Scenic Drives

Regional Passes Challenge Information

NAUDE’S NEK – The highest mountain pass in South Africa.

JOUBERT’S PASS – The third highest mountain pass in South Africa.

VOLUNTEERSHOEK – Up to Tiffindell Ski Resort and the highest point in the Cape.

CARLISLESHOEK – …And down the other side to the historical Rhodes Village

LUNDEAN’S NEK– A scenic route to the Lesotho border post at Telebridge.

BASTERVOETPAD – Challenging driving and incredible views of the valleys below.

BARKLY PASS – The only tarred pass – but the views are worth it!

OTTO DU PLESSIS – A wild and unspoiled pass with excellent birding.

KARRINGMELKSPRUIT – Tar, between Lady Grey and New England turnoff on the R58.

KRAAI RIVER – Tar, between the New England turnoff and Barkly East.

OLD KRAAI RIVER PASS & LOCH BRIDGE – On the Barkly East to New England/Wartrail Road.

ESPACHSBERG – Very rough, between the R393 and R396.

 

Naudes’s Nek – Maclear to Rhodes

With a summit of over 2,920m above sea level, Naudés Nek Pass is the highest dirt road in South Africa. Connecting Maclear with historical Rhodes this pass is based on the route taken by the intrepid Naudé brothers in the 1890s. Following the path that their horses instinctively took they carved out the route with picks and shovels. Today the road is more usually travelled in a comfortable 4×4 vehicle, but it still presents a challenge, particularly in winter when heavy snowfalls are common. Local advice regarding weather and road conditions should be heeded before attempting this spectacular pass.

Carlisleshoek Pass -Rhodes to Tiffindell Ski Resort

2563m

In years gone by, in order to reach farms on the plateau by vehicle, the only option was to go up the Naudesnek Pass and then immediately before the descent begins turn off and follow the road parallel to the escarpment to the Cairntoul Police Station. In more recent years, the Tenahead Mountain Lodge was established along this road +-4km from the turn-off. From there, the route continues more or less along the contour heading west towards Ben McDhui on the slopes of which the Tiffindell Ski Resort was established in the early 90s. This was a long and time consuming drive so the authorities were prevailed upon to construct the Carlisleshoek Pass that was completed in the 1980s.

 

The valley had been named after a leading light in the farming community generations ago by the name of Carlisle whose home farm was Elibank which the road transects en route to the pass. Born in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa on 5 Jul 1838 to John Carlisle and Catherine Philipps. John Henry Philipps Carlisle b5 married Emma Mary Heathcote and had 2 children. He passed away on 1 DEC 1899 in Elibank, Barkly East, Drakensberg District, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Ref: https://www.ancestry.com.au/genealogy/records/john-henry-philipps-carlisle-b-24-1vyybp4

 

At the time, it merely followed a route from a turnoff 1km from Rhodes where it leaves the R396 to the Naudesnek Pass. After crossing the Bell River and the Carlisleshoekspruit several more times, it continues along the Carlisleshoek valley floor. Eventually at the end of the valley, the route that was used to gain access to farms on the plateau either on foot or on horseback begins the ascent. For this reason, it has several sharp corners as animals and herders have a far shorter turning circle than do vehicles. This was apparently the most cost effective option but which is unfortunate for the simple reason that had the route been properly surveyed and consequently better planned, it may well have been more expensive but which would certainly have avoided the steep climbs by using a more gradual ascent. On the other hand, the “planned ascent” approach would have deprived current users of the challenges in making use of the pass!

 

The gravel-surfaced road has five distinct stages, the first meandering long the valley floor, the second a short but steep climb with two switchbacks, the third along a contour gouged out of the mountainside, the fourth the notorious concrete section where the second steep climb begins and has three sharp corners after which the last sharp corner appears, the concrete ends and the fifth section begins where the road emerges from the gorge onto the plateau from where it meanders in the general direction of Ben McDhui, at 3001m, the highest peak in all of the provinces except for those in KZN/Lesotho border and one in the Free State.

