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
Rhodes has a colourful history dating back to the 1880s and features many Victorian buildings. In 1997 the entire village was proclaimed as a Conservation Area in the Government Gazette which gives it official protection in order to preserve its unique character – it is the only complete village in the country that is a National Monument from one end to the other. The town benefit from its proximity to Tiffindell Ski Resort in the winter and during summer months has become renowned for fly-fishing. The road from Rhodes to Tiffindell is scenic and steep. You don’t need 4×4, but you do need controlled power, particularly where the cement strips zigzag their way up the most extreme section. Approaching Tiffindell Ski Resort you will pass under the highest point in the Cape (3.001m above sea level). Known by local tribes as ‘Makhollo’ (Great Mother), the Europeans named this peak Ben McDhui after the mountain in Scotland and it is affectionately referred to as BenMac by local residents.
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
Wartrail is a mountain farming community steeped in tradition. Many of the farms are still inhabited by direct descendants of the original settlers to the area. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular. Lundean’s Nek connects this part of the Eastern Cape to the Lesotho border at Telebridge. You may wish to stop in at ‘Woolys of Wartrail’ for a delicious cake, cup of coffee and to admire their emus! You will pass by the remote Lundean’s Nek police station – whose primary roles are to prevent rustlers taking stolen stock across to Lesotho and to prevent smugglers taking green grass or diamonds in the opposite direction. Just beyond the police station the summit of the pass provides fantastic panoramic views of the Maloti Mountains. As the road progresses towards Telebridge the river to your right forms a natural border with Lesotho. This area was part of the former Transkei and you will pass many remote mountain villages where traditional cultures and farming practices are still very much a way of life.
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
This spectacularly scenic road links the top of Barkly Pass to Ugie and combines technical driving with stunning views. Of all the passes, Bastervoetpad is the most challenging drive and we would advise high-clearance 4×4 only and even then please always check with locals regarding current conditions. A safer option is to drive to the viewpoint from the Barkly Pass side and then turn back. The pass is named after the Griquas who settled in the area for a while before deciding that the valleys around Maclear and Ugie were a more comfortable habitation. The rock formations in the area are of interests to geologists as there is evidence of glacial formation. The views at the top of the pass are breath-taking and reminiscent of Valley of a Thousand Hills.
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
- The access road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort.
- The maintenance track for the ski-lift.
- A two spoor jeep track from the highest ski-lift pylon to the summit point.
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
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
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