R74 Alternate Routes

Hi, The R74 repairs are complete. The road is open. Safe travels.

This post reminds us of dark days when the R74 repairs were abandoned.

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Dear Guests,

During July 2012 the company which started the roadworks on the R74 have gone into liquidation. As early as May 2012, they withdrew their staff from the stop/go sections. As a result the road was closed.

However you can use the route. There is a 14 km section where the roadworks were abandoned. Along this section, travel with caution as there is two way traffic where there is space for only 1 vehicle to travel at a time. There are many pot holes.

Alternate routes

Due to the ongoing problems, we provide the following summary of alternative routes between the N3 Harrismith and the Northern Drakensberg turn off at foot of Oliviershoek pass.

Note – for the 3 routes indicated below, the comparison is between the N3 off ramp at Harrismith, and the turn off into the Northern Drakensberg at the foot of the Oliviershoek pass. The rest of your journey is excluded.

Heading colours correspond to the route colour on the Google maps image attached.

PDF map of the Routes.

Original Route

This is still the prefered route of locals

  • 1 – Harrismith to Northern Berg turn-off on R74
  • Take N5 exit to Bethlehem
  • Travel 5km West toward Bethlehem (Bloemfontein)
  • Turn Left Towards Phuthaditjhaba
  • Travel 9.2 km
  • Turn Left and ignore the road closed sign
  • Travel 14km through the roadworks with caution
  • Travel 18km to the foot of the pass
  • Turn Right to the Northern Berg

Northern Berg to Harrismith

  • Arrive at R74 from Northern Berg
  • Turn Left
  • Travel 18km North
  • With caution, travel 14km to T junction
  • Turn Right
  • Travel 9.2km to T junction
  • Turn Right
  • Travel 5km to the N3
  • Take glide on towards Johannesburg

Route Statistics

  • Total 46km
  • Average Speed 75kph
  • Time 30 – 40 minutes (depends on the traffic)


  • Tar (mostly)
  • Time probably still faster than the the alternates
  • If you are mentally prepared, then the stoppage is an advantage.


  • massive potholes
  • very slow speeds for 14km

Alternative 1 – Dirt

2.1 – To Northern Berg via some dirt

  • At Harrismith Take the N5 Exit (Bethlehem)
  • Travel 1.8 km West
  • At the 4 way stop, turn left (WilgePark)
  • Travel South 14.6 km
  • Turn Right
  • Travel South Westerly 10km to a T junction
  • Turn Left
  • Travel South for 7km to a T junction
  • Turn Left
  • Travel 16.2 km south down the Oliviershoek Pass
  • Turn Right to Northern Berg

Getting Back to Harrismith on dirt

  • Arrive at R74 from Northern Berg
  • Turn Left (North)Travel 16.2km
  • Turn Right (Kerkenberg)
  • Travel 7km North to the Side Junction,
  • Turn Right
  • Travel 10 km North Easterly to a T junction
  • Turn Left
  • Travel North 14.6km
  • At the 4 way stop, Turn Right
  • Travel 1.8km and take the Johannesburg on ramp onto the N3


  • Total 50km
  • Average Speed 60kph
  • Time +/- 50minutes
  • This route is suitable in vehicles with good clearance. Fancy cars with low profile tyres are not suitable.


  • No Stoppage


  • Takes longer than the original route
  • Narrow dirt roads
  • Slow speeds
  • There are some small patches without cell phone coverage
  • No signs

Route to Northern Berg – N3 via Bergville

N3 to Bergville, back to Northern Berg

  • Drive on toward Ladysmith (N3)
  • After 53km follow the original N3 not the alternate route
  • After another 17km take the off ramp and turn right toward Bergville
  • Drive 33km to Bergville
  • Turn right toward Harrismith
  • Drive 30km to the Northern Berg turn off
  • Turn Left

Northern Berg to Harrismith via Bergville and N3 toll

  • Arrive at R74 from Northern Berg
  • Turn Right to Bergville
  • Travel 30km
  • At Bergville turn left towards Ladysmith
  • Travel 33km
  • At N3 take left on ramp to Toll N3 North
  • Travel 17km
  • Pay Toll
  • N3 joins the alternate route from Ladysmith
  • Travel up Van Reenens Pass
  • After 53km arrive in Harrismith and continue your journey


  • Average Speed 105kph
  • Time 75 minutes
  • Distance 133km


  • No stoppage


  • Increased Cost (engine running longer)
  • Toll R56.00
  • 20 to 30 minutes longer journey
  • 85km longer than original route
  • It was reported that road works have comenced on the R616


During normal traffic, there is no advantage to the alternative routes. The time saving on the dirt road is not significant, and it is significantly longer to travel down Van Reenens pass on the N3. Add the toll and the increased cost of the car running longer, and it increases the journey cost.