 

What is deemed to be the Grandfather of mountain bike races was the Rhodes Challenge.  It was organised by the late Sam Hallatt and first pedalled in 1994. The race route was circular out to Naudesnek Pass, across towards Ben McDhui and returning via the Carlisleshoek Pass, an 84km monster with a cumulative climb of 855m and the highest point being 2673m above sea-level. As part of the then-Mazda Series, its popularity soared to the extent that the highest number of participants peaked at 600 riders. On the descent down the pass, entrants would pedal their way down, allegedly reaching speeds of up to 60km/hour! Definitely not for the faint-hearted and with immense faith in one’s bicycle and riding skill!

 

As with the Baster Voetpad Pass, traces of Quaternary periglacial conditions have also been found in the Carlisleshoek valley at 2225m above sea-level.

 

The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago) and the Holocene (11.7 thousand years ago to today).[2] The informal term "Late Quaternary" refers to the past 0.5–1.0 million years.[“     from Wikipedia

 

It is the main access route to the Tiffindell Ski Resort and is easily traversed by 2 x 4 vehicles in dry conditions but low profile tyres are not a recommendation, even if such vehicles have managed to reach Rhodes! In winter, snow can render the route impassable at worst or only in 4x4s equipped with tyre chains. Snow is the extreme but one should also be wary of wet weather so making use of local advice is essential. Whether ascending or descending in snowy or wet conditions, irrespective of drivers’ skills, type or make of vehicle or progress – or a lack thereof, ultimately it is momentum and gravity that dictate the outcome.

Volunteershoek Pass -Tiffindell Ski Resort to Wartrail

Tiffindell Resort was established in 1993 to give South Africans an opportunity to ski near their homes and others to ski in Africa. The carefully selected position of the resort, on the south facing slope, ensures that the snow lasts, extending the time available for snow skiing. Slopes cleared and groomed during summer quickly transform to ski runs after even the lightest of snowfalls. After traversing the high plateau, the Carlisleshoek Pass winds its way down to the farming community of Wartrail. The road is narrow with some precipitous drop-offs, so do pause to check for oncoming vehicles coming up the pass as they have right of way. After the steepest section, the road gives wonderful views of Halstone Krans and the valley farmlands beyond. There are some interesting rock formations along this section, the most notable of which is ‘Funnystone’ which lends its name to the farm opposite.

Lundean’s Nek -Wartrail to Telebridge Border Post with Lesotho

2170m

 

Lundinsnek Pass is one of those unheralded passes that has not enjoyed the publicity of one or two others in the Eastern Cape Highlands but is a pass of note nonetheless. Often traversed by folk who pay attention to modern gadgetry such as GPS technology, it may be the shortest route from the west to Rhodes but it is by no means, the quickest as a lack of regular maintenance is an ongoing issue. On the other hand, that makes it a 4x4 enthusiast’s paradise!

 

It is 14,5km long with four hairpins and many sharp corners and curves plus numerous unguarded drop-offs and fords across mountain streams. In wet weather, it is also subject to landslides of greater or lesser volumes of material that can impede progress! It is the link between the Wartrail area and the Tele valley with Dangershoek at one end and the Tele border post and Sterkspruit town near the other. It was named after a Swedish trader who had set up shop in the Upper Tele valley at the bottom of the pass while a trading colleague by the name of Danger had done so nearby in what became known Dangershoek.

 

The Lundinsnek Pass is on the R393 regional route that runs from the top of Barkly Pass through Moshesh’s Ford and the Wartrail area over the pass, along the Tele River past the Tele Bridge Border Post and on to meet the R392 to Sterkspruit or the R726 to Zastron. Its crest is 2170m above sea-level and a gradient of 1:14

 

Historically, the route was used by the BaPuthi, a clan “of Nguni origin who, had lived for several generations in what is now southern Lesotho. During the Mfecane, Moorosi earned himself a reputation as a freebooter and cattle thief.”

Under the chieftainship of Moorosi, who gave sanctuary to San cattle raiders, the clan was a constant source of trouble to his neighbours for stock raids that lasted into the 1870s.  

