A fairly extreme road for experienced drivers to Carlisleshoek Pass

Carlisleshoek Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.563m (8,408ft) above sea level, located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. You don't need 4x4, but you do need controlled power, particularly where the cement strips zigzag their way up the most extreme section. It’s one of the highest roads of South Africa.

Carlisleshoek Pass

Is the Carlisleshoek Pass unpaved?

The road to the summit, also known as Carlislehoekspruit Pass or Carlisle's Hoek, is entirely unpaved. The pass is notorious for its descent into the little historical village of Rhodes. This fairly extreme pass is for the more experienced driver. 

How long is the Carlisleshoek Pass?

Located in the Drakensberg Mountains of the north Eastern Cape, the pass is 20.4 km (12.67 miles) long running south-north from the R396 road, east of Rhodes, a small village alongside the wild trout rich Bell River, to Tiffindell Ski Resort, on the slopes of Ben McDhuui peak.

Is the Carlisleshoek Pass steep?

It's mandatory to drive slowly (40km/h) as the road narrows regularly, with sharp corners, blind spots, steep grades and slippery sections when it's wet. This fairly extreme pass is for the more experienced driver. It rises more than 573 meters over 6,16 km producing steep average gradients of 1:10 with some of the sections an adrenaline pumping 1:2 (44% or 24 degrees). It is possible to drive the 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 using the space on the corners that have been created for that purpose.

Is the Carlisleshoek Pass challenging?

Remember to engage lowest gear, keep up revs, take corners wide and drive confident. The pass has been described as 'going into free fall' by bikers due its steepness. It is virtually vertical, and described as 'one of the hairiest descents in Africa'. In just over three kilometres you descend more than 300 metres. 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.
Pic: Hendrik van den Berg