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The Eastern Cape

This difficult to get to and remote gravel pass is well worth the effort of seeking it out. It's a long pass at 14 km and offers high views of deeply incised and heavily wooded valleys, several Transkei villages and the crossing of the powerful Mbashe (Bashee) River. Perhaps more importantly it is also the access road to the birthplace of Nelson Mandela at Mveso Village on the eastern rim of the Mbashe River canyon. He was buried near Qunu - a short distance from Mveso.

The pass has a typical inverted profile with a low point in the middle and contains 101 bends, corners and curves to keep drivers very busy. Ten of those are sharper than 90 degrees. With gradients that get as steep as 1:6 this will be a tricky drive in wet weather if not in a 4WD vehicle.

As is the general rule in this part of the Eastern Cape, most of the area is unfenced, so finding livestock on the road is the norm. Add in slow vehicles, taxis, rutted, potholed and corrugated roads and you have a recipe for having to stay wide awake on this pass. 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.

This scenic 4,5 km gravel poort has a classic ascent/descent profile, but as poorts go, this one also doesn't have much of an altitude gain at just 88m. The average gradient pans out at a very gentle 1:51, but there are a couple of sections with slightly steeper gradients. The pass meanders along the course of a tributary of the Grootrivier, which itself has a massive drainage area sourcing in the Great Karoo. The poort lies 30 km WNW of Steytlerville in the Eastern Cape. The attraction of this poort is its complete feeling of isolation in the heartlands of the Karoo.

The Grootrivier has spawned several exceptional gravel passes, besides cutting itself out a canyon of great length, depth and beauty from the highlands of the Karoo all the way to the confluence of the Gamtoos River at Patensie, this is the same Grootrivier that you will traverse on the Antoniesberg Pass further south and it also plays host to the fabulous Grootrivier Poort, which is the final pass at the eastern end of the Baviaanskloof. 

This is a typical pass through a low point or neck. It climbs quickly from 493m in the east to reach the 545m high summit point after 0,8 km, then follows a longer descent into the west losing 122m of altitude. The road runs along the east-west axis and be very rough due to lack of maintenance and rainfall. This is also the last pass you will traverse before reaching the Baviaans Lodge and the southern start of the Baviaans-Kouga 4x4 Trail.

The term 'meide' is Afrikaans and refers to a female servant. In this context in the previous century, the term would not have been in the slightest way derogatory, but in modern South Africa the word is seldom used and is considered offensive.

This is one of many poorts in the mountainous region between Steytlerville and Willowmore in the Eastern Cape. It runs along the NW/SE axis and is unusual in that it is much wider than most poorts in South Africa at between 1,2 and 1,4 km. Topographically it looks much more like a valley than a poort. In addition it doesn't display the one key element of all poorts in that there is no river bisecting it.

It's an official poort, so it gets indexed here, regardless of how small or insignificant it might appear. It's 4,5 km long and displays an altitude variance of 68m producing an average gradient of 1:66 with the steepest section just east of the summit, measuring in at 1;14.

Mgwalana Pass takes its name from a small village on the eastern side of the traverse. It is also sometimes spelled as uMgwalana. The pass is located on an unnamed gravel road which connects the R410 near Cala to the R58, which is the main access route between Elliot and Engcobo in the Eastern Cape. The road is not regularly maintained and is in a poor condition, but could be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather conditions allow. Like most of the roads in this area, the pass offers up some beautiful views over the surrounding landscape, as well as a delightful glimpse into the lifestyle of true rural South Africans.

Michel's Pass is located in the Eastern Cape between Hogsback in the east and Seymour in the west. The 6,5 km gravel pass is in excellent condition (as at April 2018) but is subject to severe thunderstorms in summer and snowfalls in winter with a summit altitude of 1442m ASL. The track is marked strictly for 4WD vehicles with high ground clearance and low range, but since it has been recently repaired it is now doable in a 4x2. It is best to check with local busineses and B&B's in Hogsback whether the road is passable or not.

 

This gravel pass is fairly long at 8,5 km but quite easy to traverse. It is suitable for most vehicles with the possible exception of cars with low clearance. It is only the first 1,6 km which has two sharp bends, stiff gradients and some rough and stony sections. Once through that section the going is easy. The pass has a substantial altitude variance of 286m, but due to it's length the average gradient is an easy 1:30 with the steepest parts being at 1:10. The pass lies on a minor gravel road (P2398) that connects Nieu Bethesda with the tarred R63 road near the summit of the Oudeberg Pass. This is primarily a farming road that serves the local farming community to the west of Nieu Bethesda.

The pass is named after the farm in the middle of the traverse of the same name and is located roughly 45 km ESE of Grahamstown. It is also sometimes locally reffered to as the Lower Kaprivier Pass, but with the Kaprivier Pass itself being just 11 km further to the north-west, having such a similar name can only cause confusion.

The pass is virtually a twin of the Kaprivier Pass displaying similar statistics and traversing the same mountain and river valley. It is slightly longer at 4,6 km and contains 16 bends, corners and curves within that distance to produce an average gradient of 1:35, but don't be fooled by that number as there are some steep sections that get as steep as 1:6.

The pass runs along the east-west axis and if your'e driving it in that direction, you will be treated to lovely views over the Lower Kaprivier valley.

It's also well off the beaten track and carries very low traffic volumes, other than the odd farmer. The pass displays a typical inverted clasic profile starting at a high point, then dropping down to a central low point river crossing and rising up the other side.

Be aware that there are some very steep gradients, so light FWD vehicles might experience traction issues in wet weather. We recommend driving this pass as a circular loop with it's sister pass a little further to the north-west, the Kaprivier Pass, which will provide a fabvulous circuit of mixed scenery in tranquil and quiet surroundings.

This remote and spectacular pass is one of our best discoveries of 2018. It's located on the coastal escarpment about 15 km due west of the Langeni Pass. The pass, which is named after the Mkonkota Mountain along which it descends offers a smorgasbord of amazing scenery, including deep valleys with fast flowing rivers, towering cliffs and a winding gravel road of dubious quality which traverses open crags as well as deeply wooded forests.

It contains 93 bends, corners and curves along its 12 km length which includes 1 hairpin and 7 bends sharper than 90 degrees. It displays a big altitude variance of 670m and an average gradient of 1:18. 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.

This gravel pass provides a link via several Xhosa villages along the old R61 between Mthatha (Umtata) and the coastal resort of Port St. Johns. It used to be part of the main road before the R61 was upgraded and tarred. In the process, this section of the R61 was bypassed. Take 15 minutes out of your day, and drive this little extra loop. You will be richly rewarded.

Spectacular views over almost the entire length of the pass will be your reward over the valley carved out by the Mngazi River with the main attraction being the massive block of rock called Mlengana with its many myths and legends that is the focal point of the pass.

The pass is 7.6 km long and displays an altitude variance of 421m producing an average gradient of 1:18 but it never gets steeper than 1:10 which makes it quite doable in a normal car in fair weather. The usual cautionaries of livestock on the road apply and this pass is also subject to frequent rockfalls, especially after heavy rain.

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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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