 

These raids were conducted against the Thembu and Mpondomise clans. The former occupied the area below the escarpment while the latter were further afield close to and along what is now known as the Wild Coast. They obviously used the modern day and/or other routes traversing the escarpment, no doubt aided and abetted by the San within their midst. By the time that white farmers started settling in the Barkly East district circa 1860, the BaPuthi were well-versed in cattle raids that had been a way of life for at least four decades if not longer. The raids were not only directed to the south but also to the west as far afield as Smithfield in the Free State, no doubt preying on their immediate neighbours as well. Cattle raids and what has been described as “acts deemed to be hostile to the Cape Colonial Administration” led to a concerted military effort that “was one of the defining events of the exercise of authority in Phuthiland and Basutoland overall, which relied on the use of firearms and control of economic production.”

 

Matters eventually came to a head in 1879 when a protracted assault by troops of the Cape Mounted Rifles on what has become known as Mount Moorosi resulted in the death of the chief on the 20th November 1879. “After his death, Morosi was decapitated, his head then boiled and stripped down to the bone” presumably as a barbaric warning to aspirant opponents of the British regime of the day

 

A Royal Engineer who was posted to the mountain after the siege began stated that: "Moorosi's Mountain is an isolated kopje, rising steeply on the south bank of the Orange River, about 1,500 feet, and connected with the range on the south by a low narrow nek."

 

In more recent times, the R393 was the route used by the late Donald Woods, journalist and anti-apartheid activist who often ruffled the feathers of the then-Prime Minister, B J Vorster and the Security Police to the extent that after his friend, the late Steve Biko was mortally beaten to death and many other incidents, he decided to leave South Africa. “Disguised as an Anglican priest, Father ‘David C. Curren’, on New Year's Eve 1977, Woods hitchhiked out of town then drove in convoy with (Drew) Court 480 kilometres (300 mi) before attempting to cross the Telle River, a tributary of the Orange River, between South Africa and Lesotho. However, following days of steady rain, the river had flooded, leaving him to resort to crossing at the Telle Bridge border crossing in a Lesotho Postal Service truck driven by an unsuspecting Mosotho man, who was merely giving the "priest" a ride. He made it undetected by South African customs and border officials to Lesotho, where, prompted by a prearranged telephone call, his family joined him shortly afterwards.”

 

A relic of the apartheid-era “Bantustans” can be seen on the ascending the pass from the Wartrail side where the ruins of an ex-border post of the day can be seen. The structures date back to the days when the Sterkspruit/Herschel district was deemed to be part of the then-Transkei. Another such travesty can be seen near Philipsrust below the escarpment – a border post on a plateau in the middle of nowhere!

 

For more detailed information, see;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morosi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Moorosi

http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol151hp.html

Military History Journal Vol 15 No1- June 2010 Moorosi’s Mountain 1879

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Woods

Joubert’s Pass -Lady Grey to Barkly East via the Witteberg

The third highest pass in South Africa, Joubert’s Pass traverses the Witteberg Mountains in a scenic loop. The road passes through beautiful farmlands before rising up through the Lammergeier Nature Reserve. As you descend into Lady Grey it is well worth stopping at the town dam; the wall is 25m high and this area is makes a scenic picnic stop. You can walk up a natural staircase to the top of the dam wall. The beautiful Dutch Reformed sandstone church is a National Monument and each Easter is one of the locations throughout the town used for a passion play depicting the biblical story of the Resurrection of Christ.

Otto Du Plessis – Clifford to Ida

Whilst still on the tar road between Lady Grey and the Clifford turn-off it is possible to see part of the unique railway linking Barkly East with Lady Grey to the northwest. Owing to the mountainous terrain, a system of eight ‘reverses’ was incorporated into the line, which has a gradient of 1 in 36, one of only two such systems in the world. The Class 19D steam locomotive that stands in Barkly East’s square is a reminder of the early days of rail transport. From the Clifford turn-off the road ascents steadily through farmland until reaching the summit of Otto Du Plessis pass. This point has panoramic views from the top of the escarpment over the Tsomo valley. It is reputed that on a clear day it is possible to see the Indian Ocean. This may be a dubious claim, but there is no doubt at all that the vistas are far reaching and spectacular. As the pass descends to Ida it winds through sandstone gorges, forests, farmlands and across rivers in a breathtaking mountain wilderness. This variety of habitat means that Otto Du Plessis is one of the best birding passes in the area, so keep your eyes open for mountain ‘specials’ that include Drakensberg Rock-jumpers, Ground Woodpeckers and a variety of siskins.

