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!
Legend has it that the name of this pass, which translates as “Guinea Fowl Street”, is not derived from these wild birds, which are plentiful in the area, but from the nickname of the fellow that first pioneered this route, who apparently had a rather unfortunate spotty complexion. Although not particularly steep or difficult, it is extraordinarily beautiful because of the stream which tracks the length of the pass, the lush vegetation, and the multitude of animals that are usually encountered along the road, such as baboons, warthogs, klipspringers, bushbuck, and other small antelope. The road is gravel and in a fairly good condition but there are a few difficult sections, so ideally it should be driven in a high clearance vehicle.
This short, but scenic poort drops down into the little village of Nieu Bethesda from the north-western side. It is only 3 km long and descends a total of 143m, producing an average gradient of 1:21. It is an extension of Martin Street and is often referred to by that name. The poort offers lovely scenery and a pleasant, but slow drive down the poort. Nieu Bethesda is an interesting and quiet Karoo village set in a small and well watered valley, surrounded by tall mountains. The village is beautfully green with tall trees and some very old buildings. It is reputed to be the Central Karoo's best kept secret.
This gravel pass is fairly long at 8,5 km but quite easy to traverse. It is suitable for most vehicles with the possible exception of cars with low clearance. It is only the first 1,6 km which has two sharp bends, stiff gradients and some rough and stony sections. Once through that section the going is easy. The pass has a substantial altitude variance of 286m, but due to it's length the average gradient is an easy 1:30 with the steepest parts being at 1:10. The pass lies on a minor gravel road (P2398) that connects Nieu Bethesda with the tarred R63 road near the summit of the Oudeberg Pass. This is primarily a farming road that serves the local farming community to the west of Nieu Bethesda.
This magnificent poort should not be confused with the minor gravel road poort of the same name which is situated near Thabazimbi. The name is in fact technically incorrect, as the river which flows past the southern end of the poort is the Klein-Sandrivier. This is one of the five famous poorts and passes which allowed early explorers and settlers passage to the Limpopo Plateau, the others being Bakker’s Pass to the west and Tarentaalstraat, Bokpoort and Kloof Pass to the east. The much-photographed escarpment made up by the hills and mountains known as the “Seven Sisters” is clearly visible to the front and left as you approach from the southern side.
Papstraat, which translates as “Porridge Street”, no doubt got its name from the earliest users of this road, who would have camped with their oxwagons nearby and had breakfast here before tackling the daunting Tarentaalstraat, which follows directly after this small pass and which is in essence just a river crossing. The modern day road, although gravel, is in a good condition, but as you will have to traverse Tarentaalstraat as well, make sure that you are driving a high clearance vehicle or riding an adventure motorcycle. The pass is just 2.9 kilometres long, and has a height gain/loss of only 92 metres.
The Truitjieskraal Road forms part of an escape route via the Kromrivier farm and Kromrivier Pass, when the Matjiesrivier is in flood. It's a fairly rough gravel road, which only allows a speed of around 20 kph. The route is 8,5 km long and climbs 108 vertical metres over that distance, most of it over the first two kilometres, with some stiff gradients of 1:8.
After that the road meanders between beautiful weathered Cederberg sandstone formations over a wide mountain plateau amongst pristine fynbos and proteas and terminates at the bridge crossing at the well known Kromrivier farm. The route is doable in a normal sedan car, providing speed is kept low. This road gives access to the Truitjieskraal rock formations, as well as the rock-climbing routes and hiking trails.
Although officially designated as a pass, Spiders Nek struggles to live up to its name, as it is a long, straight, almost flat gravel road near both Excelsior and Marquard in the central Free State, and should be considered more of a scenic drive. The rolling grasslands, pastures and dams, interspersed with beautiful sandstone koppies and mountains, make for stunning scenery and photographic possibilities. The peace and tranquillity of the area is enhanced by the birds and animals all around you, and disturbed only by the occasional farm vehicle. The road is in a good condition and can be driven in any vehicle, except possibly in wet weather.
Jagpoort is an obscure gravel road pass, situated close to the small central Free State town of Winburg. The name, which translates as “Hunting Passage”, probably stems from the hunts which would have taken place to feed the Voortrekkers as they settled in and around this area. Vast herds of game used to roam these huge open grassland plains; sadly, this is no longer the case, and wild animals in the present day are restricted to the public and private game reserves scattered around the region. The road is in a good condition, and can be driven in any vehicle, weather permitting.
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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