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Jouberts Pass (P3224)

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Jouberts Pass views Jouberts Pass views - Photo: BMW Motorcycle Club

Jouberts Pass is a steep, high altitude gravel road pass located between the towns of Lady Grey and Barkly East in the quiet rural region of the Eastern Cape close to the Lesotho border in the Witteberg Mountains, which is itself a western spur of the mighty Drakensberg. Very few people traverse this pass other than local farmers and avid adventure travellers. We recommend completing the circuit, eventually arriving back at the R58 after quite a long but fabulous gravel road loop, which includes Jouberts Pass. It is best driven in a clockwise direction if the pass is going to be driven at any point after 11 am. The pass is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather, but if there is heavy rain or snow on the pass, a 4x4 will be mandatory.

 

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[Video cover photo byTrygve Roberts]

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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 Lady Grey drive straight through the town along Brummer Street. Turn left into Burnet Street and after eight blocks, turn right into Cloete Street. Head directly towards the mountain as Cloete Street becomes Walton Street and bends through a sharp 90 degree turn to the right opposite a guest house. This is the western start of the pass.

Looking down the pass from SpioenkopLooking down the pass from Spioenkop / Photo: Warren De JagerIt is possible to drive the pass from the opposite direction, but from a scenic perspective and having the light behind you, the clockwise option starting in Lady Grey is the far better option. For those wanting to drive the pass from east to west, the access road from the eastern side is off the R58 at GPS S30.839959 E27.325701

Lady Grey is more than a sleepy country village. Firstly it has considerable history. The farm "Waaihoek" was originally purchased by the Dutch Reformed Church, with a view to expanding their congregation into this region. It was officially established on the 30th April, 1857 and named after Eliza Lucy Grey, daughter of Sir Edward Spencer and wife of Sir George Grey, who was governor of the Cape Colony at the time. The town boasts a first class junior and secondary school focussed entirely on the arts and children gifted in that direction - known as the Lady Grey Performing Arts Academy. It has already produced some of South Africa's top talents.

Church in Lady GreyLady Grey's brownstone church takes pride of place in the village / Photo: SouthAfrica.netThe town is well geared towards the eco-tourist with several B&B style guesthouses with the focus on nature lovers, star gazers, bird watchers and the fly-fishing enthusiast with many of the crystal clear streams in the area providing first class catches. The town also plays host to South Africa's highest altitude ultra marathon called the Sky Run which covers a distance of 100 km and reaches a maximum altitude of 2768m ASL

Tucked away in a valley below the majestic Witteberg mountains, Lady Grey is a hidden gem - a tranquil, rural village surrounded by soaring mountains, crisp clean air and gentle streams. A number of charming country cottages provide a cosy retreat for the weary traveller. Old buildings have been restored to attract tourists and relocators.

Lady Grey dam wallLady Grey dam wall / Photo: Lady Grey Tourism

Lady Grey attracts nature lovers, bird watchers, hikers, star gazers and fly fishing enthusiasts. Wild trout and yellowfish are found in abundance in the streams and rivers in the area. Visitors wishing to fish here are advised to obtain a permit from the local fly fishing association, especially for fishing on private property, through which most of the streams flow.

With “God’s thumbprint on the mountain” you could only expect Lady Grey to be peaceful, spiritual and magical... Those are the words often used to describe Lady Grey. Visitors with the intention to sleep one night often look for property the next morning and end up staying much longer.

Beautifully set in a valley with a backdrop of mountains, many trees, a number of interesting old houses and more gravel than tarred roads, Lady Grey is the most scenic of all the villages in the area. It has a very interesting history and inscriptions on old headstones in the cemetery confirms it.



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

During the past few years Lady Grey has become a sought after tourism destination and home to artists and people who wish to escape city life. Locals have also become more aware of tourists and tourism attractions have been made more accessible and visitor friendly. Various annual events attract a large number of tourists to Lady Grey.

