This average length pass of 4 km forms a back to back continuous pass with the Umzimvubu Pass on the tarred R61 route between Lusikisiki and Port St Johns. The pass has plenty of corners compressed into those 4 km, so drivers need to be wide awake as the pass traverses three villages - Gemvale, Mdovu and Gcakeni.
Expect pedestrians on the roadway, minibus taxis and the ever present threat of livestock. Some of the locals drive like maniacs, so it's best to let them pass you as quickly as possible. The scenery more than compensates for the Level 3 driving and is typical of the Wild Coast.
Take your time. Stop at the roadside stalls. Support the local crafters and allow the climate and the people to embrace your spirit.
* Tours update
* Wild Coast Tour - Day 2
* Great South Africans
* South African Cities
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days)
April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend)
May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days)
After a short stint on tar, we arrived at Tabankulu. These small rural towns are something of an education and it's best to have a positive mind-set before you get there. It was a Saturday morning, so the village was bustling with energy. Barbeques on open fires next to the franchise shops in the main street; skinny dogs criss-crossing the road looking for a morsel of food; a few bemused looking goats; a small selection of fine Nguni cattle; Toyota Minibus taxis everywhere and then there are the people - all seemingly happy with the chaos around them. It's a real Transkei experience to be savoured and remembered. No-one in the rural Eastern Cape drives with their lights on, so the locals, after seeing this long convoy of vehicles with lights on, no doubt thought we were off to a funeral and due courtesy was given to us.
Just west of the village, there is a fork. The right hand option leads to a marvellous pass, called the Gwangxu Pass, which is currently a dead-end as the bridge at the bottom of the pass has been washed away. Our route took the left hand option to drive the highlight pass of the day - the Mzintlava Pass.
This major gravel pass will enthral and enchant even the most jaded pass hunter. It is long, steep, rough and peppered with 301 bends, corners and curves of which 7 are hairpins and another 29 exceed 90 degrees radius. It achieves top 10 status in two categories as the 5th longest pass and the 7th biggest altitude gaining pass in South Africa. It's named after the Mtzintlava River, which is one of the main tributaries of the Umzimvubu River with which it forms a confluence about 15 km to the south west of the pass.
Initially the road follows the contour line of the mountain, dipping in and out of the ravines, with expansive views to the south over the green hills and valleys of the Wild Coast. It's not long and the road enters a magnificent indigenous forest. It was a hot day and since it was close to lunchtime, we pulled over inside the forest, fully occupying one half of the roadway, to enjoy our lunch break. The forest was alive with birdsong and the sounds of burbling streams. Local vehicles stopped as they passed by greeting us with smiles and waves. Forget about all those preconceived ideas you had about the region. The locals are genuinely friendly.
The road now climbs at a gradient of 1:14 for the next 1,5 km with magnificent views over the Tshumi River valley on the right whilst the dense forests of the Ntabankulu Forest Reserve smother the southern slope of the mountain ahead. A short and steep descent follows, as the road skirts the northern side of another valley and meanders eastwards whilst undulating and descending towards the 15 km mark and the village of Bomvini where there is a very sharp hairpin bend to the right of 160 degrees. At the apex of this hairpin a smaller road leads off into the north-east to the village of Ncetshane.
As far as scenic beauty goes, this pass is below average for the Wild Coast. That does not in any way detract from the other interesting information connected with the pass and the area. The De Villiers Bridge at the lowest point on the pass withstood an impressive flood level of over 10m during the 1970 flood, where its safety railings were bent horizontal by the raging floodwaters. It is still like that today.
The pass has an inverted vertical profile with the lowest point being in the middle of the pass at the crossing of the Kobonqaba River. The pass is 8.2 km long and displays an altitude variance of 195m with the steepest gradients reaching 1:8 on the western side. The Kentani area was the scene of several historical skirmishes between the British and the Xhosa during the 9th Frontier War,
The town of Kentani is often in the news around initiation schools and dubious medical standards with a number of initiates losing their lives each year.
Wild Coast Tour – Prologue, Cathcart, Mountain Lake, Ongeluksnek Wetlands, Mariazell Mission Station
Listen to the interview:
* Tours update
* Wild Coast Tour - Day 2
* Great South Africans
* South African Cities
* Pass of the Week
* Words of wisdom
March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days) Bookings now open. (5 spaces left)
April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend) Bookings now open. (8 places left)
May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days) Bookings now open. (1 space left)
It was another perfect day for youring with warm weather, clear skies and light traffic. We managed to get the convoy ready to roll by 09.15 with slight holdup coming from the Land Rover Defender, not wanting to start. Richard soon got the hang of always parking on a slope with a clear run to bump start it.
