The naming of this long and interesting pass causes plenty of confusion. On the government map it is labelled as Systershoog. This name has been inadvertantly altered by several map sources to read Syfershoog or Syfershoogte. To add to the confusion, it is known locally as the Maermanskloof Pass, the Spoegrivier Pass and the Kharkams Pass. In Namaqualand the manner of word construction is somewhat different to the rest of South Africa and the naming of any word ending in 'heights' is called a 'hoog' as opposed to the more grammatically correct 'hoogte' Thus many names in this region end with the word hoog, which is the correct official name.
This pass is long at 16,2 km and contains 38 bends, corners and curves - some of which are very sharp and have negative banking. The road follows a very different vertical profile to the usual classic pass shape and ends in a steep descent down into the Spoegrivier valley. It connects Kharkams in the east with Spoegrivier in the west and provides an alternative (and much slower) route to Hondeklipbaai.
This old pass which dates back to 1880 is exceptionally well designed with fairly easy gradients. It has been realigned and changed over the last 120 years and has the stamp of Mr. T.W.Bain on the first map plot. At 6,6 km it's not that long, but due to the slow speeds necessary, it takes a fair bit of time to complete the pass. Part of the allure of driving this pass, is the not inconsiderable challenge of navigating your way back to any main road from the foot of the pass. The pass displays a substantial altitude variance of 480m and produces a stiff average gradient of 1:14
Whilst a 4x4 is not necessary to drive the pass, we strongly suggest a vehicle with good ground clearance, otherwise your vehicle will be likely to sustain some damage. Due to the complexity of finding a way out through the plains at the bottom of the pass, we suggest that this pass only be driven in the descending mode.
If you're a gravel pass fan, then put this one on your bucket list. It's for the purist.
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.
Mhlwane Pass is named after the river which marks the start of the pass on the eastern side, also sometimes spelled as “Mhlwana”. It would usually be driven in conjunction with Collings Pass, as they are on the same road and follow one another almost back-to-back. The pass has a simple low-high profile and has fairly mild gradients throughout, making it an easy drive for most vehicles in good weather. It offers excellent views over the KwaZulu-Natal grasslands towards the high mountains in the west and to the north, where the nearby Normandien Pass is located.
This short but difficult little pass is located to the south of the town of Memel in the eastern Free State, on top of the Drakensberg escarpment close to the KwaZulu-Natal border. Named after a scenic farm situated along the banks of the Klip River, it is also sometimes referred to by the locals as Roodepoort. With a summit altitude of just under 2000 metres, the pass is subject to frequent snowfalls in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer, so careful planning is required if you intend to drive this pass. Even in good weather, a 4x4 vehicle is recommended.
This 4 km long official pass is named after the Hartbees antelope, which once roamed these plains in their thousands. The pass is insignificant in the greater scheme of things and has only one gentle bend and a small alttitude variance of only 66m. It's located on the P0663 / R391 north of the much bigger Groot Doringhoek Pass about 20 km north-west of Molteno, just off the tarred R56.
Mielietuinspruit Pass - which translates as Corn Garden Stream - is named after the large beef farm situated near its summit, just off the N11 on a minor gravel road between Ladysmith and Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal. Although not technically challenging, the pass offers the intrepid traveller a “surprise” element, in that it is a much better pass than its name or location would suggest. The road can be used as a shortcut access route from the N11 to the far more significant Mhlwane and Collings passes, which are located to the west. The road is in a good condition, and can be driven in any car, although wet weather might be a problem.
This very minor nek is located on the P2563 gravel road between Doornvlei in the north and Cradock in the south. The 'pass' is just 1,7 km long and has an altitude variance of 47m, which converts into an average gradient of 1:36, with no part being steeper than 1:25. There are no sharp corners or other obvious dangers, other than the chance of finding livestock on the road. This is one of those official passes that completely mystifies logic and does not fall within the parameters of a mountain pass, yet it is well marked on all official government maps, so it must have some historical significance - none of which we were able to track down. If you don't mark it on your GPS as a waypoint, you probably won't even realise you have just driven over a pass.
This fairly off the beaten track pass is located on a farm link road - the P2394 - about 60 km WNW of Cradock. The pass is 9 km long and displays an altitude variance of 237m, producing an easy average gradient of 1:38, but most of the steeper action and sharper bends occur in the last 2 km where the gradient gets as steep as 1:10. You need to know your way around these farm roads and this pass is best tackled with a good GPS loaded with Tracks4Africa, otherwise you will probably get lost in the maze of farm roads to the south of the pass.
Belet is Afrikaans for forbid or prohibit, so the name of the pass no doubt at some point in it's history was a 'no-go zone' The road is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather and like all gravel roads is subject to rapid changes in condition after rain.
Pluto’s Vale is quite unique, in that it consists of a combination of a genuine poort and a steep pass. These follow one another along the gravel DR02039 road that extends eastwards from the R67 near Grahamstown to Committees Drift and Breakfast Vlei. Like the adjacent Queen’s Road to Fort Beaufort and the nearby Ecca Pass, the route was constructed by Andrew Geddes Bain during the Frontier Wars in the mid-19th century. Despite diligent research, no clue as to the origins of the unusual name of this pass has come to light.
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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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