Barkly Pass, Eastern Cape

Barkly Pass Barkly Pass Photo: Wikipedia

This tarred pass lies on the R58 between Elliot and Barkly East  in the high mountains of the Eastern Cape at an altitude of 2018m at the summit. The pass starts at 1473m ASL and ascends at a gradient of 1/22 attaining an altitude gain of 626m which is moderately steep and covers a distance of 12 km. This pass is subject to winter snow closures. Look out for the country style hotel (Mountain Shadows) at the head of the pass where you can catch up with some of the local history.


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Digging into the details:

The pass was named after Sir Henry Barkly, governor of the Cape Colony from 1870 to 1877. The Barkly Pass is the only tarred pass in the so-called "Big 8 Eastern Cape passes" circuit. It is also the feeder pass to the rough and tough 4x4 only baster Voertslaan Pass. Despite the impression that it is much safer than a gravel pass, due caution should be exercised on this pass, as there have been many fatal accidents, due to the very cold weather that can be experienced on the pass, where snow and ice on the roadway during winter is common. Obey the speed limits and you will be OK. It would be best not to drive this pass in snow/ice conditions unless in a suitable 4WD vehicle with appropriate tyres. The Barkly Pass is a modern, well-cambered road with passing lanes on the steeper sections. However, there are no picnic spots provided and unfortunately there are few places where it is safe to pull over and enjoy the magnificent mountain scenery. It takes just 15 minutes to drive from the top to Elliot.

Once over the summit you will be transfixed with the some of the most amazing sandstone buttresses and rock formations. There are many fine examples of original rock art in the area, as this was one of the areas inhabited by the san-Bushmen.

Barkly East is primarily a sheep farming area producing high quality wool and excellent meat. The town has a rather peculiar claim to fame in that it is the only town in South Africa that has recorded snow in every single month of the year (although not in the same year)

Scenically the pass is sublime with the scenery changing constantly, providing a feast for travellers. Watch out for Skilpad Rock, an outcrop shaped like a tortoise, near the top of the pass. As you descend and round a bend, the aptly named Castle Rock formation fills your windscreen in a magnificent display of mountain splendor – its natural citadel of sandstone glows warmly in the evening light. In the valley below is Elliot, a small, country town serving the local farming community.

Two attempts at filming this pass ended in failure due to heavy rain and mist on the pass.

[Historical information provided courtesy of Mr. Chris Smit]

Snow capped mountains at the Barkly Pass

Above: The Barkly Pass provides some of the most stunning scenery in the Eastern Cape

Photo: Panoramio



S31.269088 E27.825810


S31.211799 E27.841959


S31.211799 E27.841959


















15 minutes


60 - 80 kph








Elliot (12 km)

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