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Scenic Mountain Passes of South Africa Pt. 2



Following our first blog on the scenic mountain passes of South Africa, featuring one of Lesotho’s iconic passes, our second edition features another 9 passes, located within each of South Africa’s provinces, as well as another spectacular pass in our neighboring country, Lesotho.

Buckle up, the time has come for your next road trip around South Africa!

1. Cheches Pass, Lesotho

This time, we are starting off in our neighboring country, Lesotho. The Cheches Pass is located within the heart of Lesotho and provides a link between the capital, Maseru and Thaba-Tsek.

The major route along the A3 is often covered by a white blanket of snow as the summit reaches 2,555m (8,400 ft) above sea level.  The Cheches Pass is the ideal definition of a mountain pass as the road has 122 corners and curves. The pass is a total of 19km (12 miles) in length and is a classic route for any traveler searching for that ideal mountain pass or snow!

2. Wyllie’s Poort, Limpopo

For our birding enthusiasts, this pass should be added to your road trip route.

The rich archaeological, geological and cultural pass forms part of one of South Africa’s National Roads, the N1. Connecting Louis Trichardt and Musina, the route is a spectacular one for bird watching and photographing scenic landscapes. The route is only 3.57km (2 ½ miles) in length but offers a stunning view over the Lowveld. Another interesting fact about Wyllie’s Poort is that it is the second northernmost tarred pass in South Africa, as many passes along the northern region are currently gravel roads.

3. Bakenkop Pass, Mpumalanga

Laced with pine and eucalyptus plantations, the pass is located just south-east of Sabie. Sabie is a small town located in Mpumalanga. The town forms part of the Panorama Route and is a great stopover for travellers heading towards or from the Kruger National Park. Bakenkop Pass is not tarred and is mostly rugged gravel so we strongly recommend a four-wheel drive vehicle should you attempt this striking route.

During your journey along the pass, you will notice a prominent mountain on the western extremity. This mighty mountain has been the sole inspiration of the Bakenkop Pass.

4. Munro Drive, Gauteng

Forming part of three suburban passes in Johannesburg, Gauteng, Munro Drive dates back to the 1800s. The pass is a great historical route that connects upper Houghton with central Houghton. The leafy suburb of Houghton is home to many cultural and historical houses, with the most prominent being Nelson Mandela’s House.

Munro Drive is less than 1 km (less than 1 mile) in length but reaches gradients as steep as 1:7. Munro Drive’s sister passes include Stewarts Driver and Sylvia’s Pass but those are routes to focus on another day.

5. Olifantsnek, North West

If you know South Africa, you know there is always a meaning behind any name of a city, street, monument or pass. Olifantsnek is no different! If you are travelling from the southern side of the pass, you will see a mountain that is said to resemble the head and trunk of an elephant.

Although keeping your eyes on the road is a vital part of every road trip, we encourage travellers to stop and look out for the elephant.  

6. Schuilkrans Pass, Free State

The gravel route is located along the southeastern Free State, near the quaint town of Marquard. Generally, the route can be driven in any vehicle but as with most passes in South Africa, a four-wheel drive is recommended when the road is wet. This part of the Free State is arguably the most scenic region and the pass is no different.

It would not usually form part of a road trip route in South Africa but if you are heading in the direction of the Eastern Cape or Clarens, we highly recommend a slight detour to travel along the 12-bend pass.

7. Oliviershoek Pass, KwaZulu-Natal

Following the Western Cape, the province of KwaZulu-Natal boasts a range of diverse mountain passes, many of which are not well-known but offer exceptional viewpoints.

The R74 offers a beautiful scenic alternative route to the N3 that connects Johannesburg and Durban. This extensive route has a height difference of 471 meters (1,550 ft) and reaches only 13.5km (8 miles) in length.

Dynamite comes in small packages as this is said to be one of the most scenic tarred mountain passes in South Africa.

8. Van Stadens Pass, Eastern Cape

The Garden Route is one of South Africa’s most loved routes for a first-time self-drive journey. Along this fascinating route,  you can find Van Standens Pass. The original pass was named after the Eastern Capes pioneer farmer, Marthinus Van Staden, but has since been rebuilt to accommodate the thousands of travellers that make their way along the Garden Route. Along the pass, you are welcomed by large bridges that overlook breathtaking gorges and hints of the Indian Ocean in the distance.

If you are planning to bungee jump at Bloukrans, we recommend exploring the scenic pass between Plettenberg Bay and Tsitsikamma, this is an adventure destination in South Africa!

9. Killians Pass, Northern Cape

Drenched in colours, Killians Pass is a route that must be travelled during August and September – although open throughout the year. The beautiful pass stretches along the ever-blossoming Namaqualand and is beaming with flowers during the months of August and September. This route is not one of the main roads to travel but offers excellent photographic opportunities of the flower-covered fields with minimal disruption.

For this route, we recommend a higher ground clearance as the road is gravel.

10. Smitswinkel Pass, Western Cape

If you were to directly translate Smitswinkel, from Afrikaans to English, you would get ‘Blacksmith’s Shop’ – and unfortunately, we have no idea on the history behind the name of this stunning route along the Cape Peninsula.

Many travellers have Cape Point on their bucket lists, and we encourage you to add this scenic pass to that list. Smitswinkel Pass is located just opposite the Cape Point Nature Reserve and is best driven from South to North.

For repeat visitors to Cape Town, we recommend a night or two in one of the rustic tented rooms at Smitswinkel Camp.

We have come to the end of this journey, and we hope you have enjoyed the second edition of our Scenic Mountain Passes Blog.

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