Activities

Activities

SELF-DRIVE TOURS of the EASTERN CAPE HIGHLANDS
Being located in the southernmost section of the Drakensberg range,
Rhodes is central to a number of passes, the most well-known of which is the
Naudesnek Pass which, at more than 2500m above sea-level, is the highest in
South Africa.


Some 50km to the south of Naudesnek is the lesser known “Bastervoetpad
Pass” which is an absolute gem. Slightly further south is the spectacular Barkly
Pass between Barkly East and Elliot. Other passes within easy reach of Rhodes
include the Carlisleshoek and Volunteershoek Passes which provide access to the
Tiffindell Ski Resort from the south and the west. Slightly further west is the
Lundeansnek Pass en-route to the Sterkspruit/Herschel district and the Telle
Bridge border post into Lesotho. Even less well-known passes in the area are the
Espachsberg and Bottelnek Passes, not quite as magnificent as some of the
others but with stunning scenery nonetheless.


Day trips from Rhodes up and down the escarpment, crossing back and
forth as well as completing the passes above the escarpment will provide you with
a “quilting” experience of note whilst “Stitching the Dragon’s Tail”.

SHORT DRIVES by Geoff Dalglish

Bokspruit / Riflespruit drive
A morning drive up the Bokspruit or Riflespruit valleys is a feast for the eyes and is
+-60km or two hours in duration excluding "Kodak moments".

Maartenshoek
From Rhodes, +-8km on the road to Barkly East, the first turnoff to the right is the
entrance to this special valley. Continue until reaching the bridge at the Bell River.
Cross and continue as far as the condition of the road allows. Should you come
across closed gates, please close them behind you. Rock art sites can also be
visited by prior arrangement.

Naudesnek Pass – Mooidraai, 2437m, S30° 43’ 56.76 E28° 08’ 33.83
30km or an hour's drive from Rhodes, Mooidraai is located less than 1km from the
top of Naudesnek Pass. On a clear day, the view is spectacular and legend has it
that one can see the sea from there on a very clear day.

MOUNTAIN PASSES

RHODES-NAUDE’S NEK ROUTE, 2594m highest point, 2500m at escarpment
Nearest town Rhodes (0km)
Best time of year Year round
Maximum vehicles Unlimited
Route distance 110km (3-5hours)
Grading 1-2
GPS point S 30’ 43.942
E 28’ 08.221
Why to go there
ı Naude’s Nek is South Africa’s highest road pass and a passport to
dizzyingly beautiful Drakensberg mountain scenery.
ı It is an ideal link to other great 4x4 drives including the Bastervoetpad and
an 84km loop starting and finishing in Rhodes.
The route
Turn the clock back more than a century to 1896 and one can imagine the
horseback ride that the Naude brothers – Stefanus and Gabriel – endured while
following footpaths and surveying the original route across the neck. On one
occasion a family member commented that it was too steep and daunting for a
baboon even, given rise to the name Bobbejaanskop, on the way up. You summit
after 24km – our GPS reading 2603m – with the Naude’s Nek road intersecting
with the one from Tiffindell eight km later. This is an alternate starting point, but
misses out the highest point on the pass (From Tiffindell you turn left at the Tjunction
1,4km down the hill and left again through a white farm gate 400m later).
Either way you enjoy a marvellously scenic drive on mostly good roads, with the
route from Rhodes being suitable even for a sedan in the good weather we
encountered early in May. The dirt ends at the town of Maclear.

What else?
Another trail option is to take the Carlisleshoek route out of Rhodes towards
Tiffindell, entering the white farm gate 1,8km from the ski resort, and then heading
down Naude’s Nek for an 84km loop that takes three or four hours in good
weather.

The cost
Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route
Why I loved it
“Driving South Africa’s highest pass is a must for the tick-list and Naude’s Nek a
rich scenic reward for the effort in tearing yourself away from the hamlet of
Rhodes.” Geoff Dalglish.

