The Richtersberg Pass is a dramatic, but fairly short pass which forms part of the final access road to reach the Richtersberg camp-sites and the Tatasberg chalets. The pass is 2,3 km long and has an altitude variance of 107m, producing an average gradient of 1:21. There is only a single, fairly short technical section, where low range should be used which is at the summit point, where the road is both very steep, as well as rough. The gradient gets as steep as 1:5 at this neck.
The views throughout the pass are magnificent as the road produces a variety of mountain and desert floor perspectives.
The Helskloof Pass starts off by being thoroughly confusing. It's difficult determining where it starts and ends and to add fuel to the fire, there are two Helskloof passes within the Richtersveld area. This one is located within the boundaries of the national park, whilst the other one is between Eksteenfontein and Vioolsdrif.
This is a long, slow pass to traverse, which will take at least one hour, excluding stops, but the visual rewards are well worth the effort. The pass lies fairly close to the main access road to Sendelingsdrif near the SANParks control gate on the western side of the reserve. It can accessed from that point and can be driven in the ascending mode, or driven the opposite way, which is a great way to exit the national park via one of its best showcase passes.
The most distinctive feature of this pass is the presence of the unique purplish coloured aloe commonly known as the Helskloof Aloe, but correctly named Aloe Pearsonii after it's discoverer. The unique aloe only grows in the Helskloof and nowhere else on earth.
The Maerpoort (which translates into Thin Passage) is 9,4 km long when measured from intersection to intersection. It has an easy average gradient of 1:41 and has an altitude variance of 230m. The summit views are exceptionally dramatic and it's one of the photographic hotspots in the Richtersveld. There is only just over 1 km of the total length of this poort which is technically complex. The entire balance of the poort is an easy meander across the sandy desert floor and a reasonably good speed can be maintained, with the only cautionary being the perpetual corrugations.
The views more than make up for the flat terrain as the composition of the geology changes around every corner with small black and ochre outcrops seemingly 'growing' out of the flat plains. Here and there a small shrub or small tree can be seen, but otherwise this poort is mountain desert in its purest form. Anyone wanting to access the campsites at Richtersberg, Tatasberg, Kokerboomkloof or Gannakouriep will need to traverse this poort first.
The Richtersveld National Park plays host to six official passes and poorts. The Swartpoort is easily the easiest of the six in terms of terrain and gradient and provides a gentle introduction to this stunning mountain desert with its harsh and rocky landscape, sandy plains and absence of plant life - or so it seems to the first time visitor, but to the more astute observer there is a whole world of succulents that thrive in this dry climate, if you take the trouble to look properly.
The Swartpoort is an easy meander along a sandy plain amongst some mountain ridges which display black coloured rocks, hence the name, Swartpoort. The poort starts soon after entering the national park at the Sendelingdrif main gate.
This gravel pass offers spectacular views of forests, rivers and waterfalls and will also elevate you by 695 vertical meters. It has a summit height of 1473m which is guaranteed to provide magnificent 360 degree views. It runs through the Blyde River Canyon National Park and is 15,3 km long ends at the crossing of the Mac-Mac River at its eastern end. It is located approximately 15 km north-east of Sabie. The road is an interesting alternative off the main tar roads to get to either Hazyview or Graskop from Sabie.
The pass has plenty of bends, corners and curves to keep you honest - in fact 48 of them, of which 9 exceed 90 degrees radius. The usual gravel road cautionaries apply of ruts, washaways and corrugations and for this pass there is the added danger of slow moving heavy forestry vehicles with long stretches of deep shadow and dappled sunlight which affects the driver's vision.
The Gannaga Pass is a magnificent gravel road ascending 548 meters through the Roggeveld Mountains from the endless plains of the Tankwa Karoo to the high plateaux near Middelpos. The pass does not break any records in terms of altitude, gradient or length, but it possesses an almost ethereal quality from a combination of graceful curves, raw mountain beauty and scope of vision that is rarely repeated in other passes.
It contains 45 bends, corners and curves which include 4 extremely sharp hairpins and another three corners sharper than 90 degrees. The quality of this road can vary greatly depending on recent rainfall and snow and especially when last it was maintained. On the day of filming it was in good condition, but is not always in this state.
Although it can be driven in a normal car, it is the roads leading to the pass in the Tankwa that can be a bit rough for a vehicle without adequate ground clearance. The approach from the south via the south and R355 is often a real tester for tyres that are not in top condition. Come well prepared in terms of the real possibility of picking up a puncture and carry two tins of 'Tyre Weld' or similar product with you.
This steep, gravel road pass lies between Newcastle in KZN and Memel in the Free State. The pass traverses a natural path up the Drakensberg and is located roughly 33 km west-south-west of Newcastle and 15 km north east of the Normandien Pass. It is OK to drive in a normal car subject to conditions being dry. Like most passes in this part of the Drakensberg, it is subject to heavy electrical storms in summer and snowfalls during winter. In such conditions a 4x4 vehicle is much safer.
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is very unusual, in that it has a public road (the R712) which runs right through the middle of it. Starting from the western entrance gate, there is an official pass called Lichens Pass (also sometimes referred to as the Golden Gate Pass) which winds through some of the most spectacular scenery that South Africa has to offer.
Located just 3½ hours from Johannesburg and Pretoria, it is within reach even as a day trip destination, but most people prefer to spend more time taking in the many additional attractions whilst they are in the area. There are a host of excellent and varied accommodation options, ranging from hotels and chalets to guest farms and mountain retreats, as well as activities such as golf, horse riding, hiking, 4x4 trails and white-water rafting.
We have produced the video in two formats. The first video is the unedited full version of the entire pass in real time. The narration corresponds exactly to the points of interests described below. There are another two videos, which are the same format as all our other videos (ie. with Google Earth animations and shortened/edited for quicker viewing. These are displayed at the bottom of the page above the Fact File.
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.