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Lundin's Nek Pass (R393)

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Lundins Nek Pass Lundins Nek Pass - Photo: BikeRoutes.co.za

This gravel pass is one of the great gravel passes of the Eastern Cape and is held in awe by adventure travellers to the same extent as Joubert's Pass, Naude's Nek, Carlisleshoekspruit, Volunteershoek, Bastervoetpad, and Otto du Plesses passes. Lundin's Nek (which is also often spelled as Lundean's Nek) is a much bigger pass technically than any of the others and must rank as the most underrated big gravel pass in South Africa.

Not that many people have driven this pass as it really doesn't lead to anywhere significant, other than the Tele River border post with Lesotho. The pass is steep and peppered with 101 bends, corners and curves including four hairpins, several unbridged stream crossings and very steep, unguarded drop-offs. It's also long at 14,5 km and concentration levels need to be maintained throughout. The pass is not suitable for normal sedan vehicles. Whilst we recommend a 4x4 for this road, it is possible to complete it in a high clearance 4x2 vehicle in fair weather. It connects the small farming community of Wartrail with the Tele River border post at Lesotho.

 

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.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....



[Video cover photo: Looking southwards on the southern side of the pass / Photo: Trygve Roberts]

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: From Elliot, drive up the Barkly pass on the tarred R58 and take the turn-off to the right onto the R393 opposite the entrance gates to the Mountain Shadows hotel. Drive over the Fetcani Pass and continue northwards for approximately 70 km ignoring the right hand fork to Rhodes and keep left until you reach the southern start of the pass at  the GPS coordinates given in the Fact File lower down on this page.

Approach road to Lundins NekThe 70 km long approach road to Lundin's Nek offers spactacular scenery / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe approach road rises through the small settlement of Wartrail, where there are still some direct descendants of the 1820 settlers. Stop in the tiny village and sample some of the unique homemade cooking and fine country hospitality.

We filmed this pass in both directions - each offering its own special blend of diverse scenery. Because this is such an amazing pass we have dedicated several videos to extolling its considerable virtues and the videos are displayed in the appropriate section of the text. The pass is complex, long and quite rough in places, but there is no reason why it can't be driven in a high clearance 4x2 vehicle. If it's raining heavily or the pass is under snow, a 4x4 will be a prerequisite.


The scenery on the pass, which lies at the southern tip of the southern tip of Lesotho, is incredible. The Witteberge are a series of outlying mountains of the Drakensberg and there is a similar majesty and expansiveness to this pass as one experiences on the Otto du Plessis and Bastervoetpad passes. According to locals the pass was built by the British military engineers shortly after completing the Naude's Nek Pass, which would date the pass back to the early 1900's

Lundin's Nek summit signLundin's Nek sign is not at the true summit of 2170m / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Lundin's Nek Pass on the R393, takes one up to the peak of the 'white mountains' as the Witteberg is known. From the summit one stares out over the Maloti Mountains down into the valley through which runs the Tele River. It is easily one of the more scenic passes in South Africa and, because of its remoteness, unspoilt in terms of having to share it with others.

With snow on the mountains or under clear star-studded skies, this part of the country is nigh on perfect and there seems little reason to leave, and all the reason to remain and drink in the views.

Starting at the southern end, the pass starts at the double crossing of two small but often swiftly flowing streams. There is no bridge here - just a simple concrete dip through the river bed. Don't drive through the stream at high speed, as you will possibly get water into your vehicle's electrics. Drive through slowly. If there is any doubt, rather walk through the stream first, which will provide you with an accurate idea of whether your vehicle will make the crossing or not. You don't want to be stranded here as it could by several days before the next vehicle passes by.

One of three stream crossings on the southern sideOne of three stream crossings on the southern side of the pass / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe road can be seen heading up the hillside ahead and disappearing from view. Almost immediately speed has to be reduced as the surface of the road deteriorates. There are some deep ruts, washaways and lots of loose stones to contend with.

Immediately after fording the two streams, the climbing begins at an altitude of 1872m ASL. The going is fairly slow and will seldom exceed 40 kph on the better stretches. The initial climb gradient is at 1:11 as the road climbs up towards Lundin's Nek which can be seen as the lowest point in the far distance ahead of you. The first section is fairly straight-forward with three shallow S-curves having to be negotiated. After a short distance there is another stream crossing to be forded, after which the direction reverts into the NNE. There are some sections that get as steep as 1:8 and after rain the road can get quite slippery. Choose your driving lines carefully and remain in the tracks of other vehicles where possible. The southern side of the pass is without doubt steeper than the northern side. It is also the shorter of the two sections.

