Van Stadens Pass (R102)

Read 11341 times
Van Stadens Pass with new bridge visible on the N2 Van Stadens Pass with new bridge visible on the N2 - Photo: Photo courtesy of stonemansa

The original pass was named after one of the area's pioneer farmers - Marthinus van Staden, who was the first person to plot a rudimentary track through the Van Stadens River Gorge. By 1867 the Cape Government decided to rebuild the pass to acceptable standards for wagon traffic. The actual construction was managed by George Apsey from 1865 to 1867.

Over time the pass was modified and tarred in the 1950's. When the N2 was rebuilt and improved, a new bridge was built which would span the Van Stadens River gorge and in the process completely remove all aspects of a mountain pass. Similar changes took place at several big bridges along the N2, such as Storms River, Bloukrans and Grootrivier. It takes about 30 seconds to drive over the gorge on the N2 today, which is fine if youre in a hurry, but the charm of the old pass is still available to those with a some extra time to spare. The downside of the tall new bridge is that it saw its first suicide victim soon after being built. One suicide followed another and soon the new bridge became known as the Bridge of Death. Authorities have subsequently erected cages along both sides and a call centre is on standby to help desperately depressed people.

Whilst the old pass still holds its charm and allure, the new bridge casts a sombre mood on an otherwise beautiful river gorge.

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 1080 HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

[Video cover photo: 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: To approach from the west (the direction which we have filmed it), head east from Humansdorp on the R102 or to save time, take the N2 and take the off-ramp 707 (Van Stadens Pass / Crossways) at GPS S33.898605 E25.165680. Turn right at the end of the off-ramp and cross over the N2. Drive for 750m to the T-Junction with the R102. Turn left and head east for 850m to arrive at the western start of the pass.

Cuttings on the old Van Stadens PassImpressive cuttings on the western descent / Photo: Trygve Roberts

For those wanting to drive it from the PE side, head west on the N2 from Port Elizabeth for approximately 40 km. Take off-ramp 713 (marked Uitenhage / Van Stadens Pass) at GPS S33.909383 E25.234086. At the end of the off-ramp, turn left and drive westwards for 1,2 km to arrive at the eastern start of the pass.

The pass (designated as the R102 route) is located 40 km West of Port Elizabeth and 50 km East of Humansdorp within a few kilometers of the coast, right next to the N2. Unlike the old Storms River Pass, which has been closed to traffic, this one also exudes all the original tell tale design traits of Thomas Bain. A year later in 1868, a massive flood washed away major sections of the pass and bridge, resulting in a complete rebuild. Constant improvements and widening took place over the next hundred and twenty years. It was tarred between 1950 and 1953. The pass served the Eastern Cape community well  - up till 1971 - as the main national road between Port Elizabeth and Humansdorp. It is still in minor use today, although with much lower traffic volumes as the new N2 carries the heavy traffic just a few hundred meters to the north. 

Moonrise over van Stadens PassA beautiful moonrise near the Van Stadens Pass / Photo courtesy of Godfrey Carter The pass starts at 209m ASLat the western side and descends 140 vertical meters to the old bridge [89m ASL]. There is ample parking on the western side with some picnic facilities. Here you can get a good view of the lovely old bridge as well as the towering concrete structure of the new bridge in a single frame.

The ascent up the eastern side of the gorge is almost the same height as the descent. The average gradient works out at 1:15 with nothing steeper than 1:10.

There are 20 bends, corners and curves on this pass resulting in very few straight sections and consequently few opportunities to overtake. The road is also of minimum width for two way traffic and there are no safety shoulders, so pedestrians and cyclists need to be very careful.

By 1971 a new bridge was commissioned to span the 140 meter deep gorge. This bridge would capture the unenviable title of 'Bridge of Death' as only 12 days after opening, it claimed it's first suicide victim. By the end of 2012 some 87 people had lost their lives by jumping off the bridge. This works out at one death every 18 months. The new bridge has gathered a maccabre attraction of unhappy and depressed souls. Rescuers have spoken of a 'chill in the air' - this gloomy reputation has somewhat overpowered the grandeur of the old pass.

The bridge of DeathVan Stadens River Gorge with the Bridge of Death spanning the entire gorge in a single span / Photo by stonemanSAA multi million Rand camera monitoring system with a permanently manned councilling centre nearby was established in 2005 after a Jhb father lost his daughter to suicide at the bridge. To date, more than 20 people have subsequently been saved through this initiative. Sturday steel cages have been constructed along both sides of the bridge for the entire length, making it very difficult for anyone to to jump. The Bridge of Death name tag is inexorably connected to the new Van Stadens bridge which looks down on the old pass. It has become a part of the overall history of the pass.

The photo shows the view looking south down the Van Stadens River Gorge with the Bridge of Death spanning the entire gorge in a single span. This was the first bridge of its kind to be built in South Africa and up till the Bloukrans bridge was built some 60 km further west on the N2, this was at the time, the longest single span concrete bridge in Africa and the sixth longest in the world. The Bloukrans bridge now holds all those records. On a lighter note, you can visit the lovely Van Stadens Pass Nature Reserve, which can be found on the northern side of the R102 on the PE side of the pass. Admission is free. Now there's something to be happy about!

Fact File:


S33.908692 E25.177032 


S33.911272 E25.195241


S33.914927 E25.217748














4,3 km




10 minutes


40 - 60 kph


Tar (R102)






Port Elizabeth (40km)

Route Map:

Use these powerful features to get the best use out of the map:

  • Choose either Map View or Satellite View (overlaid on the map detail.)
  • Zoom in and out; rotate in any direction.
  • Use the Get Route'feature (directly beneath the map): type in your address to get a personalised route straight from where you are to the pass, with time and distance included.
  • Detailed written and printable directions.
  • Drag the 'little orange man' icon onto the pass for a complete 360° tiltable "street view".

From Address:

Route files:

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

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter with News and Updates from Mountain Passes South Africa

Subscribe to our Site

Subscribe for only R350 a year (or R250 for 6 months), and get full access to our website including the videos, the full text of all mountain passes articles, fact-file, interactive map, directions and route files.



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.

Master Orientation Map

Master Orientation Map 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.

View Master Orientation Map...