South Africa offers an array of stunning mountain passes to drive. For most, you don’t need a 4×4! Explore these scenic backroads this summer:
Sani Pass, KwaZulu-Natal
The Sani Pass remains one of the most scenic drives accessible by vehicle in the Drakensberg region. Historically a mule track for trade between Basutoland and Natal, this mountain pass requires a 4×4 or an Enduro motorbike to traverse its rugged terrain. Watch Giniel de Villiers take on Wade Young in a race of two wheels vs four wheels up this iconic pass, here.
Swartberg Pass, Klein Karoo
Travel north on the R328 from Oudtshoorn toward Prince Albert, passing by the Cango Caves. The highlight of this journey is the renowned Swartberg Pass. This mountain pass, spanning 27 kilometres of steep, winding dirt road links the Little Karoo to the Great Karoo. Enjoy the scenic route through the Cape Fold mountains, taking it slow due to the challenging corners and making stops at safe spots to admire the unique geomorphology. Learn more about the Swartberg Pass from our Karoo Crossing Cycle Adventure.
Seven Passes, Eden District
For a scenic route with less holiday traffic, take a detour off the N2 and explore the Seven Passes dirt road from George to Knysna. As the name suggests this route crosses seven rivers (and features seven mountain passes), including the Swart, Hoogekraal, Homtini, and Kaaimans, passing through intriguingly named places like Karatara. It’s an area reminiscent of Daleen Matthee’s literature, particularly “Kringe in ’n bos” from high school. Notable attractions along this route include Millwood, an early gold-rush town nestled in the Outeniqua Mountains.
Franschhoek Pass, Western Cape
Among the Cape’s numerous picturesque mountain passes to drive, the Franschhoek Pass stands out on the R45 between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp. Initially referred to as ‘Olifant’s Pad’ for its historical use by elephants crossing the mountains, it was later utilised by herdsmen and settlers on horseback. Commissioned for construction in 1822 by Lord Charles Somerset, this 14.9km mountain pass with its tight hairpin turns remains a favourite Saturday morning drive for enthusiasts in the Western Cape.
Naude’s Nek, Eastern Cape
Situated on the R396 between Rhodes and Maclear, Naude’s Nek is a mountain pass that holds the distinction of being the highest pass accessible by any vehicle. Covering an epic 32.5 kilometres and reaching heights of 2623 meters with a gradient of 1:16, this route offers breathtaking views of prominent peaks like Ben Macdhui (3001 meters) and Cairntoul (2826 meters) to the north. However, it’s advisable to check weather forecasts beforehand as snowfall often leads to closures in the entire area.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth feature on some of the lesser-known (but highly recommended) mountain passes to drive in the new year.