Franschhoek Pass is also called Lambrechts Road, though - more poetically - a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as Olifantshoek ("Elephants Corner') after the now mythical herds of elephant which once roamed these valleys and mountains. This long, steep and dramatic pass with its variety of scenery was South Africa's first properly engineered road. During weekends city folk stream to the pass on bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards, cars and SUV's to enjoy it's sheer magnificence.
This has to be one of the most iconic gravel roads in South Africa, holding almost pilgrimage status to gravel-road devotees. It winds through 37km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass, and terminates in the Gamkaskloof - reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).
Due to it’s length, we have produced a multiple video set to help orienteer first time drivers. We discourage anyone from trying to complete this as an out and back drive in a single day, due to the slow average speed of around 25 kph. Besides the time issue, it would be a shame to have to rush through this magnificent part of South Africa and not have the time to allow the Gamkaskloof to work its magic on you.
This short, rough gravel road winds its way up the slopes of the Goukamma River Valley just to the north of the N2 between Knysna and Sedgefield. The pass offers great views over the Ganzvlei farm, after which it is named, where it nestles on the green banks of the Goukamma River. The railway line (now defunct) lies between this pass and the N2. The road is primarily used by loggers living in the mountains and it's not suited to sedan vehicles, but any vehicle with good ground clearance will manage, although we recommend a 4WD vehicle is being optimal.
The 11,7 km long Garcia's Pass has a long and winding history predating 1860. It connects the farming town of Riversdale on the coastal plateau, with the inland Karoo town of Ladismith. The effective combination of Garcia's Pass and its sister-pass, the Tradouw Pass, did much to extend trade into the interior during the pioneering days of the 1820 Settlers.
This lesser known, Southern Cape pass is often ignored in favour of the much more famous Tradouw Pass 30 km to the west, between Suurbraak and Barrydale. It is a beautiful drive at any time of year - particularly the upper-plateau section where the road winds gently between the hills, mimicking the course of the river.
It's a long pass at 11,6 km and has an altitude variance of 397m with mostly easy gradients, but the southern side closer to Riversdale can get a bit steep at 1:10. The road is maintained to a high standard and has a good safety record. It is suitable for all vehicles.
The Gifberg (Poison Mountain) Pass is a challenging gravel pass (with two short tarred sections over the steepest parts) that ascends the Matsikamma mountain and connects the mountain top farms of the Gifberg with Vanrhynsdorp about 20 km to the north. The pass offers outstanding views, hiking trails, San rock-art, wildflowers, rockpools and waterfalls. It is the source of the Troe-Troe river which flows northwards through Vanrhynsdorp. The pass was originally built in 1917 and improved, widened and partially hard-surfaced over the years in an effort to improve safety.
This rough and overgrown jeep track connects the bridge over the Klein Berg River in the Nuwekloof Pass (R46) with the lower canal area to the east of Gouda. This track is not recommended for novices or for soft-roader type 4x4's. To complete this route successfully you will require a high clearance 4x4 with low range. There is also a high probability of some body or tyre damage as the route is badly overgrown, strewn with rocks and in many places the track disappears in the bush, requiring a scout ahead on foot. We suggest that only experienced offroad drivers attempt this one.
The Goukamma Pass traverses the lovely green valley fed by the perennial Goukamma River with the Ganzvlei farm taking centre stage in this fertile valley. The railway line overpasses the road at the river and this is followed by a long, steep ascent up the eastern side of the valley with gradients up to 1:11. The scenery is fabulous as this is in the very heart of the Garden Route with forest and heather clad green hills topped off with tall pine forests and onyx coloured rivers.
This 6,8 km long pass descends from Riversdale Heights adjacent to the Werner Frehse Nature Reserve, at a fairly steep gradient to cross the Goukou River at the 3 km point, having descended 143 vertical metres. It rises back up the eastern side to end at an altitude of 157m ASL. This pass and the one following it immediately where this one ends - the Soetmelksrivier Pass have been the scene of several serious and fatal accidents over the years. The road has been widened and the corners improved to assist with the safety of the road. Speed monitoring regularly takes place, so it's best to comply strictly with the speed limits.
The Gouna Pass is a gravel road connecting the Gouna Forestry village in the north with the Old Cape Road close to the Simola Golf Estate. It is a spectacular drive through dense indigenous forests and amber, tumbling rivers. It is also sometimes confusingly listed as the Kom se Pad pass as this is the access road from the west to the magnificent forest drive of the same name. Despite the easy numbers of the average gradient at 1;30, many parts of this pass, especially on the eastern side of the Gouna river valley, range between 1:5 and 1:8. Some of these steeper sections have been concreted to aid traction. The Gouna Pass leads to the Gouna Forestry Station and also joins Kom se Pad traverse at that point, allowing a complete circular drive starting and ending in Knysna.
This is a long pass on the N2 at 13,3 km which connects Albertinia in the west with Mossel Bay in the east. The western side is fairly straight with few bends and more gentle gradients, but the eastern side is much steeper and includes a set of double S-bends. The road straddles the Gouritz River - one of the major rivers in the area via a high bridge which spans the gorge adjacent to two old steel latticed bridges, which until 2005 were used as a bungee jumping and bridge swing site for the adrenaline junkies.
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.