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.
This short but very scenic pass is located to the south-east of Middelburg in the Eastern Cape, on the N10 national highway. There are no sharp bends and the road is perfectly engineered and constructed, allowing safe passage over the pass provided that you stick to the speed limit and are not distracted by the views. The area around the pass is typical of the Upper Karoo landscape, with low flat plains interspersed with rolling hills and koppies. The pass is suitable for all vehicles.
This steep, high altitude gravel pass is situated between the N9 route and the village of Nieu-Bethesda, where artist Helen Martins turned her Karoo home into a fantastical landscape, with concrete and ground-glass sculptures of owls, camels and angels. The town was established in 1875 and is dominated by the peak known as Kompasberg (Compass Mountain) which is the 6th highest mountain in the Eastern Cape and forms part of the Sneeuberg range. The town is very secluded and as such has become something of a retreat for artists and writers.
This is one of several small poorts that have been carved through the east-west running mountains to the north of the R329 and R407 over a long distance stretching from Klaarstroom in the west to Steytlerville in the east. All of these poorts run along the north-south axis and many of them look like carbon copies of the previous one, yet there are subtle differences in each poort's geographical and geological features which sets one apart from the other.
Witpoort is a perfect example of one of these poorts. It is just 1,8 km long, has two minor bends and a tiny altitude variance of 19m. The railway line, road and river all compress within the confines of the poort and as is the case with all of these poorts, this one too is prone to flash floods.
The usual gravel road cautionaries apply of corrugations, loose gravel on corners, ruts, washaways, livestock on the road and ever present danger of punctures. Travel here well prepared and make sure you have pre-planned your route carefully noting all the intersections. Many of them have no signage, so it's easy to get lost.
The Wolf River Pass connects the mountain-top village of Hogsback with the Sandile Dam and Keiskammahoek to the south east. The pass is named after the Wolf River which is a tributary of the Keiskamma River, both of which feed into the Sandile Dam at the foot of the pass. The 27 km long pass offers a wide range of varying and often spectacular scenery descending a total of 667m producing an average gradient of 1:41 with some of the steeper parts presenting at 1:6. Allow plenty of time to drive this road and expect rich visual rewards. Watch out for logging operations, falling trees, livestock and wild animals. Although the entire pass is gravel, it can be driven in a normal sedan vehicle in dry weather conditions.
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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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