Swartberg Classic Tour 2021 - The Full Story

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Elands Pass - one of the tour highlights Elands Pass - one of the tour highlights - Photo: Bipin Prag



This is no doubt our most successful tour ever. This morning we bade farewell to 22 new converts into the MPSA family with friendships bonded in dust and tears of elation and happiness.

There were a number of firsts on this tour:

The first Renault Duster

The first GWM bakkie

The first Subaru Forester

The first M/Benz ML

The first broken arm

The first pulled leg muscle

Day 0 - Meet & Greet - Sunday 10th October at the Rotterdam Boutique Hotel

Our rendezvous point was at the unique Rotterdam Boutique Hotel, just outside the village of Buffejagsrivier, itself about 8 km east of Swellendam. There is plenty of fascinating history in this area, which we will examine shortly.

The Rotterdam farm is a working dairy farm set in verdant fields, with the Langeberg Mountains standing sentinel to the north. The property is immaculate.

Entrance gate of the Rotterdam farm / Photo: MPSA

From the moment you turn in at the elegant gate, one gets the impression of laid back order. Four energetic Border Collies and two friendly Rotweillers greet one at reception, demanding some affection before the formalities of checking in are dealt with.

The homestead consists of the original and very old farm building (De Oudehuis) where the reception, kitchen, dining room and bar is located. The height of the doors is lower than normal as was typical of buildings from the 1700 and 1800's when the population was shorter.

The Fraser-Jones Suites / Photo: MPSA

A little to the east is the elegant Fraser-Jones Suites. It's a double storey building with olde-worlde charm oozing out of every nook and cranny. The rooms are enormous; bigger than the average small house in South Africa and appointed to 4 star quality.

Our visit coincided with load shedding. This caused some issues with flushing toilets and water pressure, but at least we were forewarned by Andy to be showered, abluted and in bed by 10 pm before the power went off.

Fountains trimmed off with lavender and lush lawns make for a pleasing vista. In the next building to the south is a small thatched building housing the museum. We will give you more info on that in Part 2. A little further is a slightly more modern thatched building, which is the owner's residence.

Our guests arrived on time and soon we had all the two way radios fitted and tyres deflated in preparation for the gravel roads. The driver's briefing took place on schedule at 1800 where the route for the next day was explained, personal folders, maps and name tags handed out.

 The Fraser-Jones family museum / trophy Room / Photo: Rotterdam Hotel

Next up, Andy Fraser-Jones took us for a tour and talk at the family museum. This was followed by a delicious dinner and an early night for those who had travelled far.

After our driver's briefing, farm owner and host Andy Fraser-Jones gave us a fascinating talk and tour in the family "trophy room" and regaled us with stories of his parents, both who were excellent pilots and of course, much of the little museum is dedicated to the exploits of racing driver Ian Fraser-Jones. They were an adventurous family who lived life to the full.

Ian Fraser-Jones / Photo: Fraser-Jones Collection

 The museum at Rotterdam is a carefully curated collection of artefacts, memorabilia and prizes won by the late Mr. Ian John Fraser-Jones. He was one of the first and only South African racing drivers to take part in the Grand prix from 1950-1960.

He led a full life and left a true legacy that is shared in this beautifully established private family museum.

Andy's wife, Anneke toiled away in the kitchen to produce a fine meal for our group (24 people) which was enjoyed in the Oudehuis, after which it was a weary group who wound their way to their rooms under starry skies, before load-shedding arrived at 22h00. Most were asleep in short order to the sounds of rural silence.

We recommend this venue. Visit www.therotterdam.co.za

Cattle at the farm are in excellent health

Monday 10th October dawned peacefully at the Rotterdam Hotel to the mooing of cows. Breakfast was enjoyed and by 08.30 the convoy was ready to head off after radio checks were completed with some nervous anticipation of what lay in store for the day - 11 mountain passes!

We had 2 Toyota Land Cruisers, 2 x Toyota Prados, 2 x Land Rover Discoveries, 1 x Suzuki Jimny, 1 x M/Benz 350ML, 1 x Subaru Forester, 1 x Nissan X-Trail, 1 x Renault Duster and 1 x GWM P- series D/Cab.

Ready, steady, Go! / Photo: Lynne Dean

 Any concerns that we might have had about the off-road capabilities of these vehicles were totally dispelled by the end of the tour as we scored a 10 bringing them all home without a single problem - not even a puncture!

Some of our guests however, were not so lucky, but we'll get to those stories later.

Our first stop after leaving Buffeljagsrivier was at the Sugar Bridge.

The Sugar Bridge - a somewhat neglected part of our history / Photo: MPSA

The old bridge dates back to 1852. The piers were built of huge sandstone blocks hewn from a nearby quarry. The teak used for the superstructure was salvaged from a shipwreck, the Robert, which ran aground at the mouth of the Lourens River in 1847.

What was needed was a suitable mortar to cement the sandstone blocks firmly to withstand the potential flood-waters of the Buffeljags River.

Portland cement had only begun to be made commercially and it was not yet available in Africa. The traditional local mortar was made from a mixture of sand and lime, the problem with this was that it develops its strength very slowly and there was a danger that the structure would be washed away by floods before it reached full strength.

The three bridges over the Buffeljadsrivier - Sugar Bridge to the left; modern road bridge in the centre and the rail bridge on the right / Photo: Roger Fisher

It was decided to use gypsum, imported from France. The problem with gypsum is that it sets very quickly and there would not be time to position the large sandstone blocks before it dried. In order to retard its setting household sugar was used as an admixture.

Thus, when the bridge came into use in 1852, it became known as the 'Sugar Bridge.' It carried road traffic between Cape Town and the eastern seaboard of South Africa for 101 years until the new road was opened in 1953.

Our next point of interest was the sleepy village of Suurbraak. Originally, in 1812, the station was administered by the London Mission Society and the name Suurbraak was a corruption of the original “Sour Brake”. In the English of the early nineteenth century, the mass of ferns which today are called “bracken” was “brake” and these “sour ferns” still exist.

One of the churches in Suurbraak / Photo: Cathy van Eeden

It's a former mission village that gives the word 'quaint' new meaning, even if, on the whole, it also suffers from neglect and many of the locals' cottages are in need of upkeep. Out here the local community is rather starved of sources of income, although a cheese factory might open soon.

The heart of the village of Suurbraak has been preserved, and the buildings that rest on the village square and the two church buildings have been restored.

Suurbraak lies in what could easily be termed a little piece of heaven, and because it is not a commercial centre is left largely alone. Today people still cook on wood burning stoves, use donkey-drawn ploughs and horses and carts to get around - it's really old-style living, mostly untouched by development.

The village is also known as !Xairu in the Khoi language / Photo: London Traveller

Most of the old style houses line the road through town, and if you want to explore, it is a wonderful place to visit and from which to walk - the Wonder Kloof lies across from town, an incredible geological crack in the Langeberg Mountain range, with a number of recently opened hiking trails that take you through the kloof.

As our convoy rumbled through the little village we headed east and up the little known Moodies Pass, named after the magistrate of Heidelberg at the time the pass was built.

Two kilometres after Moodies Pass the impressive Boosmansbos Pass reveals a panorama of lush farms topped off with inviting views of the Langeberg.

