By Neil Playdon
Before the Swartberg Pass was built one of the only ways for farmers to transport their goods was via Meiringspoort. Unlike the Swartberg Pass the Meiringspoort route is flat and the tarred road winds for 25km with towering sandstone cliffs on either side of you.
To get there from Prince Albert take the R407 out of town and go past the turn off for Swartberg Pass. Follow this road for about 45 minutes before turning off towards De Rust. The road then enters Meiringspoort immediately identifiable by the cliffs on either side of you.
We took a slow drive through here in September on a glorious sunny day. Although the road was somewhat busier than our drive along the Swartberg Pass it was equally as impressive. Pick up one of the books on Meiringspoort in Prince Albert (price R55) and you can learn all about the history of this road.
The road was officially opened on the 3rd March 1858 and was an important access road for folks from George, Mossel Bay and Oudsthoorn looking to trade their wood, potatoes, furniture and sweet potatoes for livestock with the farmers from the north.
The cost of building a properly engineered road was prohibitive at an estimated R50,000 to build then so it was decided to build a cheaper rough ‘boer road’ at a fraction of the cost (R5,000). Sadly as predicted the road was subject to frequent flood damage from the Groot River which the Meieringspoort crosses frequently as it winds through the gorge. The flood damage and closures was one of the main reasons for the Swartberg Pass being commissioned some years later. The route of the Meiringspoort has changed frequently each time trying to find a better route around the river to prevent flood damage.
Like the Swartberg Pass there are numerous drifts to pass long the way through each with a name and a story behind it. We decide to stop at Waterfall Drift (Watervaldrif) which has excellent parking and toilets. We spotted the sign indicating the walk up to the nearby waterfall which this drift is named after. A short walk uphill brought around a corner and in front of us were crystal water pools deep in a ravine and a 60 metre drop waterfall well hidden from the road.
Originally it was thought that the pool at the bottom of the waterfall was bottomless but a diving trip in 1987 discovered that the pool was infact 9 metres in depth. Despite this stories remain of folk that have drowned in this pool so take heed and resist the temptation to jump in. In one of the pools we spotted a frog sitting in the water. Other local stories to read bout include people marooned for days when a flood came down, wagons being washed away and a wagon train loaded with dynamite exploding.
We thoroughly recommend a trip through Meiringspoort if you are in the area but don’t forget your camera so that you can take photos back to impress your friends. It’s also a good idea to pack a picnic as there are so many spots along the way to stop and enjoy the scenery.