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Five most scenic mountain passes in South Africa

South Africa has more than its fair share of natural beauty. From beautiful beaches to grasslands teeming with wildlife, the country has everything that a nature lover loves. Still, the South African experience is incomplete without a visit to the country's most scenic mountain passes.

Mountains are big, intimidating but extremely beautiful. The vastness of a mountain gives us a sense perspective and reminds us existence is more than just the daily grind. So mountain passes are a great way to drive or cycle through a mountain and enjoy the view.

We should consider five of South Africa's must-see mountain passes when planning a trip through South Africa's mountains.

Sani Pass

Image was taken from - http://www.sapeople.com/2016/03/22/sani-pass-lesotho-south-africa-photos/

The pass is part of the road that traverses through the Drakensberg mountain range, more specifically, the 80 km portion of the road between the towns of Underberg, KwaZulu-natal and Mokhotlong, Lesotho. It is the highest and steepest mountain pass in South Africa.

The road is made of gravel, and at elevations ranging from 1544m to 2876m at the summit, the Sani pass is only for the bravest and best drivers. Because of the Drakensberg's high elevation, snow and ice may make the Sani pass hard to navigate in winter, late autumn or early spring. For safety reasons, only 4x4 cars are allowed on this Pass

At lower altitudes, there are hotels, guest farms and many other kinds of accommodation for the weary traveler. As the altitude increases, the road becomes narrower and more treacherous. All signs of human habitation disappear and you come face to face with the vast, desolate beauty of the Drakensberg mountain.

Before driving on this pass, always make sure the road is unaffected by bad weather. Also remember that the pass ends at the summit of the range, which is the border to Lesotho. To go any further would be to enter Lesotho, which would require you to present yourself to border agents before 6 p.m with a valid visa.

Bastervoetpad Pass

Image was taken from - https://www.flickr.com/photos/hannes_steyn/17025865644

This pass is found in the Eastern Cape and crosses a southern arm of the Drakensberg mountains. Looking at photos, you would be forgiven for mistaking the Eastern Cape for the Scottish highlands. So it follows that the Bastervoetpad's scenic views of lush green valleys, rugged mountains and mild summers, the pass looks like scenery straight out of "The Hobbit" movies.

Like the Sani, the Bastervoetpad's is a high-altitude pass that can be a nightmare to navigate in bad weather. Bad weather, in this case can be anything from rain, strong winds, snow, hail or even electrical storms.

The pass is a 20km gravel road. At its highest point, the Bastervoetpad's Pass stands at 2240m above sea level. As with most passes in the Drakensberg range, the Bastervoetpad's should be attempted only in good weather and with a 4x4 car.

Outeniqua Pass

Image was taken from - https://www.nightjartravel.com/parks/outeniqua-nature-reserve

The Outeniqua Pass runs through the Outeniqua mountain and is part of the N12, a national road that links the coastal town of George(western Cape) to the town of Oudtshoorn to the north. Being part of a national road, the Outeniqua Pass is an asphalt road that can be traveled on at any time. The pass is only 12.5 km long and is ideal for a casual outing.

The pass rises to a peak height of about 800 meters. It offers breathtaking views of the town of George, the Indian Ocean and beautiful cascading waterfalls. Along the way, there are a number of stops where you could refuel and take in the sights.

Because the road is so good, no special precautions or vehicles are needed for this pass.

Eland’s Pass (Gamkaskloof Pass)

Image was taken from - http://www.thereandbackut.com/prince-albert-gamkaskloof/

Eland's Pass is found in the Swartberg mountains in the Western Cape. It is located between the towns of Oudtshoorn and Price Albert. Eland's pass is only 3.7 kilometers long and is the fourth and final section of the 37km long Gamkaskloof Pass. Eland's pass descends into the hot, long, low altitude valley called Die Hel (The Hell).

Eland's pass is a steep descent into Die Hel, and driving on it is the ultimate adrenaline rush. With more than 50 bends, some of which are extremely sharp, Eland's pass is not for those who fear heights. For everyone else, this is one of the most exciting drives you will ever take. The near-vertical descent on a gravel road means that only a powerful 4x4 vehicle can make it down the pass.

The pass terminates in Die Hel valley, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and home to the Swartberg Nature Reserve. There are plenty of cottages and campsites in the valley, so it's a good idea to spend the night here and get to hear all about the ghosts that haunt Die Hel. Maybe you'll get to hear something go bump in the night.

Gifberg Pass

Image was taken from - https://www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za/find-a-pass/western-cape/item/248-gifberg-pass.html

The Gifberg Pass is found in the Matsikamma mountain in the Northern part of the western Cape. The pass starts at the town of Vanrhynsdorp and runs to the top of the mountain. It then connects the farms located at the mountain's top.

The pass is 20km long and makes for a challenging drive. Only a 4x4 vehicle van successfully navigate the pass. The surface of the Gifberg is gravel, but the steepest parts have asphalt surfaces.

The Gifberg offers amazing views of waterfalls and rock pools. You can also find rock art done by the hunter-gatherer San people of the western Cape. For hiking enthusiasts, the pass provides access to amazing hiking trails, which are in fact the best way to see the rockpools and the San rock art.

Visiting a mountain pass will leave you with a feeling that you will always remember. That feeling is awe. Awe that is inspired when you realize that nature is huge, majestic and deserving of our respect. Just make sure you have reliable wheels, if not, car hire South Africa is affordable.


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  1. Gravatar Jeanette Bailey says:

    Our son in law and daughter took us over the Sani Pass mid August.  What a wonderful experience.  Normally I am nervous of hights but I really enjoyed the trip because our son in law, Peter is a very competent 4 wheel driver.  I sat back, relaxed and just admired all the beauty.  Thanks Peter & Lee-Anne.

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