An in depth talk on the newest extreme pass added to the website – the short, but very narrow and rugged Piet Esterhuysen Pass, first built circa 1940 by a few farmers with pick and shovel.
Listen to the interview:
This is without question a bucket list pass and if you're a gravel pass aficionado, then doubly so. After the long flat plains of the Koue Bokkeveld have been traversed, this pass comes as something of an eye opener as the summit is approached and suddenly the whole pass is there winding its way laboriously down the western flank of the big ravine carved out by the perennial Leeurivier in the Southern Cederberg. It ends at a delightful camping spot named Balie's Gat.
This road is not for the faint-hearted as it is single width only and many parts of the road are propped up by some very basic dry packed stone walls. These are more or less in the fashion of Thomas Bain's dry packed walls, but the construction work itself is much more rudimentary.
It takes about 20 minutes to descend the 205 metres over a total of 2,4 km and produces an average gradient of 1:12. The road has serious gradients of up to 1:6, plus it is very bumpy and rocky. Ideally a 4x4 is required and especially the climb back out of the valley is much better in low range. If you're towing a trailer, then low range is a definite requirement. Note that it is a cul-de-sac and the only way out of the valley is the same you enter it.
This record breaking pass has rocketed into the No.1 position as the steepest pass in South Africa with an average gradient of 1:5,567 and to add to this impressive statistic is that it is gravel all the way. It's a short pass at just 2,6 km but it packs no less than 9 hairpin bends into that short distance. We recommend a high clearance 4x4 for this pass.
It's named after the peak that forms the horseshoe bend near the confluence of the Tsitsa and Tina Rivers, called Mpindweni which has a summit height of 408m. The pass presents dense indigenous bush along the first half, wherafter it breaks out into open grassland where magnificent views of the three main rivers can be seen.
This is a road that ends at the last village at the north-western end of the horseshoe bend in the Tsitsa River. Only the most dedicated pass hunters will seek this one out as it involves a long and complex route to get here - and then you have to retrace your path all the way back to Libode. But for those who dare, the rewards will be immeasurable.
Lenong is a tarred but difficult pass located within the boundaries of the Marakele National Park near Thabazimbi. This very narrow road clings precariously to the side of a mountain, with extreme unprotected drop-offs – if you suffer from acrophobia, then this pass is definitely not for you! If you do make it to the summit, the wonderful scenic vistas over the reserve and the Waterberg massif from the various viewpoints make all of the effort worthwhile. A 4x4 is not required, but you will need to negotiate some gravel roads as part of the access route.
Mount Paul stands as a lonely sentinel, surrounded on all sides by flat plains in the Eastern Free State highlands. Being the only high point in the area, it was an obvious site to erect telecommunication towers, and to do this an access road needed to be built. Originally a rough-and-ready offroad track, the road has been upgraded in a number of phases to now include concrete paving and strips on the steeper sections, vastly improving traction for maintenance vehicles. With maximum gradients of around 1:3, this pass is not for the faint-hearted, but if you can summon up the courage to tackle this daunting traverse, the fantastic views from the summit are well worth the effort.
The Ben MacDhui Pass is the new record holder of the highest altitude summit in South Africa at 3001m. It replaces the previous record holder, the Sani Pass [2876m]. This is a new road which has recently been opened. The pass comprises three distinct sections:
1. The access toad to the Tiffindell Ski Resort.
2.The maintenance track for the ski-lift.
3. A two spoor jeep track from the highest ski-lift pylon to the summit point
This is an out and back route and a high clearance 4x4 with low range is needed to complete this drive. We have rated the pass as a Grade 3 in 4x4 parlance and would not recommend driving the route in severe weather and especially not when there is heavy snow. Allow approximately an hour and a half to complete it both ways and add for additional time at the summit. It is often windy and cold (even in summer) so take appropriate clothing with you. The pass traverses private property and it is necessary to sign in at the Tiffindell office before you proceed up the pass.
East of Harrismith a tall sandstone mountain called Platberg, blocks the view to the east, which plays host to the fabled Donkey Pass. This pass should not be confused with Donkies Pass not too far away in KZN. In the middle of this mountain is a deep cleft and it is up this gorge that the Donkey Pass climbs very steeply to the summit, making it the 6th highest and second steepest pass in South Africa. The road traverses a nature reserve and permits need to be obtained. Whilst the entire route with sections as steep as 1:3 are concrete stripped to aid traction, this route is not suitable for normal cars. Low range is essential. For those that do get to drive this amazing pass, you will be one of a select few to have done so.
This little pass is not for the feint hearted. The maximum gradient is 1:3 which means low range gear ratios are essential. This pass has claimed the 10th steepest pass statistic in South Africa with an average gradient of 1:9,1 It is unusual in that it only starts at the summit of the Koebee Pass, itself quite a spectacular and steep pass. It climbs up to the mountain plateau via a single hairpin, at which point some rudimentary concrete has been laid to aid with traction. The road services a single rooibos farm at the summit. Views from the top are superb with the thin ribbon of road of the Koebee Pass disappearing to the right with the Knersvlakte framed by a ring of peaks in the far distance.
Note: It has been reported that the gate at the start of the pass is sometimes locked, in which case there will be no access. Make allowance for this in your planning.
This fairly extreme pass is for the more experienced driver. It descends/ascends 739 meters over 14,4 km producing some exceptionally steep gradients, with some of the sections an adrenaline pumping 1:3. This pass is the main access road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort and is generally well maintained with the steepest sections either having been strip concreted or fully concreted. We have filmed the pass from north to south in the descending mode for maximum scenic value, although this is not the way most first timers will travel the pass.
This pass is not recommended for novice drivers, but it is quite doable in a normal sedan vehicle in fair weather. Should you have booked accommodation at Tiffindell and arrive in a spell of bad weather, the ski resort can make arrangements to get you to the top of the mountain via a 4x4 shuttle service.
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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