Des & Ann Price making some dust in their Duster! / Photo: MPSA Tour Group

There are 5 lovely gravel passes that can be driven all along the foothills of the Langeberge between Swellendam and Heidelberg. These are from west to east Moodies Pass, Boosmansbos Pass, Doringkloof Pass, Seekoeigat Pass and Wadrift Pass. These were all part of the first day of this tour.

At the bottom of the Seekoeigat Pass, the Duiwenhoksrivier needed to be crossed via a flooded drift, which was the first challenge for the non 4WD vehicles. Water crossings are often red flag moments as water in sensitive electrics can so quickly become a trip killer. Most drivers tend to want to drive fast through water, which is the worst possible thing to do. We got the whole convoy through without incident.

Mike & Sysser Waspe easingtheir Jimny through the water crossing at Seekoeigat / Photo: MPSA

Near the summit of the Wadrift Pass on the DR1316, we turned north to tackle the Gysmanshoek Pass, one of the three highlights of the first day on tour. The pass is an old wagon route running through a pristine kloof in the Langeberg connecting Heidelberg with Ladismith.

It wasn't long and we gained enough elevation to reach the proteas and other fynbos. The mountains were surprisingly green, with streams flowing and plenty of flowering plants on display to the careful observer. This pass is not difficult except perhaps the last 500m climb to the summit.

Our convoy takling a break at the summit of Gysmanshoek Pass / Photo: Pierre Conradie

Here we received the first radio call with a hint of angst in the voice: "Our gearbox is overheating" The call came from the Renault Duster - an automatic 4x2 model. We've seen this issue before on several different makes including the mighty 200 series Land Cruisers. What happens is that most drivers fail to change to lower gears to keep the engine revs higher, which in turn helps to keep the gearbox oil cooler and also prevents the gearbox from 'hunting'. This regularly happens on long, slow climbs. Now you know!

We dispensed this advice to the driver of the Duster and in short order the warning light went off as the vehicle successfully climbed up to the summit unassisted.

Fynbos and proteas / Photo: MPSA

We spent some time at the summit enjoying the perfect weather and admiring the sublime scenery, before descending to the valley floor of the Klein Karoo. There are many abandoned farm buildings along this section of the route which make for interesting photographic subjects, but they are also a grim reminder of just how tough farming in the Karoo can be.

We dispensed this advice to the driver of the Duster and in short order the warning light went off as the vehicle successfully climbed up to the summit unassisted.

We spent some time at the summit enjoying the perfect weather and admiring the sublime scenery, before descending to the valley floor of the Klein Karoo. There are many abandoned farm buildings along this section of the route which make for interesting photographic subjects, but they are also a grim reminder of just how tough farming in the Karoo can be.

At the northern end of the Gysmanshoek Pass, we connected with a good gravel road and drove east to the tarred R323, where we visited the Muiskraal farm. Anyone who has ever driven the R323 will instantly recognize the entrance gates which are very distinctive.

The pass to the south of the farm (Muiskraal Pass) leads up to the summit of the much more famous Garcia's Pass.

The distinctively unique entrance to the Muiskraal farm stall

It was getting hot so we made use of the shade inside the Muiskraal shop, where we made the farmers day as guests bought armfuls of olives, preserves, jams, juices and dried fruit. The olive oil tanks are in the same building and if you enjoy cooking with olive oil, we recommend you stop here as the prices are very good and the quality excellent.

We had decided to omit the slow drive over the Brandrivier Pass to make up time and continued on to Ladismith via the Voetpadkloof, Kruippoort and Naauwkloof passes, the latter which delivers perfect views of the cleft peak, known as Towerkop.

A perfect view of Towerkop from the Naauwkloof Pass / Photo: Ladismith Tourism

 From Ladismith our routing took us to the settlements of Zoar and Amalienstein, where we stopped at the old church for a leg stretch and some photos. The mercury had crept up to 33C and the vehicle airconditioners were working hard.

Mission church at Amalienstein / Photo: MPSA

The second highlight of the day beckoned - the incredible Seweweekspoort. Just as one enters the poort after the second bridge, a small two spoor track leads away into the bush. It heads up to the Tierkloof Dam. The spot is particularly attractive as the contorted and twisted Cape Fold mountains confine the narrow kloof and the river that flows along its little valley.

Getting 12 vehicles into the confined space required some slick reverse parking / Photo: MPSA Tour Group

The road winds over the river three times over neatly constructed causeways smothered on either side by dense riverine vegetation, then levels off, revealing the dam wall, which towers over the road.

If you're feeling energetic, you can climb the "stairs" all the way to the top to enjoy the views, but be warned it's very steep. The dam is narrow and deep (like well designed dams should be) and provides fresh potable water to Zoar and Amalienstein.

Drone shot of the Tierkloof Dam / Photo: Pierre Conradie

Seweweekspoort never disappoints.

On this tour we drove it in both directions over two separate days. The road works have been completed and  is in excellent condition. In fact the vast majority of gravel roads we drove on this tour were very well maintained (bar the first 8 km of the Otto du Plessis Road / Gamkaskloof). Well done Western Cape government!

The raw essence of what the tour is all about / Photo: MPSA

The Seweweeks Poort is probably the most beautiful 18 km stretch of gravel road anywhere in South Africa. With easy gradients, multiple river crossings, mind-boggling geology, camping and self catering accommodation all packed into an almost perfect micro-climate, this road is an absolute joy to drive or ride, as it twists and turns through every angle of the compass, as it follows the contorted bends of the river and falls entirely under the control of Cape Nature Conservation and more specifically the Swartberg and Towerkop Nature Reserves. It is also a certified Unesco World Heritage Site.

This poort is one of our Top 20 all time favourite roads. Add it to your bucket list!

Bosluiskloof Pass was the last pass scheduled for the first day of the tour. As one crests the summit point, a dramatic view presents itself, with row upon row of hills and peaks fading away into the east. Here the road begins descending along the northern flank of a steep sided kloof and where Thomas Bain's brother in law, Adam de Smidt's stonework can still be seen holding the road up almost 150 years later.

The view east descending Bosluiskloof Pass / Photo: MPSA

This is one of the most spectacular gravel passes in the Western Cape offering stunning scenery of craggy mountains, vertical rock walled poorts, old-school engineering, game spotting, birdlife and a fabulous 4 star lodge to ease weary travellers into the bushveld way of life.

his historic pass dates back to 1862. The road is named after the many fossilised ticks found in the rocks when the road was built. This used to be the main road between Laingsburg and Prince Albert up till the late 1960's when the Dept. of Water Affairs built the Gamkakloof Dam, which had a number of consequences, including making this road obsolete.

The main lodge at Bosch Luys Kloof

At the end of our first day we arrived at the Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge set in a valley near the foot of the Bosluiskloof Pass. Here you will find utter peace and quiet. There's no cell reception. The hush of the bush envelopes you and the city stresses fall away.

The main lodge building houses the reception area, a large lounge, deck area, swimming pool, kitchen, dining rooms and a very cool pub. The chalets are set along the ridge to the east of the main lodge. Each has a unique view of the valley and mountains and most of them sport an outside shower. What nicer way to wash the day's dust off?!

One of the cosy nooks in the main lodge / Photo: Giodeon Swart

Bruce, Henry and the staff welcomed us and after slaking our thirsts in the pub , we were served with dinner - what better than lamb shanks in this part of the world?

The night was warm as a million stars lit the way back to our chalets for another good night's sleep.

