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Trail Review: Pienaar’s Pass


Part of the allure of the Karoo National Park is its expansive network of 4×4 trails which take capable visitors out to the far-flung corners of the reserve. There, in the most remote places, remarkable sightings are often made.

The park does quite a bit to market the refurbished Klipspringer Pass, a sedan-friendly climb to a plateau that serves as the final exit point from the rest camp area. Yes, it’s a beautiful drive, but it won’t get your blood pumping.


Price: R280 per vehicle

Terrain: Gravel with large rocks and hard clay, changing to shale and rock shards near the top

Recovery facilities: The rangers will rescue you if need be

On-site compressor: No, bring your own

Best time of year: June, July & August, when temperatures are low

Guided: No

Opening times: Year round, unless the road has been damaged

Grading: 1-3+

Distance: +- 6km

Diff-lock: Definitely required

Tyres: All-terrains

Tyre pressure: Reduce for rocky terrain

Softroader friendly: No

What vehicle were we driving? Nissan Navara 2.3D 4×4 LE Auto

For that, you’ll need to tackle Pienaar’s Pass, the legacy of an industrious farmer who once called the Nuweveld Mountains home. As mentioned before, the pass was his route to ‘new veld’ and a reprieve for his starving sheep.

You’re likely to encounter some reluctance and scepticism when paying for the permit at reception, especially if, like us, you arrive in a stock-standard bakkie after torrential bursts of rain. The rangers are adamant that the pass is a Grade 5 trail – but it’s not. So, with a little nagging, you’ll be handed the keys to the park’s most exhilarating climb.

Pienaar must’ve had legs like an ox to climb this thing, but for our purposes, the Navara’s 2.3-litre twin-turbo would do just fine. The first gradual clamber over solid ground peppered with a few loose rocks soon turns into a fairly steep ascent over mostly Grade 3 terrain.

Like any good trail, Pienaar’s Pass get tougher the further along you go, which means that vehicles without diff-locks shouldn’t attempt the climb. Park rangers have far more important things to do than to pull you, your ego and your stranded rig out of trouble.

The road is narrow, and, at some points, chunks of missing rock serve as warnings that wider cars don’t always make it through intact. It’s impossible to turn around, so once you’ve committed to the task, push through. The drive is breath-taking, with steep drops on either side of the track, and epic views of the valley below.

About halfway up the trail, we managed to get stuck in a particularly axle-articulating dip in the road, which was the closest thing to Grade 4 the park had to offer. Some road-building and a couple of Max Trax recovery tracks got us out, so it’d be a good idea to have a set on standby if you go that way. And keep a good distance from spinning wheels – those loose rocks can fly.

With the worst behind us, we chugged on to some truly spectacular views, as the sheer cliff on the left of the road is contrasted with the high drop-off on the right. Once you’ve conquered the pass, you can enjoy the plateau in all its glory as the game-viewing begins. Don’t forget to stay in your vehicle – the lions are more likely to chase a snack on two legs than one on four wheels.

By Micky Baker

To book a ramble up the pass, fill out the form below.