Pitseng Pass (MR00837)

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Eastern Cape perfection Eastern Cape perfection - Photo: Photo courtesy of Hougaard Malan

Pitseng Pass is dwarfed by the nearby Naude’s Nek Pass, but nevertheless it is a substantial pass in its own right. In good conditions the pass can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, but in wet weather or snow a 4x4 will definitely be required. Together with its sister pass, Luzi Poort, the road is often used as a shortcut by travellers wishing to get from Mount Fletcher to Rhodes or vice versa; it is a much shorter route than going via Maclear, and it is certainly more scenic. Either way, Naude’s Nek still has to be negotiated. There is a significant height gain / loss of 368 metres, and the pass is 8 kilometres in length.

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[Video cover photo: Mike Leicester]

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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: To approach from the east, start off at GPS coordinates S30.761931 E28.523079 on the R56 between Mount Fletcher and Maclear. Travel in a westerly direction along a gravel road for 31.5 km to S30.748181 E28.334810, which is the eastern start point. To approach from the west, travel from Rhodes over Naude’s Nek to S30.799048 E28.228950, or start off from Maclear and travel north along the R396 to reach this same point. From here, head in an easterly direction for 7.2 km to S30.764571 E28.285371, which is the western start point.

Healthy Nguni cattleHealthy Nguni cattle / Photo: Marie Viljoen

We have filmed the pass from west to east, in the descending mode. The pass can be divided into four very distinct sections. The first is a fairly flat phase which traverses the plateau at the top of the pass; the second is a very steep and perilous descent cut into the side of the mountain. This is followed by a long straight section running along an intermediate saddle, which then finally leads into another very steep descent which takes you down into the Luzi River valley and to the end of the pass.

From the start point, the road climbs through a shallow cutting, at the same time curving slightly to the right. This is followed by a few gentle curves, as the pass begins a slow descent along the plateau. At the 1.1 km mark, there is a very sharp 90-degree turn to the right, leading into a short straight which dips down into two gentle left-hand bends. A fairly long straight of 400 metres, with a slight ascending gradient, concludes this section of the pass, the view off to the left down into the valley far below giving you a hint of the steep descent which is about to follow.

At the 2.2 km mark, there is a sharp 90-degree right-hand corner, and suddenly the view opens up to reveal the second phase of the pass. The gradient decreases sharply as the road enters a short straight. The rocks on the right have been blasted away to make room for the traverse, revealing multiple sedimentary layers, and a steep unguarded drop-off presents itself on the left. There are a few culverts interspersed throughout this section, each of them marked by a low stone wall on either side of the road.

Wonderful scenery from Pitseng PassIncredibly good scenery along this pass / Photo: 66 Square Feet

Two shallow left-hand bends take the heading directly into the north, then a long right-hand curve follows the mountain back towards the east. The road condition does deteriorate along this part of the pass, mainly caused by water runoff. In wet weather, pay particular attention throughout this section, as the road slopes slightly down towards the steep drop-off on the left. The consequences of a slide over the edge would be disastrous!

A series of shallow left and right bends follow each other in sequence as the road continues its steep descent, tracking a natural contour line down the mountain. Floodwater has caused a deep ditch to develop on the right-hand side, which is probably a good thing as it forms a natural catch barrier for rocks falling from the hillside. At the 3.8 km mark, the gradient flattens out and the road straightens up, signalling the end of the second section of the pass.

It would be easy to mistake this point for the end of the pass, but this is certainly not the case. For the next 1 kilometre, the road follows the spine of the ridge in a more or less straight line, heading directly east. Beautiful views over the valley on the right-hand side are presented, and the flat pastures on the left give way to some steep cuttings as the end of this straight is approached.

[Video cover photo: Mike Leicester] 

At the 4.9 km mark, the road enters a hairpin bend of 150 degrees to the left, and the descent begins again. From the hairpin, the road drops down through a short straight of 550 metres, then curves through a shallow S-bend as it follows the shape of the mountain. A deep furrow has been eroded on the left-hand side by rainwater and the drop-off on the right is again unguarded, but thankfully this time the road slopes away from this hazard.

Still descending steeply, the road meanders through a grove of alien trees, then suddenly enters a hairpin to the right of 150 degrees, the sharpest corner on the whole pass. This is followed by a short straight of 100 metres, then by another sharp 100-degree right-hand corner.

Near the hairpin on Pitseng PassPitseng Pass - Approaching the hairpin / Photo: Mike Leicester


The gradient flattens out slightly as the road now bends and twists its way down the valley. The steep cuttings on the right have exposed some beautiful rock formations, and the vegetation changes completely from open grasslands to thick trees and bush as the altitude reduces. Even cactus trees start to appear at intervals along this stretch of road! The views on the left towards the Luzi River and straight ahead of you towards the tall mountains in the east are stunning, but you still need to pay attention as the road is narrow and not in a particularly good condition.

The last part of the pass offers up a few more sharp corners, including a nasty S-bend at the 7.2 km mark, but the view is much more open and these are easily negotiated. Beware of corrugations which may skitter your vehicle around through these bends. The road continues to descend all of the way up to the 8 km mark, where the end of the pass is reached at a natural low point. Continue straight on towards the east through Luzi Poort for another 31.5 km to reach the tarred R56. At this point, turn left to get to Mount Fletcher, or turn right to head towards Maclear via Moordenaarsnek and Katkop Pass.

Text & video footage by Mike Leicester 

Fact File:


S30.764571 E28.285371


S30.764571 E28.285371


S30.748181 E28.334810














8 km




15 minutes


60 kph (MR00837








Mount Fletcher (51 km)

Route Map:

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Route files:

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


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