(OUT OF TOWN)
Where is the Pass situated?
Between Oudtshoorn & Prince Albert in the Western Cape.
What is the distance of the Pass?
The pass itself is approx. 25km gravel road.
Do you need a 4×4?
No, but higher ground clearance will certainly count in your favour.
What is the height of the Pass?
The pass is 1,583m above sea level.
The Swartberg Pass is located between the towns of Oudtshoorn & Prince Albert in the Western Cape, South Africa and is one of the highlights on the Swartberg Circle Route. The route winds its way through the beautiful countryside as it follows the scenic back roads from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp, De Rust, Klaarstroom and Prince Albert, over the Swartberg Pass and through Meiringspoort.
DISTANCES & NEARBY TOWNS:
The 25km gravel pass connects the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn with the Great Karoo town of Prince Albert. Do take into consideration that even though the distance seems short, the road is quite narrow and comes with some steep inclines and sharp bends. You can safely set aside 1h for the pass itself, while allowing an extra 20min to reach the pass from Oudtshoorn and 10min from Prince Albert.
HOW TO ACCESS THE PASS:
Thanks to the neat, well-maintained roads leading from both the Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert side, the pass is easy to access. It takes about 20min to reach the pass from Oudtshoorn (+/- 40km) and 10min from Prince Albert (+/- 5km). The 25km gravel pass itself takes about 1h.
IS 4-WHEEL DRIVE NECESSARY:
You don’t need a 4×4, but higher ground clearance is definitely recommended. This all gravel pass has some rocky sections, which can be difficult to navigate with very low clearance. The road is narrow with quite a few sharp bends, so take it slow and be aware of oncoming traffic.
There are also a few narrow sections where one driver has to give way in order for both to pass safely. So, take your time and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
ELEVATION & INCLINES:
The Swartberg Pass stands at an elevation of 1,583m and the road climbs an impressive 1000m over a short distance of just 12km. With a maximum gradient of 1:8 and several sharp hairpin bends, this pass is perhaps better suited to the more adventurous driver. But the scenery and incredible views along the way, certainly makes for a good incentive!
Visit the History of the Swartberg Pass for more info on the history and construction of the pass.
There are several lookouts along the pass where you can stop to appreciate the view, whip out your thermal flask and enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring some of the most awe-inspiring scenery you’re likely to come across.
BIRDING, PLANTS & ANIMAL LIFE:
The Swartberg Pass forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to an astoundingly diverse range of plants and wildlife. Taking a closer look, you’ll spot a variety of fascinating creatures, some of these species having evolved in such unique ways that they’re found nowhere else on the planet but here. If you’re excited about birding, pack your binoculars, camera and bird checklist. This area is a birder’s paradise!
HIKING & MTB TRAILS:
The pass offers some excellent hiking and biking trails that vary in distance and intensity, making it easy to find the best fit for your skill and fitness level, but you are required to obtain the necessary permits from Cape Nature. Please note that biking trails in this area covers some rough terrain and steep climbs, which can be quite challenging for beginners.
For more info on the trails and how to obtain their permits, visit www.capenature.co.za
SIGNPOSTS ON THE SWARTBERG PASS
The following boards (from north to south) have been erected to indicate places of historic interest:
EERSTEWATER (First Water)
It was given this name because the draught animals could be outspanned here before the long, tiring journey. On their return they were fed and watered here. Bain’s first convict base camp was here and the ruins are still visible.
TWEEDEWATER (Second Water)
The older people will remember that before the low-water bridge was built, they had to wait for the water level to drop before crossing the stream.
MALVADRAAI (Geranium Bend)
This is the spot in the mountains where geraniums (Pelargonium zonale) grow luxuriantly. They are always green and often covered with flowers. One just cannot miss them. This natural inlet offers the traveller a place to stop and look at the rock formations. One of the Swartberg’s most beautiful hiking trails starts here.
BLIKSTASIE (TRONK) (The Jail)
During the building of the pass, a stone and clay structure to confine the convicts at night, was built at this spot. The present ruins are the remains of this structure.
DROËWATERVAL (Dry Waterfall)
During the rainy season it is a unique sight to see the water cascading down. During the summer months it is usually dry; hence the name.
TEEBERG (Tea Mountain)
In this area you will find the well-known honey tea bush which was much sought after by earlier inhabitants. Dealers used to market the honey tea in large quantities. This is surely one of the most aromatic teas, but unfortunatelyit is unknown to the younger generation. From this point the summit of the pass is visible, and if you look into the chasm, you will recognise ‘Malvadraai’ far below.
FONTEINTJIE 1884 (Little Fountain)
This fountain forms a beautiful waterfall and is a perennial stream. A few hundred metres higher is a pine plantation started as an experiment in 1927. (Pinus muricata; Pinus taeda)
GAMKASKLOOF 57KM (Gamka’s Kloof)
Also known as The Hell, it is a secluded settlement in a valley in the Swartberg Mountains and is well-known for its delicious fruit and vegetables. Its dried figs are a gourmets delight.
OU TOLHUIS (The Old Toll House)
At the pine grove stood the old Toll House where road-users paid the toll.No sign remains of the Toll House, but a board with a sketch of the old Toll House has been erected.
DIE TOP (The Top)
The Top is 1 585m above sea level and the highest point of the pass. From this point nature lovers can see the marvels of creation for kilometres to the north and south.
DIE GROOT KLIP (The Big Stone)
This is a very popular place to stop when travelling from the south. From here the summit of the mountain pass is visible.
BOEGOEKLOOF 1886 (Buchu Kloof)
In earlier days this was the areas medicine chest because various species of buchu grow here. The best known is the mountain buchu (Empleurum unicapsulare), aniseed buchu (Agathosma cerefolium) and long leaf buchu (Agathosma crenulatal). The buchu was usually put in brandy or vinegar and the extract used as medicine for stomach and many other ailments.
SKELMDRAAI (The Tricky Bend)
To the traveller from the north, the road seems to come to an end, and then it turns sharply to the left. From the south the road is very steep with a difficult, concealed hairpin bend, hence the name.
FONTEINTJIE (Small Fountain)
(On the southern slope)
Here a perennial stream flows from the high peaks to revive tired travellers. In bygone days a watermelon was placed in this stream by travellers from Prince Albert when they visited Oudtshoorn. On their return the well chilled melon could be enjoyed.
HOTELLETJIE (Small Hotel)
After the completion of the Swartberg Pass a postal service was instituted between Prince Albert Road and Oudtshoorn. To offer overnight accommodation, a modest hotel, the ruins of which can still be seen today, was erected on the southern slope. Some old maps still refer to this old inn as the Victoria Hotel.
This pine plantation was started as an experiment in 1927. It is a convenient picnic spot where tables and benches have been erected. It provides the ideal place for stretching one’s legs.
WITDRAAIE (The White Curves)
These curves are so named because of the two hairpin bends cut into the limestone deposits, which give the road a whitish appearance.
STALLETJIE (The Stables)
The horses that were used to draw the mail coach were fed and watered here. Fresh horses were harnessed for the journey both to the north and the south.
NEVILLE SE DRAAI (Neville’s Bend)
There is a sharp bend on the plateau on top of the mountain. It was too dangerous to erect a sign there, but the bend is called ‘Neville se Draai.’ At the age of 42 John Fitz Neville, Clerk of Works during the construction of the Swartberg Pass, was killed in an accident on this curve on 8 March, 1888. Some people believe he was killed in a dynamite explosion and others say he was thrown from his horse.
Source: Swartberg Pass Masterpiece of a brilliant Road Engineer by Helena Marincowitz