Swartberg Pass: a top must-do garden route activity for all ages.
Take Me Home Klein Karoo Roads…
The allure of the gravel road that snakes around and through the beauty of the Western Cape hills and valleys has stolen the hearts of many. It is no surprise that it has been listed as a national monument.
The epitaph of Thomas Bain, the route is littered with incredible, and sometimes whimsical names such as Small Fountain, Small Stall, White Corner and Devious Corner, which are almost as famous as the route itself. And of course, there is Die Top. The apex of the route.
The Swartberg Pass stretches along 27km of untarred road and is considered one of the finest mountain passes in the world.
At 23,8 km in length, it will take you approximately an hour to complete this drive, but it will be an hour of unequalled beauty. The dirt road is surprisingly easy to navigate and winds 1583 metres above sea level to the summit in jagged zigzags and sheer drops with breathtaking views as far as the eye can see.
From the northern start at the crossing of the Dorpsrivier, the road traverses a short stretch of open plain, but the massive bulk of the looming Swartberg blocks the way ahead, other than a single, narrow gorge through which the road winds. The highest peak visible at this stage is unnamed at 1532m on your left (east), whilst the slightly lower Voetpadsberg on the right (west) tops out at 1402m.
Your drive will be guided by a cacophony of bright flora and inspiring geological structures.
A Passage Through Time.
The pass is a two-way street, which of course means you can enter from two different points. If you’re approaching from the north, the entrance is about 4km south of the town of Prince Albert.
If you’re approaching from the south, you will need to drive north from the town of Oudtshoorn. The roads are extremely well maintained and any vehicle should be able to traverse them. The fynbos is at their best in the winter months, and spring is a harmony of proteas, ericas, restios and pin-cusions.
The pass can be negotiated with just about any vehicle, weather permitting, and you will be treated to a wide variety of incredible scenery.
For many South Africans, it would be the equivalent to giving the Great Pyramids of Egypt a fresh paint job…
In the 1988, a plaque was unveiled to celebrate the centenary of its formation and the men who toiled to create it. The work force at the time was made up of convict labour. It currently stands on the western side of the road at the summit the Swartberg pass. The national monument defiantly acts as a road into history, with some of the dry stone retaining walls that support the sharp hairpin bends remaining from over a 120 years ago. There has been a strong resistance to tar this road as it would be removing some of its authenticity.
Activities in, on, and over The Swartberg Mountain Pass
Along the route, you’ll find the Swartberg Nature Reserve which is 180 000 hectares of land and provides hiking, picnicking, 4x4 routes, bird-watching, swimming and just being close to nature. The moment you enter the pass, the sun is hidden by the high mountains that loom over you. The rocks often appear blood red, depending on the time of day. The photographic opportunities are endless and there are enough places to pull off the narrow roadway and park safely.
End of the road, or first step on the journey?
Once you reach the top of the pass, you will encounter a view that steal the air from your lungs. You will see stunning gorges, crevices and folded earth that will create a feeling of euphoria within you. But you need to plan ahead and remember to include warm clothing. There is a good chance that it would be extremely cold at the peak and you may even find snow waiting for you in the winter months. You may want to consider taking your trip in the spring when breath-taking flora and fauna will welcome you, but still…take a coat. Just in case.
Kick off on a family-friendly adventure.