The 11,7 km long Garcia's Pass has a long and winding history predating 1860. It connects the farming town of Riversdale on the coastal plateau, with the inland Karoo town of Ladismith. The effective combination of Garcia's Pass and its sister-pass, the Tradouw Pass, did much to extend trade into the interior during the pioneering days of the 1820 Settlers.
This lesser known, Southern Cape pass is often ignored in favour of the much more famous Tradouw Pass 30 km to the west, between Suurbraak and Barrydale. It is a beautiful drive at any time of year - particularly the upper-plateau section where the road winds gently between the hills, mimicking the course of the river.
It's a long pass at 11,6 km and has an altitude variance of 397m with mostly easy gradients, but the southern side closer to Riversdale can get a bit steep at 1:10. The road is maintained to a high standard and has a good safety record. It is suitable for all vehicles.
When travelling through the Baviaanskloof from west to east, the Holgat Pass is 5th pass you will need to traverse - the first four being the Nuwekloof Pass, Studtis Poort, Grasnek Pass and Langkop Pass. The Holgat Pass is often confused with the Combrinks Pass which lies a few kilometers further east. The pass is essentially the ascent up the final big mountain climb for travellers heading eastwards, interrupted by a high altitude plateau (where the Bergplaas campsites can be found) followed by the Combrinks Pass as the descent. If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend first watching the Orientation and Overview video.
The pass contains 49 bends, corners and curves within its 4,7 km length and 10 of those corners are greater than 90 degrees. The road is partially strip concreted and sections of the concrete are in poor condition, making for quite a bumpy ride. Most of the pass has steep, unguarded drop-offs and drivers need to be alert. Overtaking is impossible and passing vehicles travelling in the opposite direction will require both vehicles to move over to create sufficient passing space.
The Tradouw Pass (which means Womens Path in the old Khoi language) is a 16 kilometer drive through an altitude range of 219 meters through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery on offer in the Langeberg. This pass is undoubtedly in the Top 20 tarred passes in the Western Cape on an overall rating.
It joins the towns of Barrydale and Swellendam and was originally built by Thomas Bain. Extensively revamped in recent times, the engineering teams did an outstanding job of preserving the environment and retaining Thomas Bain's character in the design and supporting stonework. This is truly one of those mountain passes that you must drive. This one ticks all the boxes.
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 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.
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.
The Pakhuis Pass (meaning 'packing shed' in Afrikaans) begins just outside Clanwilliam, connecting it with the Karoo town of Calvinia and beyond. The pass's surveyor and builder, Thomas Bain, was an incredibly energetic man of many talents, which included art, rock paintings, geology, cartography and engineering. This is a major pass which has recently been fully tarred over its entire length and offers a wide variety of scenery, grave sites, weathered rock formations, picnic sites and some of the Cederberg's finest hiking trails.
The pass is suitable for all vehicles but do comply with the speed limits, especially along the northern switchback section, where the gradients are quite steep and the corners (although nicely radiused by the road builders), are quite sharp. The pass is in the Top 20 passes nationally in terms of its length (26,4 km) and has a big altitude gain of 824m. Most of the new road follows Thomas Bain's original lines.
The Grootrivier Poort on the R332, was one of the last passes to be built by South Africa's most famous road engineer, Thomas Bain. This masterpiece opened up the seemingly impassable 200 km mountain wilderness of the Baviaanskloof between Willowmore and Patensie.
The poort only has 16 bends,corners and curves with a very mild descent gradient that appears to be flat when driving it. The topography is magnificent as the river and the road follow each other faithfully through the towering cliffs of the poort amongst dense riverine vegetation. The road is generally quite good throught his section and most people drive too fast, which means you see less. Expect to see a range of animals, like kudu, reedbuck, baboons and monkeys - and more so if you drive through early in the morning. As the road was carved out of the mountainsides, it left an open display of the various rock formations, which range from solid Table Mountain sandstone to the unusual pebble conglomerate.
Of the 7 passes and poorts in the Baviaanskloof, there are five which are proper passes and two which are poorts. These are Studtis Poort and the Grootrivierpoort. Poorts are different to passes in that they generally have very easy gradients as they follow the course of a river through a mountain range. They are also notoriously prone to flooding and Thomas Bain famously recorded in his journal: "There are three major headaches for road builders. They are water, water and water". Bain had a singular dislike for building roads through poorts and ironically, whilst he was building the extraordinary Swartberg Pass, the nearby Meiringspoort all but washed away in a devastating flood. Bain was subsequently called in to realign the road at a higher point than the flood level.
If you are new to the Baviaanskloof, we recommend that you first watch the Baviaanskloof Overview and Orientation video clip.
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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