“The 27 kilometre Swartberg Pass is considered to be one of the finest mountain passes in the world: an un-tarred road that winds to the summit (1585 metres above sea level) in steep zigzags and sudden switchbacks with breathtaking views at every turn.
The road is supported in places by hand-packed stone walls, a trademark of brilliant road engineer, Thomas Charles Bain.
Along the way, there are relics of an old prison, toll hut and other interesting historical sites. Often covered with snow in winter, the mountain’s unique micro-climate supports fynbos and a rich bird life in contrast with the arid zone flora and fauna outside it’s cool, shady kloofs.
The Swartberg Pass was declared a Provincial Heritage Site in it’s centenary year, 1988″.
Okay… so the photos cannot and will not do this beautiful pass any justice, at all!
Nick and I often stopped to take photos… and then we’d see the shot – and look back at the view – and look at each other… and eventually Nick said: “This is just something that people need to come and experience for themselves”.
And he was right.
It was a gorgeous drive… harrowing in parts… because it’s a single dirt road – and you really have squeeze (or reverse) your car to allow someone travelling in the opposite direction to pass.
And there are often steep cliffs… with drops straight down to the rocks hundreds of metres below… right next to you as you drive. Those suffering from vertigo may want to sit this one out…
I was amazed by the handiwork of those who built the pass (240 prisoners from Knysna, as it turns out). They began work in November 1881 and finished in December 1887 – so, for a dirt & rock road that is 126 years old, it’s actually more than just a bit remarkable!
Our little Renault Modus managed the drive very well… but then again, it was a sunny day and the roads were dry and the tyres gripped the surface well. I don’t think I’d enjoy attempting the pass in the modus on a rainy or muddy day! I’d freak out if the car had to start slipping and sliding towards those sheer drops!
We took the Swartberg Pass to get from our little cottage to the Cango Caves. After the caves, Nick couldn’t resist driving the pass again… so back we went!
…. and, after a day of caving and pass-driving, we spent the evening at the Olive Festival in Prince Albert. Think: small, historic town… lots of interesting people… craft market… stalls selling delectable olives, figs, jams & chutneys (and inviting people to sample their wares)… olive-picking… wine-cellar tours… live music (of the ‘country’ variety)… loads of fresh food… and ample people-watching for me!
The kids munched on cheese jaffles, Nick tried an olive quiche, I devoured a chocolate ganache tartlet (and some cappuccino)… Nick sampled olives (and purchased a tub of fat, garlic-stuffed olives – which were gone by the next day!).
In all – a lovely, lovely day… 🙂