Being located in the southernmost section of the Drakensberg range, Rhodes is central to a number of passes, the most well-known of which is the Naudesnek Pass which, at more than 2500m above sea-level, is the highest in South Africa.

Some 50km to the south of Naudesnek is the lesser known “Bastervoetpad Pass” which is an absolute gem. Slightly further south is the spectacular Barkly Pass between Barkly East and Elliot. Other passes within easy reach of Rhodes include the Carlisleshoek and Volunteershoek Passes which provide access to the Tiffindell Ski Resort from the south and the west. Slightly further west is the Lundeansnek Pass en-route to the Sterkspruit/Herschel district and the Telle Bridge border post into Lesotho. Even less well-known passes in the area are the Espachsberg and Bottelnek Passes, not quite as magnificent as some of the others but with stunning scenery nonetheless.

Day trips from Rhodes up and down the escarpment, crossing back and forth as well as completing the passes above the escarpment will provide you with a “quilting” experience of note whilst “Stitching the Dragon’s Tail”.

Short Drives


Bokspruit / Riflespruit Drive

A morning drive up the Bokspruit or Riflespruit valleys is a feast for the eyes and is +-60km or two hours in duration excluding "Kodak moments".

Maartenshoek

From Rhodes, +-8km on the road to Barkly East, the first turnoff to the right is the entrance to this special valley. Continue until reaching the bridge at the Bell River. Cross and continue as far as the condition of the road allows. Should you come across closed gates, please close them behind you. Rock art sites can also be visited by prior arrangement.

Naudesnek Pass – Mooidraai

30km or an hour's drive from Rhodes, Mooidraai is located less than 1km from the top of Naudesnek Pass. On a clear day, the view is spectacular and legend has it that one can see the sea from there on a very clear day.

Mountain Passes


RHODES - NAUDE’S NEK ROUTE

2594m highest point, 2500m  at escarpment
Nearest town - Rhodes (0km)
Best time of year - Year round
Maximum vehicles - Unlimited
Route distance - 110km (3-5hours)
Grading - 1-2
GPS: S 30’ 43.942 E 28’ 08.221

Why go there?

Naude’s Nek is South Africa’s highest road pass and a passport to dizzyingly beautiful Drakensberg mountain scenery. It is an ideal link to other great 4x4 drives including the Bastervoetpad and an 84km loop starting and finishing in Rhodes.

The Route

Turn the clock back more than a century to 1896 and one can imagine the horseback ride that the Naude brothers – Stefanus and Gabriel – endured while following footpaths and surveying the original route across the neck. On one occasion a family member commented that it was too steep and daunting for a baboon even, given rise to the name Bobbejaanskop, on the way up. You summit after 24km – our GPS reading 2603m – with the Naude’s Nek road intersecting with the one from Tiffindell eight km later. This is an alternate starting point, but misses out the highest point on the pass (From Tiffindell you turn left at the T-junction 1,4km down the hill and left again through a white farm gate 400m later). Either way you enjoy a marvellously scenic drive on mostly good roads, with the route from Rhodes being suitable even for a sedan in the good weather we encountered early in May. The dirt ends at the town of Maclear.

What else?

Another trail option is to take the Carlisleshoek route out of Rhodes towards Tiffindell, entering the white farm gate 1,8km from the ski resort, and then heading down Naude’s Nek for an 84km loop that takes three or four hours in good weather.

The cost

Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route

Why I loved it

“Driving South Africa’s highest pass is a must for the tick-list and Naude’s Nek a rich scenic reward for the effort in tearing yourself away from the hamlet of Rhodes.” Geoff Dalglish

 

THE BASTERVOETPAD PASS

NB NOT RECOMMENDED UNLESS THERE IS MORE THAN ONE VEHICLE IN THE PARTY, YOU ARE AN EXPERIENCED 4X4 DRIVER AND DEFINITELY NOT DURING WET WEATHER.

Nearest town - Ugie (4km), Maclear (24km) or Rhodes (67km)
Time of year - Year round
Maximum vehicles - Unlimited
Route distance - 39km (2 hours)
Grading - 1-2
GPS: S 31’ 12.333 E 28’ 11.366

Why go there?

The Bastervoetpad is a spectacular back-country route that is little travelled. We enjoyed it so much we tackled it in both directions on successive days. The only company you’re likely to find on route is an occasional herder and Jackal Buzzard riding the thermals. Bastervoetpad can be combined in a giant 270km loop from Rhodes that includes Naude’s Nek, the highest mountain pass in South Africa. Allow up to 10 hours or, better still, overnight along the way.

The Route

We explored the Bastervoetpad after looping from Rhodes over Naude’s Nek to Maclear and Ugie, visiting the Dinosaur’s Footprints on route, which made for a very long but satisfying day. If you approach from Ugie turn right from the tar 4km out of town onto the Wildebeeshoek dirt road – if you pass beneath the overhead railway bridge you have gone too far. Then you fork right 10km later for the start of the Bastervoetpad. Alternately, head out of Rhodes on the main dirt road to Barkly East, turning left to Bokspruit after 14km, forking right at 18km and then veering left to Eliot at the 32km mark. After 67km you turn sharply left onto the clearly signposted Bastervoetpad, heading over the Lapa Munnik Pass. Whichever way you have approached from you’ll enjoy a superb scenic drive. The 39km road is a tribute to the vision and road building skills of Maclear roads inspector Leon Barnard, the views growing ever more spectacular as you climb to the 2240m saddle. In early May the rocky track was in reasonable repair and could have been managed in two-wheel drive, although low range made the journey safer and more enjoyable. Some ascents and descents are likely to be treacherous in very wet or snowy conditions.

