(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 a 27km 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.
WHERE IS THE SWARTBERG PASS:
DISTANCES & CLOSEST TOWNS:
Situated between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert, this all gravel pass is 27km of steep climbs, sharp bends and breathtaking scenic views. Allow about 20min extra to reach the pass from Oudtshoorn and 10min from Prince Albert, while setting aside at least 1h for the pass itself.
HOW TO GET TO THE PASS:
The pass is situated just about 10min from Prince Albert (+/-5km) and 20min from Oudtshoorn (+/-40km) and is easily accessible thanks to the well-maintained roads on either side.
DO I NEED 4-WHEEL DRIVE:
There’s no need for 4-wheel drive, but we certainly recommend higher ground clearance. There are a few rough patches and some rocky terrain that’s not much fun in a car with low clearance. The pass is also renowned for its steep climbs and hairpin bends, so rather take it slow and enjoy the incredible views along the way. Keep an eye out for oncoming traffic and keep in mind that there are several narrow sections where one driver often needs to make way for the other.
Remember to grab your camera and picnic basket! There are several scenic lookouts along the way providing some fantastic photo ops as well as the opportunity to examine the diverse plants and animals that are unique to this area.
EXACTLY HOW HIGH & HOW STEEP:
At 1,583m above sea level, with a max gradient of 1:8 and a 1000m climb in just 12km, this one is perhaps not for folks with a dislike of heights. If you do, however, summon the courage to drive to the top, you’ll be rewarded with the most incredible views around every bend.
For more info on the history and construction of the pass, visit the The History of the Swartberg Pass.
FAUNA & FLORA:
A large part of the Swartberg forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts an extraordinary variety of plant and wildlife species. A keen eye and a leisurely pace will allow you to spot an array of critters, from brightly coloured lizards and small antelope like the klipspringer to sunbathing dassies and cheeky baboons.
This area is also rich in birdlife, offering excellent birding opportunities, so don’t forget your bird watching gear.
WALKING TRAILS & BIKING:
Avid hikers and mountain bikers have some beautiful routes to choose from. The variety of trails also means you’re guaranteed to find a suitable one for your skill level. Access, however, do require permits, which you can pick up from Cape Nature’s offices.
Biking trails in this area are renowned for their steep inclines and rocky terrain and are better suited for more experienced cyclers.
Need more info on trails and 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