Over the past approximately 160 years until ±1970 different parts of the reserve were extensively used for stock farming, mainly merino sheep. Currently it extends near 14 000 hectares, but it was of still greater magnitude before the Gamkapoort Dam was built in 1967 – 1969 on the eastern side of the property. The Dam cut off a few thousand hectares and also blocked off the former road to Prince Albert.

 Although many different owners farmed with livestock until ±1970, only small scale herding has taken place since. The reserve thus fortunately had a period of natural rehabilitation of 40 years plus.

The veld in some areas is untouched by grazing but other areas were not that fortunate. Since the building of the dam the veld had time to rehabilitate causing it to improve every year. Much however depends on the rainfall patterns. The well known Spekbos (Portulacaria afra) footprint is increasing nicely.

The reserve still has remnants of old stone structures, used by shepherds of the stock-farmers of the past. There are also a number of old graves from the middle 19th century. There were four main farmsteads on the present reserve land.

The birding is good around the lodge / Photo: Bosch Luys Kloof

Day 2 of the tour dawned warm and sunny, the temperature would later rise to 36C. With the customary radio checks done we bade farewell to the lovely Bosch Luys Kloof and ascended the Bosluiskloof Pass with the sun behind us, but the one thing there was no shortage of was dust! Throughout the tour dust causes the convoy to spread over a large distance. This requires regular stops by the lead vehicle to allow the convoy to regroup and ensure clear comms.

It's always interesting how different a pass feels driving it in the opposite direction. Bosluiskloof and Seweweekspoort were prime examples. The latter took some time as our guests were stopping to take photos - lots of them - in the perfect early morning light.

Once back at the R62 we hooked a left (east) to drive the tarred Huisrivier Pass. The 13,4 km long Huisrivier pass lies on the R62 between two valleys in the Little Karoo between the towns of Ladismith in the west and Calitzdorp in the east.

Huisrivier Pass heading east / Photo: BMW Groups

It has 39 bends, corners and curves packed into that distance, which requires vigilant driving. Not only is this a fairly long pass, but it has many sharp corners and exceptionally attractive scenery. Many lovely rest areas have been provided by the road builders.

This pass is unique in that its geology is unusually unstable (shale) and several pioneering engineering techniques had to be applied to successfully build a safe all-weather pass. The pass, which includes three river crossings, is not particularly steep, where the engineers have managed to limit the steepest gradients to a fairly comfortable 1:10.

The late Dr. Graham Ross

The engineer responsible for this pass was the late Dr Graham Ross, who authored the book "Romance of Cape Mountain Passes". Dr Ross took an active role in the early years of the MPSA project offering valuable guidance on road engineering and history. We will remain forever in his debt.

After enjoying the Huisrivier Pass scenery, we descended into the wide Klein Karoo valley to Calitzdorp, known for its excellent port wine and the hot mineral springs south of the town.

Calitzdorp is also known for its beautiful gardens featuring splendid bougainvillea and the wide variety of special architectural styles of the village houses which date from the founding of the village in 1821.

The farm on which Calitzdorp stands was granted to JJ and MC Calitz in 1831, who named it Buffelsvlei. During the pioneering days hunting was good and by 1845 a community centre was established after the establishment of several homesteads.

 The Dutch Reformed Church, declared a national monument in 1991, was originally built in 1857 and hosts a magnificent organ, large even by European standards. Richard van Reenen Barry was the first pastor and served the community for 40 years. In 1910 the population reached 4000 and it was decided to build a new church.

1912 was an important year as the new church was erected in the neo-Byzantine style with a Marseilles roof. The same year the new school building was also completed, and a start made with the building of the old Standard Bank building, presently housing the museum, as well as the Nelsrivier Dam.

Calitzdorp / Photo: Karoospace.co.za

Subsequently drought, the great flu epidemic and the collapse of the ostrich feather industry all hit the area hard. However economic recovery followed with the opening of the railway line (1924), electrification of the town and the construction of a cement road between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, also a first for South Africa (1937). The new R62 highway was built in 1978.

After refuelling some of the vehicles in Calitzdorp, we left the R62 and took the gravel road north leading to the Calitzdorp Dam, or more correctly the Nelsrivier Dam.

Satellite image of the dam / GoogleEarth
 The winding road along the gravel eastern side of the river valley is an unnamed pass in itself and offers elevated views of the dam and surrounding dams. The dam has an interesting history and is one of the oldest in South Africa. Camping, fishing and boating is available.

Tucked behind Besemkop in the Nel’s River valley, about 5 km north of Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo lies the Calitzdorp Dam or, more correctly, Nel’s River Dam. Completed in 1918 it is South Africa’s first and oldest concrete gravity dam that was built for irrigation purposes and that is still in working condition – a living pioneering engineering achievement.

Nelsrivier (Calitzdorp) Dam

Nel’s River Dam, which took about five years to build, comprises approximately 110 000 cubic tons of concrete. The dam wall has a height of 18 m and length of 213 m. The spillway consists of a low concrete overflow with a drainage canal that was blasted into the side rock and left unlined. The permissible height of the overflow is 1.8 m. The dam provides water to 70 irrigation users of the Calitzdorp Irrigation Board with their 520 ha of scheduled irrigation lands, as well as the approximately 4 700 residents of the town.

After passing the Calitzdorp (Nelsrivier) Dam, the road turns more towards the east and follows a long, narrow and convoluted valley. Along this old road there are fine examples of old Karoo style architecture and many farm stays and B&B's on offer. This valley is well watered and surprisingly lush, considering it's in the heart of the Klein Karoo.

Kruisrivier Valley

There are many low level stream crossings and dense bush, requiring diligent driving and always remember to keep well left on the blind corners, as some of the locals drive a little too fast and occupy more than half of the road!

The valley has its own micro-climate which supports plenty of small scale farming. It seems to have attracted artistic types as there are several art galleries along the route. It's the sort of road where you want to stop often and linger a while. A road for the less hurried traveler.

A valley with its own micro-climate

The P1706 route offers far superior scenery to the well known R62 tourist route - especially the straight and often boring section between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. This back road offers multiple options and several small passes, each distinctly different to the other. The Kruisrivierpoort is the first of these passes when driving from west to east.

The pass is quite short at 2.2 km and only has an altitude variance of 134m, but what it lacks in vital statistics, it more than makes up for in attractive scenery and lots of tight corners. The average gradient is 1:16 but several sections get as steep as 1:6. The settlement at Kruisrivier after the eastern side of the poort, plays host to a number of artists and crafters and is a recommended stopping point.

Cautionaries: Be aware that this road is very narrow in places (single width) and it might be necessary to reverse back to a wider spot to allow safe passing. The rule of the road is to give way to ascending vehicles.

After a leg stretch at the Kruisrivier Art Gallery, we continued our journey eastwards and the next gravel pass - Huis se Hoogte Pass.
Beautiful scenery on this routeThis fairly steep gravel pass lies on the east/west axis on the southern side of the Swartberg Mountains and connects the Kruisrivier farming area in the west with the Swartberg Private Game Lodge at the eastern end of the pass.

Continuing eastwards along this road (P363) will bring you to the foot of the Swartberg Pass as well as ultimately to the Cango Caves.

 At 3.2 km the pass is well below the national average and the altitude variance is a mere 98m, but it is the magnificent scenery which makes this one of those back road passes well worth detouring to travel.

Our route passed the Swartberg Private Game Reserve where we spotted giraffe and antelope. Soon we were on tar and intersected with the R328 at the southern foot of the Swartberg Pass. We turned right and headed in the direction of the Cango Caves and our next point of interest - Schoemanspoort.