THE BASTERVOETPAD PASS
Nearest town Ugie (4km), Maclear (24km) or Rhodes (67km)
Time of year Year round
Maximum vehicles Unlimited
Route distance 39km (2 hours)
Grading 1-2
GPS point S 31’ 12.333
E 28’ 11.366
Why to go there
ı The Bastervoetpad is a spectacular back-country route that is little travelled.
ı We enjoyed it so much we tackled it in both directions on successive days.
ı The only company you’re likely to find on route is an occasional herder and
Jackal Buzzard riding the thermals.
ı Bastervoetpad can be combined in a giant 270km loop from Rhodes that
includes Naude’s Nek, the highest mountain pass in South Africa. Allow up
to 10 hours or, better still, overnight along the way.
The route
We explored the Bastervoetpad after looping from Rhodes over Naude’s Nek to
Maclear and Ugie, visiting the Dinosaur’s Footprints on route, which made for a
very long but satisfying day. If you approach from Ugie turn right from the tar 4km
out of town onto the Wildebeeshoek dirt road – if you pass beneath the overhead
railway bridge you have gone too far. Then you fork right 10km later for the start of
the Bastervoetpad. Alternately, head out of Rhodes on the main dirt road to Barkly
East, turning left to Bokspruit after 14km, forking right at 18km and then veering left
to Eliot at the 32km mark. After 67km you turn sharply left onto the clearly
signposted Bastervoetpad, heading over the Lapa Munnik Pass. Whichever way
you have approached from you’ll enjoy a superb scenic drive. The 39km road is a
tribute to the vision and road building skills of Maclear roads inspector Leon
Barnard, the views growing ever more spectacular as you climb to the 2240m
saddle. In early May the rocky track was in reasonable repair and could have been
managed in two-wheel drive, although low range made the journey safer and more
enjoyable. Some ascents and descents are likely to be treacherous in very wet or
snowy conditions.

What else?
Between Rhodes and Maclear you can enjoy all the attractions of the Southern
Drakensberg, including breathtaking scenery, superb fly fishing, a treasure trove of
San rock art, horse riding, hiking and a variety of delightful B&Bs and guest farms.

The cost
Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route.

Why I loved it
“A long-standing love affair with the tranquillity of Rhodes was combined with the
discovery of fabulous new 4x4 possibilities, the Bastervoetpad even allowing for a
very chilly skinny-dip!” Geoff Dalglish.

TICK BOX - Why it’s a Top 10 choice
# driving challenges
# ability to maintain interest
# scenery
$ the richness of fauna and flora
# the variety of attractions on offer
#quality or appeal of camping or accommodation facilities
$ commitment to preserving/rehabilitating the environment
$ charisma or commitment of guides/owners
# value for money
# wilderness or get-away-from-it-all experience. Geoff Dalglish

RHODES CARLISLESHOEK ROUTE, 2487m
Nearest town Rhodes (0km)
Best time of year Year round
Maximum vehicles Unlimited
Route distance 24km (1 hours)
Grading 1-2
GPS point S 30’ 47.726
E 27’ 57.837
Why to go there
ı The quaint 112-year-old hamlet of Rhodes is a national monument in
the heart of the spectacular Southern Drakensberg.
ı This is an area renowned for its unspoilt beauty numbering trout
fishing, snow skiing, hiking, horse riding and pure relaxation among its
drawcards.
ı It’s a time warp where there are no room keys to the local hotel and
crime is hardly an issue.
The route
You take the Carlisleshoek road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort & Alpine Retreat and
Ben McDhui, the highest peak in the Cape (3001,1m). A sign at the base of this dirt
road tells you of impending conditions, which were as easy 45-minute run at the
beginning of May, but can deteriorate to Mission Impossible at the height of the
snow season between June and early September. Normally this route is quite
manageable for 4x2s and soft-roaders, although steep ascents out of hairpin
bends, can have you wishing for more power or low range, with a little bit of
momentum sometimes necessary to help a heavily-laden high range vehicle.
When conditions are tricky because of snow, ice or mud, the Tiffindell ski resort
runs a shuttle in 4x4s fitted with chains. Inquire about prevailing conditions and
accept the advice of locals who best understand the vagaries of alpine weather.
The Carlisleshoek Route can also be linked to the Wartrail or Naudesnek Routes
for a much more extensive drive.

