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The Free State

Gravel passes hold a strange and fascinating attraction to a certain group of adventure travellers and this pass will become one of those that the glitterati will want to add to their bucket list. The reason is that it is absurdly out of the way and is a dead-end for anyone except those travelling to Lesotho. For the enthusiasts, you will be rewarded with glorious mountain scenery, fresh air aplenty and some challenging driving/riding. The pass has steep gradients of under 1:5 and is very stony, which adds to the drama with frequent loss of traction for non 4WD vehicles. It's a long, dusty, high altitude drive with a high probability of experiencing bad weather at any time of year.

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.

This poort lies immediately to the North of the Free State town of Clarens. It is on the tarred R712 route between Clarens and Bethlehem. Other than snow from time to time, the pass presents few dangers, but offers lovely scenery of towering sandstone cliffs and tall poplar trees that line the road as you descend into Clarens.

This 28.6km long offroad route is located between Fouriesburg and Clarens in the Free State and follows the northern bank of the Caledon River in an easterly direction, before changing direction to ascend the mountain. This route is only suitable for the more serious and experienced offroad enthusiast and will require a 4WD vehicle with low range and good ground clearance. Some of the gradients are as steep as 1:4. This route was driven recently (Dec 2014) by one of our readers in a Suzuki Jimny and although he says it was rough, slow and tough, he completed the route successfully.
STOP PRESS: June, 2016: The big rock that had blocked the pass has now been removed and the pass is open!

Oom Louis Se Hoogte is a minor gravel pass located on a connecting road between the P213 and the R34 near Memel in the Free State. It has mediocre statistics, being just 2.5 km long and with a height gain of 73 metres, but it does summit at 1802 metres AMSL, putting it well above the snowline. The road is in a fairly good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, weather dependent. The pass is named after Oom Louis Vorster, a previous occupant of the farm “Sweet Valley”, which is situated on the western side of the pass.

 

Located about midway between Bethlehem and Fouriesburg on the R26 tarred road in the southern Free State, this easy 3 km long pass offers sweeping views of mountains and plains when travelling southwards. It has a mild average gradient of 1:30, but the southern descent offers much steeper gradients of 1:12. The road is safe and suitable for all vehicles.

Approximately 11 km to the west of Memel a ridge of mountains runs on the north/south axis, effectively separating the towns of Memel and Vrede. The tallest on this range is called Rooikop, with a summit height of 2045,2m ASL. Between the Rooikop peak and the next ridge to the south is a natural neck, through which the R34 traverses - this is Rooinek.

Sand River Heights (Sandrivierhoogte)  is located on the national N1 highway between the small towns of Ventersburg and Winburg, and is one of only three passes on this highway north of Bloemfontein. The road is wide, with two lanes in either direction, and is extremely well designed and built, so it presents few dangers, except for the “surprise” factor. After travelling on long straight roads for many kilometres, especially if approaching from the south, the pass seems to appear out of nowhere, and can catch an unsuspecting driver unawares.

Schuilkrans Pass is a gravelled pass located in the south-eastern Free State, near the little town of Marquard. Considering that this is a minor farm road, it is in a surprisingly good condition, except for corrugations in some sections. It can be driven in any vehicle, although in very wet weather it could get quite slippery.

The eastern Free State is renowned for its scenic beauty and the area around the pass is no exception, so it is worth the effort required to get there. There are 12 bends, curves and corners on the pass, 3 of which exceed a turning radius of 120 degrees. One of these is a very sharp hairpin of 160 degrees.

 

An easy and straightforward gravel road flanked by big Free State mountains with sublime views. The road connects the important railway station called Slabberts (where there are large grain silos) with Bethlehem, some 30 km to the north. At 3,7 km the pass is of average length and has an easy average gradient of 1:37, but the final climb up to the nek is quite steep at 1:7. The road is mainly used by farming vehicles.

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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.
 

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