We visit two interesting towns – Darling and Greyton then head north to Mpumalanga to unpack the history of Casper’s Nek Pass.
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We chat about Surrender Hill, the Attequaskloof Pass (old oxwagon route) and we discuss some of the pitfalls of buying 4x4 accessories.
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This big pass is a mixture of a pass and a poort. It's fairly long at 12,8 km and runs along the east-west axis along a valley on the northern side of the Didima Range and the Katberg Mountain. The eastern section gets steep and the first 6 km is where the bulk of the altitude is lost (or gained). This pass forms a western approach to the summit of the Katberg Pass and is a perfect approach for those wanting to drive the Katberg Pass in the descending mode. It also provides access to the summit of the Devils Bellows Pass.
The road can get very tricky in wet weather where a 4WD vehicle will be mandatory but in fair weather most 4x2 vehicles with reasonable ground clearance will manage the road. You will be treated to excellent high altitude scenery. The usual gravel road cautionaries apply - Mountain mists with low visibility, electrical storms in summer, high rainfall, snow in winter, rockfalls, washaways, deep ruts, loose rocks and stones, livestock on the road.
Here is a mountain pass at the outer edge of the scale. Most people would take one look at the state of the road surface and back off completely, but for the few hardy souls with a sense of adventure percolating in their veins, this is one of those extreme passes that need to be ticked off the list.
This is a brutally tough dead-end road, packed with large rocks and very steep gradients and provides access to a sandy bend in the Orange River about 36 km ESE (as the crow flies) from Vioolsdrif. You need to be experienced for this one and preferably drive in a group with full recovery equipment on hand.
Expect soft sand, sharp rocks and corrugations and don't be in a hurry. The road is a dead end and you have to retrace your route back to the start, when youre done enjoying the solitude of the river and the desert. This one is beyond a road less travelled.
This basic 8,5 km route over the Koringberg connects a string of telecom towers along the summit ridge with farms to the north and south and varies from fairly mild to quite complex. The route can be done in a circular format starting and ending at the farm Hoogeleë - with its campsite known as Die Ark - or it can be driven as an out and back route returning back from the summit the same way you ascended. Driving it as an out and back route will peg it at Grade 1 to 2. Driving down the southern side will escalate it to Grade 3 (and higher if the weather is wet)
You will need a high clearance 4x4 to complete the entire route, but it is doable in a high clearance 4x2 'bakkie' in fair weather by turning around at the summit and retracing your route. The descent down the southern side of the mountain is extreme in places, depending on recent rainfall and this more difficult section is probably best tackled by more experienced drivers. The route traverses two privately owned farms, so permission is required to drive the route.
Ossewakop (“Ox Wagon Hill”) looms above the small Mpumalanga town of Wakkerstroom on its eastern side, the peak approximately 400 metres higher than the settlement. It is impossible to miss, as some enterprising residents have created the large outline of a Voortrekker wagon and the dates “1838 – 1938” (to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Trek) with whitewashed rocks on the slopes just below the summit. The route up the mountain is difficult and torturous, so please read the cautionary notes before embarking on this trip. The remarkable views over the town and its surrounds from the beacon on top of the mountain certainly make the effort to get up there worthwhile.
This tough gravel road pass is located entirely within the Grootwater Nature Reserve near Lephalale (formerly Ellisras) in the Limpopo Province, but it is a public road and no restrictions have been applied. It is very long (18 kilometres) and difficult, and could take between 45 and 90 minutes to traverse, depending on your vehicle and your level of experience. It would probably be possible to travel the route in a high-clearance vehicle from east to west, but the opposite direction would require the use of a 4x4. The pass has gained a reputation as a bike killer, and adventure motorcyclists are advised to apply extreme caution and common sense if they attempt this route. Avoid this pass entirely in wet weather.
This poort is the for more serious pass hunter. It's is a rough, two-spoor jeep track suitable for high clearance 4x4 vehicles only. The 7,7 km long poort sweeps in and around several low mountains in the far north-eastern segment of Namaqualand. This is a quintesessential 'road to nowhere'. Carry two spare wheels and be prepared for any emergency on this desolate and lonely road. The poort descends a total of 94m producing typically easy poort type gradients of 1:82 with even the steepest parts being a fairly mild 1:20.
This rough poort of 1,7 km in length traverses a natural gap in the mountains about 24 km east of Klaarstroom. Some of the ascending up the northern side has gradients of 1:10, but once the middle point is reached at the 0,6 km point, it's fairly level from there onwards. There are wonderful views of the Groot Swartberg mountains to the south as you crest the summit. The road leads to the Haggas farm, about 1,5 km beyond the southern end of the poort. This is a poort for the more serious pass hunter and forms an out and back route, although are there a number of circular options if you want to explore the area in more depth.
This is a basic farm road and is sometimes little more than a jeep track. We recommend being in a 4WD vehicle or at least in a high clearance bakkie. This is a dead-end road, so you will need to retrace your route back to the R407.
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.