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Bastervoetpad Pass (P2884)

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Bastervoetpad Pass - summit view looking south Bastervoetpad Pass - summit view looking south - Photo: Eugene Rossouw

The Bastervoetpad Pass is one of the most challenging true mountain passes in South Africa and it's rated high amongst the Top 8 high altitude passes of the Eastern Cape.  Officially named the Dr. Lapa Munnik Pass, (although no-one uses this name), this rough gravel pass is located between the summit of the Barkly Pass and Ugie and traverses a southern arm of the Drakensberg along the east-west axis. The rugged mountains and deep, green valleys of the southern Drakensberg are strongly reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, with icy winters and mild summers. This is the only pass in South Africa named after a minister of Public Health. The route was first discovered in 1862 by Adam Kok lll, when he led an armed group down the footpath as a possible route for his historic trek, but found the locals too hostile. He subsequently led the Griquas in their historic trek from Phillipolis in the Free State to their new home, called of course - Kokstad, over another route further to the east, named Ongeluksnek.

The pass boasts a summit height of 2240m, a length of 20 km and it loses 830m of altitude down the Drakensberg escarpment on the eastern side. Add to those rather impressive statistics, this pass can be treacherous in bad weather and is subject to electrical storms, violent winds, heavy rain, hail and snow. It also offers some of the finest scenery in South Africa, when the weather is good. If you intend driving this pass, watch all six videos first and then make your decision.

Please note that you need a 4x4 vehicle with low range & high ground clearance to complete this pass.

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

 



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

FULL-SCREEN MODE: Click PLAY, then pass your mouse over the bottom right corner of the video screen. The outline of a square will appear. Clicking on it will toggle Full Screen Mode. Press ESC to return to the original format.

Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.


Digging into the details:

Getting there: For those wanting to drive this route from east to west, head west out of Ugie on the R58 towards Elliot. After 4 km take the gravel road turn-off to the right (north) at GPS S31.205660 E28.189556. Follow this road for 17 km through dense plantations to arrive at the eastern starting point of the pass at a small river crossing.

The access road to the western start of the Bastervoetpad PassThe turn-off from the R393 looking south / Photo: Trygve RobertsWe filmed this pass from west to east. Here are the directions approaching from the west via Elliot. Head north on the tarred R58 over the beautiful Barkly Pass.  Near the northern end of this pass there is an hotel called 'Mountain Shadows' (and a wonderful place to overnight if you are driving passes in the area). Directly opposite the hotel,  take the gravel road to the right (North-East) marked R393.  

You will first drive over the Fetcani Pass and approximately 8 km further, you will get to a fork in the road onto a minor farm road. Here there is a small metal sign marked 'Bastervoetpad.' This is not the western start of the Bastervoetpad Pass, but merely the access road. The road traverses three farms (watch out for livestock), and then crosses a small river via a fairly new, low level, concrete, culvert style bridge, which is where the pass starts in earnest. Change to low range here.

The western start of the pass The western start of the pass / Photo: Trygve RobertsFrom that point the road starts ascending at 1:14 and the condition immediately deteriorates. If you have not yet deflated your vehicle's tyres, do so now and take them down to 1,2 bar. This will lengthen the tyre 'footprint' and increase traction, which besides making your trip safer, has the added benefit of providing a softer ride and it reduces the risk of getting a puncture. In wet weather the road is very muddy and slippery. Engage 4WD and select low range. You're going to need it.

A word of caution: Under no circumstances should you attempt to drive this pass in a conventional vehicle. Even a bakkie with a difflock will struggle here - even in dry weather. The eastern slopes are much wetter than the western side, so take that into consideration when attempting this route. This pass is not for the feint hearted. It is a true adventurer's pass with some vertigo inducing drop-offs and very rough sections. Very little maintenance is done to the road, so you're essentially on your own resources. Proceed with caution and be prepared to do some basic 'road repair' work yourself, as needed.

A small outbuilding after the 3rd bridgeAn outbuilding of the third farm just after the third bridge / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe road crosses the stream for the second time 1,2 km after the first bridge, as the track starts climbing more steeply towards a narrowing in the mountains ahead. This section is very stony and there is often water running along both sides of the road, making things quite slippery. Three hundred metres later just after cresting a short steep section, the road bends very sharply to the left through 80 degrees over a small concrete bridge, which spans a side stream of the main river.

