This is a tough, high-altitude gravel pass that connects the Wartrail farming valley with the well-known Tiffindell Ski Resort, close to the RSA/Lesotho border. Relatively long at 9,6 km, it rises from 1916m ASL to 2567m. With its 1:14 average climb gradient, this pass can be called nothing but 'steep'! The first 4 km offers gradients of up to 1:5! This is strictly a 4x4 only route and high ground clearance, as well as low range, are mandatory. The pass is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Bidstone Pass.
Most of the climbing is done in the first 3,8 km, where after the gradient eases right off to around 1:20 until the 7,7 km point after which the road steepens again to 1:7 till the summit. The road levels off near a small solitary cottage, which marks the end of the pass at the 9,6 km point, but there is still a fairly long pull of 8,2 km before you will arrive at Tiffindell. Allow at least 2 hours to complete both sections, excluding stops.
Expect rapidly changing weather conditions including severe electrical storms, heavy rain, hail, snow and very strong katabatic and anabatic winds. It you break down on this pass, assistance will be either from Tiffindell or from the nearest farm in the Wartrail Valley. Either way, it will be a long walk. Go well prepared with recovery equipment, as well as appropriate clothing and emergency food rations. We recommend carrying a satphone.
The name Waainek translates into 'Windy Neck' and windy it was on the day of filiming, making the name perfectly appropriate! Every now and again we come across a humdinger of a pass that not many people even know about. The Waainek Pass is one of those hidden gems. Tucked into the well wooded ravines of the Boschberg, Graskop and Witkrans mountains north of Somerset East and mostly falling within the boudaries of the Glen Avon Falls Kloof Natural Heritage Site, this long gravel pass will hold you spellbound, with breathtaking views, sharp corners, technical driving and a big altitude gain. You might even be lucky and spot some wildlife, as we did on the day of filming when a large group of warthogs sauntered over the road near the summit. There were also klipspringers, rhebuck and rooibok about. If you're in this part of the Eastern Cape and you have a few hours to spare, go and drive this one. It's a beauty!
This short poort offers surprisingly beautiful scenery after the flat approaches on either side over the vast Karoo plains. The 3,2 km long poort has 8 bends, corners and curves, several of which exceed 140 degrees radius and two are very sharp, requiring a reduction in speed. The poort offers wonderful scenery of contorted and twisted rocks set amongst steep sided mountains. With an average gradient of 1:50 these are typical poort style statistics and the steepest section is a very easy 1:17. The poort is on the tarred R329 and connects Steytlerville in the south with Jansenville, Klipplaat and Wolwefontein to the north-east.
This long pass of 16.8 km runs on the east/west axis between Graaff Reinet and Cradock on the tarred R61 route. This is a tarred, high altitude pass summiting at 1768m ASL which puts it firmly into the snow belt. The average gradient is a mild 1:46, but there are sections where the gradients get as steep as 1:10, which translates into slow moving heavy trucks for ascending traffic. The engineering is excellent and double lanes have been provided for most of the steeper ascending sections. The pass is named after the mountain range over which it passes. Most of the corners have a comfortable arc and the deep cuttings ensure that the gradients have been kept to a level which prevents blind rises. This is a wonderful pass to drive at any time of the year and is suitable for all vehicles.
The Eastern Cape Highlands spawned many great gravel passes, but the Weenen Pass is amongst the least known of those. It lies along the R392 route between Lady Grey in the north and Dordrecht in the south. It's well above the national average in terms of length at 8,4 km and displays an altitude variance of 378m, which produces an average gradient of 1:22.
The pass never gets steeper than 1:11 at any point making the road suitable for all vehicles except in very heavy rain or snow conditions. The usual gravel road cautionaries apply - such as corrugations, loose gravel on the corners, ruts and washaways and of course every Eastern Cape pass is automatically coded red for livestock on the road.
Most of the 16 bends, corners and curves are well below 90 degrees radius and what is different about this pass is that it does not display a dominant direction, but runs north-south as well as east-west in equal proportions.
This short and steep little pass is close to the tarred R56 route between Matatiele and Cedarville and can be driven in any vehicle in fair weather. It's just 3.2 km long and climbs 131m to summit at 1672m ASL from where you can enjoy excellent vistas in peace and quiet due to the very low traffic volume on this road. During adverse weather this little pass could become very challenging, so in snow or after or during heavy rain, it's best avoided unless you have a 4WD vehicle.
If you intend continuing further, make sure you've done your navigational homework well, as after the southern end of the pass, the road forks, and forks again and then there are multiple intersections which will get the average driver horribly lost, due to becoming disoriented. Very few of the roads are adequately signposted but most do have administrative numbers (Not that that's going to prevent you getting lost!). Exit routes must be carefully planned on Google Earth or Google Maps and each intersection noted and mapped.
The nearby village of Cedarville was established in 1912 and has been an orphan village for much of its history. It was included in the old Cape Province until 1978, when it was handed over to Natal and then again in 2006 it was handed over to the Eastern Cape - probably the only town or village in South Africa to hold that record.
Wienandsnek is a gravel pass on a farm road between Bedford and Tarkastad coded as the MR00641. It has an altitude variance of over 200 metres and summits well above 1000 metres ASL. It contains several sharp bends towards the summit section and some unprotected and steep drop-offs. The average gradient is at 1:26 with the steepest sections on the southern side presenting at 1:7. The pass is well worth exploring for its wonderful views and sense of solitude. It is easily accessible off the tarred R63 main road between Bedford and Cookhouse and is suitable for all vehicles in dry weather.
The Windheuwel Poort is a short, natural poort which cuts through the hills and mountains adjacent to the Beervlei Dam, on the N9 route, 32 kilometers north of Willowmore and 80 km south of Aberdeen in the Great Karoo. The dam is instantly recognizable for it's unusual wall construction, consisting of multiple side by side, interlinked arched walls. The dam is also better known for being bone dry for many months of the year. Water is the most precious commodity in the Karoo.
Wintersnek is located on a minor gravel road - the P3222 - about 21 km north of Barkly East, as the crow flies. It's a fairly straight-forward pass, with a long, almost straight climb to the 1991m high summit, after which there is a direction change into the east, followed by a short double apexed left hand curve to the end of the pass next to an unmistakable group of very tall cypress trees close to the roadside. The pass is 5 km long and has gradients of 1:11. It offers spectacular views over the New England area and the Witteberg mountains. However, due to the gentle nature of this pass, it would be best to plot its position on your GPS otherwise you might miss it. It can be driven in any vehicle in fair weather, but will be slippery when wet.
This fairly long gravel pass on the secondary MR00668 road, measures in at 9,9 km and displays an altitude variance of 229m. It has 13 bends, corners and curves of which only one is fairly sharp at 80 degrees. The pass connects Burgersdorp in the north-west with Jamestown and Dordrecht in the south-east.
It's not a specifically dangerous or technical pass, but like all gravel passes, it can quickly deteriorate in rainy weather and especially after snow. It has an impressive summit altitude of 1853m ASL which classifies it into the second highest group of passes in South Africa. If you enjoy lonely, remote passes then add this one to that list. It ticks the right boxes.
Cautionaries: Loose gravel, ruts, wash-aways, corrugations, livestock on the road, dangerous at night.
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.