Uniformed SAPS officers patrol the passExpect uniformed SAPS anti-stock theft officers along the road / Photo: Trygve RobertsAfter 2,6 km, you will pass through a large SA Police station, which was set up to combat stock theft from SA into Lesotho. From the South African side their job is also to check for cannabis (dagga) and diamond smuggling in this wild and remote part of the country.

There is a dilapidated open gate at the stock theft unit and if there is a sentry at the gate, be polite and request permission to proceed up the pass. They might request to inspect your vehicle. Once through the SAPS stock theft grounds, the gradient picks up again and climbs at a steady slope of 1:8, heading purposefully for the neck.

The road climbs steadily up the valley of the Witteberg Mountains to summit 298m later at Lundins Nek (2170m ASL), which is frequently spelled as Lundeans Nek - even on the official sign! The Witteberge are part of the Southern Drakensberg range. No-one seems to know who the Mr. Lundin/Lundean was after whom this pass was named.

The final right hand bend just before the summitThe final bend before the summit / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe distance from the SAPS stock theft unit to the summit is only 1,8 km but it feels much longer. There are some fairly rough sections along this section, mainly caused by water run-off and erosion. Don't be alarmed to find armed soldiers along this section - they are merely patrolling the route for stock thieves.

Just before the summit the road enters a sharp S-bend finishing off with a right hand turn. Dead ahead is a distinctive stand-alone peak. As you turn to the right, the road suddenly levels off onto a small, level plateau area at the 4,4 km point, where a sign that has fallen off its pole, proclaims this spot to be Lundean's Nek (even the officials got the spelling wrong). A minor track leads off to the right which you can ignore as it peters out about 800m further in a dead end. A small white building with a green roof can be seen a few hundred metres further along the summit ridge - probably a shelter for the patrolling soldiers who have to endure extreme weather up here.

This spot might well be the neck, but it's not the summit perse. The true summit is located at the at 4,5 km point, just 100m further at an altitude of 2170m ASL. There's a sharp left hand bend at the summit and suddenly you will be treated to vast views to the north of huge mountains tumbling down to the river in a series of deep ravines.

Beware of livestock on this passExpect livestock at any point on the pass - even at the summit! / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe road can be seen twisting and turning laboriously down the mountains. This spot offers perhaps one of the best photographic opportunities along the entire pass. If you have a wide angle lens, this is the time to use it as the views are truly panoramic. Unless it's summer, it might well be very cold at the summit, so be prepared for icy winds, rain, mist or snow at almost any other time of the year.

The descent down the northern side towards the Tele River is more dramatic with sweeping views of the magnificent Maloti Mountains. Several steep switchbacks need to be negotiated on the descent, which will present few problems on the proviso that you keep your speed down. The locals fondly refer to this beautiful, high altitude part of South Africa, as "Wild Mountain Country". Expect to find snow here through most of the winter months. The gradients on the northern side are generally between 1:20 and 1:14, making the descent quite comfortable. The road surface varies between reasonable and quite bad, which means one can never relax. For the driver, keep your eyes on the road ahead.



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

From the summit sign board, the best views from this intersection are towards the south, where you will get perfect views of the long climb you have just completed.

Summit view looking south-westLooking south-west from the summit / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe road heads north-west and remains almost flat. The road follows an easy S-bend following the contours of the ridges and at the 4,8 km point, a jagged ridge with steep cliffs can be seen ahead with the Maloti's far away in the hazy distance. Here the road sweeps through a sharp left hand bend and the descent gradient suddenly increases to 1:16. From this vantage point the views to the north begin to open up, revealing a wide sweeping panorama of hills, cliffs, rivers and waterfalls. It is truly breath-taking.

There are many places to stop for photographs, but almost no formal laybys have been provided. This shouldn't present any problems, as you are unlikely to see another vehicle on this road. The best places to stop are on the apex of the bends.

The road now heads into the WSW for 1 km as it descends along the northern side of the main ridge on your left. Far below in the Tele River valley tiny white dots are visible which are the houses of the locals. The gradient gets steeper halfway down this section to 1:14.

Stone ruins near the summitA few sheep and an old stone ruin near the summit / Photo: Trygve RobertsAt the 5,7 km point, the road changes direction back into the north-west and enters a double S-bend with easy angles, still descending at 1:14. Halfway down this section, a distinct stand-alone conical peak can be seen in front of you and the road heads purposefully towards it.

At the 6,4 km mark, right under the shadow of this peak, the road curves away sharply through 120 degrees to the left. Take this bend at 20 kph as it is very sharp. Carry on for 200m and stop your vehicle. This is probably the very best view you will get anywhere on this pass.

