Due to the 32,7 km length of this mega-pass, we have split it into six parts. We recommend that the pass be driven from west to east for maximum enjoyment. Many sources quote this as being the highest gravel pass in South Africa, but Naude's Nek Pass is actually the fourth highest altitude, publicly accessible pass in South Africa and is a much sought after personal trophy for pass 'hunters' to say: "I've driven it!"
It is superseded by the Ben MacDhui Pass, the Sani Pass and the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (in that order). Zig-zagging its way over the Southern Drakensberg, the pass is a long and slow drive with an average gradient of 1:41, but the steeper parts measure out at 1:7. Considering that the builders were not engineers, but humble farmers, the lines chosen and gradients achieved are remarkably good for the time. This is without question a bucket-list pass!
Michel's Pass is located in the Eastern Cape between Hogsback in the east and Seymour in the west. The 6,5 km gravel pass is in excellent condition (as at April 2018) but is subject to severe thunderstorms in summer and snowfalls in winter with a summit altitude of 1442m ASL. The track is marked strictly for 4WD vehicles with high ground clearance and low range, but since it has been recently repaired it is now doable in a 4x2. It is best to check with local busineses and B&B's in Hogsback whether the road is passable or not.
The Kumajaba pass is quite a climb, ascending 562m over 9 km producing a stiff average gradient of 1:16 with some sections being as steep as 1:9. It's named after the mountain and village of the same name, which are both traversed by this pass.
This is a typical B-grade gravel road found in the Eastern Cape and drivers can expect corrugations, ruts and washaways. During the summer season mountain mists are a regular occurence, when visibility can be reduced to just a few metres. With a summit height of 1509m snow falls occur during the winter season.
Apply common sense and be practical about what your vehicle is capable of. In addition to the above, always expect livestock on these roads, as well as slow moving vehicles, children and pedestrians. The mountains below and above the pass are dotted with widely spread tribal villages, so keep your speed down and stay sharp.
The Fullers Hoek Pass is a well designed gravel road pass within the Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve, starting at 556m and summiting at 1173m ASL. This produces a gradient of 1:13 with some sections being a fairly steep 1:8. The pass is surpsingly well designed and maintained to a reasonably high standard. This allows it to be driven in normal sedan vehicles in reasonable weather conditions. In heavy rain or snow conditions, a 4WD vehicle will be necessary, especially near the summit area with its sharp switchbacks and steeper gradients.
This high altitude pass is a little difficult to find, but offers rich rewards to the traveller seeking out the more remote passes. It lies to the east of a deep valley between Cookhouse (30km) and Tarkastad and connects a range of farms from the Bedford side with the R344. The pass has a significant altitude gain of 289m over a distance of 6,1 km producing an average gradient of 1:21 with the steeper sections measuring in at 1:14
This is one of those remote farm roads, less travelled, where the more adventurous traveller will be rewarded with wonderful scenery and quiet roads where you are unlikely to see another vehicle over the entire route.
Cat's Pass can be found on the gravel road between Butterworth and tiny coastal resort of Mazeppa Bay. The pass is a typical Transkei road of dubious quality and should be driven with care - especially in terms of livestock, minibus taxis, dogs and children on the roads, where most of the rural lands are unfenced.
The pass contains 22 bends, corners and curves within its 6,5 km length and offers sweeping views over forest clad hills and green valleys on both sides of the road. None of the corners are too sharp, but it is rather the nature of the road surface which will determine the speed you are able to travel. There are some sections which get as steep as 1:7. There are four distinct summit points along the pass of which the first one is the true summit.
The Baviaans-Kouga 4x4 route is a Grade 2/3 4x4 route starting (unofficially) at the turnoff on the tarred R62, one km east of Kareedouw and ends some 70 km further north at the Doringkloof farmstead in the Western Baviaanskloof. The 4x4 section officially starts at the neck at the final descent to the Baviaans Lodge. If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation & Overview video.
This beautiful drive through the lush indigenous forests of the mountains north of Knysna, takes about an hour, as it winds its way between Diepwalle in the east Gouna in the west. This is one of the best publicly accessible roads in deep indigenous forests where one doesn't require to be in a 4WD vehicle. The road is technically a pass only over about 20% of it's length, but for purposes of documenting it made sense the film the entire route. The summit is reached a few kilometres before the western end and provides open views of the forest draped mountains. None of the side jeep tracks may be driven, walked or cycled whether gated or not, as all of them belong to state or private forestry. Comply with all signage and obey the speed limits. The road is very popular with local mountain bikers. Please be aware of their possible presence on the blind corners.
This has to be one of the most iconic gravel roads in South Africa, holding almost pilgrimage status to gravel-road devotees. It winds through 37km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass, and terminates in the Gamkaskloof - reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).
Due to it’s length, we have produced a multiple video set to help orienteer first time drivers. We discourage anyone from trying to complete this as an out and back drive in a single day, due to the slow average speed of around 25 kph. Besides the time issue, it would be a shame to have to rush through this magnificent part of South Africa and not have the time to allow the Gamkaskloof to work its magic on you.
This is a tough, high-altitude gravel pass that connects the Wartrail farming valley with the well-known Tiffindell Ski Resort, close to the RSA/Lesotho border. Relatively long at 9,6 km, it rises from 1916m ASL to 2567m. With its 1:14 average climb gradient, this pass can be called nothing but 'steep'! The first 4 km offers gradients of up to 1:5! This is strictly a 4x4 only route and high ground clearance, as well as low range, are mandatory. The pass is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Bidstone Pass.
Most of the climbing is done in the first 3,8 km, where after the gradient eases right off to around 1:20 until the 7,7 km point after which the road steepens again to 1:7 till the summit. The road levels off near a small solitary cottage, which marks the end of the pass at the 9,6 km point, but there is still a fairly long pull of 8,2 km before you will arrive at Tiffindell. Allow at least 2 hours to complete both sections, excluding stops.
Expect rapidly changing weather conditions including severe electrical storms, heavy rain, hail, snow and very strong katabatic and anabatic winds. It you break down on this pass, assistance will be either from Tiffindell or from the nearest farm in the Wartrail Valley. Either way, it will be a long walk. Go well prepared with recovery equipment, as well as appropriate clothing and emergency food rations. We recommend carrying a satphone.
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.
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.