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7 best routes for a road trip in South Africa

South Africa is anything but short of breathtaking roads and you’ll find the absolute best ones in the provinces of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, and Western Cape.

Cyber-drive adventure tour company Mountain Passes South Africa (MPSA) has done the hard work and compiled a list of the most “extreme” passes in several categories for adventurous holiday-goers to discover.

Ranging from short urban passages to lengthy dirt roads up steep mountains, there is something out there for every thrill seeker.

Biggest altitude gain – Sani Pass, KwaZulu-Natal

Built circa 1950, the Sani Pass is arguably one of the most famous routes in the country.

According to MPSA, it “out distances, out climbs, and out performs all its competitors with consummate ease to have become the most iconic gravel pass” in South Africa.

The Sani Pass is situated between KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho and presents a challenging drive in 4×4 vehicles all the way to the 2,876m summit with “drama, scenery, bad weather, and treacherous conditions” to spare.

Credit: Sani Pass Tours

Highest pass – Ben MacDhui Pass, Eastern Cape

The Ben Macdhui pass holds the record for the highest summit of any road in South Africa at 3,001m.

The route is rated as a Grade 3 pass in off-road jargon and therefore requires a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle with low range to be completed, which can be done in approximately an hour and a half.

Credit: dangerousroads.org

Longest pass – Prince Alfred’s Pass, Western Cape

At 68.5km long, the Prince Alfred’s Pass between Knysna and Uniondale is the longest publicly-accessible pass in the country and the second-oldest unaltered pass still in use.

The pass is touted as the famous Thomas Bain’s “greatest work” as it “presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders,” said MPSA.

The road goes through untouched scenery such as river banks, rock formations, and small settlements. The name comes from the time when Prince Alfred was invited to the area in 1867 to take part in a triumphant elephant hunt.

Credit: Uniondale.co.za

Most dangerous pass – Stewart Drive Johannesburg, Gauteng

Stewart Drive in Johannesburg links the CBD with the suburbs of the north and runs across a low rocky ridge for around half a kilometre.

The section of road isn’t coined as the “most dangerous pass” in the country for its abundance of sheer rock faces and long drops, but rather, due to the high crime rate in the area.

“Stewart Drive itself has earned the nickname of ‘Snake Way’ because of the high levels of muggings, attacks, and even murders, that take place in the bushes along this little pass. Walking alone here can be life threatening,” said MPSA.

Credit: The Heritage Portal

Oldest unaltered pass – Swartberg Pass, Western Cape

Swartberg Pass, another one of Bain’s creations, is the oldest unaltered pass in the country first being opened in 1888.

The pass is over 23km long and summits 1,585m above sea level, meaning you’ll need to give yourself around an hour to get all the way through excluding stops to take in the awe-inspiring scenery of the surrounding cape.

Along the way there are relics of an old prison, toll hut, and other interesting historical sites, and during the winter, it is often covered in snow.

The Swartberg Pass links the towns of Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn and is the shortest route between the two historic settlements.

Shortest pass – Sylvia’s Pass (M33), Gauteng

Another Joburg-based route, Sylvia’s Pass is considered the shortest pass in the country at just under 300m.

The road forms part of the M33 and connects the Observatory area with Orange Grove, frequently being used by commuters who want to steer clear of more congested areas.

Credit: Google Maps

Steepest pass – Mpindweni Pass, Eastern Cape

The Mpindweni Pass with an average gradient of 1:5.567 – which means a rise/fall of one metre for every 5.567m traveled forward – is classified as the steepest pass in South Africa.

It’s made even more treacherous by the fact that it is all gravel and just 2.6km long but features an impressive nine hairpin turns.

The pass is reportedly named after the peak that forms the horseshoe bend near the confluence of the Tsitsa and Tina Rivers, called Mpindweni, which has a summit height of 408m, according to MPSA.

Despite its short distance, the Mpindweni Pass offers views of both dense indigenous bush and lush, open grassland with three main rivers in view between the start and finish.

“Only the most dedicated pass hunters will seek this one out as it involves a long and complex route to get here – and then you have to retrace your path all the way back to Libode,” said MPSA.

“But for those who dare, the rewards will be immeasurable.”

Credit: MPSA

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