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)

Advantages

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

Disadvantages

  • 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

Statistics

  • 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.

Advantage

  • No Stoppage

Disadvantage

  • 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

Statistics

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

Advantage

  • No stoppage

Disadvantages

  • 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

Conclusion

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. Hi, I’m travelling from Johannesburg to alpine heath next week, which route is the safest. I’m driving a Hyundai ix35

    1. Hi Lorraine, Provided you reduce speed to 40kmph the R74 is possibly safer than the alternate. The extra 80km on the alternate route has risks associated with it too. You would pass through Van Reenens pass, which is possibly one of the more dangerous sections of the N3. The ix35 has good clearance. Provided you have regular tyres, and not low profile tyres, you should be fine. However, at 100kmph it would be dangerous, so travel at a low speed through the 14km of abandoned roadworks.

  2. hi there
    also going to alpine heath at month end.

    Thanks for all the info you have posted.

    May i ask from which point to which point is the road terrible to use? I used it last year – was a nightmare! It seemed like alot more than 14km, but maybe cos I drove at like 20km/h at that stage.

    I saw an alternate on google maps, from harrismith, along the road passing Wilgepark.
    Is this a safe alternative, then get back onto the R74?

    I have a AWD but its on low profile tyres and i would hate to be in harms way, BUT i also dont want to trog over 90km extra.

    Would appreciate your help. ALSO what are your rates for 29/30 July?

    Thanks

    1. I would go the long way around if I had low profile tires. The dirt road is not advised. Its 30km of rough dirt. With your low profile tires this will take a lot longer than the R74 with the 14km of abandoned roadworks. I have forwarded your accommodation request to the owners.

  3. Hi i will be travelling down the R74 to Bergville with a trailer do you think it willbe ok.
    regards
    stan

    1. Hi Stan, The Tower of Pizza is situated in the Northern Drakensberg, and the discussion above is about travelling to the Tower of Pizza. If you are travelling to Bergville, rather use the N3 down Van-Reenen’s pass, and then take the R616 to Bergville.

  4. I just travelled on the R74 from Drakensville and was shocked about the condition of this main road. How is possible for a contractor to mess up the entire road. Was there no check ups from the Free State roads department. There was no one manning the stop/go sections on Friday morning 22 August 2014

    1. Hi Nick, The contractor was not paid, pulled off the job and went into liquidation. You leave an unfinished road construction for five years and your road ends up like that. We never thought we would still be living with this road. Its not ideal but we take solace in the fact that it is 15km of shocking road and the rest of it is still good.

  5. Thank you for your reply. I have read that holiday resorts in the area have shown that their bookings are less. The farmers must also have huge losses on their trucks and vehicles. Has this R74 ever been discussed on Carte Blanche. I cannot stop thinking of the condition of this road.

  6. Hi,I am planning on travelling to Drakensville from Durban on the 15th of Sept. I was informed to take the R74 after Estcourt ,through Bergville. Afterward then travelling to JNB. Do the Bad Roadworks fall in the section from Estcourt to Drakensville or from Drakensville via Oliviershoek pass to Harrismith.? Is there an alternate to these sections? Waiting for you reply.Tks.

    1. Hi Chris, Its on the Jo’burg side of Drakensville. The alternates are discussed above. Safe travels…

  7. Hi, I am planning to travel to The Cavern from Johannesburg, driving Golf TDI that unluckily has very low ground clearance.

    From above it seems the best would be to travel down N3 to exit 230 (R616) back up to R74 past Tower of Pizza restaurant, turning right to travel past All Out Adventures up to the cavern.

    Would this be correct?

  8. Good Day, I will be travelling to Thendele camp end of the week from Jhb. Is the best route still travelling to Ladysmith, then through Bergville? Or is it possible to take the R74 pass the Sterkfontein Dam?
    I will be driving a Vw Polo, or is the route only suitable for 4X4’s

    Thanks

    1. Hi Christopher, The R74 is drivable. However, there are now roadworks on the KZN side (Oliviershoek Pass) and additional wait time at stop-gos. We therefore recommend the route down Van-reenens and the R616 to Bergville.

  9. Could a 38 seater luxury coach use the Olivieshoek Pass en route to Alpine Heath. Client insists she doesn’t want to travel via the N3 to Bergville etc….

    1. If the bus has poor clearance I would avoid the R74. Many coaches are very low at the front and would not handle this road. There are now roadworks (with stop-gos) on the KZN side of the pass, increasing travel time. I would advise you to use the N3, and R616 to Bergville. Travel back to the Northern ‘berg on the R74.

    1. Hi Karen, The road was apparently graded in December. This means it may be a little improved. However, it is still in a bad condition and you need to travel slowly for 15km.

  10. Hi. Thanks for info on the roads. My nephew will be traveling from Johannesbrg to Drakensville in the evening on a motorbike and Im recomending the R616 to bergville. What is the condition of the R616 road? Does it have potholes and will it be ok for him to drive it at night? Please advise

    1. Hi Betsy, I drove the R616 just before Christmas. I don’t remember any potholes. Tell your nephew to keep an eye out for stray animals. This is always a risk in farming areas, especially when on a motorbike.

    1. Hi, The roadworks are back in action. The road was graded and is a bit smoother, but the stop go is operating, meaning up to 40 minutes delay if you catch them at the wrong time.

  11. Hi i’m travelling to Alpine Heath Resort. How bad are the roads? If I take the Ladysmith route is that fully tarred? and whats the estimated total time from JHB to the resort through via Ladysmith?
    Thank you

    1. Sorry I only saw your comment now. There are roadworks underway, which means 2 stop/go sections with total waits of up to 40 minutes. This involves 10km of dirt road. Its still the quickest route. The route past Ladysmith is 80km further and involves a toll. Personally I would only use the long route round if I was towing a caravan, or if my car was a very low sports car. The additional time around the long way is 30 minutes. You would be very unlucky to wait 40 minutes in total at the stop gos. I would say the average is 20 minutes.

  12. Thank you for your response! Are the roads also bad for the guys drivin from durban?

    1. No, there are (currently) no sections with abandoned/resumed roadworks for people travelling from Durban. Only the 15km section of the R74 in Freestate province has been affected.

  13. I did that road, Harrismith to Northern Berg, early September 2015 in a i10 and vowed to never do it again. But grading and roadworks sound good. I will attempt it again in September.
    Thank you for the updates

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