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The Western Cape

Pienaarspoort is a north-south running poort through the local mountains north-west of Touwsrivier, which run along the east-west axis. It's slightly longer than an average poort at 5,8 km, but so typical of a poort, only has a small altitude variance of 97m. The poort is beautifully remote, despite it being only 20 km west of the busy N1 highway. You are highly unlikely to see another vehicle on this road, which will provide a sense of solitude and isolation. The surface is very stony and rough and we don't recommend this road for low clearance cars, but a 4x4 is not mandatory.

 

This is without question a bucket list pass and if you're a gravel pass aficionado, then doubly so. After the long flat plains of the Koue Bokkeveld have been traversed, this pass comes as something of an eye opener as the summit is approached and suddenly the whole pass is there winding its way laboriously down the western flank of the big ravine carved out by the perennial Leeurivier in the Southern Cederberg. It ends at a delightful camping spot named Balie's Gat.

This road is not for the faint-hearted as it is single width only and many parts of the road are propped up by some very basic dry packed stone walls. These are more or less in the fashion of Thomas Bain's dry packed walls, but the construction work itself is much more rudimentary.

It takes about 20 minutes to descend the 205 metres over a total of 2,4 km and produces an average gradient of 1:12. The road has serious gradients of up to 1:6, plus it is very bumpy and rocky. Ideally a 4x4 is required and especially the climb back out of the valley is much better in low range. If you're towing a trailer, then low range is a definite requirement. Note that it is a cul-de-sac and the only way out of the valley is the same you enter it.

 

This is an unusual pass in many respects. It has no less than four false summits and displays an altitude variance of 273m over just under 10 km. Although the average gradient is a mild 1:36, there are some sections that are very steep at 1:5. It's located just north-west of Montagu to the north of the famous Koo Valley.

The pass is named after the old and historic Pietersfontein farm which lies at the end of the pass on the north-western side. On offer is a lovely drive through deep kloofs, juxtaposed with wide and sunny valleys smothered in fruit orchards and through all of this a small river provides life giving water to this small farming community.

The other odd feature of this pass is that it has very few bends, but watch out for loose gravel as well as slow moving farm vehicles and livestock on the road. If you drive a 4WD vehicle, it is possible to drive a complete loop and return to your starting point via the Patatsfontein Pass.

At 670m this is one of the shortest passes on our database, but this little pass has plenty to offer the traveller. In that short distance are dense coastal forests, steep descents, a gravel surface, some water diversons, nine corners of which two are very sharp as well as fabulous views over the Indian Ocean at the Goukamma Nature Reserve's Platbank Beach.

This short pass of 1,7 km descends 99m in altitude producing an average gradient of 1:17 but it never gets steeper than 1:14. The pass falls under the category of a suburban pass and offers excellent views of the eastern side of Plettenberg Bay as well as the Keurbooms River estuary and beach zone, known as Lookout Beach.

It carries heavy traffic being on the N2 and there a number of cautionaries on offer. Be on the lookout for minibus taxis, jaywalkers, livestock, road blocks and speed traps as well as slow moving heavy trucks. This is a high accident zone, so stay sharp!

This lovely gravel road pass near Montagu in the Western Cape was built by the Department of Water Affairs as part of the access road and construction for the Poortjieskloof Dam. Access is available within certain hours, by permit only. This is a popular fresh water fishing venue. The road is an out and back route and terminates at a view-site adjacent to the dam wall. The road is 5.5 km long and you have to return the way you entered, making the total drive 11 km.

 

The Potjiesberg Pass is a long pass on the N9 south of Uniondale. It descends from the Karoo plateau to the valley that hosts the R62 route. There are some big descents and motorists should exercise caution on this pass - especially heavy trucks can have braking issues here. The pass is broken up into two distinct sections, with a valley separating the two.



The Prince Alfred's Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably Thomas Bain's greatest work. Not only was this an extremely long pass, but it also presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders. Due to the length of the pass, we have filmed this pass in a 14 part series, which includes a separate 2 part video set covering the detour up to the Spitskop viewsite. At 68,5 km it is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use.  The video footage covers the entire pass starting at Avontuur and ending at the at the junction with the N2 just east of Knysna. 

We recommend watching the series of videos sequentially to gain a complete picture of all this wonderful pass has to offer. All 14 videos follow below and are placed in the correct sequence amongst the relevant text section. The pass is Thomas Bain's Opus Magnum - a work of monumental proportions carried out with rudimentary equipment and convict labour, but with science, ingenuity and Bain's "can do" attitude making it all possible. Bain constructed 29 passes mainly in the Cape colony in his lifetime. This pass epitomises all of his unique touches, but especially his exceptional dry walling method of construction.

Allow 1 hour and 15 minutes to watch the full video set and longer if you also want to study the text. Once digested you will be well equipped to deal with the rigours of the pass and the knowledge gained will greatly enhance your journey.

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.



 

The Prinsrivier Pass should not be confused with the Prinsrivierpoort, which lies a few kms fiurther to the south east, on the same river. It's an unofficial pass and is technically a mixture between a pass and a poort. Whatever you decide to call it, you can enjoy a beautiful traverse of the Prinsrivier Valley with its green pastures. There are some very tight corners, narrow bridges and fairly steep gradients to keep the route interesting with fabulous views of big mountains on either side of the road. You can also pay a visit to the Prinsrivier Dam, with its crystal clear mountain waters.

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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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