Ballochs Pass (P3222)

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The main house at Balloch Valley Guest Cottages The main house at Balloch Valley Guest Cottages - Photo: Gavin Taylor

This very scenic pass is located on a minor gravel road - the P3222 - that connects farms in the Wartrail and New England areas with Rhodes and the R393 in the east and Barkly East and the R58 main road in the west. It has an unusual inverted vertical profile with a steep drop down into a valley bisected by a river, followed by a climb up the eastern side, which is a false summit. Despite it being a remote country road, the pass is well designed and has fairly easy gradients of 1:10 and higher. It will always be driven in tandem with the Wintersnek Pass a few kilometres further to the west. The pass is suitable for all vehicles in fair weather, but like all gravel roads, it can deteriorate rapidly in heavy rain or snow conditions.

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.) This video consists only of Google Earth 3D animation clips. We will film the pass in real-time in the near future. Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

[Video cover photo by Mike Leicester]

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: The pass can be approached from the western side via the Wintersnek Pass so please read up on directions for that pass if you intend approaching from the west. Anyone intending to drive this pass will naturally have to drive the Wintersnek Pass as they follow each other in short order, regardless of which direction you choose.

Scenery on Ballochs PassWonderful highlands scenery / Photo: Mike LeicesterFor those wanting to approach from the eastern side, drive northwards towards Rhodes either from the Mountain Shadows Hotel off the R58 via the R393 (48km), or from Barkly East via the R396 (27 km) . Both these roads meet at an intersection at GPS S30.852649 E27.776658 at the bridge crossing of the confluence of the Kraai and Sterkspruit rivers. 

Drive over the steel latticed bridge for 700m to arrive at another fork. Ignore the right hand road to Rhodes, and keep left on the R393 towards Lundin's Nek. Remain on this road for 15 km and turn left (south-west) at GPS S30.736736 E27.746285. This junction also marks the eastern starting point of Ballochs Pass.

We filmed this pass from west to east. Starting from the western end and the true summit of 2063m ASL, the descent begins quite gently with a gradient of 1:20 as the road drops through a 70 degree left hand curve. There are intermittent stands of pine trees on either side of the road, flanked by rolling grassy hills.

With the heading into the north-east, the road descends steadily following the left hand side of a long nose in the mountain with rolling grass-lands on either side of the road. Up ahead the large, bulky shape of the 2443m high Balloch Mountain dominates the view.  At the 1 km point, there is a sharp right hand bend which is deceptive as it bends through a whopping 140 degrees with the  corner is fairly wide and therefore not too dangerous if you comply with the speed limit.

With the direction now into the south-east, the gradient steepens to 1:10 as the road follows a shallow S-curve. The views to the left are over the beautiful Balloch Valley - an excellent spot for some landscape photography. The best months to travel through this area from a scenic point of view are mid-summer and mid-winter.

Views from the western side of the pass Balloch Mountain dominates the views to the east / Photo: Mike Leicester

At the 2 km point, there is another left hand bend, which brings the heading back into the east. Along this section the drop-side of the road is propped up by some attractive stone retaining walls with some steep drop-offs. On the right are many examples of finely weathered sandstone formations, each resembling some creature or the other.

Ahead lies a farm and the first of the tall cypress trees, so characteristic of this part of the Eastern Cape, start making their appearance. Balloch Mountain continues to fill the view ahead and not too far from here is the turn-off to a wonderful guest house. The views are almost magical from this vantage point with the beautiful farms spread out over the valley below. The names of the farms reflect the region's Scottish settler heritage. From the west you traverse Glen Gyle, Burnbrae, Glencoe, and Wartrail. The Scottish roots run deep in this valley.

The deep and wooded valley at the bottom of the pass is formed by the Glen Gyle Mountain with its highest peak at 2559m in the west and the Balloch Mountain guarding the eastern flank. Down the centre of this big valley, a perennial stream flows and it has the rather unusual name of Vlooikraalspruit (Flea Corral Stream). There are some local references to the pass being referred to as the Vlooikraalspruit Pass.

Glen Shee Guest House in the Balloch ValleyThe beautiful Glen Shee Guest House in Ballochs Valley / Photo: Gavin TaylorAt the 3,7 km point, after negotiating two easy double S-bends, the road eases to the left and the gradient eases right off to 1:25. The valley becomes increasingly wooded as altitude is lost and soon a signboard appears which notes: 'Tiffindell - straight on'. This is your beacon that you are approaching the lowest altitude on the pass.

There are several forks here. At the first fork keep left (the right hand option leads to the Burnside farm) and at the second fork, keep right and cross the bridge. The left hand option heads to the Balloch farmstead and guest house.

If you have time, pull over under the shade of one of the many willow trees and spend a few moments at the quiet little stream, which apparently offers good fly-fishing. The bridge, which is at an altitude of 1766m is at the 4,2 km mark.

Bridge over the VlooikraalspruitBridge over the Vlooikraalspruit / Photo: Mike Leicester

A small gravel road heads off to the right, which terminates at the Glencoe, Wartrail and Glen Avon farmsteads in the south. There are several self-catering cottages and farm stays in the valley - some of them in exquisite settings.

Once the road clears the river via the low level bridge, the next climb begins towards the false summit. The gradients are reasonable initially at 1:16 and at the 4,6 km mark, the road swings sharply to the right through a 150 degree U shaped bend to negotiate a side ravine. This is one of the sharpest bends on the pass and you will need to drop your speed to around 20 kph. On the apex of this bend, there are fine examples of exposed rocks. Lower down, as part of the cutting the various sedimentary layers of a dark gray shale band can be seen, and directly above it there are some lovely weathered sandstone formations with their characteristic yellow, brown and black colours.

Immediately after clearing this ravine there is a second easier right hand bend of 90 degrees as the road skirts a rocky projection. The heading settles back into the east and at the 5,3 km point, there is another fork. Keep left and remain on the main road. A long steady climb at a gradient of 1:18 follows where the road is flanked by tall rows of trees on either side.

Nature's perfect balanceThe well known 'Balancing Rock' near the eastern side of the pass / Photo: Johan OlivierThis section allows a slightly faster speed to be maintained and soon the false summit is reached at the 6,5 km point at an altitude of 1937m at a grassy plateau. Views to the east are expansive and the next farm can be seen in the far distance, nestled amongst a copse of tall trees.

The final descent of 2,3 km is easy and straight-forward with only a few gentle corners and gradients of 1:25. The road follows the ridge of the hill with a small stream on either side. Keep a look out for the distinctive 'balancing rock' on the left (northern) side of the road, just over the fence. Here a large chunk of sandstone appears to balance precariously on a plinth. When the erosion is complete it will eventually topple over.

The pass ends at the junction with the R323 at the 8,8 km mark at an altitude of 1848m. You have choices at this intersection. Wonderful choices! A left turn will take you to two of the region's most beautiful passes. Lundins Nek and Volunteershoek. A right turn will take you southwards where you have more options - Rhodes, Mountain Shadows Hotel or Barkly East. There are many wonderful gravel passes, both big and small, that will be guaranteed to offer some of the finest gravel road driving in South Africa.

Fact File:

GPS START  S30.758285 E27.675744
GPS BRIDGE/RIVER S30.750900 E27.707858
GPS END  S30.736736 E27.746285
SURFACE Gravel (P3222)
DATE FILMED 15.12.2016
NEAREST TOWN Barkly East (30 km)

Route Map:

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Route files:

||Click to download: Ballochs Pass (P3222)  (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google Earth and most GPS software systems)

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