The Eastern Cape

The Ghwarrie Poort is located on the tarred N9 between the Karoo towns of Uniondale in the south and Willowmore in the north. The poort is 14 kms long and falls 286 meters starting from a summit height of 1024m ASL.

This fairly staight forward pass is located on the tarred N9 route between Middelburg and Graaff-Reinet in Great Karoo (Eastern Cape). It is amongst the shorter passes in South Africa at just under 2 km and it only rises and falls 80 meters. The pass was originally built by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1858.

The Baviaanskloof has 8 magnificent passes and poorts of which the Grasnek Pass is probably the best in terms of scenic beauty. It’s fairly long at 8,3 km and includes in that length an astonishing 83 bends, corners and curves which equates to one bend every 100 metres. The pass is well designed (especially considering its age) and offers a fairly reasonable average gradient of 1:11 both ascending and descending. It rises from 247m to 447m ASL on it's western ascent of 3,7 km giving rise to some stiff gradients as steep as 1:6. Views from the ridge and summit zone are beyond description. We recommend a 4DW vehicle for this pass.

If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation & Overview video

Greylings Pass is a 10 km long high altitude, gravel pass between the towns of Dordrecht in the south west and Barkly East in the north east and also serves as the main access road to the hamlet of Rossouw which lies at the foot of the pass in the south. The pass displays an altitude variance of 431m of altitude with a summit height of 1956m ASL, which is well above the snow line. It's frequently covered in snow during the winter months. In snow or very wet weather, we recommend a 4WD vehicle to drive this pass. In fair weather it is suitable for all vehicles. Although the pass has a big altitude variance, the average gradient of 1:23 is fairly easy going. 


 

This gravel road pass connects the Eastern Cape towns of Hofmeyr and Burgersdorp on the R391 route. With a summit altitude above 1600m ASL and being well above the snow line, it experiences bitterly cold winters with sporadic snowfalls. The pass comprises two distinctly different sections. The first 4 km follows the banks of the Doringrivier and is much more of a poort than a pass, but things change abruptly after 4 km where the road climbs steeply along the eastern side of the ravine carved out by the Doringhoekspruit - a tributary of the Doringrivier. Here there are old stone walls protecting the drop-side of the road as the road winds steeply up the short kloof, to summit after 7,2 km at an altitude of 1640m ASL.

The road is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather, although ground clearance could be an issue. In wet weather or snow, a 4WD vehicle would be a better option. The pass is well off the beaten track and offers a sense of timelessness and isolation.

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. 

This massive gravel pass is for the more serious pass hunter as it's well off the beaten track, is gravel surfaced and traverses some major climbs as well as crosses the mighty Mzimvubu River. It's a very long pass at 29,8 km and holds a number of challenges with some gradients reaching 1:6, which will mean traction issues in wet weather for non 4WD vehicles.

It displays a big altitude variance of 685m and the 192 bends, corners and curves will require your full attention. Add in slippery surfaces, livestock, children, poultry, slow vehicles and minibus taxis and you can expect a very eventful journey along this big traverse.

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.

 

The Hankey Pass is a tarred road of fair quality. It connects the farming town of Hankey with the N2 Highway and Humansdorp . The Gamtoos Valley is the epicentre of the citrus farming industry in the Eastern Cape. The point where the pass starts is at the low level bridge over the Gamtoos River.

The pass is of above average length at 7,1 km and has an easy average gradient with the steepest sections being near the summit at 1:12. The road is suitable for all vehicles in any weather and although showing signs of ageing, is still in a fair condition. (2018) The road is scheduled for resurfacing and upgrading later in 2018.

Set some time aside to explore some of the historical points of interest in and around Hankey.

This 4 km long official pass is named after the Hartbees antelope, which once roamed these plains in their thousands. The pass is insignificant in the greater scheme of things and has only one gentle bend and a small alttitude variance of only 66m. It's located on the P0663 / R391 north of the much bigger Groot Doringhoek Pass about 20 km north-west of Molteno, just off the tarred R56.

The Helspoort Pass is located on the tarred R350 and connects the towns of Grahamstown and Bedford. Both towns have plentiful history dating back to 1820 settler days and it is here that the British forces entreched themselves initially. There were several forts built which are still standing today. The pass has plenty of bends, corners and curves - 21 of them in total - and hardly any straight sections. It only has a small altitude variance of 67 metres and has a very comfortable avrage gradient of 1:94 with the steepest parts being at 1:28. The pass is suitable for all vehicles, but note that overtaking is difficult due to the many corners. Comply with the speed limits and obey the barrier lines and all will be well.

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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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