However, should you decide to use the original route, use caution. The road has deteriorated and low speeds are advised for the 14km section where the road works were abandoned.

People with expensive cars or low profile tires are not advised to use the R74, and should rather use the route down Van Reenens pass. During high volumes of traffic, like over long weekends, we do believe the congestion will add to frustration, and danger, and under those conditions the alternatives may be a better bet.

71 thoughts on “R74 Alternate Routes”

  1. Thanks Oakes! A bit late as we were stuck on N3 for an hour this morning but good to know for next time.

    1. Hi Denise, Unfortunately the R74 (the alternate to the N3) can not cope with the additional traffic due to the 14km of abandoned roadworks. So until the repairs are completed, it is probably quicker to wait 60 minutes for an accident to be cleared on the N3 than to attempt to use the R74 to avoid Van Reenen’s Pass.

  2. How on earth do I get to Drakensville if I do not make use of the R74. I do not want to use the road to Ladysmith and then turn back to Oliviershoek Pass

  3. Hi A Steenkamp,

    I emailed you.

    The above are the options…

    R74 is passable.

    Safe journey….

  4. Hi, I plan to travel the R74 Harrismith – Bergville route on my GS 1200 dual purpose motorbike fittted with ” knobbie tyres ” Any advice or should I avoid ? Thanx.

    1. The road is not closed. There are 16km where the construction was abandoned. Travel slow (max 40kmph) and you will be through the bad section in about 25 minutes. Everyone, including myself, is ignoring the staff who are manning the stop-go at each end. There is very little traffic and it makes no sense to wait because when they tell you to go, then you will still meet oncoming traffic, because the other people on the road ignored the staff who are operating the stop-go on the other side.

      Safe travels.

  5. Hi, Are there any plans to complete construction on the R74? Will there be stop-and-gos on the R74 during December? Will there be stop-and-gos on the Ladysmith-Bergville road? Regards Cherie

    1. At present there are only rumors. For years rumors have amounted to nothing. They have people manning the stop-gos, but everybody ignores them, so there is traffic in both directions. As far as the Ladysmith-Bergville road is concerned, the stop-gos are on the Ladysmith-N3 stretch, and the N3-Bergville stretch is unaffected. The R74 remains the quickest way to get here, if you travel from JHB or Bloem. The affected section is 14km, which on a normal road takes 7 minutes at 120kmph. With the deterioration, it will take you 21 minutes at 40kmph. You will loose 14 minutes of your day. As long as the stop gos are not operating, I would not recommend that you travel the long way around which adds 80km to your journey. Of course, if you have low profile tires or your vehicle is very low, like a sports car, then it is best to go around as there are some rough sections which may damage such vehicles.

  6. Used the alternative dirt road in my Audi A4 last year with no problems. It was far better than the original route. Now have a SUV and will be using that route again.

  7. Any new developments perhaps? We are planning to drive down in two weeks time. Thanks.. Dennis

  8. Hi I want to travel from Golden Gate to Drakensville in Feb on the R 74
    1) What is the road condition is the road drive-able.
    2: will it be better to take the alternative dirt road? Any info will be appreciated.

  9. I need to drive to Cathedral Peak Hotel via Harrismith and Bergville. Can I still use the R74 as is, or should I rather take the BORING N3 all the way to the Bergville turn-off. I drive a Hilux…

  10. @peet & @dennis – The road condition is still the same. If you think 16km of “dirt” road is ok then use the R74 route (at your own risk)

    @carlo – The above is for people travelling to Tower of Pizza in the Northern Berg, in which case the R74 is the best option. For Cathedral peak the N3 and R616 is quicker. But its your choice if you are looking for a scenic route, be advised that the R74 road is terrible for 16km.

  11. At night, which would you advise between original and the dirt alternative, driving a Fortuner.

    1. Hi Nico

      I recommend the original R74. All of us locals use it when we need to go to Harrismith. Proceed slowly through the abandoned road works.

