Carlisleshoekspruit Pass (P3230 / MN20658)

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Carlislehoekspruit Pass Carlislehoekspruit Pass - Photo: Willie Solomon

This fairly extreme pass is for the more experienced driver. It descends 739 meters over 14,4 km producing some exceptionally steep gradients, with some of the sections an adrenaline pumping 1:2,3. This pass is the main access road to Tiffindel Ski Resort and is generally well maintained with the worst sections either having been  strip concreted or fully concreted. We have filmed the pass from north to south in the descending mode for maximum scenic value, although this is not the way most first timers will travel the pass.

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Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

Digging into the details:

Getting there: From Rhodes head east out of town on the main gravel road to the Naudes Nek pass, Take the first gravel road to the left (north) about 1,5 km from the police station. To drive the pass the way we have filmed it (descending) first drive to the Wartrail area and ascend up the western side of the mountain via the Bidstone/Volnteershoek Pass (4x4 only). At the Tiffendell turn-off keep right and continue for 7 km to reach the northern starting point on the Carlisleshoekpruit Pass. Most motorists visiting this pass for the first time would naturally be approaching it from the town of Rhodes. Our description and video covers the pass in the opposite direction in the descending mode, to maximise on the scenery.

Carlisle is a Scottish name. One of the farms up the Valley was originally known as Carlisle's Corner, which over time, became Carlisleshoek. Corner = Hoek.  A 'spruit' is an Afrikaans word for 'stream'. As is the grammatical style of the Afrikaans language, words are grouped together rather than separated and so Carlisles Corner Stream Pass, became known as 'Carlisleshoekspruitpas' It happens to be the second longest pass name in South Africa, being marginally pipped by Wildehondskloofhoogtepas.

Lots of hairpin bendsPhoto: The pass winds steeply down the ravine via multiple switchbacks / Trygve RobertsCAUTIONARY: Be well prepared if you plan on driving this route in winter. Temperatures can drop as low as -22C, so ensure you have warm enough clothing in case something goes wrong. This road is not to be trifled with and although a 4x4 is not mandatory, it is nontheless recommended. You may not descend the Volunteershoek Pass / Bidstone Pass unless you are in a 4x4. This is a legal requirement.

It is possible to drive Carlisleshoekspruit Pass in a normal car under stable and dry weather conditions, but if it is snowing or raining heavily, a 4x4 is a much safer option. For normal vehicles, the steep sections will need to be tackled in 1st gear. Under no circumstances should you try to change to 2nd gear until you are at the summit. Remain in 1st gear and keep the revs up, making sure you don't stall the car, especially on the hairpin bends. Automatic vehicles should select the lowest gear and lock the gearbox in 1st gear. The section with the switchbacks needs your concentration and whilst the hairpins are very sharp, even big 4x4's will make the turns by utilising the space on the corners that have been created for that purpose.

Tiffindell Ski Resort at the top of the passPhoto: Tiffindell under a thick blanket of snow / Courtesy

The stream after which the pass is named, the Carlisleshoekspruit, follows the very steep concreted section immediately after commencing the descent. This small stream coming down the mountainside from the east is Carlisles Corner Stream (Carlisleshoekspruit) and it is a triburary of the much bigger Bell River, which runs along the North/South axis down the main valley. Along this upper section extreme caution should be taken and drivers should commence the descent, and remain in 1st gear, using engine compression to slow the vehicle down, rather than use brakes, which can easily overheat on such extreme gradients.

The first 4 km of the descent either has concrete strips or is fully concreted. There is a spot where you can stop and admire a small waterfall, before tackling the final part of the descent, as the road heads abruptly southwards through a series of very sharp turns.

Tranquil high altitude lakesPhoto: Ben McDhui reflecting in Loch Ness / Panoramio

The maximum gradients are as steep as 1:2,3 and brake failure is possible. The main descent ends at the northernmost farm in the Bell River valley. Please be aware of coming across livestock at any point along this road.

The pass starts at the crossing of a cattle grid near a solitary green roofed cottage at the top of the mountain at an altitude of 2563m. If you’re not in a 4x4 and it has been snowing, under no circumstances should you attempt this descent. Over the next 14 km the road will descend an ear popping 741m, making it the 15th biggest altitude gaining pass in SA !

The scenery here is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands and the names in the area, bear testimony to the hardy Scottish immigrants who originally settled here. With names like Tiffindel, Burn Brae, Loch Ness, Ben Mac Dhui, Glengareth, Pitclochrie, and of course, Carlisles Corner, it leaves no doubt as to the Scottish legacy.

Just after the first concrete bridge, the road reaches its steepest gradient and it is best to be in 1st gear to effectively control speed and braking. The safest places to stop are on the hairpin bends, where one can enjoy the crisp mountain air, waterfalls and breathtaking mountain scenery. 4WD vehicles must remember to unlock the centre-diff to prevent axle wind-up on the concrete sections.
Stunning mountain sceneryPhoto: A small waterfall tumbles down one of the side ravines / Trygve Roberts
This section of the pass is one of the steepest in South Africa, with an average gradient of 1:4. Some of the gradients measure out at between 1:2 and 1:3. It is incredibly steep and especially scary for drivers not accustomed to such steep gradients.

For ascending drivers, it is best to select 1st gear at the bottom of the pass and remain in 1st gear for the entire climb to the top.

Changing to 2nd gear can easily result in a stall and re-starting from a standing start might result in clutch failure. For those ascending, about three quarters of the way up, the gradient starts increasing dramatically (this is the actual start of the main pass) and there are a few signs encouraging travellers as how to best deal with the driving conditions. The first one reads: "KEEP UP REVS & DRIVE CONFIDENTLY" This is good advice!

Some great snow driving on offer if have a 4x4Photo: You'll need a 4WD vehicle to cope with snow conditions / Trygve Roberts
For 4x4 owners, a nice route option is to start from Rhodes and ascend via the Bidstone/Volunteershoek Pass and stop for a lunch at Tiffendell, then descend via Carlisleshoekspruit Pass and return to Rhodes. This makes a fabuous circular route with a great deal of variety coupled with some challenging driving conditions. Allow a full day for such an excursion. Should you wish to try your hand at fly-fishing at Loch Ness, remember to first get your permit at Rhodes. Be aware that these mountains experience some heavy snowfalls, so be well prepared and take adequate equipment with you as well as warm clothing.

Once you reach the first farm at the head of the Bell River Valley, it marks the end of the steep part of the pass. The next 8 km is a doddle by comparison, but the scenery is gorgeous and concentration levels need not be so high, allowing time for adrenaline levels to subside and time to savour the sheer beauty of this pastoral landscape.

Tiffindell from the ski slopePhoto: Tiffindell viewed from the top of the ski slope /

The Bell River section of the Carlisleshoekspruit pass is nothing more than a pleasant prelude to the major ascent to the north.  The road crosses the Bell River several times as it meanders through a number of farms. The scenery is serenely breathtaking as you pass several small waterfalls and picture perfect pastoral scenery. 

This lower section is approximately 8 km long and crosses the Bell River on several occasions. This gentle meander through peaceful farmlands and towering mountains and only descends 159m from the furthest farm, to terminate at the T-junction with the gravel road between Naudes Nek and Rhodes at 1823m. The Bell River Valley section of the pass is a gentle and easy drive which will take about 20 minutes.Keep a look out for cattle and sheep - especially so during the lambing season. 

The village of Rhodes is the focal point of tourism in this remote and high altitude part of the Eastern Cape. It was voted one of SA’s Top 20 secret places by Getaway magazine. Rhodes exudes a timeless charm and beauty. The Victorian era village dating back to 1880 was declared a national conservation area in 1997. It is surrounded by sparkling rivers and majestic mountains, making it an ideal getaway for adventure lovers and those seeking a break from the stresses of city life. It is the only complete village in SA that is a national monument from end to end.

Fly fishing heaven!Photo: Fly fishing attracts many visitors to these high altitude rivers / Panoramio

The town benefits from its proximity to the Tiffindel Ski resort, and in the summer months, fly-fishing enthusiasts flock to Rhodes. The lake at the top of the mountain close to Tiffindel, called Loch Ness, is the highest still-water fly-fishing venue in SA. Close to Rhodes and just to the north of the ski resort, is the highest mountain in the Eastern Cape known as Ben McDhui with a summit height of 3001m. The indigenous tribes call it Makholo, which means Great Mother, but the local farming community refer to it simply and fondly as “Ben Mac”

Besides sheep and cattle farming, farmers here also grow vegetable, lucerne and maize crops. The beautiful Bell River valley is a renowned fly-fishing hot spot.

Amongst the many attractions in Rhodes, one can visit the Rhodes Hotel or the Walkerbout Inn. One can also get accommodation at the Lovedale and Parkade farms, Kinmell Guest Farm, Welgemoed Trout Lodge, Rubicon Flats or the Rhodes Retreat. For those wanting to camp, the village has a caravan park as well.

The town has a range of accommodation options. It is a wonderful place to visit for the adventure set (road running, hiking and mountain biking are big sports here) or just a sleepy, restful and friendly haven for stressed out city folk to rejuvenate their soul. The Walkerbout Inn proprietor is a font of knowledge on the area. If you're a history buff, that's the place to go.
Rhodes VillagePhoto: Rhodes Village - a national monument
Its always advisable to book well in advance before visiting Rhodes. For more detailed information and contact details please visit

Special note! For motorists ascending the pass, if you continue towards the west after the summit and bypassing the Tiffindell turnoff, you will begin to descend the Volunteershoek (or Bidstone Pass) road which will take you back down to the Wartrail farming valley near Rhodes in a circular loop. (Please note this is strictly a 4x4 route). You will need to allow about 3 to 4 hours to do the complete circuit excluding any stops. You can stop and try your hand at fly-fishing in the highest still water lake in South Africa at Loch Ness (2450m ASL), but be sure to first obtain a fishing permit in Rhodes. This is the lake from which Tiffindel used to draw water for their snow making machines, which each consume a staggering 120,000 liters of water per hour. 24 hours later the 2,3km ski slope is covered under a blanket of snow 2cm deep.

 Watch a short promo video on the Tiffendell Ski resort below.

Tiffindel boasts 100 skiing days per season. After a long legal wrangle about water rights, the new owners of Tiffindel are constructing their own new high capacity dam in the valley directly below the resort, which will not only greatly reduce their costs to make snow, but it will add the attraction of a lake enhancing the southern views from the chalets, not to mention fly-fishing right at the resort.

The Volunteershoek road joins the R393 at Lundeans Nek at the Wartrail Sports Club, which is a popular watering hole for the local farming community. It is a short drive back to Rhodes from this point on a fair condition gravel road (weather dependent of course)

It snows in the village regularlyPhoto - Rhodes under a blanket of winter snow / Panoramio

Fact File:


S30.693239 E27.971589


S30.693239 E27.971589


S30.789586 E27.973618




1:2 (2,3 specific)










14,4 km




40 minutes


Self Limiting


Gravel & Concrete (P3230)






Rhodes (5km)


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Mountain Passes South Africa

Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.

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