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Drive the Highland Passes of the Eastern Cape

Drive the Eastern Cape Highlands Passes

Click here to see Large Map of The Passes

If you love beautiful scenery and awesome day trips coupled with some 4×4 challenges, then the passes of the Eastern Cape Highlands are just for you. You will be in photographer’s heaven, literally and figuratively, as the topography of this area zooms up to lofty heights and plunges down again to deep, green valleys, with one stunning view after another. The passes are also great to tackle on your mountain or motorbike, preferable with some pals.

Don’t be deceived by the relatively short distances between the passes on the map and allow plenty of time to drive each pass as the going is slow on the winding gravel roads. It is recommended to attempt no more than two in a day. Decide whether you want to base yourself at one central point, such as Rhodes or the Wartrail Valley, or if you want to overnight close to the pass you’re about to drive, or have just driven.

Towns and villages include Lady Grey, Barkly East, Rhodes, Elliot and Maclear and accommodation is dotted all over the region. Because of the remoteness of this mountain wilderness, it is best to pre-book your accommodation.

Make an early morning start and pack in a picnic lunch that you can enjoy in beautiful surroundings. You don’t need a 4×4 to drive these routes in regular weather conditions, just a high-clearance vehicle with controlled power, except for the Bastervoetpad pass where a 4×4 is necessary at all times. However, a 4×4 may be necessary in wet conditions. In winter, this area can experience heavy snowfalls, so check things out before taking on the passes. Late summer is the wettest, with regular late afternoon thunderstorms. Always ask the locals for up-to-date information on the state of the roads, particularly after rain or snow. To check on the weather conditions, go to Wunderground and look at the Barkly East weather.

Autumn colours are splendid, especially in the Wartrail area and on Joubert’s Pass. Spring is beautiful on Naude’s Nek, mainly for the wild flowers and birds.

Adventure lovers will find numerous outdoor activities, from mountain biking and hiking to horse riding and fly-fishing. Birders can look forward to ticking more than 250 species in a range of habitats.

There are 24 hour petrol stations in Maclear, Elliot, Barkly East and Aliwal North. There is a garage in Lady Grey and a small filling pump in Rhodes, open during the daytimes.

Each pass has something different to offer.

Passes of the Eastern Cape Highlands

At 2588 metres, Naude’s Nek between Maclear/Mount Fletcher and Rhodes is the highest public road pass in South Africa, while Joubert’s Pass outside Lady Grey is the third highest (2349 metres). Lundean’s Nek offers a peep into Lesotho and its jagged peaks next door; Barkly Pass, the country’s highest tarred pass, features fantastic rock formations; the Otto du Plessis Pass is one of the best birding passes in South Africa; the little-used Bastervoetpad Pass has vistas rivalling those of the Valley of a Thousand Hills; The Kraai River Pass to witness the run of yellowfish and the tricky Carlisleshoek and Volunteershoek Passes to Tiffindell Ski Resort take you to the roof of South Africa.

For more information on the Eastern Cape Highlands, visit ShowMe Northern Ukhahlamba.

Book your accommodation right here on ShowMe.

You can find the top hotels, lodges and Airbnb establishments conveniently placed on the map below. All you need to do is click on the place that’s conveniently located and within your budget and then make a booking. What could be easier?

If the map is not where you want to be, click on the ShowMe Pin and then enter the exact name of the location and the map will adjust accordingly.