The Eastern Cape Highlands spawned many great gravel passes, but the Weenen Pass is amongst the least known of those. It lies along the R392 route between Lady Grey in the north and Dordrecht in the south. It's well above the national average in terms of length at 8,4 km and displays an altitude variance of 378m, which produces an average gradient of 1:22.
The pass never gets steeper than 1:11 at any point making the road suitable for all vehicles except in very heavy rain or snow conditions. The usual gravel road cautionaries apply - such as corrugations, loose gravel on the corners, ruts and washaways and of course every Eastern Cape pass is automatically coded red for livestock on the road.
Most of the 16 bends, corners and curves are well below 90 degrees radius and what is different about this pass is that it does not display a dominant direction, but runs north-south as well as east-west in equal proportions.
Vaalheuwel is an Afrikaans word, which translates into 'Dun Coloured Hills'. The pass is so named after the farm near the foot of the pass. It is particularly apt as the entire vista consists of a large mass of scattered hills which form a broken escarpment towards the west-coast near the diamond mining town of Kleinsee.
This is mining country and the vast bulk of the economic activity revolves around the extraction of minerals, and especially diamonds, from the earth. There is very little agricultural activity, due to the very low rainfall. When driving here on these back roads, be extremely aware of access restrictions near diamond mines as you could end up being in serious trouble if you ignore warning signs.
The pass is of average length at 4,2 km and has a steep average gradient of 1:13 which reaches 1:7 towards the western end of the pass. The steep average gradient is a result of an impressive altitude variance of 314m over a fairly short distance. Other than the usual gravel road precautionaries, be aware of loose gravel on the many corners of this pass and the biggest issue will invariably be corrugations, which is the most common reason drivers roll their vehicles.
This very long pass of 26,3 km essentially is more of a poort than a pass as it faithfully follows the course of the Broederstroom (Brother's Stream) as it cascades down the kloof losing 463m of altitude. The average gradient of 1:59 is mild and regardless of whether you are ascending or descending this pass, you will find the change in altitude gradual. It has 33 bends, corners and curves but none of them are significantly dangerous or sharp.
The road is a farming road that forms a long crescent shape to the east of the N9 national road starting and ending at different points on the N9. The bulk of the pass falls within the borders of the farm, officially named Erasmuskloof 259 and this is obviously where the pass takes it's name from.
The pass is regularly maintained and despite the gravel surface is suitable for all traffic. This is mainly due to the arid climate where lack of rainfall ensures the roads remain in good condition.
We have not physically driven this pass ourselves as yet, so our description and research is based on available resources and government maps.
This long gravel pass is located on the R344 - a well maintained gravel road that connects Tarkastad with Adelaide in the Eastern Cape. It's well above average length at 10,4 km and displays an altitude variance of 463m, which converts into a reasonable average gradient of 1:22, but the road never exceeds a gradient of 1:10, which makes this pass suitable for all vehicles.
The pass descends down the Winterberg range and traverses prime game farming sectors, so always be on the lookout for game and more importantly kudu at dusk and dawn, as they can comfortably clear a 2m fence from a standing start and have caused many accidents all over South Africa - many of them fatal.
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.
This moderate pass of 3,5 km is located on a side access farm road, the OP 06104, which connects with the bigger gravel road, the P0294 exactly at the point where the Langkloof Poort becomes the Ouberg Pass. The road runs along the east west axis and follows the course of a small ravine along the Salmonswater river. The road provides access to several nature and game reserves, which include African Game Lodge and Mont Eco Nature Reserve.
It has an average gradient of 1:19 but those numbers are fudged by some fairly steep sections towards the eastern end where things get as steep as 1:7. The road can get quite rough after rainy periods, but on the day of filming it had recently been scraped and was in good condition. It is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather. Please note that this is an out and back route, so the pass has to be driven first ascending, then descending returning to your starting point.
This minor pass of just under 2 km in length only has 3 bends and an altitude variance of just 55m, but despite this offers good views and when you drive the pass from north to south it will immediately become apparent why is is called Koppie se Nek. A small, but distinctive conical peak forms a small nek adjacent to a bigger ridge and it is through this neck that the road has been constructed.
Although the average gradient is a mild 1:35 there are some sections close to the neck that get as steep as 1:8. This little pass, is followed back to back (heading south-west) by Tolletjie se Poort, which is in turn followed by the Ouberg Pass and Langkloofpoort. This provides almost 25 km of non-stop pass driving, descending constantly towards the town of Montagu.
This fairly long and slow route includes an easy entry and exit section on good gravel roads, which we have included as they form an integral part of the whole route. The total distance is 13,4 km and includes some basic two spoor 4x4 track as well as good quality gravel roads. A 4WD vehicle is required to complete this route, but in fair weather a 4x2 bakkie with diff-lock will also manage it, as will an AWD vehicle (on the proviso that it has reasonable ground clearance).
Although the average gradient is a mild 1:50, there are a few sections that get as steep as 1:7. This route together with the Pietersfontein Pass forms a wonderful circular loop with the mighty Waboomsberg towering over the valley to the north.. In 4x4 parlance this pass in generally a Grade 1 and only occassionaly becomes a Grade 2. which makes it suitable for novice and intermediate drivers.
Note that parts of the route cross private land, so permission needs to be obtained.in advance.
This is an unusual pass in many respects. It has no less than four false summits and displays an altitude variance of 273m over just under 10 km. Although the average gradient is a mild 1:36, there are some sections that are very steep at 1:5. It's located just north-west of Montagu to the north of the famous Koo Valley.
The pass is named after the old and historic Pietersfontein farm which lies at the end of the pass on the north-western side. On offer is a lovely drive through deep kloofs, juxtaposed with wide and sunny valleys smothered in fruit orchards and through all of this a small river provides life giving water to this small farming community.
The other odd feature of this pass is that it has very few bends, but watch out for loose gravel as well as slow moving farm vehicles and livestock on the road. If you drive a 4WD vehicle, it is possible to drive a complete loop and return to your starting point via the Patatsfontein Pass.
The pass is named after the farm in the middle of the traverse of the same name and is located roughly 45 km ESE of Grahamstown. It is also sometimes locally reffered to as the Lower Kaprivier Pass, but with the Kaprivier Pass itself being just 11 km further to the north-west, having such a similar name can only cause confusion.
The pass is virtually a twin of the Kaprivier Pass displaying similar statistics and traversing the same mountain and river valley. It is slightly longer at 4,6 km and contains 16 bends, corners and curves within that distance to produce an average gradient of 1:35, but don't be fooled by that number as there are some steep sections that get as steep as 1:6.
The pass runs along the east-west axis and if your'e driving it in that direction, you will be treated to lovely views over the Lower Kaprivier valley.
It's also well off the beaten track and carries very low traffic volumes, other than the odd farmer. The pass displays a typical inverted clasic profile starting at a high point, then dropping down to a central low point river crossing and rising up the other side.
Be aware that there are some very steep gradients, so light FWD vehicles might experience traction issues in wet weather. We recommend driving this pass as a circular loop with it's sister pass a little further to the north-west, the Kaprivier Pass, which will provide a fabvulous circuit of mixed scenery in tranquil and quiet surroundings.
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