Directly ahead about 700m away, a small waterfall can be seen cascading down a ravine. To your right the road can be seen zig-zagging its way down the mountainside in a series of hairpin bends. Take 5 minutes out of your trip and savour the moment. It's a scene you will remember for the rest of your days.

The best tourism opportunities are found on the southern side of the pass. Hidden in the tranquil valleys of the Witteberge, the remote mountain farms of Wartrail and New England provide the perfect antidote to the stresses of city life. This area offers a safe and relaxing escape in a pristine natural environment, far away from the madding crowds.

Looking ESE from 2170m ASLLooking ESE from the 2170m high viewpoint / Photo: Trygve Roberts

All types of farm-stay accommodation are available, from camping and self-catering cottages to en-suite fully-catered guest farms. Each establishment is unique and meals range from simple fare to delicious farm style extravaganzas – within driving distance there is a full A La Carte country restaurant . Enjoy personal attention from your hosts, many of whom are descendants of the early settlers to the area. They have many wonderful stories to tell about the area’s rich history and culture.

Clean and invigorating is the best way to describe the climate in Wild Mountain Country and four well-marked seasons occur. In summer the days are typically hot and sunny, with regular late afternoon thunderstorms to clear the air ready for the next day. Autumn is a time to enjoy magnificent mountain colours, with the grasses and trees decorated in splendid shades of golds and reds. The days are pleasantly warm and sunny - ideal for outdoor activities. Winter brings snow and visitors flock to nearby Tiffindell to enjoy the unique opportunity to ski in South Africa. The area is stunningly beautiful at this time of year.  In spring the mountains bloom with fresh green grass and wild flowers. Birding at this time of year is exceptional and the farmlands are bursting with new life in the form of lambs and calves.

Whether you want to unwind in peace, or fill your family’s lungs with fresh mountain air, Wartrail has something for every outdoor enthusiast



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts}

Now continue towards the crook in the mountain with it's waterfall dead ahead. At the 6,8 km the road reaches the first hairpin bend. It curls through a very sharp radius with a full 170 degrees, changing the heading back towards the stand-alone conical peak.

The road curves gently through a wide left hand bend into the north and crosses a small side stream at the 7 km mark, then curves along the western side of the peak, following its shape through a long and wide right hand curve to arrive at the second hairpin bend at the 7,4 km point.

Dangerous washaways on the passWatch out for some deep washaways / Photo: Trygve RobertsThis hairpin is even sharper than the first one and completely inverts the heading into the SSW and the waterfall can once again be seen ahead of you, about 1,5 km distant. The next section has the gradient easing off a bit to around 1:20 for 400m and soon the same stream you crossed on the previous switchback, is crossed again at a lower altitude, via an 80 degree right hand bend.

It's another 200m of fairly easy descending, where you will arrive at the third hairpin and the waterfall at the 8 km mark at an altitude of 1950m ASL. If it's been raining, you'll be treated to a beautiful sight as the waterfall drops down a 10m plunge on the high side of the road, then tumbles down a series of rapids, to flow across the road, via a concreted dip in the road. The same rules apply here as for all river crossings. Stop and check the water depth and speed of the current, and make sure your vehicle will manage the crossing.

Sandstone outcrops near the summitAlong the northern descent there are many weathered sandstone formations / Photo: Trygve RobertsAs this is a perennial stream, shepherds are often in the vicinity leading their flocks of sheep to water. As a consequence, expect sheep, goats and cattle around any corner of this pass. As a general rule, if speeds are kept low, this should never really present any problems, as there is almost always time to stop. Be aware that some of the animals, especially sheep, can behave erratically and may decide to suddenly jump in front of your vehicle.

The road now remains on the eastern flank of the mountain and heads into the north-east for the next 1,5 km. via dozens of small S-bends. The road is particularly rough over this section so choose your lines carefully and make sure no part of your vehicles undercarriage touches any rocks. To the right the stream from the waterfall tumbles down the ravine in a display of white water and rapids.



[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

For the next 700m the road heads north descending perpetually, but at reasonable gradients of between 1:12 and 1:20. At the 10 km mark, the road enters a wide left hand curve as it follows the mountain's contours into a deep cleft into the west where the fourth hairpin needs to be negotiated. This hairpin is at the 10,5 km point and is by far the easiest of the four in terms of its arc and gradient. The stream across the road can get quite tricky, depending on how much rain has fallen.

Lundin's Nek scenery on the northern sideThe scenery along the northern side is magnificent / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe descending continues and the next sharp bend comes up at the 11 km mark, which is a 100 degree right hander, once again clearing another small side stream.

