The Nqutu Pass is named after the village at its summit point. This short, tarred pass is fairly steep with average gradient of 1:18 over a distance of 3,3 km. Being close to a busy town, you can expect pedestrians and livestock on the road, minibus taxis and other slow moving vehicles.
The name is of Zulu origin, and is derived from 'isquthu', ‘flat-topped vessel’, descriptive of a nearby hill from which the village takes its name.
Note that the entire pass has double barrier lines, so there is no overtaking allowed.
This short pass of 3,2 km connects Hlobane/Vaalbank in the north with the village of Bloemendal in the south. It has a classic low-high-low profile with a summit height of 1350m. What sets this pass apart from it's peers is the number of potholes (at the time of filming in September, 2021) that have to be avoided. It's probably one of the worst in South Africa and results in drivers weaving onto the wrong side of the road.
The good news is that the average speed is relatively low, so avoiding collisions is quite easy. The probable cause of the poor road condition is the constant presence of coal mining trucks which service several mines in the immediate area. Other dangers include heavy mountain mists and livestock on the road.
Dassieshoogte is a moderate pass located on the tarred R34 route just south of Vryheid. It's of above average length at 6.1 km and has very easy curves with gentle gradients. It parallels the railway line for much of its length, under-passing it just after the northern start. The pass has its summit point close to the northern end followed by a long undulating plateau in the middle and a lower false summit towards the southern end.
The road is generally in a good condition and has safety shoulders throughout. It is suitable for all vehicles.
Lundy's Hill is a major pass located on the tarred R617 trunk route between Howick and Bulwer. It's 21 km long and contains 35 bends, corners and curves, most of which are easy. The altitude variance of 505m converts into an average gradient of 1:41 with the steepest parts measuring in at 1:9. This pass is unkindly referred to a "hill". During our research of this pass, we could not uncover any meaningful history on the naming of Lundy's Hill.
The pass has a classic inverted vertical profile, typical of a pass that descends down to a river and ascends up the other side. The river in question is the Umkomaas River (Mkomazi). The pass provides access to several rural villages, where the scenery is fabulous, especially during the summer months.
The pass lies along the footbhills of the Drakensberg at an elevation of roughly 1400m ASL and is subject to electrical thunderstorms in summer and possible snowfalls during winter. Watch out for slow moving and erratic local drivers, pedestrians and livestock plus dogs on the road - and of course the ubiquitous minibus taxis, who write their own rules.
The pass is obviously named after the Mkomazi River (Umkomaas) and displays a typical inverted vertical profile associated with a pass that drops down into a river valley and ascends up the other side. This is a fairly long pass at 11.8 km and has an altiude variance of 521m, which translates into an average gradient of 1:23.
There are 34 bends, corners and curves to contend with, most of which have gentle arcs, but there two sharp 90 degree corners on the northern side, which require careful driving. In earlier times the river was known as the Umkomaas, mainly to suit the Western tongue better, but today the spelling has reverted back to the original Zulu version.
The pass is part of the R56 and connects Ixopo in the south with Richmond in the north. The road is currently (2021) under refurbishment and is generally in a fair condition.
This scenic poort winds its way along the Brandrivier flood plain, mainly keeping on the western side. Like all poorts, this one too is subject to frequent flooding. The altitude variance along this poort is minor, making it a great poort to cycle. The R323 carries very little traffic, making this drive relaxing and enjoyable as the cuttings reveal the local geology as the road passes by a number of attractive Karoo farms.
The road has no paved safety shoulders and has 12 easy bends, corners and curves.
This pass has an inverted vertical profile typical of a pass that drops down into a river valley. There are 44 bends to contend with, including one hairpin. The pass is the first of three back to back passes that drivers have to negotiate that terminate at Port St Johns.
At 7.2 km it's well above the national average and offers an altitude variance of 180m. The pass is quite steep in places with a maximum gradient of 1:6. Although the R61 is in good shape, there are numerous dangers to contend with, which include dense mountain mists, badly behaving minibus taxis, erratic local driver behaviour which can range between ridiculously fast to frustratingly slow, plus the standard Wild Coast hazards of livestock and pedestrians. Commercial vehicles and even large trucks drive here at high speed.
This section of the R61 should be treated with the utmost caution in any weather and drivers should be alert and drive anticipating these dangers at any time.
All the dangers aside, if you have time to glance up from the road, you will see fabulous scenery, so typical of the Wild Coast. The pass is also the access point to head down to the Ntafufu River estuary where the pristine waters offer some of the best fishing in the area in magnificent settings.
This average length pass of 4 km forms a back to back continuous pass with the Umzimvubu Pass on the tarred R61 route between Lusikisiki and Port St Johns. The pass has plenty of corners compressed into those 4 km, so drivers need to be wide awake as the pass traverses three villages - Gemvale, Mdovu and Gcakeni.
Expect pedestrians on the roadway, minibus taxis and the ever present threat of livestock. Some of the locals drive like maniacs, so it's best to let them pass you as quickly as possible. The scenery more than compensates for the Level 3 driving and is typical of the Wild Coast.
Take your time. Stop at the roadside stalls. Support the local crafters and allow the climate and the people to embrace your spirit.
There are three back to back passes between Tombo and Port St Johns. They are, from west to east Mngazi River Pass, Butyabuse Pass and the Isinuka Poort. At 7 km it's well above the national average and displays a moderate altitude variance of 138m. It connects the valleys of the Mngazi and Umzimvubu Rivers on the R61..
The pass is modern and well designed, but the local authorities have had to install several traffic calmers (speed bumps) to slow the taxis down, as the pass traverses several villages on its way to the coast. It offers good views of the Mngazi River and towards the middle of the pass the road passes through the villages of Mkanzini, Zitshece and Ndwalane.
There are a number of cautionaries for this road - Pedestrians and especially school children, dogs, livestock, slow and fast moving vehicles, speed bumps, school buses and minibus taxis. Drive with care.
This pass is well above the national average length at 8.7 km and is one of three back to back passes along the R61 between Lusikisiki and Port St.Johns. There are 58 bends, corners and curves compressed into that length and many of them exceed 90 degrees through tight arcs. It is necessary for drivers to have a high level of concentration on this pass, as it's a busy road and the many courier and delivery trucks and minibus taxis have scant regard for barrier lines.
The pass name is of course taken from the Umzimvubu River which is crossed at the foot of the pass near Port St.Johns. Drivers who do this route for the first time will be in for a few nasty surprises in that here you will find some of South Africa's severest speed bumps. These are unfortunately necessary to slow the wild drivers down - especially near villages and schools. There is one specific speed bump designs which consists of 5 sharp speed bumps, spaced about 1m apart.
Despite all the dangers, the pass offers fabulous scenery and especially towards the middle of the pass where the Gates of St. John start making an appearance. The Xhosa version of the river and pass exclude the U - so "Mzimvubu" For Western tongues having the M and the Z following each other, make it difficult to pronounce. For purposes of indexing we have used the older version of Umzimvubu.
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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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