It 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.

 Schoemanspoort north of Oudtshoorn / Photo: MPSA

Pre-Covid this was a very busy road with a constant stream of tourist buses plying the route from Oudtshoorn to the Cango Caves. When we drove it it was relatively quiet. We only completed half of Schoemanspoort, turning east back onto gravel along the lovely P1713 route.

We departed the smooth tar of the R328 halfway along Schoemanspoort and took the gravel P1713, which took us past the Cango Mountain Resort and after a quick climb we had a good view of the Koos Raubenheimer Dam.

 The Koos Raubenheimer Dam is Oudtshoorn's main water supply

The dam is Oudtshoorn's primary water source and a 22 km long tunnel supplies the Klein Karoo capital with clean water. It's a deep, rocky dam fed by the Bushman and Le Roux Rivers and lies 23 km north of Oudtshoorn.

Known by insiders as the bass mecca of the Little Karoo, the dam has a good population of largemouth bass and is extremely clear with visibility of usually more than 2 metres.

Boats are permitted on the dam but outboard motors are not, trolling motors only may be used. The dam is ideal water for float tubes, small inflatables and canoes. Keys to the gate are obtainable from the nearby Cango Mountain Resort about 1 km away on payment of a small entrance entry fee.

The walk to the waterfall involves crossing a few bridges / Photo: Firefly Africa

Rust-en-Vrede Waterfall is hidden among the bracken-clad heights; therefore a walk over little bridges is required along the mountain trail. You are inspired by the beautiful wild flowers that bloom in great profusion alongside the path while far below amidst ferns and undergrowth, a powerful river ripples over rocky edges.

 This scenic and peaceful trail ends in great reward. Collected at your feet is the sparkling pool that originated from a spring high up in the mountains. Rust-en-Vrede is a safe sanctuary for indigenous plant and animal life; definitely a precious asset of the Klein Karoo and Cango Valley.

A good swimming spot at the foot of the waterfall, but swimming is forbidden as this is drinking water / Photo: Cango Resort

On previous tours we always found this facility gated and locked, but on this tour it was open, so we decided it would be a good place to have our lunch break under the shade of the tall trees. Elation quickly turned to disappointment when the gate guard asked for R100 per vehicle.

"We will only be here for half an hour" I explained in suiwer Afrikaans, and my offer to negotiate a fairer price was met with a resolute shaking of the head. So if Oudtshoorn Municipality can take note: Perhaps your fee is fine for anyone wanting to spend the day there, but a one price fits all policy is costing your facility in lost revenue. Have three rates: Full day, half day or one hour, priced at say R100; R50 and R10 per vehicle.

Instead, we parked our convoy near the entrance gates and enjoyed our lunch in the balmy sunshine of 36C.

Immediately after the Rust en Vrede Waterfall and picnic area, the start of the pass of the same name begins.

South Africa and especially the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo) has some of the finest gravel roads for the purpose of eco-tourism. With the popularity of the GPS, these minor roads are just waiting to be discovered.

 This shady spot provides some relief from the sun / Photo: Going Somewhere Slowly

The Rust en Vrede Pass (Rest and Peace) provides a fabulous drive along a gravel road with sufficient gradient and curves to make it a memorable mountain pass. It follows the east/west axis of the Swartberg Mountains on its southern side.

We ambled along this pass, which is just under 5 km in length and soon arrived at one of SA's largest olive oil producers on the Ou Muragie Road. We are considering working in a visit to this well known establishment, De Rustica, on our next Swartberg Tour.

We passed through the town of De Rust. Long before the village of De Rust was established the area with its perennial springs and abundant wildlife had been inhabited by the indigenous San people. Following the movement of settlers inland from the Cape it became a favourite place to “outspan” near a mountain spring and rest before tackling the challenging route through the gorge.

Aerial view of De Rust

 Thus De Rust (literally translated as “The Rest“) was established in 1900 on a portion of the farm belonging to a certain Mr. Meiring - the same Meiring after whom Meiringspoort was named. Today it is a quaint and serene village that boasts a number of historical buildings and various tourism related establishments.

Although it is small, De Rust is a surprisingly convenient travel base. From here you can do all manner of day trips to places like Prince Albert, Oudtshoorn, the Cango Caves, Klaarstroom, the Swartberg Pass, Meiringspoort and beyond.

It will also be well worth your while to visit De Rustica Olive Estate, Doornkraal Padstal and 2 Doorn Equine, Excelsior Vlakteplaas, Domein Doornkraal and various walking and cycling trails through the mountains and surrounding farmlands.

From De Rust we ambled through the famous Meiringspoort in wonderment of the stupendous geology and history.

The main rest stop in Meiringspoort looking north / Photo: MPSA

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.

The pass is in superb condition and offers typically gentle poort gradients, but the 63 bends, corners and curves do require a high level of concentration. It's easy to become mesmerised by the mind boggling scenery, so drivers need to remain focused and understand that the lack of safety shoulders and large volume of heavy trucks means a certain level of danger is always present. It's best to drive this poort on a weekend or public holiday, when there are fewer trucks. Stop often and enjoy one of South Africa's finest poorts which is packed with history.

One of the 25 odd river crossings in Meiringspoort

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 facilities.

Meiringspoort rest stops and the entire poort is immaculately clean / Photo:MPSA

She 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 facilities 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.

It was warm at the Interpretive Centre with the temperature above 35C. Most of our guests braved the heat and climbed up to the waterfall.

Meet the heroine of our tour - Liesel Fowler. Always bright and happy, Liesel was one of the guests who took the walk up to the waterfall in Meiringspoort. She slipped and fell awkwardly, breaking her arm. This happened at 3.30 in the afternoon. Her husband David, whisked her off to Oudtshoorn where she received excellent medical treatment. By 7.30 pm the Fowlers were back at our overnight venue to rejoin the tour.

Liesel Fowler - the lady at the falls / Photo: David Fowler

We wrote a limerick for her:

There was a lady called Liesel

Who drove in a Prado diesel

She slipped on a rock

And became a crock

With her cast becoming an easel.

And that folks, is how we roll!

Towards the northern end of Meiringspoort, a gravel road leads away to the left (west) and is easily recognizable by a cattle grid at its start. We turned off the smooth tar of the N12 and hit the gravel and dust once more.

We were running on schedule, and started this lovely rural loop with the Bloupuntrivierpoort - an attractive little poort displaying the same Cape Fold mountains as we had just enjoyed in Meiringspoort.

It follows the course of the Bloupunt river and its tributary as it heads into an ever steepening poort of twisted and contorted rock formations to terminate about 3 km later. There are a few cattle grids on the route and one farm gate which must be closed after passing through.

Following on its heels, is the Kleinvlei Pass - a substantial pass with some very sharp corners and steep gradients. The views are really good from this pass making the little loop well worth the extra time.

Cape Vervet monkeys are commonly seen in this area

The last of the three passes and poorts on this road (P1721) is the Aapsrivierpoort, which follows the Aapsrivier offering attractive scenery through Little Karoo scenery. On the left hand bank of the river an old road propped up with dry=packed stone walls can still be seen, which was probably the original road through the poort, now no longer accessible.

The road reconnects at the junction of the N12 and the R407 at Klaarstroom. We had less than an hour's driving to complete, to reach Prince Albert.

