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The Western Cape

The Pakhuis Pass (meaning 'packing shed' in Afrikaans) begins just outside Clanwilliam, connecting it with the Karoo town of Calvinia and beyond. The pass's surveyor and builder, Thomas Bain, was an incredibly energetic man of many talents, which included art, rock paintings, geology, cartography and engineering. This is a major pass which has recently been fully tarred over its entire length and offers a wide variety of scenery, grave sites, weathered rock formations, picnic sites and some of the Cederberg's finest hiking trails.

The pass is suitable for all vehicles but do comply with the speed limits, especially along the northern switchback section, where the gradients are quite steep and the corners (although nicely radiused by the road builders), are quite sharp. The pass is in the Top 20 passes nationally in terms of its length (26,4 km)  and has a big altitude gain of 824m. Most of the new road follows Thomas Bain's original lines.

This fairly long and slow route includes an easy entry and exit section on good gravel roads, which we have included as they form an integral part of the whole route. The total distance is 13,4 km and includes some basic two spoor 4x4 track as well as good quality gravel roads. A 4WD vehicle is required to complete this route, but in fair weather a 4x2 bakkie with diff-lock will also manage it, as will an AWD vehicle (on the proviso that it has reasonable ground clearance).

Although the average gradient is a mild 1:50, there are a few sections that get as steep as 1:7. This route together with the Pietersfontein Pass forms a wonderful circular loop with the mighty Waboomsberg towering over the valley to the north.. In 4x4 parlance this pass in generally a Grade 1 and only occassionaly becomes a Grade 2. which makes it suitable for novice and intermediate drivers.

Note that parts of the route cross private land, so permission needs to be obtained.in advance.

Like its neighbouring pass, Katbakkies Pass, the Peerboomskloof Pass was originally carved out by the local Khoi people as a cattle path. Farmers later used it as a wagon road to cross over the mountains from the Koue Bokkeveld to the Ceres Karoo. Only recently tarred and 4,5 km long, it provides picture-perfect views of the open, rugged expanse of the Tankwa Karoo and the mountain range separating it from the Koue Bokkeveld

The first 2 km of the pass are tarred and sports a stiff gradient of 1:7. This tarring was done fairly recently and the road remains narrow with no road markings, so don't be fooled by the tar surface as it is still a dangerous pass. The pass initially enters the bottom end of the poort via an S-bend. The second part of the bend is very sharp and immediately a gravel track leads off to the left which goes to a picnic area. Once the top of the tarred section is reached at 704m ASL, the surface is once again gravel, but the gradient initially remains steep as the road heads up towards the plateau section, whereafter the gradients ease off to a more comfortable 1:20. The upper portion of the pass is relatively easy.

This is a short, but very scenic gravel road that follows the poort of a small river. The exposed and almost vertical rocks on the southern side of the kloof are dramatic and some of the rock formations are well worth exploring. The road crosses the (usually dry) riverbed four times in rapid succession. The pass is just under 2 km in length and only has one steep section near the eastern end, where the gradients are at 1:6.

This underrated tarred pass lies on the N12 route between George and Oudtshoorn. It's a long pass at 17,1 km and has a substantial altitude variance of 312m. It offers wonderful Klein Karoo scenery, several impressive cuttings and of course the well known horseshoe bend of 170 degrees, which in Afrikaans is a 'perdeskoendraai' and where the pass takes its name from. This is a very busy road with many trucks and other commercial vehicles in the mix - all of whom seem to be in a hurry. Factoring in a fairly uneven road surface, no safety shoulders and barrier line transgressions, you need to be focussed as this pass has a high accident rate.

The road and the railway line share the northern sector along the banks of the Kliprivier for 8 km, then part company as the road climbs steeply away to the east towards the horseshoe bend, whilst the railway line takes a longer, more gentle gradient towards the west.

The mysteriously named Phantom Pass is the final pass on the Garden Route's string of "Seven Passes" between George and Knysna. The 7,4 km of narrow, gravel road descends to the famously picturesque Knysna River Lagoon, and finds its end-point at the N2. The other six passes are listed at the bottom of this page for easy reference and access.

 

The Piekenierskloof Pass has a long and interesting history dating back to the mid 1800's when Thomas Bain built the first pass through the neck in the Olifantsrivier Mountains, which separate the Swartland of the Cape from the mineral rich lands to the North. Bain named the pass after Sir George Grey, (hence Grey's Pass) but when the pass was rebuilt to a more comfortable gradient in 1958, the new pass reverted to it's original name - Piquenierskloof which was simplified to Piekenierskloof.

A tough Grade 5 4x4 route up the Nuweveld Mountains that is an old route connecting the rest camp at Karoo national Park with the summit area on the mountain plateau and joins the Klipspringer Pass as its termination point. This is for the more serious offroader with a robust 4x4 with low range and high ground clearance. The gradients get as steep as 1:3,3 so be prepared for some nail biting driving. In 4WD circles a Grade 5 is labelled as : "Probable damage to vehicle or possible injury to passengers and driver" Dont try this one alone or unless you have substantial offroad driving experience and understand advanced recovery techniques.

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.

 

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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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