This is a complex contour road offering four small passes along its 27 km length. The road generally remains at the 2600m contour level and the vast majority of the route comprises contour road driving as it follows the shapes of the hills and buttresses. The route is doable in a high clearance 4x2 with diff-lock, but when things get muddy or snowy, it is definitely a 4x4 route. Although the road gets quite rough in places, these don't last long and most of this route is Grade 1 to 2. The road connects the Tiffindell Ski Resort in the west with the Tenahead Mountain Lodge in the east, and provides a shorter, but slower alternative to the Naudes Nek Pass. Beyond Tenahead Lodge, the road connects at the Naudes Nek lookout point at 2500m ASL.
Although we have named this route the TTT (Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse) which aptly describes the purpose of the road, this is a more modern take on its routing. It's also referred to by the locals by three other names: The Cairntoul Road (named after a farm on the eastern side of the traverse); Die Patrollie Pad (The Patrol Road) and Die Grenspad (the Border Road). The road has been used for many years to patrol stock theft into Lesotho. There are several small patrol huts, linked with radio sets, which can be seen along the route. These are occupied by 'young local herdsmen' who keep an eye on the hillsides and relay any suspicious activity to the main SAPS base at Cairntoul, from where the heavyweights are dispatched on horseback or by 4x4.
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.
Jakkalskuilnek (“Jackal Den Pass”) is a rough and tough 4x4 pass located on the eastern Limpopo escarpment. The official guide to points of interest in this area, the Waterberg Meander, lists the name as Elandskuiling Pass, but all other references use the given name. Although the pass appears to be fairly innocuous based on its statistics, it is definitely worth your while to make the effort to seek it out, provided that you are driving an appropriate vehicle.
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 is a serious off-road pass that ascends/descends the Drakensberg from the Ingula lower dam site in the south, with the tarred access road in the north, on the lip of the Drakensberg escarpment. It's for serious offroaders only and permits are required. Avoid it completely in heavy rain or snow conditions. The pass climbs 432m over 6,8 km to summit at 1743m, producing an average gradient of 1:16. There is a flat section in the middle and then the climbing gets more serious with gradients of 1:4!
Ongeluks Nek was so named in about 1860 after one of the trekkers in the Griqua trek to 'Nomansland' died from a gun-shot wound. This pass is strictly for offroad vehicles only. They must have low range and adequate ground clearance as this track is usually rutted, muddy and quite difficult to negotiate as can be seen in the video footage. With an AVERAGE gradient of 1:9 it slots in at position number 7 in the steepest passes listing. For offroad bikers, mostly this pass is a tough nut to crack and it has humbled many egos. The pass falls within the Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve. GPS co-ordinates of key navigation intersections getting to the start are given further in the text.
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.
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