We drive 12 passes in 8 hours in Mpumalanga
It’s the holidays and you’ve optioned to Staycation, this doesn’t mean you need to stay at home. After the festivities of Christmas a day spent roadtripping can shake the Staycation up, get everyone out of the house and ward off any rising cabin fever. If you’re in the Gauteng/Limpopo/Mpumalanga area, own an SUV; then lend me your time while I spin my tale of 12 passes in one day in Mpumalanga.
In terms of SUV, you will need one that has all-wheel drive and ground clearance, bear in mind I originally did this route in a Mercedes-Benz GLE 43 AMG, so luxury SUVs may apply. For supplies I recommend plenty of padkos and water. For navigation systems, a Garmin or TomTom will suffice or the older papermaps. GoogleMaps is not the best at picking up roads with names like D1054, I relied solely on the Mercedes-Benz system with no issue.
The challenge? Twelve of Mpumalanga’s most demanding passes in one day, for variety this route runs on tarmac and gravel (hence the all-wheel drive).
The start line is Sudwala Pass on the R539, a tar pass between Sudwala Caves and Mashishing offering up 8,93 km of easy corners and the sights of the Lowveld.
Next on the list is Mount Carmel Pass, following the D1054 signage board will take you off the R539 and onto dirt. This road traverses through the Mount Carmel Conservancy on the edge of the Mount Carmel mountain range from the Drakensburg.
Heading back onto the tarmac of the N4 you’ll climb the Montrose Pass, at the summit you can stop at Montrose Falls and view the Crocodile River cascading over a rock sill creating a spectacular waterfall.
After passing Weltevreden it’s time to jump off the thoroughfare route and head back to the gravel and Wonderkloof Pass, which can be located midway on the R593. The sharp-edged stones on the side of the road need to be given a wide berth and reducing speed is a top tip. Flowing on from Wonderkloof Pass in the Makobulaan Pass, a proper dirt pass with plenty of washed-out ruts and crevices it will bring proceedings to a crawl. Endure it and 37 km later you can turn right onto the glistening river of tarmac that is the R37 for the best tarred high-altitude passes we have on offer in South Africa. Head up into Masjien Nek, Koffiehoogte and the magnificient Long Tom Pass. If you’re worried that Makobulaan Pass took too much time these three passes will allow you to balance the scales in your favour. Stop at the top of Long Tom Pass for a photo at the highest point of the escarpment and a moment to savour your padkos and surroundings.
We leave Sabie, en-route for Graskop, turning right at Wilgerboom onto Klipkraal Pass: a plantation road beaten into submission by logging trucks and one that’s full of malice for the impatient. It’s often down to crawling pace, even over the concrete sections with treacherous drop-offs on either side of the narrow tyre tracks. That’s before a brief reprieve on the other side of Hazeyview in the form of Kipersol Pass and Bergvlei Pass, it’s onto the final test: Bakenkop Pass. Talk about a finale; with steep uphill rutted sections it can become a two-way dogfight with traction and the traction control electronics. As the saying goes ‘as fast as possible, as slow as necessary’ and you’ll emerge on the other side unscathed.
At the end of 8 hours your car will be caked in red dust, it’s muddied tyres – miraculously still intact – but in need of a light comb-over. You’ll have seen sights that many don’t know of unless they’re the local farmers and you’ll have been through valleys that you never knew existed. It’ll be worth every minute… all 450 of them!
Want to take the 12 Passes Mpumalanga Challenge yourself?
Tarmac: Sudwala Pass, Montrose Pass, Masjien Nek Pass, Long Tom Pass, Koffiehoogte Pass, Kiepersol Pass & Bergvlei Pass.
Gravel: Mount Carmel Pass, Wonderkloof Pass, Makobulaan Pass, Klipkraal Pass & Bakenkop Pass