Sani Pass is the mother of all South African mountain passes. Statistically and in every sense, it out distances, out climbs, and out performs all it's competitors with consummate ease to have become the most iconic gravel pass in SA.
Situated between KZN and Lesotho the pass was built circa 1950 and remains a challenging drive in 4x4 vehicles with all the drama, scenery, bad weather and treacherous conditions expected of a pass with a summit altitude of 2876m ASL.
This is high altitude stuff. Go prepared for bad weather at any time and expect snowfalls as late as October. Snow has fallen on the pass in every month of the year, albeit not in the same year.
To maximise on the scenery, we filmed the pass in the descending mode. For most drivers the pass will be driven in the ascending mode for first timers, so we have retained our original 2 part video set filmed in the ascending mode, filmed in October, 2012. The videos appear at the bottom of the page.
The Sandspruit Pass is a rough, gravel road pass in the area to the North East of the tiny settlement of Geluksburg in KZN. This is strictly a 4x4 route route - and you will need low range and good clearance as well. Some sections along the top of the mountain are badly rutted and will probably result in a recovery if the weather is wet (even in a 4x4). The pass has historical value as it was once a route used by the legendary Piet Retief.
Normandien Pass is named after the farm and small settlement located near the foot of the pass on the eastern side, which consists of just of few buildings, a shop and a police station. It is without question one of the best gravel passes in KwaZulu-Natal, and one which many avid off-road enthusiasts aspire to conquer. It has all of the elements that make up a great pass – altitude (at 1995 metres ASL, this is the second highest pass in KZN, after Sani Pass), steep gradients, difficult road conditions, lots of twists and turns, and breath-taking views. Depending on the time of year and the weather conditions, this pass could be driven in a high clearance vehicle, but a 4x4 is strongly recommended.
This gravelled road pass is located on the north-eastern side of the small town of Utrecht in KwaZulu-Natal. The surname “Burger” or “Burgers” is quite common in South Africa, and the word itself can also mean “citizen” when translated into English, so it is a little difficult to establish the origins of the name. But through a process of elimination and deduction, and given the history of Utrecht, it is most likely that the mountain and the pass were both named after Thomas Francois Burgers (1834-1881), president of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republic (ZAR) from 1871 to 1877. The road is in a reasonable condition and can be driven in any vehicle, but it is plagued with corrugations in some sections.
This fairly minor poort is located approximately 30 km north-east of Sutherland and 75 km south-west of Fraserburg in the Northern Cape. In other words, more or less in the middle of nowhere! The 6 km long poort is gravel and is designated as the R356. It is generally maintained to a good standard and summits at 1487m ASL.
This 4 km poort lies in the Hantam Karoo approximately 40 km north-east of Carnarvon. It functions primarily to link the local farming community and is accessed from the R384 in the south or the R386 in the north. It only rises and falls 22 meters producing an average gradient of 1:178 (easy enough for a child in a pedal car!) with the steepest part being 1:12. There are no apparent dangers in the poort other than animals on the road. Being a poort with several streams feeding it, this poort will be subject to flooding. It is best avoided in those rare circumstances. Once upon a time, rhino's roamed this poort. The rest is sad history.....We've posted a pic on the video cover as a stark reminder of what once was.
Quaggasfontein Poort translates into 'The pass of the fountain of the Quagga'. No doubt the extinct Quagga once roamed here. It is a minor poort of just 2 km in length and only rises 32 meters in altitude to produce an easy average gradient of 1:63. There is a steeper section right at the southern entrance of the poort at 1:11. This is a gravel road in typical 'farm style' condition, but it is driveable in a normal car and there are no apparent dangers other than the usual gravel road issues of corrugations with the resultant loss of traction.
The Oukloof Pass is a basic gravel farm style road running through the Nuweveld Mountains on the North/South axis about 40 km SSE of Fraserburg in the Northern Cape. It's just under 9km in length and climbs 340m in altitude to summit at 1536m ASL. The average gradients are a comfortable 1:26 with the steepest bits being at 1:7 - The pass is subject to snow in winter and can be very dangerous during heavy rain as the pass makes use of a river course and has no bridges.
The Ouberg Pass is a much revered gravel road pass by adventure travellers and is questionably the most impressive gravel pass in the Northern Cape. It is an impressive pass with an altitude gain of 820 meters over 10,4 km to produce a stiff average gradient of 1:13 but the steepest parts are at 1:6 - which is steep! It traverses a ridge of the Roggeveld Mountains north-west of the Verlatenkloof Pass (which is on the R354), and summits at 1402m on the upper Karoo plateau and it's a 40 km drive from the summit into Sutherland.
This is a major pass by South African standards and contains 44 bends, corners and curves, which include 8 hairpins and another 4 corners sharper than 90 degrees, as the road snakes its way laboriously down the mountain. Despite the size and scope of this pass, the gradients, although steep, are fairly consistent and the designer plotted a good line, making the pass safe to drive.
There is one large viewsite about 1/4 way down the pass, which provides a safe, level stopping point for many vehicles, where the views are spectacular. The pass does get snow from time to time in which case it should be avoided completely (even in a 4x4) as the drop offs are extreme and unguarded where an uncontrolled slide could spell disaster.
This miniature poort is just 2 kilometers in length and rises only 10 meters in altitude. It starts at 1085m ASL and 'summits' (so to speak) at 1091m and ends at 1081m. This little poort will definitely make the record books - probably being the lowest altitude gaining, official pass in South Africa. It lies deep in the 'thirstlands' of the Northern Cape on the R386, which is a gravel road, except for the actual poort itself, which is tarred.
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.