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The Northern Cape

Studers Pass is a serious altitude gaining gravel pass located between Garies and the small settlements of Leliesfontein and Paulshoek in Namaqualand. The pass is the gateway to some of the finest wild-flower displays and forms part of a circular tourism route incorporating the best of Namaqualand. It is a pure and backward part of South Africa, mainly untouched by the heavy hand of progress. A place to rejuvenate your spirit.

Although this is a long pass with a big altitude variance, the average gradients are very reasonable and the pass can be driven in most vehicles, providing the weather is fair. As the case with all gravel passes, conditions can change very quickly for the worse during periods of heavy rain.

This is an official poort, and is marked as such on the 1:50,000 topographical maps, but it is almost impossible to distinguish the actual poort itself from the surrounding landscape. Unless you have a burning desire to drive every pass in South Africa, give this one a miss! It is far off the beaten track, and has no real redeeming features. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in a normal vehicle, provided that the weather is dry. It had rained in the area on the night before the day on which we filmed this pass (not on the pass itself), and the approach roads were a muddy nightmare. Our 4x4 vehicle coped admirably with the conditions, but it was evident that other vehicles had not been so fortunate, judging by the tracks snaking all over the road.

 

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.

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 beautiful and fairly major pass is located right on the border of the Northern and Western Cape between Leeu-Gamka on the N1 in the south and Fraserburg on the R353 in the north. The geology of this pass comprises both the hard weathering sandstone and the much softer mudstone. This latter layer caused many problems on this pass with rockfalls and damage to the road surface. It was completely revamped in 2006 at a cost of R11,2m. The pass is also spelt as Theekloof in the Dutch format as per the official signage. In keeping with the more popular Afrikaans version, the "h" has been dropped.

 

 

Thyshoogte is named after the Thyskraal farm, through which it passes. This pass precedes Jukhoogte to it's south-west in fairly quick succession on the gravel R356 route between Sutherland and Ceres.. Like Jukhoogte, this pass similarly has a few nasty surprises with negative banking, and some sharp dips and corners. There is one hairpin bend which also hosts the steepest gradient. This pass gets extremely slippery after rain or snow and it has no safety rail on the drop side, where the drops offs are very steep. Drive slowly and with caution.

The pass is 4,5 km long and has an altitude variance of 152m which converts into an average gradient of 1:30, but the steepest section near the summit gets as steep as 1:6

Vaalheuwel is an Afrikaans word, which translates into 'Dun Coloured Hills'. The pass is so named after the farm near the foot of the pass. It is particularly apt as the entire vista consists of a large mass of scattered hills which form a broken escarpment towards the west-coast near the diamond mining town of Kleinsee.

This is mining country and the vast bulk of the economic activity revolves around the extraction of minerals, and especially diamonds, from the earth. There is very little agricultural activity, due to the very low rainfall. When driving here on these back roads, be extremely aware of access restrictions near diamond mines as you could end up being in serious trouble if you ignore warning signs.

The pass is of average length at 4,2 km and has a steep average gradient of 1:13 which reaches 1:7 towards the western end of the pass. The steep average gradient is a result of an impressive altitude variance of 314m over a fairly short distance. Other than the usual gravel road precautionaries, be aware of loose gravel on the many corners of this pass and the biggest issue will invariably be corrugations, which is the most common reason drivers roll their vehicles.

This beautiful tarred pass forms part of the R27 between Vanrhynsdorp and Nieuwoudtville and was originally built and designed by Thomas Bain.  It is just under 9 km in length and climbs 595m to summit at 825m ASL,  producing an average gradient of 1:15 with the steepest sections being at l:12. This is a well engineered pass with a good safety record providing you stick to the speed limits. This is amongst the top 10 passes of the Northern Cape and is a must drive offering grand views, tight chicane style corners and lots of variety. The pass is named after Petrus Benjamin Van Rhyn - a clergyman, politician and member of parliament in the old mission settlement of Troe-Troe. The town's name was changed in 1881 to Vanrhynsdorp.

 

Venterspoort is located near Philipstown, a small town which lies about 50 kilometres north-east of De Aar in the Northern Cape. It is difficult to establish exactly which Venter the poort is named after, as this was a very common surname in the area around about the middle to latter part of the 19th century, which is when the town was established. The actual poort is almost indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape, and unless you know precisely where it is, you would probably miss it altogether when driving on the R48. The tarred road is in a good condition, and should not present any problems other than the normal hazards associated with rural South Africa.

 

The Verlatenkloof Pass (translates into 'Desolate Pass') is a substantial altitude gaining tarred pass on the R354/R356 some 30 km south of Sutherland in the Northern Cape. It winds its way laboriously down the Roggeveld Mountains via the Verlatenkloof. It is often still referred to in the original Dutch format of Verlatenkloof Pass, but mostly the "n" has been dropped in favour of the local Afrikaans version - 'Verlatekloof''. Either version will get you to the same pass! You will descend 668 meters in altitude over 14,4 km producing an average gradient of 1:22, with the steeper parts at 1:8. This statistic makes it the 26th longest pass in South Africa as well as 10th biggest altitude gaining pass.

The pass has one or two exceptionally dangerous corners and drivers need to concentrate the whole way down and comply with the speed limits and warning signs. The pass offers wonderful Karoo views, some clever engineering, a guest farm and the geology has been laid bare through the multiple cuttings.

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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.
 

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