an adventure pass that will set you into a small elite group of people that have ever driven into this remote area. Even the 1:50,000 government maps don't record this pass, so it's a fairly new one and only visible on Google Earth.
The pass has 45 bends corners and curves, including one hairpin and six corners which exceed 90 degrees radius. The views are breathtaking and include thatched huts that dot the hillsides, with imopressive views over the deeply incised hills smothered in grassland and pockets of indigenous forest.
We issue our standard cautionary for all Eastern Cape rural roads, and especially those in the old Transkei area: We recommend driving this road in a small convoy of two to three vehicles in case of emergency. Be aware of personal safety at all times and make sure you leave the nearest town with full fuel tanks and that your vehicle is serviced and reliable.
Buys Poort can be found between Uniondale and Willowmore in the Karoo on the tarred N9 national route. The road runs on the north-south axis through a natural poort between hills of approximately 1100m each, adjacent to the farm of the same name, before levelling out in a southerly direction towards Uniondale (30 kms). The road presents an easy gradient of 1:48 with a peak gradient of 1:20.
This is such a minor poort that the average motorist wouldn't even be aware of it unless the waypoints have been inserted to provide advance notice. What it lacks in vital statistics, it more than compensates for in the form of tranquil Karoo scenery.
The impressive Cala Pass winds its way up a deep cleft in the mountains north of the village of Cala gaining almost 300 meters in altitude over 5,8 km, producing a gradient of 1:19 with some sections at 1:9. This a reasonably safe road for most vehicles, but it a high altitude pass and is subject to winter snowfalls, heavy summer electrical storms and regular mountain mists. It is one of four passes along the R410 between Queenstown and Elliot forming a set of giant stepping stones towards the high altiude part of the Eastern Cape around Barkly East.
This is a pass not to be missed. It ascends and descends the Ribbokberg via the Valley Road and has some very steep gradients, which are not problematic as the entire pass is tarred. It's a slow drive offering fabulous and dramatic scenery culminating in the Valley of Desolation. No visitor to Graaff Reinet should miss this opportunity. The pass is 7,3 km long and it is not designed to be driven if you're in a hurry. Permits are required which can be obtained at the entrance gate. Bookmark this one - it is a real gem and rates high in our Eastern Cape Top 20 passes.
This fairly extreme pass is for the more experienced driver. It descends/ascends 739 meters over 14,4 km producing some exceptionally steep gradients, with some of the sections an adrenaline pumping 1:3. This pass is the main access road to the Tiffindel Ski Resort and is generally well maintained with the steepest sections either having been strip concreted or fully concreted. We have filmed the pass from north to south in the descending mode for maximum scenic value, although this is not the way most first timers will travel the pass.
This pass is not recommended for novice drivers, but it is quite doable in a normal sedan vehicle in fair weather. Should you have booked accommodation at Tiffindell and arrive in a spell of bad weather, the ski resort can make arrangements to get you to the top of the mountain via a 4x4 shuttle service.
Cat's Pass can be found on the gravel road between Butterworth and tiny coastal resort of Mazeppa Bay. The pass is a typical Transkei road of dubious quality and should be driven with care - especially in terms of livestock, minibus taxis, dogs and children on the roads, where most of the rural lands are unfenced.
The pass contains 22 bends, corners and curves within its 6,5 km length and offers sweeping views over forest clad hills and green valleys on both sides of the road. None of the corners are too sharp, but it is rather the nature of the road surface which will determine the speed you are able to travel. There are some sections which get as steep as 1:7. There are four distinct summit points along the pass of which the first one is the true summit.
The Colonanek Pass (also known as Colananek) is situated in the high mountainous area of the Eastern Cape, close to the KZN border between the towns of Mount Frere and Cedarville. The pass, which is gravel surfaced, contains 19 bends, corners and curves withing it's 4,4 km length, producing an average gradient of 1:30 with the steepr sections measuring in at 1:11.
The pass traverses the substantial rural settlement of Colana (from which it takes it's name) so drivers need to be aware of livestock, pedestrians, slow moving vehicles and minibus taxis throughout this traverse. The scenery is lovely with colourful mud huts bedecked with thatch adding a splash of colour to the scenery. This quiet country road is a long and slow drive. If you're in a hurry, rather avoid this one.
Combrink's Pass and the Holgat Pass are the descent and ascent respectively of the high plateau where the Bergplaas camping sites are found. Regardless of which direction you drive the pass, it is a visual feast. It is also the biggest of the five Baviaanskloof passes (Nuwekloof, Grasnek, Langkop, Holgat and Combrinks) in terms of altitude gain/loss. This is the last pass you will encounter before exiting the bio-reserve and entering the Cambria valley.
Compressed within its 5,5 km length the road descends 333m via 73 bends, corners and curves, resulting in an average gradient of 1:16, but there are some sections as steep as 1:8. The road is single width for most of its length making overtaking impossible and passing difficult, where one of the vehicles will need to reverse back to a wider point.
This pass is a winner with stunning views for its entire length, however for anyone suffering from acrophobia, the very steep and completely unguarded drop-offs could be quite intimidating.
If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend watching the Orientation Overview video first.
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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