Swartberg Pass in Swartberg Nature Reserve, Swartberg Mountain Complex, Western Cape
Masterpiece of a Brilliant Road Engineer
The Swartberg Pass is a must for anyone visiting Prince Albert. This 27 km of gravel road is considered one of the most impressive mountain passes in the world; that winds to the summit 1575 meters above sea level in steep zigzags and sudden switchbacks with breathtaking views at every turn.
The road is supported in places by hand-packed stonewalls, a trademark of the brilliant road engineer of the 19th Century, Thomas Charles Bain. Along the way there are relics of old prisons, tollhouses, and Way stations that bear historic testimony to past adventures. Often covered with snow in winter, the mountain's microclimate supports fynbos and a rich bird life in contrast with the arid-zone flora and fauna outside its cool shady kloofs. The Swartberg Pass was declared a National Monument in its Centenary year, 1988. Those who have crossed the pass will never forget it. Lookout for the soaring Black Eagles and the sure-footed Klipspringers.
The Swartberg pass can basically be divided into two sections – The Gamkaskloof (Hell) and a roundtrip (excluding the Gamkaskloof) which includes Prince Albert, Meiringspoort and De Rust. Both trips start in Oudtshoorn. Just beyond the Cango Caves, the actual pass begins and as you climb, one is treated with a lovely view of the Oudtshoorn side of the Swartberg. Once you reach the centre of the pass, the road splits and one can either go to the Gamkaskloof or continue on to Prince Albert.
This is a day trip covering an approximate distance of 190 kilometres. A relatively early start is advised and it is possible to include the Cango Caves. The initial climb up the Oudtshoorn side of the pass is very pretty and there are plenty of stops to take some photographs or have refreshments. The road continues over the top of the mountains spilling out into the Great Karoo and lunch can be had in the quaint village of Prince Albert. After lunch the road continues to Meiringspoort and once again there is a feast of nice things to see. At one of the stops it is possible to have a walk to a lovely little waterfall. This walk is suitable for elderly people. From Meiringspoort, the road continues through De Rust. This is a nice place to stop for a cup of tea or coffee. If time allows, there is a detour that will take one all along the foothills of the Swartberg back to Oudtshoorn.
The Swartberg pass was constructed between 1881 and 1888 by Thomas Bain, son of the famous Andrew Geddes Bain, who built Bain’s Kloof Pass and many others. It followed their earlier construction of another pass in 1858, the Meiringspoort, through the same mountains but further east.
It was built using convict labour, and opened on 10 January 1888. The dry-stone retaining walls, supporting some of its picturesque hairpin bends, are still in place.
Office hours: 07:30–16:00
Tel: +27 (0)44 203 6300
Accommodation and permit bookings Tel: +27 (0)21 483 0190
Permits for day hikes only are also available from:
Oudtshoorn Tourism office at 80 Voortrekker Road, Oudtshoorn
Office hours: 08:30 – 17:00 (Monday to Friday) and 09:30 – 12:30 (Saturdays and public holidays)
Tel: +27 (0)44 279 2532
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