What else?
Access to the starting point of Rhodes takes you 120km along excellent roads from
Aliwal North, with the dirt beginning just outside of Barkly East. The final few
kilometres are slow, demanding extreme caution, but are part of the fun.

The cost
Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route.

Why I loved it
“Rhodes offers the sense of community lost in the cities, against the backdrop of
superb Drakensberg scenery. The area offers true relaxation.” Geoff Dalglish.

THE WARTRAIL (VOLUNTEERSHOEK PASS) 2382m
Nearest town Rhodes (28km)
Best time of year Year round (treacherous or impossible in snow)
Maximum vehicles Unlimited
Route distance 28 km (1 hour)
Grading 1-2
GPS point S 30’ 39.196
` E 27’ 55.556
Why to go there
ı This adventure through the Witteberg range of the Southern Drakensberg
makes you want to be a local farmer or B&B owner.
ı Spectacular scenery changes with the seasons but the Wartrail Valley is
always picturesque.
ı The driving challenge varies from easy to downright daunting or impossible,
depending on weather conditions.
ı You can hike to the highest point in the Cape with the 3001m Ben McDhui
overlooking the ski resort.
The route
From the Tiffindell Resort you head back down the mountain for 1,4km, turning
right at the T-junction to Wartrail, an area that has been home to South Africa’s
First People, the San Bushmen, early Xhosa and Sesotho groups, 1820 Settler
families and trekboers. It was also the scene of raiding parties led by Chief
Moshesh’s generals, giving the route its name. Today it is a picture of perfection,
although the serpentine descent into the valley, with its tight hairpins, will keep
your concentration focussed. After heavy rains or when the snow melts, conditions
become difficult and streams can become too deep for safe passage – last year
two young girls drowned when their 4x4 Dad attempted a crossing against local
advice! Our recommended route takes you 28km from the resort to the intersection
where you can fork left to Moshesh's Ford, or right to New England and Barkly
East. Check on the prevailing weather and road conditions before your trip.

What else?
The route features all types of accommodation from camping to en-suite fully
catered B&Bs to suit all pockets; with attractions including abundant San rock art in
the mountains.

The cost
Being a public thoroughfare, there is no charge for using the route.

Why I loved it
“In early May it was a riot of autumn colours and a spectacle to rival Golden Gate
on the Free State side of the mountains. Now I plan to return to see it blanketed in
snow.” Geoff Dalglish.

A FLORAL PRIMER by Tony Kietzman
Contrary to the many myths and legends surrounding a trip to the
Highlands, a visit need not consist of fly fishing (and related activities!) only.
Amongst the many other attractions is the floral wealth that has remained largely
undiscovered by South Africans. Groups of foreign visitors come here solely to
experience our floral diversity. Unlike the “big hit” seen in Namaqualand in spring,
the floral splendour here continues in succession throughout the summer.
The biome is known as Montane grassland and many of the plants found at
higher altitude are referred to as alpines. The floral kingdom has been shaped by
the altitude, geology and resulting climate. Among shaping forces of these plants
at altitude are the higher levels of ultra-violet (UV) radiation and their ability to
handle snow as opposed to frost. The dark soils seen along the river banks are
basaltic in origin and they in turn influence the fertility of the streams thus allowing
trout to thrive.The seasons are very distinct with a long winter. Cold spells often
return at the most inopportune moments, especially when fruit trees begin to
flower! Late frosts have occurred in November and it even snowed on New Year’s
Day in 2001!


I would accordingly like to introduce some of the more visible flora one is
likely to encounter on your travels through the area. Some of these well-adapted
local species are endemic.


