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The Eastern Cape

The Grootrivier Poort on the R332, was one of the last passes to be built by South Africa's most famous road engineer, Thomas Bain. This masterpiece opened up the seemingly impassable 200 km mountain wilderness of the Baviaanskloof between Willowmore and Patensie.

The poort only has 16 bends,corners and curves with a very mild descent gradient that appears to be flat when driving it. The topography is magnificent as the river and the road follow each other faithfully through the towering cliffs of the poort amongst dense riverine vegetation. The road is generally quite good throught his section and most people drive too fast, which means you see less. Expect to see a range of animals, like kudu, reedbuck, baboons and monkeys - and more so if you drive through early in the morning. As the road was carved out of the mountainsides, it left an open display of the various rock formations, which range from solid Table Mountain sandstone to the unusual pebble conglomerate.

Of the 7 passes and poorts in the Baviaanskloof, there are five which are proper passes and two which are poorts. These are Studtis Poort and the Grootrivierpoort. Poorts are different to passes in that they generally have very easy gradients as they follow the course of a river through a mountain range. They are also notoriously prone to flooding and Thomas Bain famously recorded in his journal: "There are three major headaches for road builders. They are water, water and water". Bain had a singular dislike for building roads through poorts and ironically, whilst he was building the extraordinary Swartberg Pass, the nearby Meiringspoort all but washed away in a devastating flood. Bain was subsequently called in to realign the road at a higher point than the flood level.

If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend that you first watch the Baviaanskloof Overview and Orientation video clip. 

This massive gravel pass is for the more serious pass hunter as it's well off the beaten track, is gravel surfaced and traverses some major climbs as well as crosses the mighty Mzimvubu River. It's a very long pass at 29,8 km and holds a number of challenges with some gradients reaching 1:6, which will mean traction issues in wet weather for non 4WD vehicles.

It displays a big altitude variance of 685m and the 192 bends, corners and curves will require your full attention. Add in slippery surfaces, livestock, children, poultry, slow vehicles and minibus taxis and you can expect a very eventful journey along this big traverse.

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.

 

The Hankey Pass is a tarred road of fair quality. It connects the farming town of Hankey with the N2 Highway and Humansdorp . The Gamtoos Valley is the epicentre of the citrus farming industry in the Eastern Cape. The point where the pass starts is at the low level bridge over the Gamtoos River.

The pass is of above average length at 7,1 km and has an easy average gradient with the steepest sections being near the summit at 1:12. The road is suitable for all vehicles in any weather and although showing signs of ageing, is still in a fair condition. (2018) The road is scheduled for resurfacing and upgrading later in 2018.

Set some time aside to explore some of the historical points of interest in and around Hankey.

This 4 km long official pass is named after the Hartbees antelope, which once roamed these plains in their thousands. The pass is insignificant in the greater scheme of things and has only one gentle bend and a small alttitude variance of only 66m. It's located on the P0663 / R391 north of the much bigger Groot Doringhoek Pass about 20 km north-west of Molteno, just off the tarred R56.

The Helspoort Pass is located on the tarred R350 and connects the towns of Grahamstown and Bedford. Both towns have plentiful history dating back to 1820 settler days and it is here that the British forces entreched themselves initially. There were several forts built which are still standing today. The pass has plenty of bends, corners and curves - 21 of them in total - and hardly any straight sections. It only has a small altitude variance of 67 metres and has a very comfortable avrage gradient of 1:94 with the steepest parts being at 1:28. The pass is suitable for all vehicles, but note that overtaking is difficult due to the many corners. Comply with the speed limits and obey the barrier lines and all will be well.

This little-known pass is located in a wild and remote area of the Eastern Cape near Barkly East. It forms the northern access route into Heuningneskloof (“Honey Nest Ravine”), a long valley formed by a tributary of the Kraai River. The use of a 4x4 vehicle is strongly recommended, although a high-clearance vehicle could probably traverse the pass, albeit with some difficulty. It lies far off the beaten track, and some accurate navigational skills and common sense will be required to find it. For those that do make the effort, you will be rewarded with exceptional views, the peace and quiet of an unspoilt environment, and some challenging driving.

Hobbs Hill is located just 3 km north of Cathcart and whilst it's a short pass at only 2,7 km, it descends a substantial 132m over that distance producing an average gradient of 1:20 with the steepest section being just north of the summit at 1:14. This is generally a safe, well designed road and only contains two easy curves. Having a summit altitude of almost 1200m means this pass is sometimes subject to winter snowfalls. The usual snow driving precautionary measures apply.

The tarred Hogsback Pass is located between the Eastern Cape towns of Alice and Cathcart. With an altitude variance of 379  meters, this pass summits at 1200m ASL which means it regularly experiences snow during the winter months. Hogsback is a mystical place, with dense and tall forests and the mountain is frequently shrouded in mist. South African born author J.R.Tolkien is said to have been inspired by these forests when Lord of the Rings was written.

When travelling through the Baviaanskloof from west to east, the Holgat Pass is 5th pass you will need to traverse - the first four being the Nuwekloof  Pass, Studtis Poort, Grasnek Pass and Langkop Pass. The Holgat Pass is often confused with the Combrinks Pass which lies a few kilometers further east. The pass is essentially the ascent up the final big mountain climb for travellers heading eastwards,  interrupted by a high altitude plateau (where the Bergplaas campsites can be found) followed by the Combrinks Pass as the descent. If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation and Overview video.

The pass contains 49 bends, corners and curves within its 4,7 km length and 10 of those corners are greater than 90 degrees. The road is partially strip concreted and sections of the concrete are in poor condition, making for quite a bumpy ride. Most of the pass has steep, unguarded drop-offs and drivers need to be alert. Overtaking is impossible and passing vehicles travelling in the opposite direction will require both vehicles to move over to create sufficient passing space.

The Indwe Poort was formed by the powerful Indwe River and forms a steep sided poort through the mountains south of the town of Indwe. The road, whch carries the route label of R396 connects the town of Indwe with the main tarred road, the R410 just south of the poort, where the Indwe River continues flowing southwards to feed into the large irrigation dam - the Lubisi Dam. The Indwe River provides a lifeline of water to this region as just north of the poort it feeds another large dam - the Doringrivier Dam.

The road follows the course of the poort along it's western side for almost 10 km and is generally an easy drive with gentle gradients. There are two very sharp corners in excess of 110 degrees that need to be approached with caution, but the biggest dangers on this road are corrugations and livestock. Be aware of this before you tackle this poort. The road has a minor summit towards its northern end, followed by no less than 5 smaller false summits along its length.

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Mountain Passes South Africa

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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