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The Northern Cape

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.

This miniature poort is just 2 kilometers in length and rises only 10 meters in altitude. It starts at 1085m ASL and 'summits' (so to speak) at 1091m and ends at 1081m. This little poort will definitely make the record books - probably being the lowest altitude gaining, official pass in South Africa. It lies deep in the 'thirstlands' of the Northern Cape on the R386, which is a gravel road, except for the actual poort itself, which is tarred.

 

 

This historical gravel road pass was built between 1867 and 1869. It's a long pass at almost 17 km and it has a substantial altitude variance of 383m which produces a fairly mild average gradient of 1:44, but the vast majority of the steeper gradients occur on the eastern side of the pass, where there are some steep sections at 1:5.

Fortunately it seldom rains here, so the road is generally quite safe for non 4WD vehicles. The scenery along which the road traverses is exceptionally dramatic with towering rock faces and a generally bone-dry river bed in view most of  the time. This road is not suitable for cars lacking good ground clearance. This pass should be viewed in tandem with the Wildeperdehoek Pass as they are inseparably linked, both geographically and historically.

 

This minor pass is located some 35 km north-east of Calvinia in the Northern Cape. The name is interesting and a little misleading as this road does not conform to the definition of a poort and is much more of a classic 'down-up-down' profile type road over a nek.  It's one of those roads not many people know about and is a perfect road to explore by car, 4x4 or bike. The road connects the farms to the north of Calvinia with Brandvlei as well as Calvinia itself. With an average gradient of 1:54 no-one will struggle to climb over this little pass. The road reaches its steepest point on the northern side of the summit where the gradient reaches 1:11.

We filmed this little pass very early in the morning in the late autumn of 2017. There is a remarkable sense of space, peace and solitude and the views of the mountains around the northern side of Calvinia are absolutely breathtaking. The road is generally in a reasonable condition, but as is the case with all gravel roads, this can change rapidly after rain, so drive below 80 kph and beware of corrugations. The shakiness in our video is evidence of the corrugations on this road (this despite deflated tyres and operatring in full 4WD).

Neuspoort is unusual in that it consists of two distinct sections, separated by a flat plateau in the middle. It is named after the small range of mountains through which it traverses, called the Neusberge. It is located on the N14, the national road which connects Johannesburg in the east with Springbok in the west. The road is in an excellent condition and should not present any problems, provided that the speed limits are adhered to. The route between Keimoes and Kakamas is incredibly scenic, with spectacular contrasts between the Kalahari Desert on the northern side of the road and the hundreds of green vineyards located all along the Orange River on the southern side. The western portion of this road is also locally known as Bobbejaankrans or Baviaanskrans, which both mean the same thing.

 

Ottaspoort Pass is a secondary farm style gravel road designated as the P2937, that connects farms with Garies in the north-west and Loeriesfontein in the south-east. It is located about 35 km south-east of Garies and is accessible off the R358 or the the N7 depending on your direction of approach. The poort runs on the east/west axis close the border of the Western and Northern Cape.

The Ouberg Pass is a much revered gravel road pass by adventure travellers and is questionably the most impressive gravel pass in the Northern Cape. It is an impressive pass with an altitude gain of 820 meters over 10,4 km to produce a stiff average gradient of 1:13 but the steepest parts are at 1:6 - which is steep! It traverses a ridge of the Roggeveld Mountains north-west of the Verlatenkloof Pass (which is on the R354), and summits at 1402m on the upper Karoo plateau and it's a 40 km drive from the summit into Sutherland.

This is a major pass by South African standards and contains 44 bends, corners and curves, which include 8 hairpins and another 4 corners sharper than 90 degrees, as the road snakes its way laboriously down the mountain. Despite the size and scope of this pass, the gradients, although steep, are fairly consistent and the designer plotted a good line, making the pass safe to drive.

There is one large viewsite about 1/4 way down the pass, which provides a safe, level stopping point for many vehicles, where the views are spectacular. The pass does get snow from time to time in which case it should be avoided completely (even in a 4x4) as the drop offs are extreme and unguarded where an uncontrolled slide could spell disaster.

The Oukloof Pass is a basic gravel farm style road running through the Nuweveld Mountains on the North/South axis about 40 km SSE of Fraserburg in the Northern Cape. It's just under 9km in length and climbs 340m in altitude to summit at 1536m ASL. The average gradients are a comfortable 1:26 with the steepest bits being at 1:7 - The pass is subject to snow in winter and can be very dangerous during heavy rain as the pass makes use of a river course and has no bridges.

 

This 6,7 km long gravel poort is located on the R354 between Sutherland and Middelpos in the Northern Cape. It is a fairly minor poort with an altitude variance of only 82 metres and an average gradient of 1:82 which makes it a very easy drive, but be especially careful of corrugations, which can become severe towards the southern side, once the gradients flatten out next to the river bank. The pass summits at an altitude of 1251m ASL and it does sometimes get snow in winter. The steepest section just before the summit has a gradient of 1:14

This is the Karoo, where there is plenty of space and the layers of sedimentary rock that make up the mountains, provide a perfect backdrop to the vast dun coloured plains dotted with low shrubs, but good enough to sustain sheep farming. The name Oupoort simply means Old Path and relates back to the original sheep trekking routes between Sutherland and Calvinia.

Pella Pass does not have the same magical attraction as its sister pass, Charles’ Pass, which is just a few kilometres away to the east. It is much easier to traverse, in that a wide gravel road has been constructed, but the surface is riddled with severe corrugations which makes for an extremely uncomfortable ride. The route connects the little settlement of Pella with the water purification works on the banks of the Orange River, and, for the entire length of the pass, follows a pipeline which carries water from this plant to Pella and beyond. If you intend to traverse the circular route as described in the directions below, then a 4-wheel drive vehicle is essential, but if you do an out-and-back drive of just Pella Pass itself, then any high-clearance vehicle should be sufficient.

 

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Mountain Passes South Africa

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.
 

Master Orientation Map

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