Witteberge at Lady GreyThe aptly named Witteberg mountains / Photo: Lady Grey Tourism

Lady Grey has a vibrant community which includes many young people. Something is always happening somewhere. It could be anything from a performance by the Arts Academy (drama, dance and music or choir recital) to an art exhibition by any of the artists, fancy dress party or bring-and-braai at the Mountain View Country Inn, the “Lang Tafel” or a steak evening at the Country Club or just a day of swimming, picnicking and fly fishing at Karnmelkspruit.

Lady Grey is situated in the North Eastern Cape, just below Lesotho, in the Southern Drakensberg. The village is on the Maluti Route, close to Aliwal North and about 2 hours from Bloemfontein. It's also the perfect stop-over for those heading to the Tiffendell Ski resort. Jouberts Pass on its doorstep, is the ninth highest mountain pass in South Africa.

With an average gradient of 1:19 and the steeper sections at 1:6, this is one of those passes for the enthusiast. It has all the elements of steep gradients, rough surfaces, grand views, high altitudes, extreme weather and careful driving to make it onto the Top 20 list of South African gravel road passes. With a starting altitude which few other passes even summit at, of 1678m ASL just outside the tranquil village of Lady Grey, the pass winds its way steadily up the Witteberg mountains at a surprisingly comfortable gradient.

Jouberts Pass nr Lady GreyLady Grey as seen from the pass / Photo: Neels BothmaIf you want to experience some snow driving, get here in winter - there is plenty of it, but come prepared for bitterly cold temperatures and the possibility of getting stuck if you are not in a 4x4. If you have time at hand, take a left hand rough gravel track near the foothills to the Lady Grey dam for lovely views and good photo opportunities.

Look out for a lovely waterfall on the right hand side of the road and a little later (if you have time) take the turn off up the mountain to the telecoms tower for superb views over Lady Grey. (This gate is currently locked). There are some interesting and typically direct Afrikaans sign boards, such as "Windpunt" (Windy Point) where there is almost always wind and the rather ominous "Kar Wegspoeldrif" (Car Wash-away Drift) and the rather obvious warning of 'Car Sump Drift' - and if you don't slow down for that one, guess what's going to happen!

Jouberts Pass monumentThe monument at Jouberts Pass / Photo: Phill Moser But let's start at the beginning. As the road leaves the village via another sharp right hand bend, it immediately plunges into a forest of shady trees and starts climbing fairly gently. The gradient increases progressively and at the 1 km mark, there is a small clearing under a copse of blue-gum trees, followed immediately by a fork in the road. The left hand fork leads to the Lady Grey dam wall and is a wonderful spot to while away some time and perhaps enjoy a picnic. For those wanting to drive the pass, keep right on the main road.

The road climbs more steeply and curves away to the right and suddenly there is a break into the light as the road heads briefly into the south. A double S-bend follows as the gradient kicks up again. In the middle of the second bend, another fork appears. Keep left here, as the right hand option leads to a small farm dam which cannot be seen from the road. The road then crosses the stream that feeds this dam via a double left handed U bend, which has been concreted. Slow down for these two as they are very sharp and the road is often rough here due to washaways.

Within 550m, the road begins a wide right hand curve as it follows the shape of the mountainside. Here there is yet another fork, with the left hand option going to the Lady Grey dam, which is now visible to the left. The two roads leading to the dam both go to different vantage points - the first to below the wall, and the second above it.

The road enters another tight U-shaped left hand bend as a small stream is crossed, then curls gently to the right - again following the shape of the mountain, until the heading more or less straightens out into the south-east, where it parallels the river in the deep valley to the left.

At the dam wall -  Lady Grey DamTake a cooling dip below the Lady Grey dam wallAt the 4,2 km point, the road reaches the headwaters of the river and switches direction into the north-east via a triple set of S-bends. This section lasts for 700m, where the road goes through a 90 degree right hand bend, skirting a small peak. [2276m]

The next kilometre is quite dramatic as the drop-offs to the left become very steep and the views open up over the valley far below. The pass climbs more steeply towards the summit reaching a gradient of 1:6, so gear down as your vehicle will need all the oxygen it can get, as the summit appears at an altitude of 2234m ASL at the 5,6 km mark. There is limited space to stop here for one or two vehicles. It's often windy and cold as the neck provides a natural funnel for any wind to accelerate through. There is a stone tablet inscribed with the name of a number of Joubert family members plus two others. This is in honour of those who built the pass in 1914.

