Munniks Poort is a straight forward drive along the tarred N9 highway, just 3 km south-west of Graaff Reinet - with few technical surprises, other than beautiful vistas of the Great Karoo, the unique and distinctive vews of Spandau Kop and the world famous Valley of Desolation - all part of the Camdeboo National Park. The naming of the pass is probably after Dr. L.A.P.A. Munnik - a parliamentary minister in the 1970's.
This major gravel pass will enthrall and enchant even the most jaded pass hunter. It is long, steep, rough and peppered with 301 bends, corners and curves of which 7 are hairpins and another 29 exceed 90 degrees radius. It achieves top 10 status in two categories as the 5th longest pass and the 7th biggest altitude gaining pass in South Africa. It's named after the Mtzintlava River, which is one of the main tributaries of the Umzimvubu River with which it forms a confluence about 15 km to the south west of the pass.
It connects Tabankulu with the R61 (between Flagstaff and Port St Johns) and provides access to dozens of Wild Coast villages along the way and includes a crossing of the powerful Mzintlava River, now famous for its Mamlambo creature (or brain sucker as it became known).
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.
Naroegaspoort is a gentle drive with easy gradients synonymous with typical poort statistics. It includes two crossings of the Plessisrivier, which is usually a bone dry river bed. These crossings mark the start and end points of the poort. There are only two wide corners and the rest of the poort is a straight-line drive through the rugged poort, which forms a passage through the east-west axis Grootrivierberge about 50 km east of Willowmore in the Karoo. The poort squeezes the road and the railway line into its confines and both parallel each other for most of the distance through the poort. This is an arid, water-scarce part of South Africa, where much of the vegetation consists of succulents.
Due to the 32,7 km length of this mega-pass, we have split it into six parts. We recommend that the pass be driven from west to east for maximum enjoyment. Many sources quote this as being the highest gravel pass in South Africa, but Naude's Nek Pass is actually the fourth highest altitude, publicly accessible pass in South Africa and is a much sought after personal trophy for pass 'hunters' to say: "I've driven it!" It is superseded by the Ben MacDhui Pass, the Tenahead-Tiffindell Traverse and the Sani Pass (in that order). Zig-zagging its way over the Southern Drakensberg, the pass is a long and slow drive with an average gradient of 1:41, but the steeper parts measure out at 1:7. Considering that the builders were not engineers, but humble farmers, the lines chosen and gradients achieved are remarkably good for the time. This is without question a bucket-list pass!
The Naudesberg Pass should not be confused with it's like named, but much more famous Naudes Nek Pass, which is also in the Eastern Cape. The Naudesberg Pass lies 40 km North of Graaff Reinet on the tarred N9 connecting with the Karoo town of Middelburg some 70 km further north. The pass was originally constructed by Andrew Geddes Bain circa 1858.
The Nico Malan Pass is located between Whittlesea and Seymour along the tarred R67 route towards Sada in the east. This is a serious pass climbing a massive 673 vertical metres over 13.8 km, ranking it in position number 25 in the top altitude gaining passes in South Africa. The pass is well engineered and modern and underwent an upgrade in 2016. There are many impressive steep sided cuttings, dense forested sections, sweeping views and fairly easy gradients, with nicely banked corners, making this pass a joy to drive. It is suitable for all traffic and although it is a safe pass in fair weather conditions, it is prone to thick mountain mists and heavy rain, which suddenly changes the safety rating to poor. Adjust your speed according to conditions. Excessive speed and human error have led to several fatal accidents on this pass.
This short, but scenic poort drops down into the little village of Nieu Bethesda from the north-western side. It is only 3 km long and descends a total of 143m, producing an average gradient of 1:21. It is an extension of Martin Street and is often referred to by that name. The poort offers lovely scenery and a pleasant, but slow drive down the poort. Nieu Bethesda is an interesting and quiet Karoo village set in a small and well watered valley, surrounded by tall mountains. The village is beautfully green with tall trees and some very old buildings. It is reputed to be the Central Karoo's best kept secret.
This tarred pass is located between the Eastern Cape towns of Queenstown and Lady Frere on the tarred the R410 route. The pass descends through 216 vertical metres over 5,6 km producing an average gradient of 1:26 with the steepest parts presenting at 1:10. The pass contains 15 bends, corners and curves, one of which exceeds a radius of 90 degrees. This is a safe, well engineered road and is suitable for any vehicle. We do however issue a cautionary for bad weather as this is a high altitude pass and is subject to winter snowfalls and heavy thunderstorms in summer. Always adjust your speed according to conditions and watch out for livestock on the road.
Noorspoort is a short winding poort just north of the lovely Karoo town of Steyterville. The poort is perhaps best known for it's painted flags on the rock faces on the eastern side of the road and the town of Steytlerville is a shining example of how to rejuvenate an old town, which is immediately evident as one drives down the neat, broad streets filled with neat Victorian houses, lovingly restored replete with broekie-lace and shady stoeps. Down the cenrtre island of the main road the lamp posts are decorated with heraldic emblems and family crests from all sectors of the local community. The Noorspoort is 3,1 km long and has a minor altitude variance of just 24m, making for an easy drive, but don't get too transfixed by all the flags. The poort was carved out by the Grootrivier - a very long river which winds its way all the way down through the Baviaanskloof to form a confluence with the Gamtoos River near Patensie.
The Nungi Pass is named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile.
The Colonanek Pass further to the south lies on the same road, so these two passes will always be driven in tandem. The steepest gradients are at 1:7 which might present traction issues in wet weather for non 4WD vehicles. There was major reconstruction taking place during 2018 as can be seen on the virtual fly-past. This includes excavating cuttings to reduce the number of blind rises and corners and ease some of the steeper gradients as well as a substantial improvement to the road width.
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, minibus 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.
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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