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.
This is an official pass, marked accordingly on all the government maps. Quite how this minor little dip down over a bridge ever got classified as a pass, is beyond our comprehension, but the reality is that there are at least 50 similar minor dips in roads all over South Africa, which some government official or cartographer decided it was good enough to get an official name.
The 'pass' has a classic inverted profile synonomous with a road that drops down to cross a river and then climbs up the far bank. It is just 1,7 km long, has only bends and a very mild average gradient. Common cautionaries here include livestock on the road and slow local trafiic.
This scenic drive provides an interesting and easy traverse of the poort that has been carved out by the Trakarivier. Although the road is virtually flat with only a 20m altitude variance over the 4,1 km length, it does include 4 crossings of the same river. For 99% of the year, these bridgeless crossings are very easy as the river bed is usually bone dry. The road forms a complex network of farm roads that service the remote farms west and north of Willowmore through a range of ridges and hills 15 km north the Swartberg mountains. It's easy to get lost here and many of the intersections have no signage. Travel well prepared with waypoints pre-plotted in your GPS.
Cautionaries: Like all gravel roads, conditions can change very quickly during or after heavy rain. Rivers in the Karoo are universally shallow and wide and prone to flash floods. If you're trapped inside a poort during a flash flood, it could prove to be life threatening. There are many similar poorts in this region and most of them display the same geographical tendencies.
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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