      During daylight I recommend these maximum speeds:
      First 5km max 40kmph
      Middle 5km max 80kmph (the middle section has a reasonable surface, with some pot holes)
      Last 5km max 40kmph

      The dirt road I would only recommend when the stop/ gos are working. Currently all drivers in both directions are ignoring the stop/ gos. If you obey them it makes no difference, since you will encounter oncoming traffic from people who ignored it on the other side.

      The stop/ gos will be working when they start working on the road again. In that event I will revert to using the dirt road.

      Because you are travelling at night, use more caution. Its harder to spot the pot holes, particularly when you have oncoming traffic. Traffic is generally very light on the R74 these days.

  12. hey, does anyone know if there is any shuttle? bus? tour? taxi? or any form of public transport from Harrismith to Bergville during the week? I have to travel from Harrismith towards Bergville but only to the Alpine Heath Resort on Monday and back on Tuesday. I don’t mind paying, I am just not finding anything.

    Any advice would be a life saver in this case as it is very urgent 🙁

    1. Your best bet is to hire a car in Harrismith. Avis, Budget, Tempest and Europcar all have offices in Harrismith. Or if you are from JHB use the Baz Bus and get Alpine to collect you. Only operates on specific days: Bazbus timetable.

  13. I used to use the R74 from KZN to harrismith regularly but stopped about 2 years ago because the one remaining lane had broken up so badly that one had to travel in 2nd gear and virtually stop for some of the ‘sinkholes’/ dongas /ditches [potholes is too kind a word]so no way could one average 40kph. I have found the dirt road[the one that goes near Retief’s Klip] far preferable-at least in dry weather.

    1. Hi Graham, While I dont agree with you, I think each person has to make their own judgement. If you use the dirt alternate you have 31.6km of dirt roads. And those roads are not in a good condition. The R74 and R712 section, which covers the same starting and end points, consists of 14km of abandoned roadworks, (I hesitate to call it dirt). But the other 14km is perfectly fine tar road where you can travel 100kmph safely. I recon that you will average 65kmph easily for the 2 sections. Even if you average 65kmph on the dirt road, its nearly 2km further. I still think the dirt is only an option when the stop-go is fully implemented, and there is an added wait of 20 minutes.

  14. thanks for your response;I find the dirt road a bit of an adventure and fancy myself as reliving Piet Retief’s journey in a small way so that might explain my preference.Have any of the worst ‘potholes’been filled at all? Is anyone putting pressure on the useless Free State Govt to get in a new contractor to recommence work?If the original contractor went into liquidation there is no other option but to start afresh. It is absurd that a major thoroughfare between 2 provinces has been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that this one has-a sign of becoming a 3rd world country?

  15. Hi! What is the condition of the R 74 after the rains?? I’m driving an amarok by myself soon to royal natal and is this route safe for me?

    1. Hi Carol. The road has deteriorated. We still advise people to use it. If you proceed slowly with caution, you should be through the bad section in 25 minutes. Safe travels…

  16. Hi,
    I will be arriving at the area from Harrismith in mid April with a rented car. Is the road still passable or should I use an alternate route?

    1. Hi Noam, There have been no further developments. Each person must make up his or her own mind about which route to use. Us locals still use the R74. People with low profile tyres fitted to their vehicles or if the vehicle has very little clearance (sports car) should use the N3 route. Allow yourself 25-35 minutes to complete the 14km roadworks section and you will be happy when you get through quicker than the guy doing the N3 trek to miss this section. There are 2 really bad 5km sections and a middle 5km section where the surface is still reasonable. If you are the type that gets really angry that the government has taken your taxes, and failed to provide a road for 3 years, then the long road round may be better for you.

  17. I will be traveling from Johannesburg to berg ville next week. Which is the safest route….meaning which roads are the best to travel. I am journeying down in an Audi A3. Please guys help me out here. I am a female on my own. Thanx

    1. Hi Karen, The best route from Johannesburg to Bergville is to use the N3 and take the R616 Bergville/Ladysmith exit number 230. The R74 (with the abandoned roadworks) and Oliviershoek pass would only be suitable if you were going to the Northern Drakensberg/Royal Natal area, where the Tower of Pizza is.

  18. i want to travel up oliviershoek pass during july with a motorcycle. will it be possible due to road conditions

    1. Hi Heidi, That would depend on the motorbike. At slow speed it should not be a problem. If you see an oncoming truck, I would pull over to avoid any danger. There isnt really space for 2 way traffic, and there is light traffic in both directions.

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