Mzintlava Pass

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Scenery from the pass Scenery from the pass - Photo: Trygve Roberts

This major gravel pass will enthrall and enchant even the most jaded pass hunter. It is long, steep, rough and peppered with 301 bends, corners and curves of which 7 are hairpins and another 29 exceed 90 degrees radius. It achieves top 10 status in two categories as the 5th longest pass and the 7th biggest altitude gaining pass in South Africa. It's named after the Mtzintlava River, which is one of the main tributaries of the Umzimvubu River with which it forms a confluence about 15 km to the south west of the pass.

It connects Tabankulu with the R61 (between Flagstaff and Lusikisiki) and provides access to dozens of rural villages along the way and includes a crossing of the powerful Mzintlava River, now famous for its Mamlambo creature (or brain sucker as it became known).

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.

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 - Trygve Roberts]

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Note: Google earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The vertical profile animation can generate a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide as what to expect in terms of gradients, distances and elevation. The graph may produce some improbable and impossibly sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

Digging into the details

Getting there: For those wanting to approach from the north, (as we have produced it) head west on the N2 from Mount Ayliff for 8 km and turn left (south) at GPS S30.822910 E29.254479 onto the gravel road to Tabankulu. Head south for 17 km remaining on the main road to arrive in Tabankulu (GPS S30.958174 E29.303086). This is a sizable town where most provisions and fuel are available. Continue heading south through the town and as you exit the town there is a prominent fork at S30.968406 E29.301475. Make sure you keep left and continue driving for 4 km as the road skirts a seep ravine on the right, to reach the northern start of the pass.

Tabankulu DamTabankulu Dam at the northern end of the pass / Photo: Colin Genricks

To approach from the south take the tarred R61 from Port St. Johns to Flagstaff and turn left onto a gravel road 32 km north of Lusikisiki at GPS S31.150924 E29.459871. This is also the southern start of the pass.

Approaching from the north there are provisions and fuel available at Tabankulu. It's wise to have full fuel tanks before heading into this remote part of the Eastern Cape. We also strongly recommend tyre deflation (at least down to 1,4 bar) which will greatly improve traction and therefore your safety, as well as provide a more comfortable ride and reduce the risk of picking up a puncture.

For the first few kilometres of this mega pass, things appear to be easy and comfortable as the road descends gently down the side of a wide valley offering lovely views on the right, but at the 3,6 km mark the road swings abruptly into the east via 90 degree bend , as the nose of the Ntabankulu mountain [1591,7m] is skirted and then within 400m another 90 degree left hand bend takes the heading directly north.

[Video cover photo - Trygve Roberts]

Rural hutsTranskei scenery / Photo: Pinterest

The road now climbs at a gradient of 1:14 for the next 1,5 km with magnificent views over the Tshumi River valley on the right whilst the dense forests of the Ntabankulu Forest Reserve smother the southern slope of the mountain ahead. At the 4,9 km mark, the road enters the forest canopy and levels off for the next 2,7 km where you will be completely immersed within the forest canopy where birdsong and tumbling streams are the surround sound if you drive with your windows open.

At the 7,6 km mark the road suddenly pops out of the gloom of the forest into open sunlight at the Gomo Forestry Station. For the entire drive through the Ntabankulu Forest the direction is into the east, but it now swings away through 90 degrees into the south and begins descending quite steeply at 1:9 into the south through two mountain villages. The descending continues via several S-bends and at the 10,8 km point there is a Y-junction near the village of Mfula, where you must make sure you keep left.

The road now skirts the northern side of another valley and meanders eastwards whilst undulating and descending towards the 15 km mark and the village of Bomvini where there is a very sharp hairpin bend to the right of 160 degrees. At the apex of this hairpin a smaller road leads off into the north-east to the village of Ncetshane.

[Video cover photo - Trygve Roberts]

Once through the hairpin, the road heads south-west and descends steadily along the flank of the mountain to the next village, which is Bhukazi.This village is beautifully located on a wide plateau with the gorge of the Mzintlava River to the south-east.

[Video cover photo - Trygve Roberts]

At the southern end of Bhukazi there is another sharp right hand hairpin bend at the 17,9 km point where speed needs to be lowered. From here the road keeps descending directly into the south for 1 km, then gradually turns into the east at the 19km mark to traverse the last village before the big drop down into the river gorge. This is the lovely rural village of Bulembu with charming views in every direction.