The Kredouw Valley at the western end of the passWith the convoy back on tar, we headed west for the beckoning comforts of the town of Prince Albert. The next and penultimate pass of the day was the Kredouw Pass. The eastern climb to the summit is a long fairly straight road with good views of the Swartberg range to the left.

The real action happens on the western descent. Immediately after cresting the summit, the wide and well watered Kredouw Valley displays like a giant water-colour. To the right the scar of the old road can still be seen cutting its tortuous path down the mountainside, whilst ahead of you the wide and smooth tarred modern version creates a fine example of how road engineering improved over half a century.

Much further down the valley is the farmstead and outbuildings of the Kredouw Olive Estates. Kredouw Olive Estate is a small attractive organic farm lying at the foot of the Kredouw Pass in the exquisite Prince Albert Valley.

The farm lies at the foot of the mighty Swartberg Mountains. It totals 1000 hectares of which 22 hectares are olives 7 hectares nuts (pecans and almonds). It also grows apples, cherries and figs. All these crops are irrigated with fresh, cold and pure mountain water collected from the peaks of the Swartberg.

It's a good place to stop in and linger a while and purchase some farm fresh produce.

Prince Albert - our third overnight stop

Just before we drove into Prince Albert , we had one final pass/poort to complete the tally for the day - Witkrantspoort. This short poort often goes by unnoticed after motorists have traversed either the Swartberg Pass or Meiringspoort (both amongst the most famous of South African passes) and that is quite understandable. If you put the Witkranspoort anywhere else in South Africa, it would get plenty of attention. The poort is the final bit of mountain scenery to drive through before reaching the beautiful Karoo village of Prince Albert.

The south facing cliffs of this mountain often present a greenish colour, making this poort unusual and attractive and no doubt, where it got its name from. This phenomenon is apparently caused by lichens growing on the cliff faces, where they are mostly in the shade out of the debilitating Karoo sunlight. The poort is dramatic with towering mountains on either side, but it is also quite short and very soon the first buildings of Prince Albert make an appearance. The poort has hardly any change in altitude and the bends are all fairly gentle.

Dutch Reformed Church, Prince Albert

Prince Albert was founded in 1762 on a farm called Queekvalleij that had been on loan to Zacharias and Dina de Beer since 1762. Originally known as Albertsburg, when it obtained municipal status in 1845 it was renamed Prince Albert in honour of Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. Prince Albert was historically part of the Cape Colony.

During the latter part of the century, a nugget of gold was discovered on a farm in the area. Due to the fact that a similar occurrence had led to the Gold Rush in the Witwatersrand, this new discovery precipitated a similar population boom. However, the prosperity up north was not to be shared in Prince Albert and the gold mined turned out to be minimal.

The historic Swartberg Hotel

Due to its location, Prince Albert became a British garrison during the Second Boer War in 1899. The town became the site of several clashes between the English and the Boers during this period.

Prince Albert has a small local population, it survives today as a tourist town. The village has many authentic Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian buildings, thirteen of which are National Monuments. There are several olive farms and other very large export fruit farms in the area, as well as sheep farms, an export mohair trade, and each year the village celebrates the well-known Olive Festival. Birding, hiking, cycling and stargazing are other pursuits for visitors. The area is well known for its endemic veld plants.

The pure water and air in Prince Albert are optimal for producing the highest quality Spanish jamon. Prince Albert is the headquarters of Lucas Jamon, the only producer of the Iberian delicacy in South Africa.

 Karoo View Cottages at Sunset

We opted for a new venue on this tour - Karoo View Cottages. The photos speak for themselves. Our group size was too big to be accommodated at one site, requiring us to split our group up at two venues (the other being Karoo Master Class), but our meals were all taken at Karoo View. Howard and Marion laid on a spread of note and a jolly good evening was enjoyed in perfectly pleasant and warm Karoo weather.

Karoo View's main kitchen where delicious meals were conjured up

Here another of our guests experienced an injury to his leg, which necessitated him withdrawing from the tour as he was in considerable pain. This was a great pity as Pierre and Lenie Conradie are wonderful guests. We missed their company then and for the rest of the tour. Pierre was one of two drone pilots whose work you have enjoyed in this series.

The food was great and the mozzies had a field day that night when we all collapsed into bed. Who would have thought you get mosquitoes in the Karoo!?

This was unquestionably the day most of our guests were anticipating; some with angst; others with excitement. The route for the day started in Prince Albert ascending the northern side of the Swartberg Pass, then tackling the Gamkaskloof to Die Hel and back to the Swartberg Pass, descending the southern side. The distance is just over 100 km but it takes the whole day to complete (including stops)

The northern entry into the first kloof of the Swartberg Pass / Photo: MPSA

The dust was hanging thick in the still Karoo air as our convoy entered the northern cleft of the kloof. The recent flood from about 4 years ago had ripped the road apart, but the roadbuilders have done a great job of rebuilding it - and still using the dry-packed walling method to keep things looking authentically Thomas Bain.

The almost vertical walls of the kloof hem the road and river into a small width. It leaves one feeling small and vulnerable as one ponders the enormous natural forces that formed these mountains.

We stopped at Eerstewater for our first break. It was this spot where oxen and horses were watered in 1800's before commencing the long climb up the pass.

Our convoy at Eerstewater / Photo: MPSA

Swartberg Pass: Malvadraai to Mullerskloof

This is arguably the most beautiful and spectacular section of the Swartberg Pass. One we left Eerstewater, the road soon crosses the stream for a second time and yes, you guessed it, they named it Tweedewater - the very last place you could reliably water your oxen and horses in 1875.

The road then rises gently past Malvadraai, so named after the wild geraniums that grow at that spot in the kloof. This is a popular picnic spot and has always been a good resting place for travellers over the past 150 years.

Beyond Malvadraai the kloof opens up into a much wider one, which is named Mullerskloof. As the gradient picks up to 1:10 a sizeable clearing on the right hand side of the road marks the spot signposted as 'Blikstasie'

A short but tricky scramble up the embankment will get you to the ruins of the old building that once housed the convicts working on the construction of the pass. It had a corrugated iron roof, hence the name (Tin Station). Watch out for the thorn trees.

Aerial view of Mullers Kloof

From Blikstasie you will get your first views of those famous hairpin bends up the mountain slope. It was here that David Kramer filmed his VW Bus advert in his red velskoens.

The stone walls reach up to 13m in height along this section, however there are very few places to stop safely without impeding other traffic.

Near the second last switchback there is a widening in the road big enough for 3 vehicles, which offers good views of the hairpins below you.

The magnificent curves and bends of Mullers Kloof

Once through Mullerspoort, the gradient levels off somewhat as a large mountain top area appears ahead and in the far distance the road can be seen disappearing around a spur of the mountain. That marks the Teeberg viewsite.

The views to the north are simply mind blowing in their scope and grandeur as a deep kloof has carved its way in front of you, revealing multiple layers of geology. The view-site is small; perhaps managing about 3 vehicles if parked carefully. A small concrete picnic table and chairs is your landmark.

Swartberg Pass looking north from the Teeberg view-site / Photo: MPSA

There is a story that a film crew in a hired VW bus stopped here excitedly to jump out and take p

photos. A soft rumbling sound behind alerted them too late that the Kombi's handbrake had not been fully engaged and it plummeted down the mountain together with all their expensive filming gear. Luckily no lives were lost.