A concrete road leads off to the left and out of sight, which is currently barred by a locked gate. It leads to a telecoms tower at the summit of the next peak to the north about 2 km distant.

The views to the west and to the east are simply fantastic. If you end up at the summit around midday, you will have reasonable light for photography in both directions, but if you want to photograph the village from here, you need to be at the summit well before noon, otherwise the light will be poor.

The eastern side of the pass near the endNear the eastern end of the pass / Photo: Trygve RobertsFor most visitors the eastern views will provide better photographs. The basin to the east is enormous, dwarfed only by the huge mountain range which feeds a hundred streams that criss-cross the green hills and dales. If you look carefully you will be able to trace the road for many kilometres of the eastern descent and well beyond. If it's your intention to complete the circular drive, make sure you have allowed at least an hour and a half extra to get back to the R58.

For those returning to Lady Grey, execute your multiple point turn with caution and head back down to Lady Grey, using the same gear ratios you used for the ascent, as these will provide your vehicle with braking via engine compression, rather than overusing your brakes, which could overheat. Most of this pass should be driven in 1st and 2nd gear.



[Video cover photograph by Trygve Roberts]

Livestock on Jouberts PassExpect livestock on the road / Photo: HoerikwaggatoursThe eastern descent is much easier than the western side. Not only are the gradients easier, but there are far fewer bends and considerably less altitude is lost. From the summit, the road bends away sharply into the south-east and descends towards a small transverse stream crossing at a gradient of 1:10. Do be careful along the descent, as there are a couple of sections where the gradient gets very steep (1:6) and its best to gear down and run against compression. There are hundreds of 'speed bumps' which are simple transverse water diversions, but they effectively force one to maintain a slower speed.

Once over the stream, the road begins a very long right hand curve, which lasts for 1,1 km as the road follows the shape of the mountainside. At the 7,3 km point, the road suddenly has a severe change in direction via a tight U-shaped bend (which can be seen clearly from the higher vantage point) which includes a double stream crossing. Take this double 90 degree corner very slowly as there are usually wash-aways and corrugations on the inside radii, which can cause loss of traction. The road now parallels the eastern side of the stream for 600m, then gradually turns to the right and heads due east for another 600m where the end of the pass is reached at the 10,7 km point next to a farmstead with tall trees lining the road in a blissfully tranquil setting.


If you have enough time, we highly recommend continuing along this road for a further 30 km. It's one of the most beautiful gravel road drives you will find in these parts and although the road does get a bit rough here and there, it is quite manageable in a higher clearance vehicle and you will be rewarded with outstanding scenery and a drive you will remember for the rest of your life. Allow plenty of extra time and drive slowly, being mindful of livestock on the roads. You will probably have the entire road to yourself as a bonus.

We pay tribute to these fine farmers who had the courage to tackle a project of this magnitude, with no formal engineering education and simply applying the maxim: 'n boer maak 'n plan'. Not only did they construct this pass at a cost less than a quarter of the amount estimated by the professional surveyors, but they chose their lines so precisely, that the pass has lasted for more than 100 years and continues to serve the very farming community for which it was first built. It is a truly remarkable achievement that deserves to be lauded by every South African.

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 Plessis 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!
 


Fact File:

GPS START

S30.710896 E27.226414

GPS SUMMIT

S30.709872 E27.273168

GPS END

S30.713599 E27.291266

AVE GRADIENT

1:19

MAX GRADIENT

1:6

ELEVATION START

1678m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

2234m

ELEVATION END

2049m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

556m

DISTANCE

10,7 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

East

TIME REQUIRED

45 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

40 - 60 kph

SURFACE

Gravel (P3224)

DATE FILMED

17.05.2016

TEMPERATURE

14C

NEAREST TOWN

Lady Grey (1 km)


Route Map:

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Route files:

||Click to download: Jouberts Pass P3224 (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in most GPS software systems)

 

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