This well hidden gravel pass lies in the southern sector of the Northern Cape in an area knows as "Die Hantam" about 40 km north-east of Nieuwoudtville. It is primarily a farm road and offers not only unusual and rugged scenery, but provides a sense of peace and timelessness in this sparesely populated region of South Africa. The biggest attraction to drive this pass is that it descends through an astonishing Quiver Tree (Kokerboom) forest - probably the densest population of Kokerbome anywhere in South Africa. The best time to visit is in late winter and spring when the landscape is a riot of colour as far as the eye can see.
This is a very minor official pass (as per the government maps) which is just over 2 km long and has a single S bend where the gradients get as steep as 1:10 for a brief period, but the whole pass has a very mild average of only 1:68. The pass is named after a local indigenous bush - the Harpuis [Euryops abrotanifolius]. The pass is located about 40 km north-east of Fraserburg.
This is one of several Northern Cape passes and poorts which have been officially listed, but when driving them, they hardly resemble a pass in any way. Finding this one is quite tricky and you need to be a more serious pass hunter with good GPS skills to locate it.
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 amazing and very different pass has a surreal feel about it and it's easy to see how it earned its name. It's barren and virtually devoid of plant life or water leaving one with a distinctly vulnerable feeling. The striking feature of this pass is the narrow valley where passing travellers have built hundreds of thousand of stone cairns along the sides of the track - a modern day ritual to ensure you have a touble-free journey over the pass.
Confusingly, there is another Helskloof Pass just 70 km to the north-west of this one on the western side of the Richtersveld National Park most famous for its endemic Helskloof aloe. We distinguish the two passes as Helskloof (Cairns) and Helskloof (Aloes) for ease of reference.
This pass is quite long at 14,4 km and has an altitude variance of 360m, producing an average gradient of 1:40. Due to the isolated nature of this pass, we recommend travelling in a small convoy of at least 2 vehicles. The pass connects Eksteenfontein in the south with Noordoewer and Vioolsdrif in the north. We recommend a high clearance 4x4 and two spare wheels. Please carry emergency drinking water with you.
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.
This 3,6 km long official pass lies along the north-south axis, adjacent to the western side of a large, dark rocky outcrop about 70 km north-east of Fraserberg. This is a very minor pass and only has an average gradient of 1:72 and is much more of a simple farm road, than a mountain pass, but it's an official pass, so we filmed and documented it. There are no real dangers, like steep descents, drop-offs or sharp corners, but like all gravel roads, it can change its mood instantly after rain. Be wary of corrugations, ruts, washaways and as always livestock on the road.
What this little pass lacks in vital statistics, it more than compensates for in its isolated location and spectacularly open vistas, the likes of which can only be found in the Karoo. The name translates into Honey Nest Heights or Beehive Heights.
Namaqualand plays host to a number of great gravel passes. The Kamiesberg Pass is the closest of them in terms of accessibility and commences just a stone's throw away from the N7 highway. This pass is also called the Kamieshoogte Pass and is sometimes spelt as Kammiesberg with a double 'm'. The pass has an altitude variance of 306 vertical metres to summit at 1114m ASL after 5,5 km producing an average gradient of 1:18. The road mainly carries farm type traffic, except during the spring flower season when the traffic volumes increase substantially as the tourists arrive in droves.
This tarred, arrow straight road is located on the R384 approximately 18 km north-east of Carnarvon. The road connects Carnarvon with Vosburg, 100 km to the north-east. The pass is nothing more than a single cutting through the hillside and only rises 40 meters over 1,4 km producing a very gentle average gradient of 1:35. The old road which traveresed the actual Kareebospoort is marked on our virtual flyover in green and would have been a much more interesting drive than the modern version. If you didn't know better, you would never guess this to be an official mountain pass.
This rugged poort is located on the P2272 about 50 km south-east of Calvinia and 25 km WNW of Middelpos (as the crow flies) and paralells the north/south running Roggeveldberge, which form the western side of the Tankwa Karoo. Not many people know about this poort which with a length of 5,6 km, and an altitude gain of 144m hugs the western side of the Kareehoutrivierpoort. A huge bush fire had swept through the poort just days before we filmed it, leaving the poort looking barren, blackened and stony, but normally this is a fairly well watered poort offering lovely scenery and some greener vegetation.
With an average gradient of 1:39 this poort offers easy gradients and is suitable for all vehicles, but the road in its entirety is not suitable for normal cars. High clearance is recommended.
This is one of the most unusual and dramatic Northern Cape gravel passes offering challenging driving, multiple switch-backs, steep ascents and descents, serious drop-offs, as well as grand views over deep ravines and a sweeping Karoo-scape. This road is better suited to a 4WD vehicle or at least a "bakkie" with good ground clearance.
The pass descends 238 vertical metres in just 3,1 km producing a stiff average gradient of 1:13. There are one or two very steep sections at 1:5. If it is snowing, this will be a highly dangerous road to any vehicle. It is best to not have time constraints when driving this pass, as the going is slow and there are many farm gates to open and close.
Notice: We have received a report that the farm owner over whose land this pass traverses has locked the first gate near the summit, making this pass out of bounds to the general public. Should we receive any news that this situation has changed, we will update this page accordingly. Watch the video and see what you are missing!
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.
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