Barkly Pass – Elliot to Barkly East

Barkly Pass is the only tarred road on the 8 passes circuit, but is still not to be underestimated as it can be extremely slippery in wet or icy weather. The sandstone buttresses and rock formations are magnificent. See if you can spot the tortoise (or is it a snail?) at the top of the pass. There is also an ‘army boot’, complete with laces halfway down. The area was originally inhabited by San Bushmen hunter-gatherers and is therefore home to many fine examples of well-preserved rock and cave paintings. Barkly East is well known for its sheep farming and for producing some of the best wool and most tender lamb in South Africa. A lesser known ‘claim to fame’ is that Barkly East has recorded snowfall during every calendar month, although not in the same year!

Bastervoetpad – Barkly East/Elliot to Ugie

Recorded history shows that this pass was pioneered by Adam Kok III in 1862. My belief is that it was in fact pioneered by plains game traversing the escarpment, moving up onto the plateau to take advantage of the verdant summer grazing during the summer months and returning in autumn. This would naturally have been a mutual expedition where it is likely that clans of the San people followed the game and left their legacy in hundreds of caves both below and above the escarpment.

 

In more recent times, it was renamed the LAPA Munnik Pass after an erstwhile Administrator of the Cape Province and Minister of Health who, in 1981 made the headlines by stating that the elderly could survive on a pension of R20 a week. A similar event occurred 35 years later when the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini said that social grant beneficiaries can live on R753/month circa 2016. The re-naming had little effect on history as it is still referred to and known as the Baster Voetpad Pass.

 

Approaching from the west, on reaching the crest of the pass, a modern-day eyesore is a Sentech tower adjacent to the route. Of greater interest to those with an interest in geomorphology, the descent begins by travelling along the remnants of a protalus rampart. Defined by Wikipedia as follows;

 

A protalus rampart (or pronival rampart) is a depositional landform of periglacial origin. It forms as rock debris falls onto a steep snow slope from a cliff above and slides down the snow surface to come to a rest at the foot of the slope. Over a long period of time, sufficient material can accumulate in this way to produce a distinct bank of stony material which, long after the snowbed has melted away, remains as a rampart (a bank or mound similar to a manmade rampart). The debris may also accumulate through avalanching or landslide. Protalus ramparts may be distinguished from glacial moraines by their lack of rock fragments with glacial abrasion or striations. The morphology of the site may also suggest it being unfavourable for the development of a glacier, but suitable for this mechanism.[1]

 

The road follows the hollow that was formed between the cliffs above and the bank of material deposited by the process once the ice-bed melted. Prof Colin Lewis of Rhodes University spent many years researching ice-induced geomorphological features in the Eastern Cape Highlands and identified several sites featuring the protalus ramparts as well as traces of glacial activity. Prof Lewis’s theories gave rise to much debate in academic circles in this regard. It is said that in such situations, the arguments are so protracted and occasionally bitter because the stakes are so low!

 

Continuing the descent the route eventually reaches the underlying sandstone that is known as the Clarens Series in geological terms. Part of the same series emerges east and north of Lesotho in the Clarens, Golden Gate and Qwa-qwa areas. The sandstone gorge that the route follows is an absolute gem. A feast for the eye, intimate and a far cry from the grandeur of, for example, Golden Gate. On emerging from the gorge, grassland followed by forestry and agriculture is the order of the day until the road emerges 35km later at a point near Ugie, joining the R56 that runs from Queenstown to Kokstad.