We headed east to Cedarville on the tarred R61. About 10 km out of Matatiele, my phone rang. It was Philip from the guesthouse, advising that one of our guests had left some personal items behind. He asked that we should pull the convoy over and he would deliver the goods, which he duly did. This level of service is part of the service package at Resthaven and one of the reasons why we keep returning.
Just after passing through Cedarville, we turned south onto a good gravel road and soon ascended the Nungi Pass. This relatively unknown pass has some impressive statistics. The Nungi Pass is named after the mountain of the same name which forms the western portal of the Umzimvubu River valley. The pass traverses tribal trust land and connects Cedarville in the north with Mount Frere in the south. It's of above average length at 8,7 km and packs 39 sharp bends, corners and curves into it's length and displays an altitude variance of 335m with a classic high centre point profile. The gradients are steep in some places, reaching 1:5 making 4WD essential in wet weather.
When we did the recce trip for fhis tour in February 2020, the road was in the process of being upgraded. Our timing in November couldnt have been better, as the roadworks had been completed, making for a comfortable traverse. The scenery is lovely with sweeping views of rolling grassland, dotted with well fed cattle. Once over the summit, the views open up to the south over the village of Matafeni. This was to the first of many small villages that we passed through, where the locals all greeted us with waves and smiles.
The valley when viewed from the summit of the Nungi Pass, conceals several villages hidden in the folds of the mountains. To the immediate west lies the mountain village of Gxenlikulu, followed to the south by Upper Mvenyane. Further south another two long villages are traversed - Ntola and Tyiweni. Each village has its own character, style and charm. Everywhere there is livestock - mainly cattle and goats and of course dogs. Surprisingly cats don't seem to do so well here. Sheep are also not that common.
There are three back to back passes between Tombo and Port St Johns. They are, from west to east Mngazi River Pass, Butyabuse Pass and the Isinuka Poort. At 7 km it's well above the national average and displays a moderate altitude variance of 138m. It connects the valleys of the Mngazi and Umzimvubu Rivers on the R61..
The pass is modern and well designed, but the local authorities have had to install several traffic calmers (speed bumps) to slow the taxis down, as the pass traverses several villages on its way to the coast. It offers good views of the Mngazi River and towards the middle of the pass the road passes through the villages of Mkanzini, Zitshece and Ndwalane.
There are a number of cautionaries for this road - Pedestrians and especially school children, dogs, livestock, slow and fast moving vehicles, speed bumps, school buses and minibus taxis. Drive with care.
* Tours schedule for 2021
* Report back Day 5 Swartberg Tour
* Report back Wild Coast Tour Day 1
* Great South Africans
* Cities of South Africa
* Featured Pass
* Words of Wisdom
During January and February we will be offering a repeat of our two 4x4 novice training days. These will be uploaded within the next week. Tours will all be loaded sequentially over the next 10 days.
March 11th to 14th - Kouga-Baviaans Tour (4 days) Bookings now open.
April 1st to 5th - Ben 10 V4 Tour (5 days incl Easter Weekend) Bookings now open.
May 13th to 22nd - Wild Coast Tour (10 days) Bookings now open.
June 24th to 27th - Bedrogfontein/Addo Tour (4 days)
July 15th to 18th - Tankwa Tour (4 days)
August 7th to 9th - Namaqualand (3 days)
September 22nd to 25th - Swartberg Tour (4 days)
The Karoo heat started early as we enjoyed a breakfast on the stoep of the hotel in that unique and still Karoo atmosphere that folks from the coast rarely experience. We got all our thoroughly laid back guests into convoy formation by 0900 and rumbled out of Prince Albert for our highlight of the day - a full traverse of the timeless Swartberg Pass.
Being a Saturday, there was a steady flow of mainly rental cars on the pass, but we reached the summit in good time and stopped there in wind-free conditions, which I can assure you is a rarity. The wind almost always funnels through the neck at Die Top (the sign which is now completely illegible, thanks to hundreds of stickers about three layers thick already), so it was a nice treat to be able to take photos at the summit in perfect weather.
Further stops ensued at Skelmdraai as well as at the southern end of the pass at Cobus se Gat, where we took a decent break from the hot weather. We chatted to the owner, who explained how hard Covid 19 has hit his business, but fortunately the farm itself was still able to function and produce some income. If you're going to be driving the Swartberg Pass, do make a point of stopping at this facility and support a local business.
Next up was an easy traverse of the beautiful Schoemanspoort, where traffic was light, in contrast to when the Cango caves are open, as it's the main tourist route from Oudtshoorn. The countryside was looking wonderful and green with water levels in the dams looking promising after recent rainfall.