Two small outbuildings of a farm appear on the left, close to the road and there is often livestock along this section of the pass. Avoiding the farm animals is not really an issue, due to the slow speeds being driven. The road follows the southern bank of the river for the next 0,9 km and soon the 4th bridge makes its appearance. Most of these bridges are fairly recent additions and have been substantially upgraded to handle the strong currents that surge down the mountainsides.

Onion Rocks'Onion Rocks' can be seen on one of the cuttings / Photo: Trygve RobertsApproximately 300m after crossing the 4th bridge, there is a small cutting on the high side of the road. Stop here and have a careful look at the rocks in the cutting. There are several large boulders that appear to have been embedded within the main rock strata and these are now 'peeling' off from the outside like layers of an onion.

With the heading steady into the east, the road enters a double S-bend, where the gradients ramp up to 1:7 and the surface becomes very bumpy with lots of protruding rocks. Be very careful here that you don't damage your vehicle's undercarriage and choose your lines with care. At the apex of the third left hand bend after the 4th bridge, the gradient reaches its maximum of 1:5, then suddenly levels off next to a prominent ridge on the right. This is a good place to stop and enjoy the sweeping views back down the valley that you have just ascended. During the summer months the hills are alive with colour of the multiple blooms of summer wild-flowers. 



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

The road now bends towards the ENE and climbs at a more gentle gradient, remaining on the northern side of the stream, to cross the fifth bridge at an altitude of 2206m ASL. After this bridge there is a double apex right hand bend, which changes the heading into the SSE as the gradient gets steeper again for the final 1 km long, straight pull up to the summit. Up ahead a tall Sentech tower can be seen perching on the top of a peak to the right. There is a road that leads up to this tower, but it is locked and chained. Access is strictly only for authorized personnel.

Summit viewsSummit views looking NE - Photo: Eugene RossouwThere is a fence that parallels the road up this final section and suddenly the small level plateau is reached at the neck, at an altitude of 2240m ASL. There is a major cutting out of the koppie on the right, creating enough space for the road to descend into the south.

There aren't words to describe the summit views and if you've picked a good window of weather to drive this pass, you can stand here and gaze at the panoramic vistas which seem to stretch all the way down the escarpment and on to the Indian Ocean. The views span a wide arc of around 210 degrees as row upon row of steep ravines drop down to the wooded plains below, with waterfalls and streams cascading down the green mountainsides.

The memorial plaque to Dr MunnikThe memorial plaque to Dr Munnik dating back to 1979 / Photo: Trygve RobertsAt the summit is a stone plaque dedicating the pass to Dr LAPA Munnik and another a little further to the west, in honour of Nic de Bruin who mapped and built the western section. The plaques date to around 1979, making the current version of the pass approximately 37 years old.

Once you've had your fill of the summit views, it's time to start the marathon descent of 13 kilometres of down-hill driving, where 830m of altitude will be lost before reaching the eastern foot of the pass.

We strongly recommend breaking the descent down into bite sized chunks of around 20 to 30 minutes each, allowing time for a leg-stretch and to enjoy the spectacular scenery as well as giving yourself time to regain your concentration levels. This is not a good place to experience any serious problems as assistance is a very long way from here. Select low range and leave it there for the entire descent. This helps to retain good traction and more precise control of engine braking against compression. Mostly 2nd and 3rd gear low range will work well on the descent.

Descending the Bastervoetpad PassDescending between the 1st and 2nd hairpins / Photo: Mike LeicesterInitially the road descends at fairly mild gradients of around 1:14 into the south for 650m offering a repeat of the summit views. The track is rough, rutted and rocky for the majority of this section. Soon the first hairpin bend is reached, but the arc through which it turns is fairly wide and since you are only doing about 10 kph anyway, no reduction in speed is required.

Choose your lines carefully and avoid the many large rocks that appear on either side of the track. If a smallish rock is in the way, rather place the front wheel on top of the rock, which will help to lift your vehicle clear of the obstacle, as opposed to straddling it.

Once you have completed this big bend of a full 180 degrees, the heading switches into the north and a whole new vista can be enjoyed from this new perspective. The road descends quite gently remaining at 1:14 for the next 1,6 km via four double S-bends each crossing a small stream. This high flow of water on these upper reaches is also the cause of the many boulders which roll down onto the road. Should you find the road blocked and you are unable to lever a boulder out of the way, consider the option of looping a tow-strap around it and using your vehicle to move it to create enough space to squeeze past.