 

It would be remiss not to point out that the Baster Voetpad Pass no longer enjoys regular maintenance by the authorities. Although those farming along the route do as best they can, they have limited resources. Accordingly, it is essential to make use of local knowledge before embarking on the traverse and preferably from top to bottom. Wet weather can render it very dangerous so when in the area and with inclement weather, patience must be exercised to allow the surface to dry sufficiently as well as until the water level at fords has dropped to safe depths i.e. below the running boards of your vehicle.

Bottelnek Pass

The Bottelnek Pass is a route between the R58 and the R393. The highest point along this pass is on the watershed between the Langkloofspruit and the Sterkspruit is at an altitude of 2201m above sea-level.

 

The R58 end of the pass is 18km from the top of the Barkly Pass along the R58 to Barkly East from Elliot.

 

On comparison to other passes in the area, it is fairly mundane but has great views of the surrounding countryside nonetheless but do not let the description fool you. During inclement weather, particularly under snowy conditions, it should not be taken lightly.

 

A landmark along the route of the pass from the R58 is the farm Singleton, that last farmstead until reaching those in the Sterkspruit many kilometres later.

 

Fetcani Pass

This is hardly a pass but by definition, being a route between one watershed and another qualifies nominally. It is in fact similar to the Bottelnek Pass being on the watershed but at the very top end of the Langkloofspruit and the Sterkspruit valleys and indeed, catchment areas. It is at the very southernmost end of the R393, close to the turnoff to Rhodes from the R58 that is 2015m above sea-level. The crest of this pass at 2088m is +-70m higher than the starting point on the R58 from where it descends into the Sterkspruit valley. Hardly even noticeable but a pass nonetheless.

 

Also known as the Mfecani Pass which ought to be spelled “Mfecane” is described by Wikipedia as follows;

‘Mfecane, also known by the Sesotho name Difaqane or Lifaqane, was a period of widespread chaos and warfare among indigenous ethnic communities in southern Africa during the period between 1815 and about 1840.

As King Shaka created the militaristic Zulu Kingdom in the territory between the Tugela River and Pongola River, his forces caused a wave of warfare and disruption to sweep to other peoples. This was the prelude of the Mfecane, which spread from there. The movement of people caused many tribes to try to dominate those in new territories, leading to widespread warfare; consolidation of other groups, such as the Matebele, the Mfengu and the Makololo; and the creation of states such as the modern Lesotho.

Although the Mfecane caused a decrease in the population of the eastern part of South Africa, the resulting consolidation of larger settlements and political power is not, according to some sources, believed to have left the vast stretches of pastureland uncontested. How many people died as a result of all the conflict is unknown but the death toll estimates cited most frequently are 1 to 2 million. In the seventy years or so after 1760, the political face of the region north of the Orange (River) and east of the Kalahari was profoundly changed," concluded Professor John Wright.”

Whether there is in fact a connection between the “Mfecane” and this pass is unknown at this time but will be the subject of further research.

Rhodes Highlands trip info sheet

If you enjoy the outdoors and love the mountain landscape then this is for you!

Join us on a 7 day adventure where we’ll enjoy the lovely little town Rhodes and all it has to offer from all the rivers surrounding

the town to bushman’s rock art and a variety of mountain passes

We’ll be camping in town the first 4 nights with ablutions, but no power and 2 nights in a remote spot, so be ready, you’ll need

to be 100% self-sufficient.

This is for the 4×4 enthusiast so you’ll need to know your vehicle and it should be able to cover a distance of ±466km on a tank

of fuel so please be prepared.

Day 1 – Barkly East Meeting point @12:00, to Rhodes

±60km drive to Rhodes from Barkley East, last time to top up on fuel.

Day 2 Rock art

±20km round trip to the bushman Paintings (https://rhodesinfo.co.za/bushman-paintings/)

Martindell rock art

The images at Martindell rank amongst the best preserved in southern Africa. Some images are so bright it seems they were

only painted a few decades ago. Martindell is approximately 20 minutes drive from Rhodes into the scenic valley of

Maartenshoek. This site is situated high up on a rock overhang. It is a bit of a climb to reach them, but worth the effort as the

view of the valley is spectacular and the paintings even more so.