We passed straight through Oudtshoorn and quickly got off the tar and headed west along the back roads towards Calitzdorp and ultimately found ourselves on the patchy concrete road to the south of the R62. This was the first experimental concrete road in South Africa, but it has not aged well, offering a sub-standard drive for motorists. The countryside was however fabulous as our route meandered past old farms and rusty windmills with sheep and goats standing in the shade of any thorn tree available seeking some respite from the sun. The Klein Karoo painted in natural dun colours, reflecting the toil and hardship of farming in this water scarce area was easy on the eye.
Finally, we arrived at the start of the Rooiberg Pass. Being close to lunch time, we stopped in the last bit of shade-generating bush before the pass proper and enjoyed our last lunch al fresco right there on the gravel road. The travel gods were with us, as not a single vehicle came past during the lunch break.
This attractive poort forms the final part of the R61 between Mthatha and Port St. Johns. It is a typical poort following the course of the Umzimvubu River on it's southern bank. Near the western start lies the village of Isinuka after which the poort is named. There is a deep cutting just after the western start as the road slices through the mountain to reach the Umzimubu River Valley.
There are sections of very steep cuttings that tower some 60m above the road, but other than that the road is straight-forward, which is a relative term, as several dangers lurk along this stretch of roadway. Local traffic officers love doing laser speed traps here, where the speed limit jumps several times between 60 and 80 kph. There are also a number of poorly concealed and sharp speed bumps, which require a reduction of speed to 30 kph or lower, Dogs and livestock can appear out of the dense bush without warning and pedestrians tend to wander along the roadway as there is nowhere else for them to walk and of course, last but not least, are the numerous minibus taxis which ply this route and congregate in numbers towards the eastern end of the poort adjacent to the Pondoland Bridge.
The wide and sluggish Umzimvubu River welcomes drivers as it drifts lazily towards the estuary at Port St. Johns' 1st Beach.
* Tours for 2021
* Swartberg Tour - Day 4
* Great South Africans - Natalie du Toit
* South African Cities - Cape Town
* Wild Coast Tour - Prologue
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
We've been inundated with requests to book for our 2021 Wild Coast Tour. We are already working on some improvements to the 2020 version, so it's just a matter of picking dates. The next 8 days will be spent on setting up the major tours for 2021, which will include the Ben 10, Wild Coast, Swartberg, Bedrogfontein and Tankwa Tours. Once we have the dates mapped our for those, we will see how we will slot in the new tours.
The Swartberg Hotel is very much like the Lord Milner in Matjiesfontein. It's a rambling, old double story building with many add-ons at the back and the gracious old building is showing her age somewhat with oddly shaped rooms, creaking passageways, old artefacts and paintings on the walls and staircases that are narrow and steep. Yet all of those things add to the charm. Modern equipment, like airconditioners have been added to keep pace with customer demands.
We were to spend two nights at the hotel and the one feature we have to highlight is the quality of their food. Our meals were excellent and sitting outside on the verandah on the warm summer evenings watching the passing parade of locals, was as relaxing as anything you could find in the Karoo.
We had a number of highlights on this tour and on Day 4 it was the drive down the Gamkaskloof to Die Hel. We left at 08.30 and took a leisurely drive up the Swartberg Pass, stopping here and there at the various points of interest like Eerstewater, Malvadraai, Blikstasie, Mullerskloof and Teeberg as many gigabytes of photos were added to camera memory banks. The weather was warm and clear, making for a special day.
We started the the 37 km westward drive along the Otto du Plessis Road (that's its official name) at 10.30 enjoying the hundreds of sights offered up by the contorted layers of the Swartberg Mountains. There were the usual klipspringers that allow cars to get as close to 2m from them, whilst raptors soared overhead. This road has a magical allure to it that captivates the adventure traveller, regardless of age or mode of transport.
Finally we reached the summit of Elands Pass, where many of our guests got sight of Die Hel for the first time. Camera shutters clicked away for at least 10 minutes. Our convoy snaked its way cautiously down the pass, with its many hairpins and within 15 minutes arrived at the start of Die Hel. We had seen it the day before from the western side, when we did the 4x4 trail at Bosch Luys Kloof Nature Reserve, but this eastern approach is the real McCoy.
The valley was a mangled ashen blur of burnt trees and collapsed buildings - almost like a cataclysmic setting in a Hollywood disaster movie. The fire that swept through the valley on Christmas Day 2019 destroyed about 60% of the cottages. Our destination for our lunch time stop was Fonteinplaas, where Marinette and her mother in law, Annatjie Joubert were a bit taken aback to see 24 guests arriving for lunch. All our attempts to contact them in advance had failed, so we took a chance and pitched.
It took Marinette about 15 minutes to serve up a delicious lunch for our group. Now that was an impressive effort! Whilst we waited, Annatjie told us the story of the big fire. She's a tough lady, but the tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke. The fire had consumed all their cottages as well as their campsite and its ablutions. Her son was on the roof of the thatched restaurant with a hosepipe as the fire raged all around them. She had called him down.
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.