Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

A short pass to beauty

The Bloenek Pass has nothing special about it in terms of length or altitude gain, except for one thing – it is situated in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, which makes it a popular route. TRYGVE ROBERTS of Mountain Passes South Africa explores this beautiful little pass.

Nestled within the crater of an extinct volcano, Pilanesberg is an area of great scenic splendour and richly diverse wildlife, with a history extending way back before the Iron Age. The beautiful little Bloenek Pass is located in the south of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve on the tarred road which dissects the reserve from north to south, called Kubu Drive. The road surface has deteriorated rather significantly over the past few years but remains suitable for all vehicles.

From Johannesburg or Pretoria, head in a north-westerly direction along the N4 towards Rustenburg. Take the R556 offramp – signposted as ‘Sun City’ – and turn right. After travelling along the R556 for approximately 75.4km, you will reach the entrance to the Sun City entertainment complex, whereafter you continue straight along the R556 for another 4.6km until you reach an intersection where you will turn right (there is a signboard, but it is obscured). Follow this road for 4.2km until you reach Bakubung Gate to enter the reserve. Once through the gate, continue straight ahead on Kubu Drive for 2.7km, past Lengau Dam on your left, to reach the southern start of the pass at S25.318559 E27.056599. Alternatively, you can enter the reserve at any of the other three gates, including Kwa Maritane, Manyane or Bakgatla. In this case, you will approach the pass from the north, reaching the starting point on Kubu Drive at S25.293659 E27.088490, which is exactly 5.7km from the Pilanesberg Visitors Centre.

If you do decide to stop here for refreshments, be aware that several Vervet monkeys frequent this establishment, and have become habituated and bold over time. They will literally steal food from your hands, and if thwarted, they could well resort to biting you. Please do not feed or encourage them, as this will ultimately result in them having to be euthanised (this also applies to any other animals or birds in the park).

From the start of the pass, the road travels in a south-westerly direction and ascends gradually at a relatively mild gradient of 1:20 to reach the summit after just 800m. Once over the summit, the road continues in a generally south-westerly direction through a wide arc, down a long descent of 3.7km at an average gradient of 1:33. If you look to your right during the latter part of the descent, you will have expansive views over a wide open area called Cheetah Plains. You have an excellent chance of spotting a rhino here or if you are really lucky, perhaps a cheetah or two.

There is a fairly steep hillside to your left, often frequented by zebras, giraffes, and various antelope species. After reaching the end of the pass, you will approach Lengau Dam on your right, where you are most likely to see various birds, including Darters, Cormorants, and Ibises all frolicking amongst the rather large pod of hippos.

FACT FILE

GPS START: S25.2936559 E27.088490

GPS SUMMIT: S25.298593 E27.083133

GPS END: S25.318559 E27.056599

AVE GRADIENT: 1:40

MAX GRADIENT: 1:10

ELEVATION START: 1 241m

ELEVATION SUMMIT: 1 282m

ELEVATION END: 1 169m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS: 113m

DISTANCE: 4.5km

DIRECTION – TRAVEL: South

TIME REQUIRED: 8 minutes

SPEED LIMIT: 40km/h

SURFACE: Tar

NEAREST TOWN: Rustenburg (54km)

About PILANSBERG NATURE RESERVE

Pilanesberg Game Reserve hosts a wide variety of birds and animals, including the Big Five, cheetahs and wild dogs. The reserve is the fourth largest of all of the big parks in South Africa, covering an area of some 550km2, and is a great weekend destination for city dwellers from Jozi and Pretoria since it’s only around 200km away.

Pilanesberg is named after Pilane, chief of the Bakgatla tribe, who ruled over this clan from 1825 to 1850. Just as he took power, the Ndebele warlord, Mzilikaze, swept into the region. He brought turbulence and terror, subduing Pilane’s people, imposing taxes and forcing them to look after his cattle. As missionaries and settlers began to move into the area, Mzilikaze refused to tolerate their presence, except for Robert Moffat, whom he regarded as a friend and even a brother. Mzilikaze’s reign of terror lasted until a combined force of Tswana, Griqua and European settlers drove him out, and the Ndebele fled to southern Zimbabwe to settle near Bulawayo.

Towards the end of the 1800s, European settlers had established themselves permanently and had assumed control of the region. Then a new force, the army of the British Empire, arrived to challenge the power of the Boers. Although the second Boer War (1899 – 1902) did not directly affect Pilanesberg, the whole region was influenced economically, politically and environmentally.

As the 20th century progressed, the most dramatic effect on the environment came from mechanised agriculture, large herds of domestic stock, and huge hunting expeditions. Before its proclamation in 1979, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve was degraded and depleted of indigenous game populations due to fairly intense activity by commercial farmers. At considerable expense, the land was restocked with game, the scars of human settlement were removed, and tourism infrastructure was developed during the first 15 years (1979 to 1993). A 110km peripheral big game fence was erected over some very rugged terrain, 188km of visitor roads were developed, and more than 6 000 head of game were introduced during the Operation Genesis game translocation program.

The reserve offers a variety of accommodation options, ranging from camping and self-catering units to luxury lodges. Several adventure activities are also available, including guided game drives, self-drive safaris, hot air ballooning (highly recommended), rhino tracking, and hiking safaris. The Sun City entertainment complex lies within an enclave of the reserve.

*The entrance fee to the park ranges from R30 for children under 12, to R40 for pensioners, R80 for adults and R110 for foreign nationals per day. All vehicles pay R40 per day for entry.

CONTACT: +27 14 555 1600 | www.pilanesbergnationalpark.org

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