Rhodes is situated above the tree line and most of the trees one sees are
in fact exotic. All trees, other than the Ouhout (Leucosidea sericea), are
introduced. The Ouhout is a beautiful evergreen tree highly adapted to local
conditions. As we encounter them most are gnarled looking and shrub like, where
younger plants are browsed by game or stock they take on a more tree like form.
Expeditions up some of the gorges reveal magnificent specimens forming a
canopy. The Ouhout is in fact encroaching much as the Acacia karoo is spreading
across the country. It is said that one only finds trout where the Ouhout grows. The
stream banks are lined with dead trees, these are the Crack willow Salix fragilis.
The Crack willow is in the process of being eradicated by the Working for Water
project, a government sponsored initiative under the Department of water affairs.
This is a project aimed at job creation and the protection of our water resources.
Locally, specifically on the Bell River the execution seems to have been a bit
misconstrued. Other exotic species are the Weeping willow, Poplars, Black and
honey locusts and conifers. Fruit trees especially apples, pears, quince, peaches
and nuts also do well providing that late frost does not kill all the buds or small fruit.
Some ancient wrecks of farmhouses are surrounded by fruit trees and many still
bear fruit for the birds and baboons.


There are a few naturally occurring shrubs, amongst them the Buddlejas
also known as “sage or butterfly bushes”. Buddleja loricata with smaller darker
leaves is found in at higher more exposed locations while the more vigourously
growing salvifolia found lower down in more sheltered locations. “Blinkblaar” or
“Dogwood”- Rhamnus prinoides is a dark, shiny leaved shrub with red berries.
Blinkblaar is found at the roadside as well as in the river valleys. The Rhus or
Karee species are easily identified by their trifoliate leaf structure (leaves are
always attached to the stalks in threes).


I’ll start at the roadside referring to and identifying the flowers one is most
likely to encounter at various stages of the year. The first really noticeable early
season (September /October) plants are likely to be the mauve flowering Felicia
filifolia, up to knee height with daisy like flowers, growing alongside the road. There
is also a plant with ericoid leaves (needle like small stiff leaves rolled along the
stems) and yellow ball like flowers borne on terminal spikes Chrysocoma ciliata.
This is a weed on overgrazed land. Towards years end the blue flowering giddy
weed arrives, Echium violaceum, also known as “Hanekam” . Fortunately this is
only really found in the road reserve and on fallow lands. This is a plant introduced
from the northern hemisphere . Sweet briar, commonly referred to as rosehips-
Rosa rubigena is another introduced species. It flowers in spring, producing a
small pink rose followed by the “hips” or seed capsules which turn red as the
summer advances and shrivels after the first frosts. This is when the hips should
be picked for processing. A sweet red syrup is made from the flesh of the hips. The
syrup has a high vitamin C content and is reputed to have saved England after the
Second World War. The seeds also yield oil, this is used in the cosmetics industry.
Another exotic to be seen flowering alongside the roads in summer is the Scots’
Thistle.


The next significant flush occurs after the first rains and includes Euryops
tysonii with pointed grayish green ericoid leaves and covered with yellow daisy like
flowers. This beautiful bush may reach 1.5m in height and these large showy
shrubs flower for an extended period are known as “haarpuisbos” or “resinbush”.
The bright orange indigenous poppy, Papaver aculeatum is widespread. The
Berkheya species with their large white, yellow or mauve daisy like flowers and
spiky thistle like foliage are generally found in the road reserve and on disturbed
ground.


Helichrysum species are numerous but relatively easy to recognize, often
having grey leaves and long lasting flowers. They are in fact called “everlastings”
or “sewejaartjies”. Helichrysum splendidum lines the roadways from late spring to
winter. These grey leaved plants grow to knee height and are covered with yellow
flowers. There are Helichrysums that carry their yellow composite flowers through
winter to drop their seeds in spring. There are many different species of “red hot
pokers”. The early flowering Knifofia northiae is impressive because of the size of
the flower head. Fields of K. caulescence can be seen later up near Tiffindell. The
various other more solitary species flower at overlapping times thus sustaining the
Malachite sunbirds who in turn offer the pollination services.


