This beautiful, modern and well designed pass is situated just north of the small town of Stutterheim on the national N6 highway. The pass derives its name from the small fort and telegraph office built in 1878 towards the end of the 9th (and last) Frontier War, and which was named after General Sir Arthur Cunynghame, commander of the British forces in South Africa from 1874 to 1879. The pass presents magnificent views over the forests which abound in the area, holds no apparent dangers, and can be driven in any vehicle.
The Fullers Hoek Pass is a well designed gravel road pass within the Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve, starting at 556m and summiting at 1173m ASL. This produces a gradient of 1:13 with some sections being a fairly steep 1:8. The pass is surpsingly well designed and maintained to a reasonably high standard. This allows it to be driven in normal sedan vehicles in reasonable weather conditions. In heavy rain or snow conditions, a 4WD vehicle will be necessary, especially near the summit area with its sharp switchbacks and steeper gradients.
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.
In most parts of South Africa, this pass would be noticed, but this pass with its incongruous name and 112m altitude variance is dwarfed by its much bigger and famous challenge passes all around it, so it usually slips by unnoticed by most.
Despite the moderate nature of the pass it has four significant corners, two of which exceed 90 degrees. It is located on the R58 route between Lady Grey and Barkly East and is surrounded by towering mountains, rolling meadows, fast flowing streams and is also subject to snowfalls in winter with a hefty summit altitude of 1997m ASL.
There is one fairly steep section just to the east of the summit point where the gradients reach 1:10, but in normal weather this pass is doable in any vehicle. The irony of this pass is that the name, when translated from Afrikaans means Ground/Earth or Gravel Neck, turns out to be a tarred pass.
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.
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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