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

The hairpin bends on this pass are not true hairpins, but they do turn through large arcs in excess of 170 degrees each, but the radii of these turns are easy, so they don't present any problems. The second hairpin curves to the right and descends onto a remarkably level little plateau. Be careful here as the drainage is poor and the next 300m is often soggy and muddy, so ensure you have a little momentum at hand to get your vehicle through these sections.

A rocky roadLarge rocks regularly roll onto the roadway / Photo: Mike LeicesterThe heading is back into the south for about 150m, followed by a right hand bend into the south-west for about the same distance and soon the third hairpin shows up, which curves through 170 degrees to the left, bringing the heading into the north-east. Things get a little steeper again as more altitude is lost.

About 600m after the third hairpin, the road skirts a gulley via a sharp S-bend - first to the right and then to the left. The gradient levels out again and the road curves around a bulge in the hillside, revealing a small farm on the left. The road is slippery here after rain and quite badly rutted. There are horses, donkeys, sheep and cattle here and they are often on the roadway, so be alert. In addition there are some small children who will bound down from the farm-house to greet you and ask for food or sweets. Be extra careful as they have no fear of vehicles and will dash in front of your vehicle without warning.

After the farm, the road remains fairly level for several kilometres as it follows a set of six gullies - each of them bisected by a stream. Most of them have been concreted at the actual stream crossing, but if these streams are in spate you will need to carefully assess the issues around crossing them safely. Due to the extreme slope of around 45 degrees, these streams will produce fast run-off, so if things look a little dodgy, rather wait an hour or so to see if the flow-rate decreases enough to cross safely. This fairly long, level, but winding section provides the perfect place for a break in your journey. The scenery is amazing and there is plenty of fresh mountain water as well as some shade in the corners at the stream crossings.



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

Soon after the six gullies have been negotiated, the more serious part of the descent begins at the 12 km mark, where the gradients rapidly reach 1:5 and the surface condition changes into a very bumpy, washed out track, peppered with big stones and loose rocks. The next few kilometres require 100% concentration and the choice of good lines is of paramount importance. In wet weather, this section will become a Grade 5. This is easily the most technical section of the entire pass.

Near the entrance to Sephtons farm gateNear the gate to the Sephton farm. The Sephton farm road can be seen higher up the mountain from left to right along the contour line / Photo: Mike LeicesterThe most important thing is to be patient. Most drivers start getting weary after the long pull over this pass, but now is the time to take your time and deal with each obstacle as they appear. Some of the wash-aways are quite severe and on the day of filming were more than a metre deep - and as wide!

Make use of the grassy verges and place one set of wheels on the verge, which will help lift that side over protruding obstacles, but at the same time, be aware that each vehicle will have a critical rollover point, where gravity will take over. Those vehicles with heavy loads on roof carriers (like roof top tents) are more susceptible to a rollover.

Get out of your vehicle and walk each obstacle, paying careful attention to high spots and exactly where you want to place the wheels. If your passenger is willing to provide on the spot guidance, then that is so much easier, especially if they know what they're doing!



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

If your vehicle is equipped with a diff-lock, engage it. This will assist in maintaining traction down these very difficult sections. Although we have marked this pass as a Grade 3, this might not be the case in bad weather. Always apply common-sense and err on the side of safety. It's no disgrace to retreat. You can always return in better weather to complete this pass on another day (as we did in 2013). From a weather perspective, the driest months to tackle this pass are April and May (but snow is a possibility).

Trees over the roadSome of the trees need cutting back. Pack a small axe for the job / Photo: Mike LeicesterAt the 14 km mark, the road descends steeply towards a small copse of trees, which have grown right over the road forming a short tunnel of dense foliage. If you have a small axe or even a hacksaw, you can trim away those branches which might scratch your vehicle and in so doing provide a service to the next person traversing the pass. 

