Meiringspoort (N12)

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Meiringspoort Interpretive Centre Meiringspoort Interpretive Centre - Photo: Trygve Roberts

Meiringspoort is a Top 10 destination. The poort bears a tough history of floods and landslides amongst incredible hardships, yet our engineers and road builders mastered the art of building a magnificent road through this awe-inspiring poort. Part 1 covers the first 10 km. of the poort and ends at the Interpretive Centre and main waterfall. The second part covers the Interpretive Centre and waterfall in some detail, whilst the 3rd video covers the final 10 kms and ends near the charming village of De Rust.

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Note that the Google Earth vertical profile animation clip generates some parallax errors, so the profile is only only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. In this poort's profile, the graph shows several spikes with impossible gradients, which are completely incorrect. The general trend line of the graph represents the approximate gradient.

Digging into the details:

Part 1:
We filmed the poort travelling in a southerly direction (descending). Meiringspoort is simply magnificent. Not only is the natural geology of the poort amongst the finest in the world, but the road itself is a masterpiece of modern engineering and to cap it all, the maintenance of the roads and facilities is amongst the best (if not the very best) that you will find in South Africa. This little story is quite unique in itself in that a lady from a local community project, was given the opportunity to tender for the contract to maintain the facilties.

Near the northern portal of the poortThe northern entrance and start of the poort / Photo: Trygve RobertsShe won the tender and set to her task with a vengeance. The entire pass is immaculate, spotless and litter free and has been like that since 2000. The facillities and especially the rest-rooms are kept in pristine condition. Meiringspoort is a shining example to every other roads authority in South Africa to follow.

The poort is jaw-dropping as it carves its way through the mighty Swartberg mountains. We had no option but to dedicate three separate videos to this project, like we have done with some of the other major passes and poorts. Our route starts at the northern end as the road curves gently along the side of the river. Within the first kilometer, the first bridge is crossed. They follow in rapid succession, counting 25 in total before the end of the poort. Every bridge has its own unique name, mostly bestowed by those road builders amongst their compatriots, from long ago. There are names like Eerste Drif (First Drift), Opmetings Drif (Surveyors Drift),  Wasgat Drif (Washing Hole Drift), Bloupunt Drif (Blue Point Drift), Perdeboom Drif (Horse Tree Drift), Gerholms  River, Derde Tol Drif (Third Toll Drift),  Ontploffings Drif (Explosion Drift), and of course Waterval Drif (Waterfall Drift) - each with its own unique story and patch of history, some already lost in the mists of time.

The poort starts closing in within 2 kmsThe mountains start closing in on the road within the first 2 km / Photo: Trygve Roberts It takes approximately 30 minutes to drive the entire poort and 15 minutes from the start to the waterfall and interpretive centre, excluding stops. The road is in excellent condition and is frequented by a lot of heavy commercial trucks.  After good rains in the area, we were able to capture some great footage of the waterfalls. After 5 kilometers, the road seems to disappear into the mountains ahead with no apparent way through. The mountains close in on both sides and rise steeply up, blocking out the sun. Take it slowly - and let the scenery captivate your soul. 

History: The poort is named after Petrus Johannes Meiring (1799 - 1876), a local farmer from De Rust. He campaigned tirelessly for a road to be built through the poort to facilitate trade for the townspeople of De Rust. The road was built to transport wool from the Karoo to the port of Mossel Bay. The first official road through the poort was opened to the public on 3rd March, 1858. De Rust can be found at the southern end of the poort and is something of an artists country getaway these days. There is a lot of history to be found in and around De Rust, not to mention some fine Muscadels. Spend a lazy few hours exploring the village and it's history. You will find the towns-folk friendly and helpful.

MeiringspoortThis pass will captivate you / Photo: Treknature.comThe road through the poort was originally a toll road (like many of the passes in the area) and a toll house was built and operated by a Mr. Rankin, who besides collecting pennies from weary travellers, also dispensed medicines as he was a herbalist, and to add to the gentleman's many talents, he also practiced dentistry! The first road was known as the Boer Road (Farmers Road) and was completed in 1858 at a cost of 5,018 Pounds Sterling. In 1885 the road was seriously damaged in a great flood and the inimitable pass guru, Thomas Bain, stepped in to upgrade the road. During the Great Depression of the 1920's to 1930's the government set up a job creation programme and spent 10,000 Pounds on upgrading the road.

Between 1948 and 1953 the drifts along the road were replaced with concrete causeways at a further cost of 14,928 Pounds. From 1996 to 1971 the road was surfaced and upgraded at a cost of R 1,6 million. During November 1996 a devastating flood swept through the poort, causing carnage to the road. The poort was closed and the road completely rebuilt to the very high standards we experience today.  The road was upgraded again to its present standard between 1998 and 2000 at a cost of R 70 million. That's inflation for you!

The poort recently suffered severe floodingThe poort regularly gets floodedMeiringspoort is achingly beautiful. If you haven't driven this poort, then do it before you pass on. With its gentle gradient of 1/63, cyclists will definitely enjoy this pass too! Note that the road does not have emergency lanes though.

