South Africa is home to some of the world’s most beautiful mountain passes. Many represent significant architectural feats that even today, with our modern road building equipment, are wildly impressive. Which of the country’s highest roads have you driven?

Sani Pass – 2,876m

sani pass 

Soaring to 2,874 metres above sea level (ASL), beautiful Sani Pass links KwaZulu-Natal with the kingdom of Lesotho. Switchbacks, tight hairpin bends, plunging drops and gradients that reach 1:10 make the “Roof of Africa” a challenge to drive.

This once notorious gravel track is in the process of being given a tarred surface.

Naude’s Nek – 2,587m

naude's nek

Naude’s Nek is a twisty-turvy high elevation gravel road that winds its way over the southern Drakensberg, linking Mount Fletcher and Rhodes in the Eastern Cape. It follows an old animal track, climbing steeply out of a river valley to reach a 2,569-metre summit. 

During heavy rains and snowfalls, the pass becomes slippery, perilous and often impassable.

Volunteershoek Pass – 2,567m

volunteershoek pass

Source: Getaway

The Volunteershoek Pass is an exceptionally steep gravel road that connects the Wartrail farming valley to the Tiffindell Ski Resort, near the border with Lesotho. Don’t attempt this pass except in a 4x4 vehicle and with great caution.

The first four kilometres of the pass are the steepest, featuring gradients as high as 1:5. The pass is also known for its unpredictable weather.

Carlisleshoekspruit Pass – 2,557m

carlisleshoekspruit pass

Source: Froggy Hits The Road

Also leading to Tiffindell Ski Resort and qualifying as one of South Africa’s highest roads is the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. This narrow mountain pass connects the Eastern Cape town of Rhodes to the ski resort. It features sharp corners, precipitous drops and a challenging gravel and sand surface.

The steepest sections of the road, which in places reach gradients of 1:2, are surfaced in concrete.  Along with eroding edges, blind spots and snow, ice and low visibility in winter, the pass is known for its hair-raising descent into Rhodes.

Ongeluks Nek – 2,541m

ongeluks nek

Source: Roam

Rutted, rocky and seldom used, Ongeluks Nek is a heavily eroded pass between the Eastern Cape and Lesotho. It rises to an elevation of 2,541 metres ASL. During the rainy season, the gravel and stone surface becomes slippery, muddy and impassable.

An average gradient of 1:9, coupled with zero maintenance, means that the appropriately named “accident pass” has claimed more than its fair share of victims.

Donkey Pass – 2,394m

Donkey pass

Source: Dangerous Roads

The Donkey Pass follows an old mule track to the top of Platberg, a mountain east of Harrismith in the Free State. It winds its way steeply up a deep gorge to a 2,394-metre summit. 

The loose gravel surface is covered in concrete strips in the steepest sections, where gradients can reach 1:3. The rugged road top can become muddy and difficult to navigate during rainy spells.

Steenkampsberg Pass – 2,254m

steenkampberg pass

Source: Lowvelder

The Steenkampsberg Pass is a well-maintained tarred road connecting Lydenburg with Roossenkal in Mpumalanga. It traverses the slopes of the Steenkampsberg in a series of relaxed switchbacks to reach an elevation of 2,254 metres.

In the steepest sections, the slope is a gear-grinding 1:7.

Matroosberg – 2,249m


Source: Climbing

The Matroosberg 4x4 trail is a tricky, sandy, narrow track that climbs to 2,249 metres ASL. It traverses the high-elevation Matroosberg Mountains near Ceres in the Western Cape. Snow, ice and avalanches are common hazards over the winter months. The road has an average gradient of 1:9, and climbs sharply to reach the summit.

Bastervoetpad Pass – 2,236m

bastervoedpad pass

Source: Roam

Renowned as one of the most challenging high elevation mountain roads in South Africa, the Bastervoetpad Pass traverses the southern Drakensberg near Ugie in the Eastern Cape.

The rugged gravel surface is bone jarring and the route features several steep drops. The track rises to 2,240 metres ASL via a series of tight twists and turns.

Joubert’s Pass – 2,234m

joubert pass

With a maximum gradient of 1:6, the Joubert’s Pass is a steep, high altitude gravel pass between Barkley East and Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. Along with a rough gravel surface, the pass is feared for its perilous drops.

Unpredictable weather is also a factor, as is evident from a number of creatively name drifts, such as Skrikdrif – fright drift – and Kar Wegspoel Drif – car wash-away drift. The well-maintained farm road reaches an elevation of 2,234 metres ASL in the Witteberg Mountains.

Today, motor graders play a vital role in both building and maintaining roads, including some of the highest roads in South Africa. At KH Plant, we specialise in restoring Caterpillar 140G, 140H and 140K motor graders and components to as-new condition – so you can get the benefits of a new motor grader at a fraction of the cost of a new machine. Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.

Contact us for more information