Four hundred metres later a sharp left hand bend is encountered and for the last time, the road heads westwards to clear the final side ravine at the 11,5 km point. Once through this obstacle, it's a fairly straightforward drive down to the end of the pass, but don't relax completely, as you are now entering a fairly densely populated urban area. The frequency of finding livestock on the road increases as you approach the village of Mtunzini. You can also expect stray dogs and children on the road as well as pedestrians. You soon realise the pass and it's serenity are nearly over as the first of the minibus taxis ply the dusty roads of the village, hooters blaring and the 'gaatjie' hanging out the window calling for potential customers.

Sheep herders along the northern descentShepherds on the northern side of the pass / Photo: Trygve RobertsAt the 12,1 km point, there's a fork in the road. Keep left on the main road, still descending steadily through the village. There are a number of sharp bends along this section and at the 13,3 km point, there is another fork. To reach the end of the pass, keep right here as the road sweeps through a double apex right hand bend, following the course of a side stream.

The road drops down between a few small buildings right next to the road via an S-bend, which follows a small spur in the mountain ridge ahead, then swings left into the north-east for 100m, where the pass officially ends at a fork at the 14,5 km at an altitude of 1604m fairly close to the Tele River adjacent to the village of Nothanda.

You now have a range of route options to choose from, which would include crossing into Lesotho at the Tele River border post, or following the R393 all the way back to Sterkspruit. Your navigation needs to be good in this part of the world and always ensure that you are carrying full tanks of fuel as supplies are not always available.

Small children near the roadsideBe careful of small children near the villages / Photo: Trygve RobertsSome tips for travellers from the Wartrail and New England tourism association:

Sun protection. High Altitude = High UV so please come prepared with sun tan lotions, sun-glasses hats and long-sleeved tops. This even applies in winter - UV rays reflect off snow!

Clothing: The only thing that's truly predictable about mountain weather is that it's totally unpredictable! Come prepared for four seasons in one day. Layers are a good bet. There's nowhere really fancy in the area, so you can leave your sparkly dresses, jackets and stiletto heels at home! Practical, warm and comfortable clothing is the order of the day.

Medication: There are no pharmacies in Barkly East, Rhodes or Lady Grey, so it is sensible to bring prescription medication with you. There are however hospitals and doctors in the towns in case of emergency.

Near the northern end of Lundins nek passNear the northern end of the pass / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Useful Items: Cameras, binoculars, fly-fishing rods, mountain bikes

Food: If you are self-catering then bring any unusual foods that you may want with you. There are supermarkets in Lady Grey and Barkly East, and a small supplies shop in Rhodes, but you can only rely on getting basic foodstuffs. Supply of fresh fruit and veg is very variable. There are however excellent butchers in Barkly East and Lady Grey and the local meat is good value and of superb quality.

Clean and invigorating is the best way to describe the climate in the Eastern Cape Drakensberg and four well-marked seasons occur:

In summer, the days are typically hot and sunny, with regular late afternoon thunderstorms to clear the air ready for the next day.

The R393 through the Wartrail areaThe R393 through Wartrail offers exceptional scenery / Photo: Trygve Roberts

Autumn is a time to enjoy magnificent colours, with the grasses and trees decorated in splendid shades of golds and reds. The days are pleasantly warm and sunny - ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and horse riding.

Winter brings snow and visitors flock to nearby Tiffindell to enjoy the unique opportunity to ski in South Africa. The area is stunningly beautiful at this time of year and what could put a better smile on your face than watching your child build their very first snowman?

In spring the landscape blooms with fresh green grass and wild flowers. Birding in the Eastern Cape Drakensberg at this time of year is exceptional and the farmlands are bursting with new life in the form of lambs and calves.

Most of the roads in the area are fairly well graded gravel. 4x4 vehicles are not required, but high clearance is useful, particularly if you wish to take scenic drives along the mountain passes. That said, it is possible to access all of the Wartrail & New England guest farms with a normal vehicle.

[Sources: Tracks4Africa; Wartrail & New England Tourism]

 

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

S30.680213 E27.729956

GPS SUMMIT

S30.646292 E27.741302

GPS END

S30.598009 E27.735175

AVE GRADIENT

1:25

MAX GRADIENT

1:8

ELEVATION START

1872m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

2170m

ELEVATION END

1604m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

566m

DISTANCE

14,5 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

North

TIME REQUIRED

60 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

None

SURFACE

Gravel (R393)

DATE FILMED

12.05.2016

TEMPERATURE

15C

NEAREST TOWN

Barkly East (50 km)


Route Map:

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Route files:

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

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