What else?

Between Rhodes and Maclear you can enjoy all the attractions of the Southern Drakensberg, including breathtaking scenery, superb fly fishing, a treasure trove of San rock art, horse riding, hiking and a variety of delightful B&Bs and guest farms.

The cost

Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route.

Why I loved it

“A long-standing love affair with the tranquillity of Rhodes was combined with the discovery of fabulous new 4x4 possibilities, the Bastervoetpad even allowing for a very chilly skinny-dip!” Geoff Dalglish.

Why it’s a Top 10 choice

- Driving challenges
- Ability to maintain interest
- Scenery
- The richness of fauna and flora
- The variety of attractions on offer
- Quality or appeal of camping or accommodation facilities
- Commitment to preserving/rehabilitating the environment
- Charisma or commitment of guides/owners
- Value for money
- Wilderness or get-away-from-it-all experience.

 

RHODES - CARLISLESHOEK ROUTE, 2487m     

Nearest town - Rhodes (0km)
Best time of year - Year round
Maximum vehicles - Unlimited
Route distance - 24km (1 hours)
Grading - 1-2
GPS: S 30’ 47.726  E 27’ 57.837  

Why go there?

The quaint 112-year-old hamlet of Rhodes is a national monument in the heart of the spectacular Southern Drakensberg. This is an area renowned for its unspoilt beauty numbering trout fishing, snow skiing, hiking, horse riding and pure relaxation among its drawcards. It’s a time warp where there are no room keys to the local hotel and crime is hardly an issue.

The Route

You take the Carlisleshoek road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort & Alpine Retreat and Ben McDhui, the highest peak in the Cape (3001,1m). A sign at the base of this dirt road tells you of impending conditions, which were as easy 45-minute run at the beginning of May, but can deteriorate to Mission Impossible at the height of the snow season between June and early September. Normally this route is quite manageable for 4x2s and soft-roaders, although steep ascents out of hairpin bends, can have you wishing for more power or low range, with a little bit of momentum sometimes necessary to help a heavily-laden high range vehicle. When conditions are tricky because of snow, ice or mud, the Tiffindell ski resort runs a shuttle in 4x4s fitted with chains. Inquire about prevailing conditions and accept the advice of locals who best understand the vagaries of alpine weather. The Carlisleshoek Route can also be linked to the Wartrail or Naudesnek Routes for a much more extensive drive.

What else?

Access to the starting point of Rhodes takes you 120km along excellent roads from Aliwal North, with the dirt beginning just outside of Barkly East. The final few kilometres are slow, demanding extreme caution, but are part of the fun.

The cost

Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route.

Why I loved it

“Rhodes offers the sense of community lost in the cities, against the backdrop of superb Drakensberg scenery. The area offers true relaxation.” Geoff Dalglish.

 

THE WARTRAIL (VOLUNTEERSHOEK PASS) 2382m

Nearest town - Rhodes (28km)
Best time of year - Year round (treacherous or impossible in snow)
Maximum vehicles - Unlimited
Route distance - 28 km (1 hour)
Grading - 1-2
GPS :S 30’ 39.196  E 27’ 55.556

Why go there?

This adventure through the Witteberg range of the Southern Drakensberg makes you want to be a local farmer or B&B owner. Spectacular scenery changes with the seasons but the Wartrail Valley is always picturesque. The driving challenge varies from easy to downright daunting or impossible, depending on weather conditions. You can hike to the highest point in the Cape with the 3001m Ben McDhui overlooking the ski resort.

The Route

From the Tiffindell Resort you head back down the mountain for 1,4km, turning right at the T-junction to Wartrail, an area that has been home to South Africa’s First People, the San Bushmen, early Xhosa and Sesotho groups, 1820 Settler families and trekboers. It was also the scene of raiding parties led by Chief Moshesh’s generals, giving the route its name. Today it is a picture of perfection, although the serpentine descent into the valley, with its tight hairpins, will keep your concentration focussed. After heavy rains or when the snow melts, conditions become difficult and streams can become too deep for safe passage – last year two young girls drowned when their 4x4 Dad attempted a crossing against local advice! Our recommended route takes you 28km from the resort to the intersection where you can fork left to Moshesh's Ford, or right to New England and Barkly East. Check on the prevailing weather and road conditions before your trip.

What else?

The route features all types of accommodation from camping to en-suite fully catered B&BS to suit all pockets; with attractions including abundant San rock art in the mountains.

The cost

Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route.

Why I loved it

“In early May it was a riot of autumn colours and a spectacle to rival Golden Gate on the Free State side of the mountains. Now I plan to return to see it blanketed in snow.”

by Geoff Dalglish.