The Prince Alfred's Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably Thomas Bain's greatest work. Not only was this an extremely long pass, but it also presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders. Due to the length of the pass, we have filmed this pass in a 14 part series, which includes a separate 2 part video set covering the detour up to the Spitskop viewsite. At 68,5 km it is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use. The video footage covers the entire pass starting at Avontuur and ending at the at the junction with the N2 just east of Knysna.
We recommend watching the series of videos sequentially to gain a complete picture of all this wonderful pass has to offer. All 14 videos follow below and are placed in the correct sequence amongst the relevant text section. The pass is Thomas Bain's Opus Magnum - a work of monumental proportions carried out with rudimentary equipment and convict labour, but with science, ingenuity and Bain's "can do" attitude making it all possible. Bain constructed 29 passes mainly in the Cape colony in his lifetime. This pass epitomises all of his unique touches, but especially his exceptional dry walling method of construction.
Allow 1 hour and 15 minutes to watch the full video set and longer if you also want to study the text. Once digested you will be well equipped to deal with the rigours of the pass and the knowledge gained will greatly enhance your journey.
The Op de Tradouw Pass lies on the popular R62 route between Montagu and Barrydale - both towns which attract tourists by the droves and each has it's own special mystique and charm. This pass should not be confused with the Thomas Bain designed Tradouw Pass, which lies another 10 kms to the east and further to the south of Barrydale. The Wildehondskloofhoogte Pass runs back to back with this pass and together the two passes form one long pass of over 15 km. The Op de Tradouw Pass has an altitude variance of 300m with an average gradient of 1:18 with the steepest parts reaching 1:15. It provides beautiful views of the Tradouw Valley peppered with fruit orchards and dams, with the Langeberg mountains in the background. The pass is modern, well engineered and safe, providing the speed limits and barrier lines are adhered to.
This pass holds at least one South African pass record - it has the longest name, with 21 letters! The name translates from Afrikaans into "Wild Dogs Ravine Heights" It can be found in the Langeberg mountains on the R62 between Montagu and Barrydale and precedes the Op de Tradouw Pass on its western side. The two passes form one long continuous pass. The road ascends the southern side of a ravine formed by the Goedgeloofrivier. It's a long pass at 11,2 km and although the average gradient is a mild 1:37, the steep sections are quite long and sustain some stiff gradients at around 1:10.
The Paardekop Pass delves a long way back into history and is recorded as far back as 1772 by the explorer, Thunberg in his journal. The original route was an elephant path which was later to become a bridle path, followed by the inevitable need for an ox-wagon route. It was considered to be one of the most dangerous passes in the colony in its day.
This animated Google Earth video clip is presented in the format of a simulated fly-over, and provides a basic overview of the salient features of the Baviaanskloof. Lower down we provide links to the main passes and poorts within the Baviaanskloof, which are featured elsewhere on this website. We have also provided links to a few of the accommodation and other places of interests. This is a true wilderness area and is a proclaimed World Heritage site.
Whilst the western half of the Baviaanskloof can be driven in a normal car in fair weather conditions, a 4x4 with high clearance is necessary to complete the eastern half, which includes several deep water crossings. Permits can be purchased at either of the control gates. The route can be driven in either direction, but the recommended direction is west to east as shown in this video.
The Grootrivier Pass - (on route R102) played a significant role in the economic developement of the Cape Colony and was originally built by Thomas Bain between 1822 and 1823. Together with it's sister pass, the Bloukrans Pass, they presented some highly technical problems to Bain, who had to contend with rockslides, mud, high rainfall, shale, unstable slopes and the omnipresent baboons. This pass is a perennial favourite and a joy to drive with its tortuous corners and stunning scenery amongst veryold forests of the Tsitsikamma.
The Bloukranspas translates directly from Afrikaans into 'Blue Grag's Pass'. Master pass-builder, Thomas Bain, relished the challenge of planning a route through both of the formidable obstacles of the Grootrivier and Bloukrans gorges within the Tsitsikamma Forests, when the government first started considering a coastal road between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay in the 1880's. The Bloukrans Pass is one of the most revered and respected passes in South Africa. It is a sad indictment that this road has been allowed to degenerate into such a state of disrepair that it has now been declared closed to traffic. This pass is surely worthy of National Monument status!
The Touw River Pass forms part of the well-known 7 Passes Road in the Garden Route and is the 4th of the official passes when travelling west to east. The road was built circa 1883 by Adam de Smidt, the brother in law, of Thomas Bain - pass builder extraordinaire. This is a gravel road and remains virtually unchanged from it's original route, with the one exception that the original timber bridge was washed away. This was replaced with a steel bridge in the 1900's.
It has similar characteristics to the Kaaimansgat and Silver River passes. It's 2,5 km long and has an altitude variance of 92m with the same inverted vertical profile typical of a pass that descends through a river gorge and rises up the other side.
Of the seven rivers crossed on the 7 Passes Road, the Touw River is the biggest and the most prone to flooding. It is most likely that this pass was also built by Adam de Smidt, as Thomas Bain was held up for a long period with the contruction of the Homtini Pass, which proved to be the most difficult of the seven.
Heights Road (also known as Hoogte Road) is a short and very steep, narrow tarred road connecting the holiday village of Wilderness with the farms and residences on top of the hill known as Wilderness Heights. It is the preferred, quicker route for locals over the much longer, gravel surfaced Whites Road. Both roads terminate at the same point.
The Swartberg Pass is for many South Africans, the rubicon of gravel road passes. There is an allure and a mystique around this old pass, coupled with its status as a national monument, which elevates this pass to the very top of the list. It was Thomas Bain's final and best piece of road building. Most of the historical points of interest are signposted along the pass. There are names like Die Stalletjie (Small Stall), Witdraai (White Corner), Fonteintjie (Small Fountain), Skelmdraai (Devious Corner), and of course Die Top, the latter sign is almost completely obliterated by graffiti by some folk who might feel they have just crested Everest and have this burning desire to paint their name on the well known sign.
The pass is very long at 23,8 km and it takes about an hour to drive, excluding stops. You will be treated to a wide variety of incredible scenery. The pass is not suitable for anyone suffering from acrophobia. It can be driven in any vehicle in fair weather. The Swartberg Pass has almost too much to offer the traveller with a never ending changing set of views - each as awe inspiring as the one before.
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.
We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.