The Gannaga Pass is a magnificent gravel road ascending 548 meters through the Roggeveld Mountains from the endless plains of the Tankwa Karoo to the high plateaux near Middelpos. The pass does not break any records in terms of altitude, gradient or length, but it possesses an almost ethereal quality from a combination of graceful curves, raw mountain beauty and scope of vision that is rarely repeated in other passes.
It contains 45 bends, corners and curves which include 4 extremely sharp hairpins and another three corners sharper than 90 degrees. The quality of this road can vary greatly depending on recent rainfall and snow and especially when last it was maintained. On the day of filming it was in good condition, but is not always in this state.
Although it can be driven in a normal car, it is the roads leading to the pass in the Tankwa that can be a bit rough for a vehicle without adequate ground clearance. The approach from the south via the south and R355 is often a real tester for tyres that are not in top condition. Come well prepared in terms of the real possibility of picking up a puncture and carry two tins of 'Tyre Weld' or similar product with you.
The Nuwekloof Pass has a long history dating back to the early 1700's and is also known in it's various forms as the Nieuwekloof Pass, the Roodezand Pass or the Tulbaghkloof Pass. It is a modern, safe, well engineered pass which connect the towns of Tulbagh and Wellington on the tarred R46 route.
Beaufort West and its environs sport several interesting passes. Just 10 km north of the Karoo town is the 15 km long Molteno Pass - a mix of tar and gravel that ascends or descends 647 vertical metres to summit on the high plateau at 1574m. The pass connects Beaufort West with Loxton some 110km to the north.
This is a scenic drive offering a variety of landscapes to gaze on, plus it gives access to a bush camp, the Gamka Dam and the Bontebok Pass. The road follows the eastern boundary of the Karoo National Park for most of its length. It is on route R381 and it's administrative number is P0058.
The Karoo has several dynamic passes and the De Jagers Pass is one of them. It's located on a good gravel road about 30km NNE of Beaufort West. Unless you're a local farmer, you'll have very little reason to be on this road. Of course, pass hunters don't care about these things, and this gravel pass will satisfy every cent spent on fuel, locating it. It's a farm road and leads only to other farms in the area, but it does offer many options to the adventurous traveller. Please note that our description covers an ascending route from south to north which is by far the easiest way to locate this pass, but our video was filmed in the opposite direction for maximum scenic value.
The original pass was named after one of the area's pioneer farmers - Marthinus van Staden, who was the first person to plot a rudimentary track through the Van Stadens River Gorge. By 1867 the Cape Government decided to rebuild the pass to acceptable standards for wagon traffic. The actual construction was managed by George Apsey from 1865 to 1867.
Over time the pass was modified and tarred in the 1950's. When the N2 was rebuilt and improved, a new bridge was built which would span the Van Stadens River gorge and in the process completely remove all aspects of a mountain pass. Similar changes took place at several big bridges along the N2, such as Storms River, Bloukrans and Grootrivier. It takes about 30 seconds to drive over the gorge on the N2 today, which is fine if youre in a hurry, but the charm of the old pass is still available to those with a some extra time to spare. The downside of the tall new bridge is that it saw its first suicide victim soon after being built. One suicide followed another and soon the new bridge became known as the Bridge of Death. Authorities have subsequently erected cages along both sides and a call centre is on standby to help desperately depressed people.
Whilst the old pass still holds its charm and allure, the new bridge casts a sombre mood on an otherwise beautiful river gorge.
This was the first of the series of classic Garden Route/Tsitsikamma passes to be built by Thomas Bain in the late 1800's. The pass bears all of Bain's hallmark features, with sweeping curves and high retaining walls, whilst still retaining a reasonable gradient for wagon traffic - in this case 1:15.
Today the pass falls wholly under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Board and no vehicles are allowed to drive the pass. The good news is that you can walk it or cycle it.
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.
When travelling through the Baviaanskloof from west to east, the Holgat Pass is 5th pass you will need to traverse - the first four being the Nuwekloof Pass, Studtis Poort, Grasnek Pass and Langkop Pass. The Holgat Pass is often confused with the Combrinks Pass which lies a few kilometers further east. The pass is essentially the ascent up the final big mountain climb for travellers heading eastwards, interrupted by a high altitude plateau (where the Bergplaas campsites can be found) followed by the Combrinks Pass as the descent. If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation and Overview video.
The pass contains 49 bends, corners and curves within its 4,7 km length and 10 of those corners are greater than 90 degrees. The road is partially strip concreted and sections of the concrete are in poor condition, making for quite a bumpy ride. Most of the pass has steep, unguarded drop-offs and drivers need to be alert. Overtaking is impossible and passing vehicles travelling in the opposite direction will require both vehicles to move over to create sufficient passing space.
The Tradouw Pass (which means Womens Path in the old Khoi language) is a 16 kilometer drive through an altitude range of 219 meters through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery on offer in the Langeberg. This pass is undoubtedly in the Top 20 tarred passes in the Western Cape on an overall rating.
It joins the towns of Barrydale and Swellendam and was originally built by Thomas Bain. Extensively revamped in recent times, the engineering teams did an outstanding job of preserving the environment and retaining Thomas Bain's character in the design and supporting stonework. This is truly one of those mountain passes that you must drive. This one ticks all the boxes.
The Prince Alfred's Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably Thomas Bain's greatest work. Not only was this an extremely long pass, but it also presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders. Due to the length of the pass, we have filmed this pass in a 14 part series, which includes a separate 2 part video set covering the detour up to the Spitskop viewsite. At 68,5 km it is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use. The video footage covers the entire pass starting at Avontuur and ending at the at the junction with the N2 just east of Knysna.
We recommend watching the series of videos sequentially to gain a complete picture of all this wonderful pass has to offer. All 14 videos follow below and are placed in the correct sequence amongst the relevant text section. The pass is Thomas Bain's Opus Magnum - a work of monumental proportions carried out with rudimentary equipment and convict labour, but with science, ingenuity and Bain's "can do" attitude making it all possible. Bain constructed 29 passes mainly in the Cape colony in his lifetime. This pass epitomises all of his unique touches, but especially his exceptional dry walling method of construction.
Allow 1 hour and 15 minutes to watch the full video set and longer if you also want to study the text. Once digested you will be well equipped to deal with the rigours of the pass and the knowledge gained will greatly enhance your journey.
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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