Windnek is a minor gravel road pass which weaves its way through the conical koppies and flat plains in the heart of the Karoo. Situated some distance off the beaten track, the pass offers the intrepid traveller some stunning semi-desert scenery, and an insight into the hardships of farming in this arid region. Paradoxically, it is also located adjacent to the largest inland body of water in South Africa – the Gariep Dam. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, weather permitting.
Although all official sources list the name of this pass as “Koeisehoogte”, it is far more likely that the correct spelling should in fact be “Koei Se Hoogte” (Cow Heights). The pass is located on gravelled farm road, just off the N2 highway close to Heidelberg in the Western Cape. It is quite long, at 7.4 kilometres, with an altitude variance of just 107 metres, and traverses an area of lush pastures consisting mainly of cattle farms, thus further justifying the name.
Kiewiet Se Hoogte is a minor gravel road pass located near Loxton in the Northern Cape. “Kiewiet” is the Afrikaans name for a species of bird, originally called a plover in English, but more recently referred to as a lapwing. It is most likely that the subspecies which gave its moniker to the pass is the Blacksmith Lapwing, whose vernacular name is derived from its repeated metallic “tink, tink, tink” alarm call, reminiscent of the sound a blacksmith’s hammer makes as it strikes an anvil.
When you're on your way to Rhodes and heading for the major gravel passes in this mountainous part of the Eastern Cape, this is the first little pass that gets you off the R58 main route and into the remoter part of the southern Drakensberg. From here you won't see tar again for a long time.
At 5,7 km the pass is of moderate length, and it has an equally moderate altitude variance of 156m. The steepest parts are at 1:9 and should present no problems for any type of vehicle in fair weather. However, with a summit altitude of 2088m ASL this pass is regularly smothered under a thick blanket of snow. It's best avoided under those circumstances. On the day of filming, after heavy rain, the road was slippery requiring 4WD.
Bosnek is a substantial gravel pass of over 9 km in length that descends through a westerly outlying section of the Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve. The altitude variance is 418m and with a summit height of 1121m ASL you can be assured of sweeping views over the reserve with it's densely wooded mountains and attractive dam nestling at the bottom of the valley. The road is nicely engineered with a maximum gradient of 1:8, so the going is fairly comfortable for most vehicles. There are however some very sharp corners including one horseshoe bend and one hairpin, where speed has to be reduced to 30 kph. These are all well signposted with ample warning signs. The road is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather. Like all gravel roads, this road is subject to washaways and corrugations. Adjust your speed according to current conditions.
This 19km long, gravel pass winds northwards up the Amathola escarpment through the beautiful Mpofu Nature Reserve, offering not only stunnng scenery and wildlife, but also some rich history and folklore. Entrance is free (at the time of writing in June, 2016) but there are gated control points at the foot and summit of the pass, where one has to sign in and out. This is the longest of the three local passes that traverse the Mpofu and Fort Fordyce Nature Reserves - the other two passes being the Fullers Hoek Pass and the Bosnek Pass. All three can be driven in a single day making for a feast of gravel road driving through some of the finest Eastern Cape scenery you will find. This pass is suitable for most vehicles in fair weather, but drive slowly as there are a few sections which get a bit rough. In very wet weather, a 4x4 would be best.
The Wolf River Pass connects the mountain-top village of Hogsback with the Sandile Dam and Keiskammahoek to the south east. The pass is named after the Wolf River which is a tributary of the Keiskamma River, both of which feed into the Sandile Dam at the foot of the pass. The 27 km long pass offers a wide range of varying and often spectacular scenery descending a total of 667m producing an average gradient of 1:41 with some of the steeper parts presenting at 1:6. Allow plenty of time to drive this road and expect rich visual rewards. Watch out for logging operations, falling trees, livestock and wild animals. Although the entire pass is gravel, it can be driven in a normal sedan vehicle in dry weather conditions.
Wienandsnek is a gravel pass on a farm road between Bedford and Tarkastad coded as the MR00641. It has an altitude variance of over 200 metres and summits well above 1000 metres ASL. It contains several sharp bends towards the summit section and some unprotected and steep drop-offs. The average gradient is at 1:26 with the steepest sections on the southern side presenting at 1:7. The pass is well worth exploring for its wonderful views and sense of solitude. It is easily accessible off the tarred R63 main road between Bedford and Cookhouse and is suitable for all vehicles in dry weather.
The Slagtersnek (or Butcher's Neck) is an easy gravel road that descends very gently from a natural neck between the two prominant mountains north-east of Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape. The road first crosses the Great Fish River near the start, then approximates the river's course along it's western bank at a higher contour, in a south westerly direction, where it terminates after 3 km at the crossing of a small stream. The pass is insignificant in terms of statistics, but it has a major historical connection - the Slagtersnek Rebellion, which was the major instigator of the Great Trek.
The name Waainek translates into 'Windy Neck' and windy it was on the day of filiming, making the name perfectly appropriate! Every now and again we come across a humdinger of a pass that not many people even know about. The Waainek Pass is one of those hidden gems. Tucked into the well wooded ravines of the Boschberg, Graskop and Witkrans mountains north of Somerset East and mostly falling within the boudaries of the Glen Avon Falls Kloof Natural Heritage Site, this long gravel pass will hold you spellbound, with breathtaking views, sharp corners, technical driving and a big altitude gain. You might even be lucky and spot some wildlife, as we did on the day of filming when a large group of warthogs sauntered over the road near the summit. There were also klipspringers, rhebuck and rooibok about. If you're in this part of the Eastern Cape and you have a few hours to spare, go and drive this one. It's a beauty!
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.