At the 20,6 km mark, the road enters a wide U-shaped bend which reveals the size and scope of the gorge carved out by the Mzintlava River. This is a great spot for photography. Once through this big bend, the road follows the eastern slope of the mountain with wonderful views of the river far below with perfect views of the famous horse shoe bend in the river, all the while descending steadily at a gradient of 1:14, but at the 22,7 km point, the road clears a small neck and moves over the spine of the mountain onto the western side.

[Video cover photo - Trygve Roberts]

The views now change with the KuCoto River valley on the right and a little further ahead on the right the bulk of the conical mountain known as KuManqokazi [808m] fills the view. In front of the mountain another small village, named Choto, spreads out over the valley floor.

Traditional thatched homesColourful traditional thatched dwellings / Photo: Pinterest

Eventually the south-western end of this long ridge is reached at the 25,8 km mark adjacent to the village of Sikhulweni, where a wide U bend of 160 degrees takes the road completely in the opposite direction, now heading north-east and still descending, albeit at an eaiser gradient. Once again there are perfect, but lower altitude views of the Mzintlava River on the right. 

This leg lasts for 1 km where the next hairpin occurs at the 26,7 km mark which is a right hander. The road now parallels the river briefly, then swings through 90 degrees in a sharp left hand bend to line up with the bridge crossing of the Mzintlava River at the 27 km point. There are wonderful photographic opportunities at the bridge where the scope of the gorge dwarfs the road and bridge.

Mysreriously mythical MamlamboMamlambo / Drawing: Cryptopia

In 1997, a mysterious creature made headlines around the world when it was blamed for the deaths of seven villagers along the Mzintlava River,many of whose bodies were recovered with their faces grotesquely devoured. Eyewitness accounts measure the beast at 67 feet long, with the head of a horse, the body of a fish, and skin like a crocodile. The creature was named Mamlambo after the Zulu goddess of rivers.

Witnesses and locals note that the Mamlambo's presence is often punctuated by thunderstorms, suggesting that the creature may be attracted to bad weather. So, watch the skies and when the clouds start gathering, head to the wildest parts of Mzintlava River. 

The Mzintlava River has variant forms of spelling in other languages: Umzimhlavana River, Umzimhluvana, Umzimhlava, Umzimhluvana River, Umzimhlava River, Mzintlava, Msintlava, Umzimhlava, Umzimhlava River, Umzimhlavana River, Umzimhluvana, Umzimhluvana River. Take your pick!

It's a good idea to take a short break here, as even though you have completed almost 30% of the distance, you are now faced with a big ascent out of the valley. It lasts for 11,2 km and climbs 631m in altitude and has as many tight bends as the descent.

[Video cover photo - Trygve Roberts]

Similar to the descent towards the bridge the road turns sharp left after the bridge and begins climbing immediately via a double switchback with each leg being about 500m in length. The gradients along this initial climb out range between 1:7 and 1:10. Once up the initial climb the road passes the village of Ludiwana and continues climbing steadily into the south-east.

[Video cover photo - Trygve Roberts]

Ravines and waterfallsLand of waterfalls and rivers / Photo: Pinterest

At the 30 km point, there is an intersection with a road leading to the left. Make sure you keep right here. Another big mountain looms ahead and to the right, which is the 903m high KyPoyi. The road keeps to the east of this mountain, still climbing at a steady rate.

A 4 way intersection appears at the 33,2 km mark, where a right turn would lead to the village of Taleni. Keep going straight till the 34 km point, where a sharp 90 degree right hand corner changes the heading into the south. A series of big bends follow as the ascent continues relentlessly as the last two villages are traversed. These are Qolora and Mpumaze. The pass officially ends at the intersection with the R61 at the 38,2 km point.

Turn left to go to Flagstaff or turn right to go to Lusikisiki and Port St. Johns.


 Fact File:


S30.997159 E29.324946


S31.101803 E29.399961


S31.150924 E29.459871














38,2 km




90 minutes 


60 kph








Tabankulu (6 km)

Route Map:

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Route files:

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


More in this category: « Gwangxu Pass Buwani Pass »

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