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.
Schoemanspoort forms part of the R328 and connects Oudtshoorn with the Cango Caves. It also doubles as the feeder route to the village of Prince Albert via the fabulous Swartberg Pass. This is the lesser of the three major poorts through this mountainous region. The others are Meiringpoort and the Seweweekspoort. The pass was first in use in 1855.
This poort has a bigger altitude variance than most poorts at 220m but due to the long length of just under 20 km the average gradient is an easy 1:88 and never gets steeper than 1:17. This is one of the most underrated scenic roads in South Africa and lives constantly in the shadows of it's more glamorous local attractions - namely the Cango Caves and the Swartberg Pass. The poort offers magnificent Cape Fold Mountain geology as it twists and turns along the banks of the Grobbelaarsrivier.
This short pass makes up for its lack of length in providing magnificent scenery of lakes, rivers, gorges and ravines amongst dense indigenous forests and pine plantations on the higher mountain slopes. It is one of several access roads between the N2 highway and the ever popular Old Cape Road or 7 Passes Road. This one is a gem and not used by many vehicles, so it's usually peaceful and quiet as its a sort of "road to nowhere". With two good tarred roads duplicating the purpose of this gravel pass, the majority of heavy traffic opts (as usual) for the tar. This leaves the Ruigtevlei Pass in peace and quiet.
The Robinson Pass on the R328 route, is a modern classic of the Southern Cape with beautiful sweeping curves and superb views around every corner. It's administrative number is TR 33-2. It connects the coastal port of Mossel Bay with Oudtshoorn. The pass has been rebuilt several times over the past 140 years and offers not only fabulous scenery, but many pages of history around every bend. The pass is subject to heavy rain and frequent mountain mists, which reduces visibility and makes the pass dangerous. It has claimed many lives over the years including a bus full of international tourists. A memorial stone in their memory stands on the left hand side of the road about halfway up the pass.
The Outeniqua Pass is a relatively modern pass, connecting the coastal town of George with Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo. It was first built in 1942 - 1951 to provide an alternative to the narrow and steep Montagu Pass. It has been widened and modernized several times since then and today carries the bulk of the traffic flow between the two towns and the Langkloof. Rockfalls and trucking accidents close the pass from time to time. The higher reaches of the pass are subject to heavy rainfall and dense mountain mists which can reduce visibility to a few metres. Under such conditions, this pass is dangerous especially due to the volume of commercial traffic that it carries.
It contains 40 bends,corners and curves, many of which exceed 90 degrees. The road is well engineered, but it is advisable to stick to the speed limits have which have been carefully calculated to get you safely over the pass. For south-bound traffic there are several excellent view-sites and the third one from the summit is particularly impressive, which is marked as "The 4 passes". From this vantage point all four passes still be seen, one of which dates back almost 200 years.
The pass has an altitude variance of 581m and is long at 13,3 km, producing an average gradient of 1:23 with the steepest sections being at 1:10.
This quiet village road is actually nicer to walk than to drive. It's not an official pass - just a quiet meander down an old style, narrow country lane alongside the Touw River estuary. It forms part of one of the hiking trails starting at the Wilderness National Park. There is always birdsong in the air and if you're lucky you might see a bushbuck but more probably, the raucous call of the Knysna Loerie with it's scarlet wings .
The Kredouw Pass lies along the beautiful Prince Albert Valley, on the R407 between the town of Prince Albert and the farming hamlet of Klaarstroom, within the northern sector of the awe inspiring Swartberg mountain range. The pass was originally named the Kareedouwberg Pass and this name still appears on the official government maps, but the practical language of Afrikaans sensibly shortened it to Kredouw over time. This also helps in not confusing this pass with the Kareedouw Pass just south of the town of Kareedouw, much further east on the R62.
This beautiful drive through the lush indigenous forests of the mountains north of Knysna, takes about an hour, as it winds its way between Diepwalle in the east Gouna in the west. This is one of the best publicly accessible roads in deep indigenous forests where one doesn't require to be in a 4WD vehicle. The road is technically a pass only over about 20% of it's length, but for purposes of documenting it made sense the film the entire route. The summit is reached a few kilometres before the western end and provides open views of the forest draped mountains. None of the side jeep tracks may be driven, walked or cycled whether gated or not, as all of them belong to state or private forestry. Comply with all signage and obey the speed limits. The road is very popular with local mountain bikers. Please be aware of their possible presence on the blind corners.
The historic "Seven Passes" route between George and Knysna includes the Black River Pass or 'Swartrivier Pass' or in it's original format "Zwartrivierhoogte Pass"- a modern, tar road with smooth, sweeping bends making this pass seem almost effortless as it runs from the main road in George past the imposing Garden Route dam wall to cross over the Swartrivier and quickly rise up to the neck at Saasveld via a big S-bend. The original pass was first used circa 1853.
This smallish pass forms part of a great gravel drive along some farm roads under the towering backdrop of the Outeniqua mountains not far from the R328 and the Robinson Pass. It traverses two deep valleys and offers tranquil pastoral scenery in this dairy farming region with its steep hills and many rivers. As a bonus it provides a lovely drive through the countryside, with access to the Robinson Pass and several other passes in the area, including Cloetes Pass, Du Plessis Pass, Attakwaskloof Pass and Jan Muller Pass.
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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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