The road condition remains rough and rutted as the road descends laboriously down the valley, with countless obstacles to negotiate. There is one point where a fence post has been embedded in the middle of the road, necessitating a change up onto the grass verge and through a gap in the fence which is just wide enough to accommodate a vehicle. There is no gate or system for closing the fence, so the purpose of the fence seems futile. A little further there is a similar copse of trees jutting over the road and again it might be necessary to do some pruning to avoid scratches. The altitude at the second set of trees is at 1670m and the worst is not over yet, as there are still several tricky sections to negotiate, so maybe take a break here and gather your energy for the final part of the descent.

Up ahead in the distance there are some distinctive and stunning sandstone formations that appear on the far side of the river. These make excellent subjects for photography, especially at dusk or dawn. Here the rock formations look like giant mushrooms as they display various shades of brown, yellow, green and orange. A little further back a tall ridge of serrated crags dominate the skyline. There are several places along this section with large stands of trees, offering good shade if it's hot. The best place to stop for shade is at the 16,6 km point.

Adjacent to the mushroom rocks, the road bends gently to the right and into the south-east as the descent continues relentlessly. More and more trees appear as altitude is lost and soon the road is enclosed in an avenue of tall vegetation. A small stream is crossed at the 18 km mark via a low level concrete causeway and immediately after the road rises up, there is another farm on the left. Proceed slowly through the farm as there are horses and sheep roaming about here. This farm is named Valetta and it's the last farm on the eastern side of the pass.



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

After the Valletta farm, the road condition is slightly better, but the going remains on the slow side at under 20 kph as the road continues descending at a more gentle gradient of 1:20 as the valley narrows perceptibly between two mountain ridges. A the 19 km mark, there is another river crossing at the confluence of two streams. If it's been raining heavily, this crossing could prove problematic. As is always the case with river crossings, the best test is to walk it first.

Valletta farmThe road traverses the Valetta farmstead / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe road now curves through an easy S-curve back into the east, remaining on the southern side of the river, where the pass officially ends at the third river crossing at the 20 km mark at an altitude of 1410m ASL. Almost immediately after this final river crossing the road climbs up quickly into a commercial pine plantation and the condition of the road improves a lot, allowing the change over back into high range. The drive out through the plantation is pleasant on a good quality gravel road allowing speeds above 40 kph, but one still needs to be aware of the odd sections where pools of water and mud have settled on the roadway. This final drive-out lasts for approximately 17 km and is a lovely drive in its own right, although very different to the Bastervoetpad Pass itself.

The gravel terminates at a T-junction with the tarred R56 at GPS S31.205660 E28.189556. If you want to go to Ugie, turn left and head east on the R56 for 4 km. If you want to go to Maclear, turn right and head west for 16 km. Both towns have petrol stations and general dealer stores. You might find the frenetic commercial activity a bit much after the serenity of the Bastervoetpad Pass.

One of our readers submitted a series of photos and video clips they took whilst traversing the pass  in a Suzuki Vitara. We have compiled these into two separate video clips below: 



[Photos and video were submitted by Arno and Jeanne-Marie Roux]

The Naudes Nek pass is the anchor pass of the Big 8 Challenge Passes of the Eastern Cape and the one most visitors like to tackle first. The passes are as follows:

1. Naude's Nek Pass 2. Bastervoetpad Pass 3. Otto du Plessis Pass 4. Barkly Pass 5. Volunteershoek Pass 6. Carlisleshoekspruit Pass 7. Lundins Nek Pass 8. Jouberts Pass

Two more passes have been added to the above list which are the Ben Mac Dhui Pass and the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (TTT) making a total of 10 adventure passes which will form the basis of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge. Details elsewhere on this website.

Make your plans. Book a cottage, B&B or hotel in Rhodes, Tiffindell or any one of a number of amazing farm stays and country lodges and get this incredible pass ticked off your bucket list!


Fact File:

GPS START 

S31.158265 E27.921057

GPS SUMMIT

S31.180292 E27.973974

GPS END 

S31.182137 E28.054959

AVE GRADIENT

1:24

MAX GRADIENT

1:5

ELEVATION START

1921m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

2240m

ELEVATION END

1410m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

830m

DISTANCE

20 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

East

TIME REQUIRED

4 hours

SPEED LIMIT

None - Off road

SURFACE

Gravel (4x4 only) P2884

DATE FILMED

17.12.2016

TEMPERATURE

22C

NEAREST TOWN

Ugie (17 km)


Route Map:

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From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: Bastervoetpad Pass (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google Earth and most GPS software systems)

 

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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
 

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