This impressive pass has a lot to offer. It edges along a ridge of the Drakensberg range and requires a fairly big detour to drive it. The pass consists of a mix of tar/ paving and gravel and is 12 km long and falls mostly within the boundaries of the Witsieshoek Transfrontier Park. It's an out and back pass which ends at the Witsieshoek viewpoint, which is the springboard for a number of hiking and climbing routes. Parts of the road cross into the Royal Natal National Park World Heritage Site.
The pass is peppered with bends - 59 of them in total, of which 12 exceed 90 degrees radius. This is a big ascent of 658m, but the fairly long distance takes the sting out of the average gradient which measures in at 1:20, but be aware that some of the steeper sections are very steep at 1:5. An overnight stay at the well run Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is the main reason most people drive this road, and for hikers and climbers the end of the road is Sentinel peak car park which gives access to the Amphitheatre - a springboard to the raw beauty of the Drakensberg.
Highmoor Mountain Reserve is located to the west of Nottingham Road and Rosetta in the KZN Midlands, close to Kamberg and Giant’s Castle. The pass itself is the access route up to the main campsite and trout dams located on the summit of the Little Berg. The road surface consists of gravel, concrete and broken tar sections, but it can be traversed in any vehicle, provided that the weather conditions allow. With a summit altitude of just under 2000 metres, the area is often blanketed in snow during the winter months, sometimes forcing closures of the pass. When snow is around, or during heavy rain, do not attempt the pass at all, or at the very least not without being in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer.
This is a short, steep climb over a big hill, about 6km to the north-west of the summit of Mullers Pass on the Free State side of the Drakensberg. The pass is only 1,5km long but has steep gradients with a maximum of 1:5. In wet weather, this will cause some traction issues for non 4WD vehicles. The pass gives access to several 4x4 routes as well as to the Kranskop area and is a prequel to the Lafrashoogte Pass on the way north to Memel in the Free State.
This is a short, steep, but minor climb over a hill on the gravel road linking Newcastle in KZN with Memel in the Free State. The pass has an average gradient of 1:16, but the climb up the steeper eastern side is as steep as 1:7. The road is important for gravel pass fans as it gives access to both the Normandien and Mullers Passes.
This beautifully scenic, high altitude, modern tarred pass is located on the R58 between Barkly East and Lady Grey. The 10 km long pass descends steadily through majestic mountain scenery to cross the dominant local river, the Kraai River (Crow River) at approximately the halfway point. The descent down the western side offers fabulous views of the Kraai River which has carved a series of serpentine like bends through the landscape. This is a safe, well-engineered road, providing the speed limits are adhered to, but dangerous when there is snow or ice on the road.
This beautiful, long, tarred pass winds it's down the escarpment on the R533 between Graskop in the east and Pilgrim's Rest in the west. The scenery is breathtaking, with forests, waterfalls, ghost towns, old mines and birdlife in abundance. This is a fairly steep pass, especially on the eastern side with gradients around 1:10.
With 59 bends, corners and curves, drivers need to stay alert and be particularly wary of oncoming vehicles appearing on the wrong side of the road on some of the blind corners. The single, continuous barrier line is badly faded which adds to some drivers essentially ignoring the overtaking restrictions. Having no safety shoulders and dense vegeattion which grows right up to the tarmac, adds to the dangers. There are a number of cautionaries for this pass which include a fairly narrow, shoulderless surface with the occasional pothole, some extremely sharp corners, negative banking, rain, dense mountain mists as well as heavy trucks and minibus taxis that use the road. To add to this the pass offers hardly any opportunities for overtaking. Drivers who end up behind slow moving trucks, tend to become frustrated and end up taking huge risks, which can results in a head on collision. There are very few places to stop safely.
This steep gravel road pass is located approximately 15 km South west of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape and rises 188 vertical meters over a distance of 4,8 km through rugged mountainous scenery. The average gradient is 1:12, with some of the steeper sections at 1:4. The pass is well designed and presents few dangers, except in wet or snow conditions.
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!"
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.
Ed Note: July, 2022 - Potholes have started reappearing on this road and a portion (half) had collapsed and slid down the hill. Proceed with caution.
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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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