PART 2 - The main waterfall - If you only have time to make one stop on your trip through Meirings Poort, then make sure it is at the Interpretive Centre and main waterfall. If you are lucky to be there after good rains, you will be in for a treat. The main rest area also plays host to a small thatched building, aptly named the Interpretive Centre. Step inside and learn about the history of the poort and waterfall before you take the short walk up to the falls. The buildings are smart, clean and beautifully maintained. There are also toilet facilities here, as well as at two of other five rest stops along the length of the poort.

The main rest area and access point to the waterfallThe main rest area and walkway to the waterfall / Photo: Trygve RobertsOnce through the turnstile (it's free like most natural things in South africa), a flight of easy concrete steps with a hand-rail, leads up to the waterfall. These steps were hewn from the rock in 1925 in preparation for a visit by the Prince of Wales. The path was improved further in 1948 and if you are observant on your return trip along the path, you will see a date marked 1948 etched into the face of one of the concrete steps. Along this path you will enjoy elevated, sweeping views of the roadway curving its way through the poort. Be careful to remain behind the barrier as there are some very steep drop-offs just behind the first line of shrubs. The path curves to the left up the kloof and ends at a series of gently tumbling, crystal clear pools leading to the waterfall. The walk will take 5 minutes max. each way.

Please dont write, scratch or mark your name anywhere in the Swartberg (or anywhere in the world for that matter).

The pool at the waterfall - MeiringspoortThe clear, deep pool at the main waterfall in Meiringspoort / Photo: waterfall tumbles over 13 metres down the rockface into a very deep pool - so deep that for many years it was rumoured to have no bottom, but in 1987 divers established the pool's depth to be 9 meters. The falls have claimed a few lives from thrill seekers over the years, who have underestimated the power of nature. Be careful close to the falls as the rocks can be slippery, especially in the winter months. It is a charming spot to stop for a light lunch, if the sound of water thundering into a pool is music to your ears.

Meiringspoort hosts a unique plant species, found nowhere else in the world. It is a member of the Heath family called the Erica astroites - so called after its star-shaped leaves and it only grows along two small drainage areas in the Meiringspoort. It flowers between late August and mid October.

 Part 3 of this masterpiece of nature starts at the Interpretive Centre and waterfall and ends some 10 kms later as the poort gives way to farm lands just outside the village of De Rust. This footage starts at the rest camp/picnic site at the Interpretive Centre and winds its way over the remaining set of bridges (starting with bridge No. 10 and ending at 25 ). The names continue and conjure up imaginary scenes of hard labour in the kloof hundreds of years ago.

The western side of the main rest areaLooking down on the western section of the main rest area from the waterfall path / Photo: Trygve Roberts The names are interesting. We have supplied approximate translations for those not conversant in Afrikaans. Some of the words are perfectly apt in Afrikaans and dont make a lot of sense when translated.

Uitspan Drif (Relaxing Drift or more correctly the outspanning of oxen or horses in those times) ; Witfontein Drif (White Fountain Drift) ; Wa Drif (Wagon Drift) ; Witperde Drif (White Horses Drift) ; Herrie Drif (more about this legendary clump of rock elsewhere in this text) ; Sand Drif (that goes without saying!) ; Dubbele Drif se Draai (The turn at the double drift) ; Nooiensboom Drif (Maiden Tree Drift) ; Alwyn Drif (Aloe Drift) ; Skelmkloof Drif (Sly or Cheat Gorge Drift) ; and Boesmans Drif (Bushmans Drift).

The pass was recced on horseback in 1854 by Sir John Molteno accompanied by father and son engineers Andrew & Thomas Bain. J.P.Meiring, after whom the poort is named, plotted the first bridle path through the poort many years earlier.

The southern part of the poort offers many river crossings and contorted rocksThe southern section of the poort offers many river crossings, tight curves and gnarled rock formations / Photo: Trygve Roberts

About 2 kilometers after the first waterfall, you might be lucky to see a second waterfall after good rains. It is featured in this video, but it is a rare sight, so dont expect it to be running in dry or hot weather. The poort continues to amaze and bedazzle the senses as the red cliffs tower over the road.

Look out for the historical Herrie se Klip right near the drift named Herrie Drif. In 1929, Afrikaans author and poet C.J.Langenhoven, carved the name HERRIE (an imaginary elephant from one of his novels) into a rock next to the river in Meiringspoort. It would seem that graffiti artists have been around for a long time! We dont encourage you to emulate the great man's habits. The stone was declared a national monument in 1975. This point in the pass marks a deep ravine named Nagas Poort, named after a San tribe chief who lived higher up in the mountains.

A waterfall in meiringspoortAnother lovely waterfall further south of the main falls. It is only active after good rains / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The poort falls within the control of the Swartberg Nature Reserve, which falls under the jurisdiction of Cape Nature Conservation. The first wild Geranium in the world was discovered here in 1689 by Hendrik Oldenland. There are about six picnic areas/rest stops - all are immaculately clean and three have toilet facilities. The speed limit is generally 70 kph. The road is in excellent condition but is frequented by a lot of heavy commercial trucks. The video was filmed during October 2012, after good rains in the area, which resulted in some great footage of the waterfalls. The nearest town is De Rust (10 km), with limited facilities. The nearest major town is Oudtshoorn (50 km).

Take it slowly - and let the 200 million year old geology captivate your soul.

Fact File:


S33.338237 E22.538751


S33.408242 E22.558044


S33.472905 E22.549871














19,8 km




30 minutes


70 kph








De Rust (24km)

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Mountain Passes South Africa

Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.

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