Mountain passes of the Eastern Cape Highlands
Did you know?
Locally, the Eastern Cape Highlands are known as the ‘tail of the dragon’.
The United States has its legends about the giant Paul Bunyan and his blue ox called Babe. South Africa, in particular the Eastern Cape Highlands, has an equally vivid set of legends, of the legendary Cloete brothers who lived in the mountains near Lady Grey village.
One day, the story goes, two of the Cloete brothers were fighting a gang of seven tough guys in a local bar. For once the brothers were taking a bit of a beating, so they called a time-out.
‘Can we ask our friend to come and join us?’, they requested. ‘He’s sitting in the car outside.’ Their adversaries, believing they already had the better of the Cloetes, agreed.
So the Cloetes brought in their pet lion, which used to sit in a specially strengthened passenger seat of their sedan. The bar cleared in seconds flat.
These are the kinds of lovely mountain tales you will hear in the pubs and guest farms as you drive east from Lady Grey through the Eastern Cape Highlands all the way to the snowy village of Rhodes.
You will enjoy negotiating the 1:6 gradient of Joubert’s Pass, the third highest pass in South Africa. En route, you will see shaggy Galloway cattle, gurgling streams and poplar groves as you drive along the winding cliff-side routes.
Volunteer’s Hoek Pass takes you on to the Wartrail area within sight of the Maluti Mountains and Lesotho. You will see many old sandstone farmhouses, full of their own memories, and if the road is slick from rain or snow, just maintain a steady speed and do not rev the engine suddenly.
Up at Carlisle’s Hoek, the potentially rough patches have concrete tracks to provide purchase for your tyres. At the bottom of the pass, you will be rewarded with the sight of the village of Rhodes.
This is where you admire the horns of Wydeman the Giant Ox at the local hotel, and then troop off for beers and pizza at Walkerbouts Inn while watching Dave Walker’s well-muscled African clawed frogs do jumping jacks in his fish tank.
Continue to Naude’s Neck, the highest mountain pass in South Africa. Before ascending, however, stop off at the Naude’s Neck Monument, mainly dedicated to Stefan and Gabriel Naude, who led construction of this pass in 1896.
Up at Lundean’s Neck via the Wartrail, you will find the Isted family, who have been there for nearly two centuries. It’s a comparatively gentle pass that takes you up to Telle Bridge on the Lesotho border. Ready for more mountains?
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Wild Mountain Adventures
Tel: +27 (0)87 943 5428
Mobile: +27 (0)79 536 3996
How to get here
Drive to the town of Barkly East in the Eastern Cape. Here, you can plan to meet your hosts at Wild Mountain Adventures (if that is where you choose to stay) and they will lead you to their Wildside camp. Otherwise, find the coordinates of the camp – and full directions – on the listed website.
Best time to visit
Any time of year brings its joys and challenges to the Eastern Cape Highlands. Winter snows and summer blooms – take your pick. Do not attempt the passes on your own in winter conditions – rather let the local experts guide you. Remember to lower your tyre pressure slightly for dirt road driving – and don’t forget the anti-freeze in winter.
Around the area
Spend some time in the pubs of Rhodes and Lady Grey and get to meet the locals.
Tours to do
Contact Wild Mountain Adventures, let them know what your preferences are and they will tailor-make a week’s experiences you will never forget.
You can arrive at Lady Grey in a hired sedan car, but then de-camp to your adventure company’s vehicle. You can take on the passes yourself, but just be sure to hire a sturdy pick-up (4x4 advisable but not necessary). Some of the passes are easier than others. Always heed local advice on conditions.
What will it cost
Costs vary according to time spent, standard of accommodation required and your choice of adventure package. However, this area is generally not an expensive place to visit.
Length of stay
This glorious area is worth several days of your time if you have it, but even two to three days would be well worth it.
What to pack
The local advice is to bring layers of clothes, because the weather is unpredictable. Also, sunscreen, fishing rod, medications and food, if you’re self-catering.
Where to stay
You have a choice of farmhouses, guest houses, mountain chalets and tented camps at riversides – most offering some of the most spectacular mountain views in the country. See the listed Wild Mountain Adventures website.
What to eat
You can shop for your self-catering holiday in Lady Grey or Barkly East, before driving on to your accommodation. Don’t forget the red wine and chocolate.
The Eastern Cape Highlands offers a full diary of mountain runs, biking races, slackpacking excursions, fishing competitions, agricultural shows and gymkhanas – see the listed websites for details.