The Mpate Mountain looms above Dundee on the northern side of the town, and the pass is basically an access road to the host of telecommunication towers erected on its summit. Spectacular views over the town and the surrounding river valleys make this a very worthwhile traverse, as does the scenery all along the access route as the road winds its way up the side of the mountain. The gravelled section of the road is in a fairly good condition for the most part, and can be driven in any normal vehicle that has a reasonable ground clearance. This pass should be avoided in bad weather. It should not be confused with the nearby Mpate Heights Pass.
Slaaihoek translates into Salad Corner - a most unlikely name for a major mountain pass. Slaaihoek Pass is located on a tarred cul-de-sac road which provides access to the Nkomati Mine in Mpumalanga. The road surface is in an excellent condition, which is very surprising as the route is used on a continual basis by heavy-duty mine trucks and logging vehicles. There are a total of 95 corners, bends and curves on the pass, each of which have been perfectly engineered with a constant radius, making this arguably one of the best motorcycling roads in the country, but at the same time one of the most dangerous. The name of the pass and the road is derived from the original name of the farm on which the mine is located.
The Matroosberg 4x4 is arguably one of the most popular off-road routes in the Western Cape and is without question the most popular route to access snow in winter. Matroosberg originally received its name due to a rock formation visible from the Hex River Valley and N1 highway. This rock formation, about three quarter of the way up the mountain, shows a very distinct pinnacle, which is the “Matroos” (the Afrikaans for ‘sailor’) alongside his ship. “Berg” is the Afrikaans for ‘mountain’. Therefore “Matroosberg” roughly translated means ‘sailor mountain’. The road climbs 993m over 8,8 km to summit at 2230m ASL. For those wanting to reach the true summit, it involves a short walk to the beacon (2250m). The average gradient is a very stiff 1:9 with some sections being at 1:3. This route is currently rated as a Grade 4 in terms of difficulty, with the final few kilometres above the Groothoekkloof Canyon viewsite being a Grade 5. This route is not recommended for novice off-road drivers.
East of Harrismith a tall sandstone mountain called Platberg, blocks the view to the east, which plays host to the fabled Donkey Pass. This pass should not be confused with Donkies Pass not too far away in KZN. In the middle of this mountain is a deep cleft and it is up this gorge that the Donkey Pass climbs very steeply to the summit, making it the 6th highest and second steepest pass in South Africa. The road traverses a nature reserve and permits need to be obtained. Whilst the entire route with sections as steep as 1:3 are concrete stripped to aid traction, this route is not suitable for normal cars. Low range is essential. For those that do get to drive this amazing pass, you will be one of a select few to have done so.
A tough Grade 5 4x4 route up the Nuweveld Mountains that is an old route connecting the rest camp at Karoo national Park with the summit area on the mountain plateau and joins the Klipspringer Pass as its termination point. This is for the more serious offroader with a robust 4x4 with low range and high ground clearance. The gradients get as steep as 1:3,3 so be prepared for some nail biting driving. In 4WD circles a Grade 5 is labelled as : "Probable damage to vehicle or possible injury to passengers and driver" Dont try this one alone or unless you have substantial offroad driving experience and understand advanced recovery techniques.
The Koebee Pass is gravel, rough, steep and spectacular. Most of the ascent will be driven in 1st and 2nd gear. You don't need a 4WD vehicle to complete the pass, but it is an advantage. Ground clearance can be an issue with cars that are low slung. The pass rises up from the famous Knersvlakte and descends to the Koebee River valley where it splits into two directions, both ending in dead-ends at farms along the Koebee River. The scenery is quite beautiful for those who think this northern part of the Western Cape is a barren wasteland. The pass lies very close to the border between the Western and Northern Cape near the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve.
This 28.6km long offroad route is located between Fouriesburg and Clarens in the Free State and follows the northern bank of the Caledon River in an easterly direction, before changing direction to ascend the mountain. This route is only suitable for the more serious and experienced offroad enthusiast and will require a 4WD vehicle with low range and good ground clearance. Some of the gradients are as steep as 1:4. This route was driven recently (Dec 2014) by one of our readers in a Suzuki Jimny and although he says it was rough, slow and tough, he completed the route successfully.
STOP PRESS: June, 2016: The big rock that had blocked the pass has now been removed and the pass is open!
This gem of a pass is a well hidden secret, which lies in an isolated valley to the north of the Klipbokkrans and Baviaansberg mountains [1946m] and follows the natural kloof formed to the south of the Grasberg mountain [1638m]. It lies on the east/west axis and at 16,1 km is quite a long pass. It's not only long in terms of distance, but in time too. You will need at least 1,5 hours to complete the kloof itself and that excludes the southern return leg over many kilometres of farm roads.
Multiple farm gates and to a fairly dodgy road, which can be in various states of disrepair, all add to the remote and rugged allure. It's best done in a 4x4 or at least a "bakkie" with good ground clearance and diff-lock. Despite the average gradient being an easy 1:30, there are some very steep parts, especially near the summit, which reach 1:6. During winter and after rain, there are multiple river crossings to negotiate, none of which are crossed over any bridges. The rewards however, are magnificent.
This historical gravel road pass was built between 1867 and 1869. It's a long pass at almost 17 km and it has a substantial altitude variance of 383m which produces a fairly mild average gradient of 1:44, but the vast majority of the steeper gradients occur on the eastern side of the pass, where there are some steep sections at 1:5.
Fortunately it seldom rains here, so the road is generally quite safe for non 4WD vehicles. The scenery along which the road traverses is exceptionally dramatic with towering rock faces and a generally bone-dry river bed in view most of the time. This road is not suitable for cars lacking good ground clearance. This pass should be viewed in tandem with the Wildeperdehoek Pass as they are inseparably linked, both geographically and historically.
Cecil Mack's Pass is located in the Northern section of KZN on the border with Swaziland. It is a rough, gravel road better suited to off-road vehicles with 4WD. This is not one for the casual weekend traveller. The pass has something of a chequered history including severe cyclone damage, military control and now, obsolesence. Please note that the road is blocked at the Swaziland border and no traffic may proceed beyond that point, other than on foot.
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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