Naude's Nek Pass (R396 / P0723)

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Naude's Neck Pass Naude's Neck Pass - Photo: Photo courtesy of Michael J. Stone

Due to the 32,5 km length of this mega-pass, we have split it into two parts. Part 1 deals with the western start from the Naude famly memorial site near Rhodes to the lofty 2587 meter high summit. Naude's Nek Pass is the second highest altitude, gravel road, publicly accessible pass in South Africa and is a much sought after personal trophy for pass 'hunters' to say: "I've driven it!"   Zig-zagging it's way over the Southern Drakensberg, the pass is a long and slow drive with an average gradient of 1:16



Scroll down to view the map & video. The pass has been filmed in two parts. They appear below in the correct sequence. 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 to display.....


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:

The convoluted pass intersects the escarpment approximately where the Maloti, Drakensberg and Witteberg mountains meet. Many sources quote the Sani Pass as summiting in Lesotho. This is in fact, incorrect as the SA border control point is at 1968m, but the actual physical border is at the summit, leaving much of the major climb in no-man's land - making the Sani Pass without question, the highest pass in South Africa, summitting at 2873m, some 330 meters higher than Naudes Nek.

naudes nek Pass western aspect viewsSharp bends, incredible views on Naudes Nek Pass (Western side) / Photo by Trygve RobertsTo get to Naude's Neck Pass you need to allow plenty of time as you will need to start from either Maclear (70 km to the SE) or Mount Fletcher to the West, using the tiny village of Rhodes as a lunchtime or even better, an overnight destination. Stop in at the Walkerbouts Inn and have a chat to Dave Walker who is a very knowledgable person on the area.

Allow about 2 hours from Rhodes to the intersection at the Pot River Pass. If the weather is bad, add plenty more time, as your speed will be a lot slower. It is possible (but not recommended) to drive this pass in a normal car providing that the weather is fine and dry. It it's been raining or snowing, a 4WD vehicle is mandatory.

Starting from the Rhodes side (Western side) the road follows the Bell River valley, passing some lovely farms, many of which offer B&B facilities. This is also trout fishing country. Just outside Rhodes you will pass the turnoff to Tiffindell, via the Carlisleshoeksruit Pass, which is featured elsewhere on this website.  A great spot for photographers is where the Bell River curves through several U-shaped bends, whilst tumbling over small rapids. Some of the deeper pools make for excellent fishing spots.

Summer views on the eastern side of the passPropped up walls, tight hairpins and awesome scenery await on the eastern side. This photo was taken in summer when the mountains turn green / Photo - Waren De JagerLook out for the memorial site in honour of the Naude brothers who were involved with the design and construction of the pass. It can be found just after crossing a small causeway. There is a well placed picnic site adjacent to this which makes for a good spot to take a break if the weather is fine. Here you can spend hours poring over the elaborate family tree set out in 5 stone units, with each letter of the name N A U D E marking a separate unit. The setting is quite beautiful under a copse of shady oak trees with a small burbling stream on one side. It is a good spot to prepare yourself mentally for what is still coming - South Africa's second highest pass.

The first hairpin above the Bell River is round a small hill called Bobbejaankop. The road begins climbing steeply through a series of very sharp curves with high retaining walls as you leave the Bell River far below in the valley. Watch out for rockfalls, which are common on the the hairpin bends.

Ice cold in winterFrozen waterfalls on the pass at BobbejaanskopThe distance from Rhodes to the start is approximately 10 km., but you’ll need about 1 hour  including stops to complete this section to the summit. Drivers (and passengers) should be prepared for emergencies as traffic volumes on the pass are very low and weather can be extreme. Pack a sleeping bag and warm clothes with spare emergency food during the colder months - note that it can snow here as late as October. The pass is in a remote, underpopulated area. In the event of a breakdown, you might have to tough it out until help arrives. There is also no cell reception on most of the pass. A Satphone would be a comforting accessory.

CAUTIONARY: This is off-the-beaten-track kind of driving. Even in a 4X4 the road presents something of a challenge, particularly in winter when, because of its height, snowfalls are common and make the roads slippery. And the roads are not in good shape, although there are those who advocate that in an ordinary car with high clearance, you can manage the summit. We filmed this pass in late October, 2013 and heavy snow had fallen on the mountains the previous day. This pass is not for sissies and even in full 4 WD our vehicles were sliding around on the muddy surfaces.

Winter snow near Naude's NekSnow in October is common / Photo: Trygve RobertsIf you consider that the road's existence is thanks to the brothers Naudé, who in the late 1890s made it their task to find a way out of the isolated valley to reach cattle markets, with only a pick and shovel for help, its significance is completely awe-inspiring. Of interest is that the memorial plaque at the start speaks of the Naude brothers building the pass ...."met pik, graaf en skotskar"  That took a little investigation as few people know what a "skotskar" is. An afrikaans linguist at Stellenbosch University has revealed that the correct definition is "a single axle, unsprung horse cart, with a a flip down rear panel". 

