Explore Africa Adventures is busy developing new safari routes in SA. The company completed a safari to Pondoland in March – featured in the June issue of Leisure Wheels – and is now exploring the potential of the Eastern Cape highlands.
Text and photography: Andre van Vuuren
The Eastern Cape highlands, also known as “the wild side of the Drakensberg”, is growing in popularity as a safe and relatively undiscovered mountain destination with spectacular scenery and challenging gravel mountain passes.
Our route initially took us from Maclear to Naude’s Nek, which has a summit of 2920m, making it the highest mountain pass in SA.
The next stop was in the village of Rhodes. It 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.
The road from Rhodes to Tiffindell ski resort is scenic and steep. You don’t need a 4×4, but you do need controlled power, particularly where the cement strips zigzag their way up the most extreme section of the Carlislehoek Pass.
Approaching Tiffindell, we passed the highest point in the Cape (3001m above sea level). The peak is known by local tribes as Makhollo (Great Mother), but white settlers named it Ben McDhui after the mountain in Scotland. These days, residents affectionately refer to it as Ben Mac.
Tiffindell ski resort was established in 1993 to give South Africans an opportunity to ski at home, and also to give foreign tourists the chance to embark on the unique experience of skiing in Africa.
After traversing the high plateau, Volunteershoek Pass winds its way down to the farming community of Wartrail.
The road is narrow with some precipitous drop-offs. Just after the steepest section, there are wonderful views of Halstone Krans and the farmlands in the valley below. Rock formations along this section are intriguing, the most notable being Funnystone, which lends its name to a nearby farm.
The scenery is nothing short of spectacular. Lundean’s Nek connects this part of the Eastern Cape to the Lesotho border at Telebridge.
We passed the remote Lundean’s Nek police station, which is primarily tasked with preventing rustlers from taking stolen livestock across the border into Lesotho, and to prevent smugglers from bringing dagga and diamonds in the opposite direction.
Just beyond the police station, the summit of the pass provides fantastic panoramic views of the Maloti Mountains.
Explore Africa is busy putting together an itinerary for this area. The plan is for the tour group to meet in Lady Grey, where we will spend the first night at the Mountain View Country Inn. The trip will probably last five days, and accommodation will be provided in guesthouses and B&Bs.
A detailed itinerary, as well as dates for 2016, will be available soon. Meanwhile, to be first in the queue for the ultimate driving adventure, combining spectacular mountain views with some of the highest passes in SA, contact [email protected] or [email protected] Come and see if you can complete the “Mountain Pass Challenge”!