At the height of summer “Harebells”- Dierama species, abound. These
grass-like plants carry their pink flowers suspended from the tips of long stalks and
will be seen gently waving in the breeze. Species identification can be difficult as
colours can range from white through pink to mauve and height can vary quite
considerably. The Harebells are also aptly known as “Angel’s fishing rods”.
Identification of plants to genus level is relatively easy as the different species
within a genus all bear a similar flower, the flower shape is diagnostic.
There is one very interesting succulent, the “Vingerpol” or Euphorbia
clavarioides. This cushion like mound of clenched fingers grows among rocks at
the roadside. Some specimens are quite large and many years old. In spring these
plants are covered with small yellow flowers. These plants have a milky sap and
the flowers are similar to other members of the genus like the Christ thorn and
Pointsettia.



Succulents of the Mesembryanthemaceae family, referred to as “Mesembs
or vygies” are to be found growing among the rocks, sometimes appearing to grow
from the rock instead of soil. Most have pink flowers during the summer months.
The genus Crassulaceae is also well represented with plants having differing
growth habits but usually with small white star shaped flowers. Often found
growing among the grasses one sees beautiful small blue Lobelias, these flowers
have a very distinctive shape. The petals are arranged with three hanging
downwards and two almost fused and pointing up.


As with many other genera the flowers are very similar and one needs look
at the leaves to identify to species level. There are a few Geranium species, most
bearing mauve flowers. Many of the plants known as geraniums belong in fact to a
closely related genus Pelargonium. The difference may be observed in the flowers.
Geraniums have five petals of the same size equally arranged about the flower
centre. Pelargoniums also have five petals but they are arranged differently. The
pelargonium flower has two petals pointing upwards and three hanging below.

Another distinctive blue flowering genus with many species represented is the
Wahlenbergia. These have characteristic upturned bell like flowers with five
pointed petals


There are a few species of Diascia and Nemesia, Both genera produce
flowers with “spurs”(a hollow tube like extension of the petal) The Diascias two and
the Nemesias one. Diascias are in fact colloquially known as “twinspur”. The
Diascias produce bright pink and the Nemesias pink to mauve flowers. Alongside
and even in the streams during the summer months one is likely to encounter the
white flowering Gomphostigma virgatum . This plant is widely spread across the
country.“River bells”- Phygelius aequalis with its dark green leaves and suspended
red trumpet like flowers grows right in the river banks or where lots of water is
available.


In March Schizostylis coccinea or scarlet river lilies put on quite a show
along the stream banks. These six petalled geophytes can vary from scarlet to pink
in colour. Geophtes are plants having a bulb or corm. This is an effective survival
strategy in an environment where winters are long and cold and the growing
season short. These bulbous plants always have strap leaves and usually
spectacular blossoms. The early flowering Moraea huttonii can even be observed
growing in the stream bed in a position where it can end up living underwater at
times. It has beautiful yellow iris like flowers and is colloquially known as a “vlei iris”
At higher altitudes one may even see clumps of summer flowering yellow vlei
irises. In fact this is a related species- Moraea alticola.
Disa scullyi (http://orchid.unibas.ch, along with the name "Swiss Orchid Foundation
at the Herbarium Jany Renz".)

From February onward, the Gladiolus saundersii start appearing alongside
the road and along the streams, generally occurring above 1800m. This beautiful
plant bears up to three bright red blooms with white markings in the throat. Just on
the other side of Naude’s nek we find the salmon to pink Gladiolus oppositiflorus
with white and red markings in its throat. This is one of the sources of genetic
material that the Dutch used to create hybrids that many think are the real thing.
Surely these genes are worth keeping intact and protecting? At lower altitudes and
in slightly more sheltered environments the orange, yellow and red hooded
Gladioulus dalenii will be seen growing in the road reserve and in sheltered areas.
A visit to Naudesnek is well worth it during the summer months with the most
significant plant group on show, the alpine terrestrial orchids. There are locally
resident individuals who know the flowers and where to find them and as with fly
fishing in the highlands, making use of the services of a guide will enhance your
Alpine flora-viewing experience immensely.


Thanks to Elsa Pooley for her book “Mountain Flowers” which I used extensively
as a reference.

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