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.
Bastard Nek (also sometimes referred to as Bastersnek) is a fairly obscure gravel road pass, situated near Mokopane in the Limpopo province. The road is badly maintained, and the use of a high clearance vehicle is strongly recommended. As with so many of the other gravel road passes in Limpopo, we also issue a soft sand cautionary for adventure bikers. As you approach this pass from the north, you are faced with a daunting array of cliffs which form the Limpopo escarpment, but the road itself follows a natural cleft up through the mountains, and it climbs at a fairly mild average gradient of just 1:22 over the length of the pass.
The Jan Phillips Mountain Road (or more correctly Jan Phillips Bergpad) runs along the eastern flank of the famous Paarlberg Mountain, approximately 3/4 of its height and mainly along the 300m contour - and provides access to the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve, Meulwater picnic site and a vast number of hiking and mountain bike trails at the summit of the mountain. Jan Phillips was a respected wagon maker in the town in the 1800's. It's a fairly long gravel road of 10,8 km that starts and ends at either end of the town of Paarl.
It's an easy enough drive for any vehicle, but the road is quite narrow in places. If you comply with the 30 kph speed limit (which very few people do) you will not have any problems. Be wary of corrugations, which can easily cause loss of control. We recommend tyre deflation to 1.4 bar before driving this route.
This is a very minor pass close to Ladysmith in KZN of only 2.6 km, with an easy average gradient of 1:55 and the steepest parts along the eastern descent being only 1:20. The pass has only a few minor bends and very little to offer the enthusiastic pass hunter other than the Anglo-Boer War history in nearby Ladysmith. The road roughly parallels the N11 which is 3 km to the south as well as the course of the Sandrivier about the same distance to the north, and provides a quieter alternative to the busy N11.
The Prinspoort is often confused with the Prinsrivier Pass, and it's easy to see why. Both passes are formed by the Prinsrivier, which is a tributary of Touwsrivier. It flows from north to south through the Witteberg and Anysberg mountains, where the Prinsrivier Dam and the Prinsrivier Pass are located. It then swings into the east for 11 km where it finds a path around Oshoek se Berg, before curving back into the south. It is at this second southerly bend that it has formed the Prinspoort, where it has carved a natural defile through the mountains, making it a suitable routing for a road. The pass is an easy, scenic drive of just under 6 km in length and connects the R62 tar road with the P315 and R323 further north.
This is a minor pass on a gravel road through a neck, north-west of Memel, on a farm road with moderate gradients and no corners. The only time you need worry about driving here would be in heavy rain or snow conditions, as the summit occurs at 1853m ASL and it does occassionally snow here in winter, when temperatures are regularly well below 0C.
This is a short, steep climb over a big hill, about 6km to the north-west of the summit of Mullers Pass on the Free State side of the Drakensberg. The pass is only 1,5km long but has steep gradients with a maximum of 1:5. In wet weather, this will cause some traction issues for non 4WD vehicles. The pass gives access to several 4x4 routes as well as to the Kranskop area and is a prequel to the Lafrashoogte Pass on the way north to Memel in the Free State.
This fabulous poort provides a natural route for the regional R372 road which connects Prince Albert in the west with the tarred N12 north of Klaarstroom and Meiringspoort. The poort traverses two long mountains over a distance of just under 4 kms with a placid average gradient of 1:54, but hidden amongst the gentle gradients are a few desceptively sharp bends. This a lovely, quiet Karoo poort through a barren and wide landscape. A sense of timelessness exists here, which is a good tonic for the unhurried traveller. This is also Angora goat and sheep farming country.
This easy scenic gravel pass of 4 km., connects farms in the Amersfoort area with farms in the Piet Retief/Panbult area and is a typical straightforward traverse over a natural neck in the Elandsberg range. With easy average gradients of 1:64 and some steeper sections of 1:11, the pass offers lovely views over the vast pastures in this dairy/cattle farming region of South Africa. The road is suitable for all vehicles, except in adverse weather conditions.
This week, we take pleasure in introducing you to a marvellous (and little known) gravel pass in the Western Cape, close to Wolseley. We discovered this pass whilst researching another obscure pass in this beautiful area. Whilst the gradients on the pass are quite reasonable, the road follows a convoluted route with several sharp switchbacks, up the mountain to a higher altitude plateau in the mountains, previously utilized as a pine plantation, but today is being progressively handed over to Cape Nature as part of the Waterval Nature Reserve.
At present the road is still under the control of Cape Pine (the old SAFCOL) and a permit is required to ulitilise the road. We provide details of how and where permits are obtainable. The area is designated for the use of mountain bikers, birders and hikers, but vehicles are allowed up the pass, subject to permit conditions.
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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.