This pass is located on the tarred R63 between Somerset East and Pearston. Travelling eastwards, the pass starts approximately 20 km east of Pearston. Most of the R63 traverses fairly flat terrain just to the south of a long line of mountains. Bruintjieshoogte is the first significant change in altitude after leaving Graaff Reinet on this road. This region is rich in game farms as can be evidenced by the many kilometres of game fencing on either side of the road and game spotting is almost guaranteed - from the nimble springbok to the majestic kudu - the latter being able to effortlessly scale fences and is a major deterrent to night driving in the Eastern Cape.
This inverted profile pass is situated near the east coast city of East London, and derives its name from the crossing of the Buffalo River, which empties into the harbour a few kilometres downstream. It forms a convenient shortcut from the western suburbs to the airport, as well as to the R72 coastal road which connects the city to Port Alfred and Port Elizabeth. East Londoners of the more mature variety will have fond memories of the infamous nightclub that used to be located next to the river at the bottom of the pass.
The lovely old tarred pass sweeps down into the densely wooded Buffalo River valley and crosses East London's major river via a bridge built in 1955. The road is tarred (although bumpy, potholed and patched these days) and presents a comfortable gradient of just 1:33, with some of the steeper sections at 1:11.
Piles of litter along the road-side spoil the drive and perhaps one of the city's councillors might read this page and do something about cleaning the pass up. It's one of East London's many attractions which has been allowed to degenerate. This pass is dangerous for cyclists and walkers as there are no safety shoulders plus this is a high crime area.
The Buffelshoek Pass lies on the R337 linking Pearston in the south with Cradock in the north-east. This rugged and beautiful pass offers sublime scenery towards the south over well wooded valleys and expansive plains packed with game. The pass quickly deteriotes in heavy rain or snow conditions and becomes dangerous for non 4WD vehicles, but in fair weather the road is perfectly suitable for all cars.
The pass is 3,9 km long and has an altitude variance of a 330m producing a challenging average climb rate of 1:12 with the steeper sections measuring in at 1:6. It's located just 15 kilometres north-east of Pearston.
Nearby Pearston dates back to the mid 1800's and is today one of the prime towns associated with hunting. The village is looking a little dog-eared these days with poverty and unemployment taking its toll on tourism.
The Bulhoek Pass is a gravel road with a stiff gradient averaging out at 1:15 with some of the steeper sections at 1:10. The road links the R390 via the Bulhoek farm with the R56 south of Steynsberg. Sheltering within the magnificent Eastern Cape Zuurberg mountain range, Steynsburg is a quiet little Karoo town where the air is clean and the local sheep farming community are very friendly.
The man who took on the mighty British Empire, Oom Paul Kruger, and another Afrikaans legend, Marais Steyn, were both born here. So if you fancy a bit of heritage, mountains, grassy plains, strange geological formations, blue cranes and some arts and crafts, this is a lesser road worth seeking out.
There are three back to back passes between Tombo and Port St Johns. They are, from west to east Mngazi River Pass, Butyabuse Pass and the Isinuka Poort. At 7 km it's well above the national average and displays a moderate altitude variance of 138m. It connects the valleys of the Mngazi and Umzimvubu Rivers on the R61..
The pass is modern and well designed, but the local authorities have had to install several traffic calmers (speed bumps) to slow the taxis down, as the pass traverses several villages on its way to the coast. It offers good views of the Mngazi River and towards the middle of the pass the road passes through the villages of Mkanzini, Zitshece and Ndwalane.
There are a number of cautionaries for this road - Pedestrians and especially school children, dogs, livestock, slow and fast moving vehicles, speed bumps, school buses and minibus taxis. Drive with care.
This is another remote and difficult to get to old Transkei pass, which is 4,4 km long, displays an altitude variance of 408m and generates an average gradient of 1:11 making it amongst the steepest in the whole country. Add a high rainfall area, livestock on the roads, a rough and rutted surface with spectacular views of the Tina and Umzimvubu rivers, you have a wonderful recipe for an adventure pass that will set you into a small elite group of people that have ever driven into this remote area. Even the 1:50,000 government maps don't record this pass, so it's a fairly new one and only visible on Google Earth.
The pass has 45 bends corners and curves, including one hairpin and six corners which exceed 90 degrees radius. The views are breathtaking and include thatched huts that dot the hillsides, with imopressive views over the deeply incised hills smothered in grassland and pockets of indigenous forest.
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.
Buys Poort can be found between Uniondale and Willowmore in the Karoo on the tarred N9 national route. The road runs on the north-south axis through a natural poort between hills of approximately 1100m each, adjacent to the farm of the same name, before levelling out in a southerly direction towards Uniondale (30 kms). The road presents an easy gradient of 1:48 with a peak gradient of 1:20.
This is such a minor poort that the average motorist wouldn't even be aware of it unless the waypoints have been inserted to provide advance notice. What it lacks in vital statistics, it more than compensates for in the form of tranquil Karoo scenery.
The impressive Cala Pass winds its way up a deep cleft in the mountains north of the village of Cala gaining almost 300 meters in altitude over 5,8 km, producing a gradient of 1:19 with some sections at 1:9. This a reasonably safe road for most vehicles, but it a high altitude pass and is subject to winter snowfalls, heavy summer electrical storms and regular mountain mists. It is one of four passes along the R410 between Queenstown and Elliot forming a set of giant stepping stones towards the high altiude part of the Eastern Cape around Barkly East.
This is a pass not to be missed. It ascends and descends the Ribbokberg via the Valley Road and has some very steep gradients, which are not problematic as the entire pass is tarred. It's a slow drive offering fabulous and dramatic scenery culminating in the Valley of Desolation. No visitor to Graaff Reinet should miss this opportunity. The pass is 7,3 km long and it is not designed to be driven if you're in a hurry. Permits are required which can be obtained at the entrance gate. Bookmark this one - it is a real gem and rates high in our Eastern Cape Top 20 passes.
This fairly extreme pass is for the more experienced driver. It descends/ascends 739 meters over 14,4 km producing some exceptionally steep gradients, with some of the sections an adrenaline pumping 1:3. This pass is the main access road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort and is generally well maintained with the steepest sections either having been strip concreted or fully concreted. We have filmed the pass from north to south in the descending mode for maximum scenic value, although this is not the way most first timers will travel the pass.
This pass is not recommended for novice drivers, but it is quite doable in a normal sedan vehicle in fair weather. Should you have booked accommodation at Tiffindell and arrive in a spell of bad weather, the ski resort can make arrangements to get you to the top of the mountain via a 4x4 shuttle service.
[Editors note: As at 2020 the resort has been closed and remains closed at at April 2021. We will post here as soon as the situation changes.]
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.