The eastern-most pass up Harrismith’s Platberg is the fabled Donkey Pass. We called it Flat Rock Pass. Mountain Passes South Africa says it’s the sixth highest above sea level, and the second steepest pass in South Africa.
The road traverses a nature reserve and you need a permit to drive up. The steep parts – with sections as steep as 1:3 – are concrete stripped to aid traction. 4X4 and low range is essential for a safe and – especially – non-destructive ascent.
For those that do get to drive this amazing pass, you will be one of a select few to have done so.
The fauna and flora are special – adapted to the high altitude – up to 2394m – that’s 7854 feet to those stuck in ancient Empirical measures! When the sun never used to set on old whatsername’s empire. Remember? Plant species, over 669; I know of these animals: grey rhebok; chacma baboon; dassie; there must be many more. I hope the rhebok are still there. They live a precarious existence on this little 3000ha ‘island’, with people, fires and cattle around and encroaching.
On top you’ll find Gibson Dam, built by British soldiers soon after the Boer War. The donkeys that carried the building material up gave the pass its alternative name.
Other passes on Platberg’s south side – the side facing the town – are Khyber Pass, ZigZag Pass and One Man’s Pass. They’re all footpaths only though.
Hopefully Platberg’s custodians limit the number of vehicles they allow on top to keep the mountain top as undamaged as possible. Sensitive wetlands!
Here’s the extent of Harrismith’s townlands. This means the rare grassland and wetland top of Platberg is unprotected and could be developed. We really need to up its conservation status: