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/ascends 739 meters over 14,4 km producing some exceptionally steep gradients, with some of the sections an adrenaline pumping 1:3. This pass is the main access road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort and is generally well maintained with the steepest 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.

This pass is not recommended for novice drivers, but it is quite doable in a normal sedan vehicle in fair weather. Should you have booked accommodation at Tiffindell and arrive in a spell of bad weather, the ski resort can make arrangements to get you to the top of the mountain via a 4x4 shuttle service.

[Editors note: As at 2020 the resort has been closed and remains closed at at April 2021. We will post here as soon as the situation changes.]

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video cover to display.....

[Video cover photo by Mountain Passes South Africa]

FULL-SCREEN MODE: click PLAY, then pass your mouse over the bottom right corner of the video screen. The outline of a square will appear. Clicking on it will toggle Full Screen Mode. Press ESC to return to the original format.

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:  To approach from the south, head east out of Rhodes on the R396 (gravel) towards the Naude's Nek Pass. About 1 km out of the village, there is a clearly marked intersection, marked 'Tiffindell'. Turn left onto the R3230, which is also the southern starting point of the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass.

Waterfalls along the passA waterfall visible from the 4th hairpin / Photo: Trygve Roberts

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 Volunteershoek Pass (4x4 only). At the Tiffindell 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.

CAUTIONARY: 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 nonetheless recommended. You may not descend the Volunteershoek 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 Tiffindell.co.za

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 Carlisleshoekspruit and it is a tributary of the much bigger Bell River, which runs along the East/West 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.


[Video cover photo by Mountain Passes South Africa]

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 lakesTranquil high altitude lakes / Photo: Panoramio

The maximum gradients are as steep as 1:3 and brake failure is possible. The main descent ends at the northernmost farm, called 'Hugenot'. 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,Glen Gyle 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 breath-taking 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 RobertsThis section of the pass is one of the steepest in South Africa, with an average gradient of 1:4. 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. Keep your vehicle's engine revs in the mid range (above 2,500 RPM) and maintain a steady and balanced speed. Keep an eye on your temperature gauge as some vehicles might tend towards overheating with the higher engine revolutions and slower speed.

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 RobertsFor 4x4 owners, a nice route option is to start from Rhodes and ascend via the Volunteershoek Pass and stop for a lunch break at Tiffindell, then descend via Carlisleshoekspruit Pass and return to Rhodes. This makes a fabulous 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 at the Walkerbouts Inn.

Be aware that these mountains experience some heavy snowfalls, so be well prepared and take adequate equipment with you as well as warm clothing. Makes sure you have the phone number of the place you are visiting.

Once you reach the first farm at the head of the Carlisleshoekspruit Valley (Hugenot farm), it marks the end of the steep part of the pass with a small, but neat house located close to the right hand side of the road. 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 to savour the sheer beauty of this pastoral landscape.

Tiffindell from the ski slopePhoto: Tiffindell viewed from the top of the ski slope / Tiffindell.co.za

The valley section of the Carlisleshoekspruit pass is nothing more than a pleasant conclusion to the major descent from the north.  The road crosses the Carlisleshoekspruit several times as it meanders through a number of farms. The scenery is serenely breath-taking as you pass several small waterfalls and picture perfect pastoral scenery. There are six farms in total from north to south in sequential order, which are Hugenot, Goatfell, Traquair, Den Hagen, Elibank and Newstead - which is the last farm on the right close to the end of the pass.

This lower section crosses the river on several occasions. This gentle meander through peaceful farmlands and towering mountains, only descends 159m from the furthest farm (Hugenot), to terminate at the T-junction with the gravel road between Naudes Nek and Rhodes at 1823m. The 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. 


[Video cover photo by Mountain Passes South Africa]

The village of Rhodes is the focal point of tourism in this remote and high altitude part of the Eastern Cape. 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 'The 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 well-shaded 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, Ian Walker, 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
It's always advisable to book well in advance before visiting Rhodes. For more detailed information and contact details please visit www.rhodesvillage.co.za

Tiffindell Ski resort have their own newly constructed catchment dams, used to draw water for their snow making machines, which each consume a staggering 120,000 litres of water per hour. 24 hours later the 2,3km ski slope is covered under a blanket of snow 2cm deep. For those wanting to visit for the snow skiing, it is advisable to book well in advance. Summer activities include, hiking, mountain biking, 4x4 trails and grass skiing.

Tiffindell boasts 100 skiing days per season. After a long legal wrangle about water rights, the new owners of Tiffindell 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.

 Watch a short promo video on the Tiffendell Ski resort below. The resort has been closed since early 2020 and remains closed as at April, 2021.

It snows in the village regularlyRhodes under a blanket of snow / Photo: Panoramio

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)

The Naudes Nek pass is the anchor pass of the Big 8 Challenge Passes of the Eastern Cape and the one most visitors like to tackle first. The passes are as follows:

1. Naude's Nek Pass
2. Bastervoetpad Pass
3. Otto du Pessis Pass
4. Barkly Pass
5. Volunteershoek Pass
6. Carlisleshoekspruit Pass
7. Lundins Nek Pass
8. Jouberts Pass

Two more passes have been added to the above list which are the Ben Mac Dhui Pass and the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (TTT) making a total of 10 adventure passes which will form the basis of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge. Details elsewhere on this website.

Make your plans. Book a cottage, B&B or hotel in Rhodes, Tiffindell or any one of a number of amazing farm stays and country lodges and get this incredible pass ticked off your bucket list!


[Video cover photo - Walkerbouts Inn] 

Fact File:


S30.693239 E27.971589


S30.693239 E27.971589


S30.789586 E27.973618














14,5 km




40 minutes


Self Limiting


Gravel & Concrete (P3230)






Rhodes (5 km)


Route Map:

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||Click to download: Carlisleshoekspruit Pass (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google Earth and most GPS software)


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