Glass Nevin rock art

The images at Glass Nevin are spectacular and worth a visit. The walk to the paintings is approximately 2kms through the farm

and along the Bell River. Glass Nevin is approximately 15 minutes drive from Rhodes into the scenic valley of Maartenshoek.

Day 3 Lundin’s Nek Pass 2170m (R393)

±140km round trip to do the pass will need to take lunch and snacks for the day

This gravel pass is one of the great gravel passes of the Eastern Cape and is held in awe by adventure travellers to the same

extent as Joubert’s Pass, Naude’s Nek, Carlisleshoekspruit, Volunteershoek, Bastervoetpad, and Otto du Plesses passes. Lundin’s

Nek (which is also often spelled as Lundean’s Nek) is a much bigger pass technically than any of the others and must rank as the

most underrated big gravel pass in South Africa

Day 4 Volunteers hoek pass 2581m, Ben MacDhui Pass 3001m and Carlisleshoekspruit Pass 2563m

±101km round trip to do the passes, we can stop and have coffee at the picnic spot before tackling Volunteers hoek. I’ll suggest

having Lunch at Tiffindell to support local business as we use there premesiss to do Ben MacDhui, there after well go down

Carlisleshoekspruit where we can stop down at the bottom next to the river for a snack before heading back.

Volunteers hoek pass

This is a tough, high-altitude gravel pass that connects the Wartrail farming valley with the well-known Tiffindell Ski Resort, close

to the RSA/Lesotho border. Relatively long at 9,6 km, it rises from 1916m ASL to 2567m. With its 1:14 average climb gradient,

this pass can be called nothing but ‘steep’! The first 4 km offers gradients of up to 1:5! This is strictly a 4×4 only route and high

ground clearance, as well as low range, are mandatory. The pass is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Bidstone Pass

Ben MacDhui Pass

The Ben MacDhui Pass is the new record holder of the highest altitude summit in South Africa at 3001m. It replaces the previous

record holder, the Sani Pass [2876m]. This is a new road which has recently been opened. The pass comprises three distinct

sections:

  1. The access road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort.
  2. The maintenance track for the ski-lift.
  3. A two spoor jeep track from the highest ski-lift pylon to the summit point.

Carlisleshoekspruit Pass

This fairly extreme pass is for the more experienced driver. It descends/ascends 739 meters over 14,4 km producing some

exceptionally steep gradients, with some of the sections an adrenaline pumping 1:3. This pass is the main access road to the

Tiffindell Ski Resort and is generally well maintained with the steepest sections either having been strip concreted or fully

concreted.

Day 5 Mavis Bank Farm – Camp

±15km out of Rhodes we’ll spend a true remote night camping under the stars deep in the mountain’s right next to the river.

Day 6 Naude’s Nek Pass 2590m

±70km from Mavis bank we’ll go to Naude’s Nek and back to Mavis Bank for our second night of camping under the stars. I’ll

recommend we pack up early to enjoy the best views Naude’s Nek has to offer and enjoy breakfast at Tenahead Mountain

Lodge

Many sources quote this as being the highest gravel pass in South Africa, but Naude’s Nek Pass is actually the fourth highest

altitude, publicly accessible pass in South Africa and is a much sought after personal trophy for pass ‘hunters’ to say: “I’ve driven

it!” It is superseded by the Ben MacDhui Pass, the Tenahead-Tiffindell Traverse and the Sani Pass (in that order). Zig-zagging its

way over the Southern Drakensberg, the pass is a long and slow drive with an average gradient of 1:41, but the steeper parts

measure out at 1:7. Considering that the builders were not engineers, but humble farmers, the lines chosen and gradients

achieved are remarkably good for the time. This is without question a bucket-list pass!

Day 7 Departure

Last day to pack up, get ready to leave and head home by 10am. Travel home safely.

 

PLEASE NOTE:  Ben MacDhui is currently closed and there is no vehicle access onto this pass

 

Contact: RHODES iNFO CENTRE for more information.
Phone: 045 971 9003


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