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.
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!
The R74 regional road offers a beautifully scenic alternative to the N3 for travellers between Johannesburg and Durban. The route starts off near Harrismith, then traverses Oliviershoek Pass, Bergville and Winterton, before rejoining the N3 just north of Estcourt. For many years, the 23 km section from the R712 to the summit of Oliviershoek Pass was in a terrible state of disrepair due to a dispute between the provincial government and the company contracted to do a complete revamp, to the point where the road was virtually impassable. This was eventually resolved, and in 2016 the restoration work was completed. The road is now in an excellent condition.
Oliviershoek Pass straddles the border between the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, but the majority of the pass falls within the latter province. This big pass, which has a height difference of 471 metres and a length of 13.5 km, is arguably one of the best and most scenic tar passes in the country. The road is suitable for all vehicles, and its wide sweeping bends make it particularly beloved by motorcyclists. If travelling in winter, make sure before you go that the pass has not been closed due to snowfalls.
This pass will enthral with it's magnificent scenery. Named after the lichens which grow proliferously on the mountains, the tarred pass of 3,4 km winds its way around the prominent St. Pierre Mountain. The pass is also sometimes called the 'Golden Gate Pass' due to its proximity to the Golden Gate National Park. The pass has 134 vertical metres of altitude variance, producing an average gradient of 1:21 with the steeper sections getting to 1:15. The road has lovely banked corners but some of them are sharp. The speed limit ranges between 60 and 80 kph.
Research indicates that this pass was named after Herman de Beer, who owned a farm at the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment in 1870 and who granted permission for the pass to run through his property. This is considered to be one of the most dangerous roads in South Africa, and has been the site of a number of fatal accidents. The road is tarred and extremely well-engineered, but some very sharp curves and deceptively hidden corners, as well as weather conditions, have all taken their toll. The pass is sometimes closed due to snowfalls in winter, but in good weather can be driven in any vehicle, although motorists and motorcyclists need to be aware that all of the approach roads from the western side are gravelled.
Named after the little town of Van Reenen, which seems to stand guard at the top of this majestic pass which winds its way through the Drakensberg mountains between Ladysmith and Harrismith along the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg. Unfortunately, the only record that the pass can lay claim to is that of the most dangerous pass in South Africa. Despite this, the long pass provides beautiful scenery as it descends towards Ladysmith in the KZN Midlands from the Free State.
A gravel pass in KZN between Harrismith and Bergville - in the vicinity of the Sterkfontein Dam. The pass starts at 1349m ASL and summits at 1751m. It is 5,6 km long producing an ascent gradient of 1/14 making it very steep. Be prepared to crawl along this road at less than 10 kph and allow plenty of time. Probably between 60 and 90 minutes to cover the 5 km. It is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles with good ground clearance and low range! Remember to drop your tyre pressures to around 1,0 to 1,2 bar to prevent punctures and improve traction. This road is a rough one!
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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