Day 3 - The road to Die Hel

This is the road to Hell according to Chris Rea

Drive up the magnificent Thomas Bain built Swartberg Pass from either Prince Albert in the north or via Oudtshoorn in the south. In the middle plateau section of the pass, about halfway between the summit and the Teeberg view site, a narrow gravel road heads off into the west along a long valley. The signboard reads: "GAMKASKLOOF / DIE HEL 37 km = 2 hours"

This is the Swartberg - one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Scientists have calculated that it was originally more then 7000m high, but erosion has worn it down to the current height. This drive, together with the Swartberg Pass will provide the finest views of the geology, flora and fauna.

This is the eastern start of the Gamkaskloof. The route is a dead end, so allow five hours to complete the journey there and back as the road is sub-standard, slow and convoluted. It is possible to complete the trip in a normal sedan vehicle but a "bakkie" or SUV is a much safer option.

This 37 km stretch of gravel road has been the undoing of many motorcycle riders and motorists. Many turn back, unable to deal with the never ending switchbacks that sap energy and concentration levels, but for those that persevere, the most glorious prize awaits at the end of the road - an oasis of tranquillity and nature that you will never forget. But more of that later.

 We turned west from the Teeberg Plateau on the road marked "Gamkaskloof" or officially the Otto du Plessis Road. This has to be one of the most iconic gravel roads in South Africa, holding almost pilgrimage status to gravel-road devotees. It winds through 37km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass, and terminates in the Gamkaskloof - reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).

One of the 9 passes on the Gamkaskloof Road/ Photo: Marius Krijt

Some of our 4x2 drivers were a little nervous and to be fair the first 8 km can be quite intimidating as the road surface is quite rough. Frequent stops resolved the problem of the convoy stretching out too far.

There are nine passes along this road (all unnamed) plus the Elands Pass that takes one down to the Gamkaskloof Valley, which make up the composition of this route. It is both magnificent and tiring all in one. The best way to deal with this road is to stop often. Take photos, breathe in the fresh mountain air and savour the magnificent landscape that envelopes you completely.

It takes just under two hours excluding stops to reach the summit of the Elands Pass.

The best pass of the tour was without question the Elands Pass. You can look at photos and watch videos, but actually driving or riding down this pass is an otherworldly experience. We arrived at the summit at noon in blazingly hot sunshine and no wind whatsoever. For once our guests were silent as they gazed down at the spectacle of the narrow road zig-zagging its way to the bottom of the valley. The moment of truth had arrived. Acrophobia is a very real thing if you suffer from it and we had a few guests who were looking downright uncomfortable, but there was no turning back.

Elands Pass / Photo: MPSA

The Elands Pass is the final descent down into the long, low altitude valley called Gamkaskloof, but more commonly known as "Die Hel". This pass descends a total of 477m over a distance of 4,7 km producing a very stiff average gradient of just under 1:10. You will have to deal with five very tight hairpin bends, and 49 other bends, corners and curves of varying degrees, but it is the very steep, unguarded drop-offs that tend be unnerving for many drivers and passengers. The design of the pass is actually very good and there is no point where the gradient exceeds 1:7.

This pass, although fairly short ranks right up with the biggest and best passes in South Africa. This is a bucket list pass and one that every adventurous traveller should do.

From the start which is also the summit point at 1050m ASL, the road begins descending for the next 1,2 km towards the main kloof at a gradient of 1:14. This section is straight-forward and contains no corners and the road surface is generally quite good. As progress is made towards the west, the gradient begins getting steeper.

On our way down into Die Hel / Photo: MPSA Tour group

As altitude is lost, one gets the first glimpses of Die Hel as a tiny wisp of greenery very far below in the valley. When you get to the 1,3 km mark, the road drops down into a tight S bend to the left. You need to drop your speed right down to 20 kph for this bend. As the S-curve is exited via the second left hand bend, you will get an amazing view of Die Hel.

Before you get out of your vehicle to take your award winning photographs, switch your vehicle’s engine off and leave it in 1st gear, making double sure that the handbrake is fully engaged. It might sound ridiculous, but many accidents have happened at view sites like this, due to carelessness and over-eagerness.

The road can be seen dropping down to the miniature looking buildings in the valley, via multiple switchbacks. It is a breath-taking sight. There’s nowhere to stop, but due to the low traffic volumes, no-one will mind if you block the road for a few minutes. The views stretch away into the west where the entire valley is visible well past the Gamkapoort.

The last Klowers. Annatjie is on the left. Her son and daughter in law on the right.

The great fire of Dec 2020 raged through the kloof from east to west, trapping the Mostert family at their farmstead. As the fire grew closer, the last true klower, Annatjie Joubert, called her son Piet off the thatched roof of their restuarant/shop where he was watering it down with a hose. The family knelt on the lawn, held hands and prayed. They were completely trapped. Then miraculously the wind suddenly changed direction and the fire moved away from them. They lost a number of their guest cottages as well as their entire campsite.

It's been a trying time for the family. A drought, Covid and the fire. The three factors combined caused an almost total collapse of tourism to Die Hel. Farmers are tough, resilient people. The rebuilding of structures has commenced and slowly the "new" Fonteinplaas is rising from the ashes. Thousands upon thousands of blackened and burnt trees stand forlornly without leaves or thorns. The animals have left as there is no food for them, but there are small green buds shooting up here and there after the rains and the valley will return to normal, but it will take a few years.

Satellite view of Elands Pass / Photo: Google Earth

A few sign-boards are passed as the road loses the last bit of altitude via an easy S-bend. The road plunges into thicker bush and suddenly after clearing a small dip, the stone entrance gates of the rest camp at Die Hel appear directly ahead.

A small dun coloured traditional farm-house is located right next to the road, which is one of several cottages in the kloof, which have been carefully restored. Nearly all the cottages run on solar power and gas and all have fire places for those chilly winter nights.

The game ranger’s house is off to the left, should you require assistance with anything. It is important to book accommodation and camp sites in advance through Cape Nature. The campsites are attractively laid out in the riverine bush and provide good shade and spotless ablutions. All of the cottages and campsites are named after the original klowers.

iOld oxwagon at Fonteinplaas / Photo: MPSA

This is only the start of the valley. There are more accommodation options further to the west with the likes of Fonteinplaas after another 5,5 km and the last farm in the west also offering cottages is known as Boplaas, which is 8km further west after crossing the Gamka River.

Do go and visit the Mosterts. They are kind, generous and hard working. Buy their produce from their shop. Enjoy a meal. Have a drink. And give Koejawel (the red border collie a pat).

We enjoyed a lunch in the shade of the trees outside, beautifully prepared by Marinette. Her husband Piet (he's the guy with the long red beard) showed me the progress they are making with their boutique gin project. When that is ready to produce, it will surely attract lots of tourism into the valley. Good times!

L to R: David & Liesel Fowler, Charles Hopkins at Fonteinplaas, Die Hel. / Photo: MPSA

We reluctantly left the lush gardens of Fonteinplaas behind and bade our farewells to the Mosterts as we got our convoy on the move. The climb up Elands Pass is probably easier than the descent, but it's still a challenging drive requiring full attention.

Halfway up the pass we spotted a vehicle descending the pass. We asked the driver to park off on the next hairpin bend, which he kindly agreed to do, to allow our convoy to get past safely.

Somehow the return leg seems to go quicker and it wasn't too long and we were back on the Swartberg Pass.

