This record breaking pass has rocketed into the No.1 position as the steepest pass in South Africa with an average gradient of 1:5,567 and to add to this impressive statistic is that it is gravel all the way. It's a short pass at just 2,6 km but it packs no less than 9 hairpin bends into that short distance. We recommend a high clearance 4x4 for this pass.
It's named after the peak that forms the horseshoe bend near the confluence of the Tsitsa and Tina Rivers, called Mpindweni which has a summit height of 408m. The pass presents dense indigenous bush along the first half, wherafter it breaks out into open grassland where magnificent views of the three main rivers can be seen.
This is a road that ends at the last village at the north-western end of the horseshoe bend in the Tsitsa River. Only the most dedicated pass hunters will seek this one out as it involves a long and complex route to get here - and then you have to retrace your path all the way back to Libode. But for those who dare, the rewards will be immeasurable.
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 Lusikisiki) and provides access to dozens of rural 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 Sani Pass and the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (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 average length pass of 4 km forms a back to back continuous pass with the Umzimvubu Pass on the tarred R61 route between Lusikisiki and Port St Johns. The pass has plenty of corners compressed into those 4 km, so drivers need to be wide awake as the pass traverses three villages - Gemvale, Mdovu and Gcakeni.
Expect pedestrians on the roadway, minibus taxis and the ever present threat of livestock. Some of the locals drive like maniacs, so it's best to let them pass you as quickly as possible. The scenery more than compensates for the Level 3 driving and is typical of the Wild Coast.
Take your time. Stop at the roadside stalls. Support the local crafters and allow the climate and the people to embrace your spirit.
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.
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.
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.