For all of the above reasons, Naudé's Nek Pass is regarded as one of the top iconic gravel road passes. It is full of hairpin bends, with a very good chance of mist, snow or thunderstorms in summer. The Maclear side of the pass and the Pot River descent,  is particularly rough and there are sharp stones that in an ordinary vehicle could prove daunting. 

Green mountains and gravel roadsThe long and winding road down the eastern descent in summer / Photo - Warren De Jager

Part 2 of the Naudes Nek Pass covers the section from the 2587m high summit, descending to the main view site at 2500 meters, followed by the Eastern descent towards the Pot River and Pitseng Passes.

Arriving at the summit is something of an anti-climax and unless you have put the waypoint into your GPS, you might not even notice it as the mountain top is large and flattish with a few straggly fences on one side of the road and a jeep track disappearing off towards the right. The main viewsite is where all the action takes place and the reason why so many people think that is the summit.

The road immediately starts descending towards the East as the road follows a small ravine towards the North. It continues in a gentle descent for several kilometers, before turning abruptly away back towards the East again, and then starts climbing once again along the right hand side of another small ravine.

Naudes Nek Memorial PlaqueKeep a look out for the memorial plaque set up by the National Monuments Council.After about 7 kilometers, one arrives at the official viewsite and this is where a sign proclaims the spot to be Naude's Nek and the altitude to be 2500m. This is where the confusion comes in as many folk believe this point to be the summit, which is incorrect. If the weather is clear, consider yourself fortunate as the view site is more often than not, covered in cloud, mist, rain or snow, making photography almost impossible (as you will see on our video - but we filmed it anyway to give an idea of just how bad the visibility can be up there.)

From the viewsite, a track leads off in a North Westerly direction towards the mysterious and unusual Tenahead Lodge - reputed to be the highest dedicated guest lodge in South Africa. The lodge has a fascinating history and was built on an eco-friendly basis utilising mostly natural resources. The setting is quite magificent and the lodge is just a few kilometers from the Lesotho border.

After the view site, the road drops rapidly down two double hairpin bends with 180 degree corners. The views are breathtaking along this section and as you will probably be the only vehicle on the road, stop and take photogaphs of the endless green clad mountains that unfold in layer upon layer towards the East and KZN.

We found the Eastern descent to be a lot wetter than the Western side and even in full 4WD, our vehicles were still sliding around on the muddy roads. A normal car would have experienced major traction issues either ascending or descending. For those who are not fortunate enough to own a 4x4 and want to drive this incredible pass, we urge you to be very sensible about choosing a safe weather window. (We need you back here!)

Tenahead LodgeThe Tenahead Lodge - Book in advance.As the road continues to descend steadily the vegetation becomes more lush with trees making an appearance as the farmlands spread out on either side of the road. This is primarily a sheep farming district. You might also be lucky to spot some of the large flocks of Crowned Cranes that frequent this part of the Eastern Cape (see end of the video clip). As the road levels out along a secondary escarpment, you have a choice of descending to the tarred R58 either via the Pitseng pass (a better road in terms of surface and gradient) or the Pot River Pass (a bit tricker and rougher, but with beautiful scenery.)

Driving Tip: On these long gravel roads, it is always sensible to consider tyre deflation. the benefits are greatly improved traction and a more comfortable ride. However, you should always remember never to exceed 80 kph. A 'normal' deflated pressure for gravel is around 1,4 bar, but if the corrugations and ruts are severe, pressures maybe lowered right down to 1 bar. Remember to reinflate tyres as soon as you get back on tar. If you drive on tar with deflated tyres, they can quickly overheat and may result in a blowout.

This sign is not located at the real summitThis sign is not located at the true summit. It creates a false impression that this is the maximum altitude. The true summit is a few kilometres further west at 2590m ASL / Photo: Warren De JagerThis signboard at the eastern viewsite causes plenty of confusion, as although the spot "feels" like it's the summit, it is far from the summit.

The true summit is several kilometres further west at a bleak and ordinary section of the pass, which is another 90m higher at 2590m ASL. So from a tourism perspective, placing the signboard at the Tenahead turn-off, does add some flavour.

The Naudes Nek Pass is a testament to the character and determination of these enterprising farmers who built an outstanding mountain pass on a paltry budget using very basic equipment.

It's a very long pass in the greater scheme of things and logs is at position number 6 on the national listings, but it is the exceptionally high summit which scores it a 2nd overall place in that category. This pass is frequently listed erroneously as the highest pass in South Africa, but the Sani Pass is considerably higher at 2876m ASL. Both of these passes are now eclipsed in terms of altitude by a brand new 4x4 pass, the Ben MacDhui Pass at 3001m.

Mad dogs and EnglishmenWarren de Jager sent us this photo of his Suzuku Vitara near the summit doing a tandem tow with caravan and boat.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. Baster Voetslaan 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 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:


S30.763855 E28.056647


S30.764752 E28.105529


S30.759042 E28.206911














32,7 km




120 minutes


60 kph


Gravel (P0723 / R396)






Rhodes (25km)

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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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