Die Nek (R709)

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Excelsior with its church at the end of the main road Excelsior with its church at the end of the main road - Photo: Mike Leicester

Whoever was naming passes in this area obviously ran out of ideas, as this pass is simply known as Die Nek (The Neck). It skirts a prominent mountain on the north-eastern side of the tiny town of Excelsior in the central Free State, and essentially consists of just one long gravel road curve from the north-east into the south-west. The road, although fairly rough in places, is in a reasonable condition, and can be driven in any vehicle except possibly in wet weather. The area has great scenic beauty if you take the time to look beyond the seemingly endless flat plains which dominate the region.

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 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....



[On-car video footage supplied by Mike Leicester]

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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 south, travel along the R703 in a south-easterly direction from the N1 to S28.934882 E27.078045, which is the southern start point of the pass. To approach from the north, start near Winburg at the intersection of the R709 and Fred Osborn Road, at coordinates S28.534985 E27.012575. Travel in a southerly direction along the R709 for 18.5 kms to S28.679256 E27.068503, which is the point at which the road changes from a tar to a gravel surface. Continue along the R709 for 19.7 kms to S28.845505 E27.122063, then turn right. The intersection is signboarded as “Excelsior 13”. Travel for 9.8 kms to S28.921393 E27.091867, which is the northern start point of the pass.

Scenery en route to the passScenery en-route to the pass / Photo: Mike LeicesterWe have filmed and described the pass from north to south. At the start, the road heads almost due south, and ascends gradually as you approach the summit directly in front of you. The road is wide but badly corrugated with loose surface gravel, although soft sand will not be an issue. As you crest the hill at the 900 metre mark, a wide vista opens up before you, and the town of Excelsior is visible in the distance diagonally to your right. The descent begins and the road continues to curve to the right, taking you into a south-westerly heading, followed by a long straight section of 1 kilometre lined by trees on either side. The road continues to descend until the end of the pass is reached at the intersection of the R709 and the R703.

Excelsior is a small farming town in the Free State province of South Africa. It was founded by the farmers in the area in 1910, who wanted a town which was closer to them than Winburg and Ladybrand.

Looking south towards Die NekLooking south at the start / Photo: Mike LeicesterThey needed to decide on which of two farms the town would be established, the farms being Sunshine and Excelsior (Latin), which translated to English means "Higher Up", or in Afrikaans "Hoër Op". The farm Excelsior was chosen due to its elevated location. The first church was erected in the vicinity of where the Farmers Co-op is situated today.

Excelsior achieved a certain notoriety in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when nineteen people were charged for contravening the Immorality Act under Apartheid Legislation (also known as the Excelsior 19). A better understanding of what happened between white males and black females can be read in the book The Madonna of Excelsior by South African-born author, Zakes Mda.

[Research and text write-up courtesy of Mike Leicester]

Fact File:


S28.921393 E27.091867


S28.929012 E27.088932


S28.934882 E27.078045














2,2 km




2 minutes


60 kph


Gravel (R709)






Excelsior (4 km)

Route Map:

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From Address:

Route files:

||Click to download: Die Nek (R709)  (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)

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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

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