8 Magnificent Passes - Stitching the Dragon’s Tail
The "Eight Passes Challenge" offers the ultimate driving adventure over some of the highest passes in South Africa with spectacular mountain views. The southernmost section of the Drakensberg mountain range ends in this area. It can therefore be described as the Dragon's Tail and the many passes that traverse the escarpment as well as those that link isolated valleys within the area allow folk the opportunity of Stitching the Dragon's Tail.
With a summit of over 2 580m, Naude's Nek Pass is the highest dirt road in South Africa. Presents a challenge to drivers, particularly in winter when heavy snowfalls are common. Local advice regarding weather and road conditions should be sought before attempting this spectacular pass.
The pass is scenic and steep. You don't need 4x4, but you do need controlled power, Carlislehoek Pass - particularly where the cement strips zigzag their way up the most extreme section. Tiffindell is located on the slopes of Ben McDhui, the highest point in the Cape (3 001m above sea level).
After traversing the high plateau, the pass winds its way down to the farming community of Wartrail. The road is narrow with precipitous drop-offs, pause to check for vehicles coming up the pass as they have right of way. After the steepest section, there are wonderful views of Halstone Krans and the farmlands beyond. Interesting rock formations along this section, the most notable is "Funnystone" which lends its name to the farm opposite.
The scenery is nothing short of spectacular. Lundean's Nek connects the Eastern Cape to the Lesotho border at Telle Bridge. After the remote Lundean's Nek police station, the summit of the pass provides fantasticpanoramic views of the Maloti Mountains. As the road progresses towards Telle Bridge the river to your right forms a natural border with Lesotho.
The third highest pass in South Africa, Joubert's Pass traverses the Witteberg Mountains. Each year extreme adventure racers run across these exposed peaks in the 100km Skyrun which ends at Tiffindell. As you descend into Lady Grey it is well worth stopping at the town dam; the wall is 25m high and this area makes a delightful picnic stop. Take note of the beautiful flora.
From the Clifford turn-off the road ascents steadily through farmland until reaching the summit of Otto Du Plessis pass. 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 the vistas are far reaching and spectacular. As the road descends to Ida it winds through sandstone gorges, forests, farmlands and across rivers in a breathtaking mountain wilderness.This variety of habitat makesOtto Du Plessis one of the best birding passes in the area, so watch for mountain "specials" that includeDrakensberg Rockjumpers, Ground Woodpeckers and Siskins.
Barkly Pass is the only tarred road on the 8 pass 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.
This spectacularly scenic road links the top of Barkly Pass to Ugie and combines technical driving with stunning views. The road is rough in places, so high clearance vehicles are recommended and 4x4 in wet weather. The views at the top of the pass are breathtaking and reminiscent of Valley of a Thousand Hills. Watch out for Lammergeyers, Cape Vultures, Ground Woodpeckers, Siskins and many other specials.
How to Stitch the Dragon’s Tail: The eight passes can easily be accessed from central points such as Rhodes or Barkly East and linked to form a series of scenic day drives. Alternatively, the passes can be tackled as a loop over several days, staying at a different establishment each night.
NOTE: Please verify road conditions before taking on any of these passes.
PAGE 14 • AGRICULTURAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE BARKLY EAST REPORTER 2 JULY 2010