The approach to the summit point with the simple name of "Die Top" is an easier section of the pass. After passing the Swartberg Nature Conservation buildings tucked into the lee of the summit ridge, the road ascends the last 2 kms via a double set of hairpin bends. Impressive, but not in the league of the hairpins in Mullerskloof.

Just before the actual summit is reached, there's a layby on the left big enough for a few vehicles. This is a much better spot than the summit point, which is often overcrowded with tourists and it is more often than not unpleasantly windy there.

The sign 'Die Top" is today a mish-mash of hundreds of stickers and no longer legible. I cringe at the sight of that.

The summit point is 1575m and offers particularly good views towards the south. Just a little further on the southern descent there are two much better view-sites that offer better views in less wind.

Just over 2,3 km of continuous dry-stone walls in this photo / Photo: MPSA

The three photos of the summit sign were taken 3 years apart. It's a perfect case of broken window syndrome.

Our campaign to clean up SA's road signs is going very well, but this particular sign will be a big job to clean - and then to find a decent weather window when its not blowing a gale. Our convoy went past the summit and stopped at the two lower view-points, where we split our group into two to avoid congestion.

The final round of excitement awaited as we commenced the southern descent of the Swartberg Pass. There are a number of good view-points along this section, of which the highest two are the best - and our favourite is Skelmdraai, perhaps because our sign board is erected there!

Because of the size of our convoy, we asked the rear 5 vehicles to stop at the top view-site, whilst the front group proceeded on to Skelmdraai.

The views over the Klein Karoo valleys and mountains are superb and cover an arc of 180 degrees - too big for most cameras, but the human eye can take it all in comfortably.

View south from t he upper view-site / Photo: Bettieblogsaus

There is one section of dry stone walling on the descent which lasts for a continuous 2.3 km. There are four view/picnic sites on the southern ascent. If you are planning a picnic, the lowest site might be the most pleasant, as there is nearly always strong wind and cooler temperatures near the summit. The descent lasts for 10,3 km and should take about 20 minutes to drive excluding stops.

At the 18 km mark, there is a substantial ruin on the left hand side of the road (north), followed by a big picnic and view site. This is the last view site along the descent, if you intend taking a break. There are another four hairpins coming up, which commence at a ruin called Stalletjie, followed in quick succession by Witdraai. These start at the 20,4 km mark.

Eventually the gravel gives way to tar and within 2 km a venue called Cobus se gat appears on the right. This is a good spot to get some food and a drink, make use of the toilet facilities and reinflate your vehicle's tyres.

We turned right and continued westwards to our overnight stay - Swartberg Country Manor.

Entrance to Swartberg Country Manor

We arrived at the Swartberg Country Manor at 17.00 to a very professional and warm reception which included chilled fruit juice. The venue is part of a working farm and our arrival coincided with the lambing season.

All the guests were eager to share their war-stories during happy hour and it would be fair to say things were getting a bit loud, to the point that no-one noticed that one of our guests, had locked herself inside the toilet and couldn't get out. It took a fair amount of time before her husband pricked his ears up and went looking for her. Never a dull moment on tour!

The Patat Restaurant served a wholesome spread of delicious food as our group tucked in. A motorcycle group, headed up by the larger than life character, Andy Biram, shared some of their joys and pains as they had ridden most of the same route that day. A really nice bunch of guys.

That night a very strong wind howled in from the west, keeping some of us from sleep.

One of the rooms at the Swartberg Manor / Photo: MPSA

Day 4 = Thursday 14th October

After a hearty breakfast at the Patat Restaurant at the Swartberg Country Manor, it was time to prep the convoy for the last day and the easiest in terms of technical driving and distance.

We chose a different route this year, due to the fact that we had several 4x2 vehicles in our group. After leaving Swartberg Country Manor, we headed west, back over a section we had driven two days before via the Doringkloof and Huis se Hoogte passes.

At The Kruisrivier Valley, we turned left - destination Coetzeespoort.

This little known poort lies just north-east of Calitzdorp and provides a superb, but slower gravel alternative to the R62. It connects Calitzdorp with the farming communities that lie to the north of the R62 and south of the Swartberg Mountains. The poort offers beautiful and dramatic scenery of the unusual red sandstone mountains.

Coetzeespoort / Photo: MPSA

It's a fairly long poort at just under 11 km and displays a surprisingly big altitude variance of 159m. The road falls under the route number P363.

Back at the lodge the driver of the Mercedes 350ML, Bernie King, expressed some concern about the amount of fuel he had left, so he went off on his own to Oudtshoorn to refuel and met up with us again at the point where the P363 connects with the R62.

From that point we had a short leg on tar, before turning off to the right to drive the 'ostrich route' along the southern side of the R62

The curious case of the missing smartphone. (With apologies to Benjamin Button).

It's a goner!

On arrival at Bosch Luys Kloof on the second night of the tour, one of our guests, Ken Vorster, (who is a distant relative to BJ himself) could not find his phone. An hour was spent completely unpacking his vehicle and all his luggage. No phone!

The next day as we were approaching the R62 (and mobile reception) we received a message from Rotterdam Hotel in Swellendam that they had found Mr. Vorster's phone in the bathroom.

I immediately relayed the good news to Ken over the radio. To say he was delighted was an understatement. What they didn't specify was that the phone was actually found in the toilet bowl!

After the tour was over, Ken detoured to Swellendam to collect his phone. Imagine the disappointment to discover it had been lying in water overnight!

The story is that he was wearing a jacket with shallow pockets.

You have been warned!


This leg of the tour we have called the Ostrich Route as there are many ostrich farms in the area. The leg included a brief section on the R62, followed by another short section on the old cement road (the first cement road built in SA) and finally back onto gravel as we turned south at the Volmoed Ostrich farm.

Ostrich Palace

Besides the ubiquitous ostriches, there are some amazing homes to be seen, as shown in the pics. During the ostrich feather boom, a lot of money flowed into the area and so-called Ostrich Barons built these magnificent, quality homes - many of which still stand proudly today serving as upmarket guest houses.

The original route we had planned for this tour was over Lawsons Pass, but due to the strict 4x4 requirement by Cape Nature and the presence of a number of 4x2 vehicles in our convoy, we opted for this softer alternative, which was longer in distance, but much quicker in time.

After the Volmoed farm, we turned south, crossing the Olifants River, then followed the eastern extremity of the Gamkasberg to locate the Paardebont Pass. The route took us past a massive quarry, where mercifully we managed to miss all the big trucks. When we filmed this pass earlier in 2021 the dust was so thick from the big trucks heading to and from the quarry, that we had to wait for a while for the dust levels to subside.

Near the Perdebont Pass taking a leg stretch / Photo: MPSA Tour group

The weather continued to remain enjoyable even through the temperature had dropped to the mid twenties. We called a leg-stretch stop (when the photo was taken) as we savoured the perfect quiet of the Little Karoo.


This fairly steep gravel pass is one of four passes on the DR1649 road between Vanwyksdorp and Armoed. It has a high-low profile and offers wide views as the descent drops down into a narrow valley where the Perdebont farm is located. The pass is named after the farm and translates into English as "Pie-bald horse"

This is a safe pass provided speed is moderate. It can be driven in any vehicle with reasonable ground clearance in fair weather.

The Klein Karoo offers untold surprises of succulent plant-life coupled with dazzling mountain views. The best time to travel here is in winter or early spring for the best flowers and of course, the aloes bloom in winter, making for an attractive vista. If you're one of those that doesn't mind hot weather, then go here in midsummer where daily maximums often reach above 35C.

