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.
The oddly named Ping Pong Cutting runs on the north-south axis through the foothills of the Drakensberg along the beautiful Lotheni River valley, some 40 km north-east of the small town of Himeville - itself something of an epicentre for hikers and other Berg adventure junkies. The area is packed with nature and wilderness reserves - a place of refuge to regain strength for the weary soul from the mountains and rivers that abound here.
We have not been able to establish the source of the name of these cuttings, but suffice to say it's probably the most peculiarly named pass or poort in South Africa. At 3.7 km its below the national average in terms of length and the altitude variance of only 37m makes this a minor pass in every sense of the word. The cuttings appear in the middle third of the pass and are quite substantial in terms of gravel passes.
The best feature of this pass is the scenery and sense of isolation. It's a good one to to tick off your bucket list, if for no other reason than to say "I've driven the most oddly named pass in South Africa!"
This is an easy gravel drive through the valley of the Bivane river, known as Pivaanspoort. It offers magnificent mountain scenery and if you know where to find them, a few waterfalls as well. The poort is 9,47 km long and presents an easy average gradient of 1:61, but there are a few short sections where things get as steep as 1:11. The poort lies between the R33 north of Vryheid in the east and Utrecht to the west. The road is suitable for all vehicles.
This is a very steep and rough 4x4 only jeep track route in the Drakensberg to the west of the Chelmsford Nature Reserve. It traverses private land and permission to use the route must first be obtained. Together with Brandons pass and Keays Pass, the three form a complex integrated route extending over a large area and can form a challenging circuit for 4x4 groups or club outings. You will need a high clearance 4WD vehicle with low range and recovery equipment for this one and a minimum of three vehicles in the interests of safety.
This is a very minor pass in the far northern sector of KZN. The old pass, which runs higher up the hill, was much more of a pass than the modern version which has been cut out of the hill lower down the slope, closer to the Phongola River. The pass name has officially remained but this little pass is really fairly insignificant. The old pass can no longer be driven, unless permission is obtained from the landowner. We have shown the old road as a yellow line on our video animation clip.
This is an interesting gravel pass of moderate length with some sharp corners and steep gradients. It connects Candover in the north with Magudu in the south-west. The pass also functions to serve numerous farms in this mountainous region of KZN. The road is suitable for all vehicles, but things can get decidedly slippery here in wet weather. Adjust your speed accordingly.
This is a serious off-road jeep track over the Drakensberg starting in KZN and ending just over the border in the Free State. It lies on private land and permission has to be obtained from the landowners to complete the route. The pass is 4,91 km long and climbs 465m producing an average gradient of 1:10,55 with the steepest parts being at 1:3,2! This one is not for sissies!
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.
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.
Scheepersnek is a minor climb over a smallish hill with two tiny changes in direction and an altitude gain of only 64m. It is located 15 km south-west of Vryheid on the tarred R33 route. If you did not make a note of precisely where it is, this little "pass" would probably go by unnoticed. What it lacks in physical presence, it counters with some interesting battlefields history, as this is where the Battle of Scheepersnek took place on the 20th May, 1900.
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.