A SCENIC ROUTE ON THE DOORSTEP OF LADY GREY
A normal vehicle, preferably with high ground clearance, can be used. The altitude is 2236m, route distance 48 km, gradient 1:6 and road surface, gravel. (Altitude: Ivan Hansen, Land Surveyor from Queenstown)
Joubert’s Pass is the fourth highest pass in South Africa and forms part of the Eight Passes Challenge which covers a scenic route that traverses the Eastern Cape Highlands (Southern Drakensberg) and includes some of the highest mountain passes in South Africa. The pass also forms part of the Lammergeier/Bearded Vulture Conservancy Area and is a very important route in a unique Southern Drakensberg habitat. Here you can spot the rare Bearded Vulture and equally rare Bald Ibis. Be aware of interesting signage some of which is self explanatory and have interesting stories attached to their names.
From Lady Grey, take the Sauer Street exit onto the picturesque winding road up Joubert’s Pass. 58 Km further, this road meets up with the R58 between Aliwal North and Barkly East. En route you will encounter the following:
Lady Grey Dam Wall (bottom) – Approx. 1.5 Km far and 30 minutes to explore and take photos. The engineer of the 25-metre high concrete arch dam, completed in 1925, was Mr. Stromsoe. During the rainy season you may be treated to a magnificent view of a veil of water cascading over the edge of the wall. There is also a picnic and braai area. The large rock in the centre of the parking area honours Hendrik Klopper, who always carried a whip and rode on a Clydesdale horse. He was in charge of labourers building both the dam and the road to the dam. (Mr. DR Naude).
Across the stream to the left of the Kloppers Draai rock, you will find a copper pipe protruding from a rock. Ice cold, crystal, clear spring water pours from it into a weir. Bring your favourite Whisky for a drink and fill up your water bottles. According to an old legend you will return to this place if you drink the water. Another legend claims that your eyesight will improve if you rinse your eyes with the water. Note the stones at the bottom of the weir. Another legend tells of Klopper heating the stones in a fire and putting them into the weir for a warm bath.
To the right of the Kloppers Draai rock is a natural staircase winding to the top of the dam wall. Follow it, stop halfway up, and enjoy a distant view of Lady Grey.
Witfontein Dam is an earth-fill dam that is fed by a spring.
Verkykerrand – Take the Witfontein Dam turn-off. Verkykerrand is approximately 1.5 Km further and you will need at least 10 minutes to enjoy the view and take photos. This area is private property so please respect the privilege and lock the gate behind you. When you are right above Lady Grey, you will be at Verkykerrand. Here you will get the best view of Lady Grey.
Back on Joubert’s Pass, drive across the top of a pretty waterfall. The next turn-off (left) takes you to the top of Lady Grey Dam wall. Park the vehicle and walk (approx. 1Km). Experienced 4X4 drivers could attempt to drive further at their own risk. A natural staircase takes you to bottom of the wall.
As you continue up Joubert’s Pass you will find Witfontein, Bloubosspruit and Die Quarry. Note the vegetation and how it changes to alpine shrubs as the altitude increases. The basalt cliffs on the westerly ridges of the mountain look like the spine on the tail of a dragon. Locals call it Aasvoëlkranse (Vulture Cliffs). The layer of basalt was deposited during volcanic eruptions in pre-historic times.
Ian se Afgrond - This is where Ian and his friends had an accident when coming down the pass in his mother’s new Audi when the vehicle went right down the slope. It is said that his cousin drove the vehicle and despite a game of “driving down the pass using gears only and no brakes”, all survived with a few scratches and ashen faces. (Mr. PW van Zyl)
The section from Rooiplaat past Wilgespruit and Perskedraai to Windpunt offers great photo opportunities. The steepest section of the pass is just below the summit. Stop and enjoy the incredible view from the Neck named “Hemel op Aarde”.
The stone tablet credits the seven farmers who built the pass.
The turn-off to the Communications Tower is at the summit of Joubert’s Pass (Hemel op Aarde) and lies beyond a heavily padlocked gate. Consider yourself privileged if you have permission to enter and make sure you lock the gates behind you and leave nothing more than your footprints.
This road is not for the feint-hearted and has been described as a “livid scar all the way to the top” and a “Pass without pity” by Chris Marais from Drive Out magazine. The 360° view at the tower is magnificent and includes majestic mountains and gorges.
Continue carefully down the pass lest you discover where Skrikdrif (fright drift) got its name. The remainder of the road meanders through a valley of farmlands with towering mountains and sparkling streams.
The farms in this area were surveyed by Joseph Orpen. Helvellyn was named after the third highest peak in the Lake District, England and Tempe, Olympus, Ossa and Pelion are named after a valley and mountains in the region of Thessaly, Greece.
“Kar Wegspoeldrif” (Car wash-away Drift) – A storm broke out one evening when the Isteds from Olympus returned home from Lady Grey. Their vehicle stalled in the drift at Unity. The area was lit by frequent flashes of lightning. Tom saw a wall of water coming down the mountain and he and his wife hurriedly got out and reached the other side. Looking back, they saw the water overturn the vehicle washing it downstream. (Mrs. MM Naude)
The farm Ossa is the heart of the Lammergeyer Private Nature Reserve. It is famous for fly fishing in the pristine Karnmelkspruit as well as off-road and nature trails.
Get the keys and permission to enter from Mountain View, 36 Botha Street, Lady Grey, if you want to visit Verkykerrand and the Communications Tower. Construction of a filtration plant may block the road to the Lady Grey Dam but you can park and walk. There is another turn-off to the Dam but you also need to park and walk. If your starting point is Lady Grey passengers with a fear of heights should sit behind the driver. For more information about Joubert’s Pass visit: http://www.ladygrey.co.za
HISTORY OF JOUBERT’s PASS
The mountains around Lady Grey are called the Witteberg (white mountains) for they often have a snowy crest during winter. They are part of the Drakensberg mountain range (dragon mountain) and form the tail of the dragon.
In the early years of the existence of Lady Grey, it was a challenge for farmers on the other side of the Witteberg mountain to get to Lady Grey. A survey was done for a road over the farm Burnet to Gairtney from Lady Grey Nek. It was estimated that such a road would cost between five and six thousand pounds. The route travelled today was considered an impassible one – only fit for baboons.
About 40 years after the survey, farmers from behind the mountain decided that enough was enough and took the matter into their own hands.
Seven farmers of which five had the surname Joubert took up their implements and proceeded to construct a wagon road as they saw fit. The others were Stephenson and Cloete. This passage through the mountains was built using manual labour only. The most difficult part of the road, a length of six miles, was constructed for the sum of £1156 10s and a further six miles or so for £50. The enterprise of this syndicate would take some beating. Helvellyn, once fifty miles by road from Lady Grey, is now only seven and Ossa fifteen instead of thirty-five. They ended up with one of the highest mountain passes in South Africa. The opening ceremony took place on 17 December 1914. This was a red letter day for Lady Grey. A procession of spiders, carts and buggies started from the Central Hotel at 08:10 and they reached the summit in a little over an hour and a half. The Ladies were exceedingly hospitable and provided eats in such vast quantities that consequently much of the supplies had to be carried home. At least 80 Ladies and Gentlemen were present. The Mayor, Mr Lilford, formally opened the road under the name of “Joubert’s Pass.” The stone tablet on the top of the pass credits five Jouberts: C, DF, GD, G and JM Joubert, plus GF Stephenson and CW Cloete. The initials MP at the bottom stand for Moos Pieterse, who also carved many of the headstones in the old cemetery in Lady Grey.
(Northern Post 20 Dec. 1914)