Succulent Karoo vegetation in the Kleinfonteinpoort / Photo: MPSA

Our route took us westwards on the DR1649, with the looming bulk of the Gamkaberg constantly on our right. Soon we arrived at the start of the farm gates. There are a number of them between Paardebont and Vanwyksdorp. It forces the pace to be slower, for more time to be spent looking at tiny plants and generally appreciating nature and of course, every farm gate has its own unique locking system. Some of them have graphic desciptions like "Bekslaner"

The twin passes of Kleinfontein Poort & Pass are a lovely surprise offering wonderful scenery of succulents and interesting rock formations in the poort section, then as the ascent begins towards the pass section, the views open up to reveal another beautiful valley to the west.

The Kleinfontein Poort is in very close proximity to the Kleinfontein Pass - separated by just 500m. Despite its relatively short length the little poort has a lot to offer in terms of some very tight corners, but the real attraction here is the magnificent succulent plant life that flourishes in the poort.

The poort (like it's twin - the Kleinfontein Pass) falls within the boundaries of the Kleinfontein farm, itself located in the very heart of the Klein Karoo about midway between Vanwyksdorp and the R328 near Oudtshoorn. This is a very quiet and remote road but it is doable in any vehicle with decent ground clearance (in fair weather).

Uitspan Pass

Uitspan Pass western side / Photo: MPSA

This was the highlight of the traverse of the P1649 route. There are three passes that traverse the Gouritz River. From south to north these are the Gouritz River Pass on the N2 national road, the Jan Muller Pass (Gravel) which bridges the river some 32 km further north (as the crow flies) and lastly the Uitspan Pass, which crosses the Gouritz River another 16 km northwards. The latter is the pass we selected for the tour.

The Gouritz River is an interesting river which has caused farmers and road and rail builders many problems over the years. Its gorge is deep and wide, yet for most of the year it is dry and dormant, but when the rains come, this river can be savagely lethal.

Both the Jan Muller and Uitspan passes cross the Gouritz by means of low level causeways. In times of flood, these crossings are extremely dangerous. If there's a strong current running, it's better to retreat and use an alternative route. The crossings are wide and one wrong move and your vehicle could be washed off the causeway with disastrous consequences. We have seen the river bone dry as well as a raging torrent of brown water covering the causeway by more than 3m deep.

The Uitspan Pass is both a pass (at its western side) and a beautiful poort on its eastern side. It's 7.2 km long and contains 53 bends, corners and curves, many of which are extremely sharp, including 3 full hairpin bends. Although the average gradient is a mild 1:100, there are a few sections that get as steep as 1:6.

The pass can be driven in any high clearance vehicle in fair weather.

At this stage of the tour there was just one pass remaining before we reached our final destination. Our drivers were all handling the roads like pro's and our ETA at Rooiberg was looking a bit too early.

Rooiberg Pass

One of the sharpest hairpin bends on the Rooiberg Pass

After completing the Uitspan Pass over the Gouritz River Valley, we connected with the P1661 main gravel road between VanWyksdorp and Calitzdorp. We had made very good time, despite the numerous stops, farm gates to be closed and relatively slow convoy speed.

We usually allow for punctures etc on these trips, but amazingly we did not have a single puncture or mechanical breakdown. The time was only 12.30 so we decided to treat our guests to a drive up the Rooiberg Pass, which was not on our itinerary. It meant driving northwards to the summit point, taking a lunch break there, and returning the way we came.

The Rooiberg Pass was built in 1928 most probably under the supervision of the Divisional Council of Oudtshoorn. This is not a pass to be trifled with and although it can be driven in a normal car, a high clearance vehicle would be better. It is also a long pass at 14 km and contains some fairly rough sections.

There are a total of 69 bends, corners and curves which include 6 hairpins and many other bends with a turning radius in excess of 90 degrees. It's a road for the less hurried traveller and offers wonderful views on both the northern and southern sides with valleys and ridges bedecked in fynbos and in winter you'll be treated to the sight of the bright orange flowers of hundreds of thousands of flowering aloes.

At the summit picnic spot amongst some large boulders (where you will also find our MPSA summit sign), there is a large pile of rocks. If you look carefully you will see a plaque and the reason for the cairn. In the early days of the ox-wagon travellers were so grateful to have reached the summit unscathed, that they said a prayer and added a token rock to the pile. The tradition continues to this day.

Our group enjoyed our final 'padkos' style lunch break of the tour as we slowly headed back down the mountain to our final overnight venue - the Rooiberg Lodge.

After our sojourn to the Gebedstapel at the summit of the Rooiberg Pass, it was an easy descent back into the south with the wide sweeping views over the valley between the Rooiberg range and Langeberg range. With just one final pass left to complete, we enjoyed the drive westwards towards the Rooiberg Lodge, which is not far from Vanwyksdorp.


Assegaaibosch Pass abuts a nature reserve / Photo: Rooiberg Lodge

This steep, narrow and twisting gravel pass is located on the P1661 route between Van Wyksdorp and Calitzdorp. It is frequently mistakenly called the Rooiberg Pass - and with good reason, as it forms the western section of the much bigger Rooiberg Pass, the latter which is separated from the Assegaaibosch Pass by a substantial plateau. The pass is just 3 km in length and displays an altitude variance of 178m, which converts into an average gradient of 1:18, but there are one or two steep sections which get as steep as 1:5

The pass is single width along certain sections which means passing is impossible and one of the vehicles will need to reverse back to a wider point. The pass contains 22 bends, corners and curves which includes two full hairpin bends. The road gets quite rough in places and whilst we recommend a high clearance vehicle, it is possible to drive it in a normal car (cautiously) in good weather.

As we negotiated the first hairpin bend, the view opened up over the lush green valley to the left, fed by a perennial stream which forms a confluence with the Grootrivier, which itself forms a confluence further downstream with the Gouritz River. This pleasing vista of mountains, green valleys and winding gravel roads is a fitting end to a wonderful tour.

Rooiberg Lodge

Rooiberg Lodge is an oasis of tranquility with good food, comfortable accommodation and excellent service. We always finish our Swartberg Tours here for all the above reasons.

We arrived at about 2 pm, which gave all our guests the rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy the facilities, before we got together for happy hour and our customary Chappies Awards.

Every tour that we run we add in some fun elements for the final night. For this tour we gave guests two days to write a poem on anything related to the tour. The results were heart-warming, sincere and sometimes downright funny.

We cant publish them all, but here's one written by Lynne Dean:

(Sung to the tune of Jeremy Taylor's 'Ag Pleez Daddy'

Ag pleez Robby wont you take us to the Swartberg

All six seven of us, eight, nine, ten.

We want to see Die Hel and drive all the passes

And when the tour is over we'll be sure to book again.

Passes, poorts and waterfalls

behind the bushes dropping drawers

Padkos, biltong and Chappies bubblegum

Viewpoints and picnic spots - Oh my goodness Die Hel is hot

Curves and corners, hairpin bends

Ag pleez Robby - Can we have a pic stop

We want to see the fynbos and klapperbos too

Farm roads, oh crikey mate

Come on sweep - please close the gate

Soon we'll be at our last stop for more fun at beer o'clock

And so ended a wonderful tour. New friendships formed, memories to be logged. We truly appreciated the standing ovation and sing-along!


Bespoke guided self-drive tours

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