We had heard how beautiful the Swartberg Pass was from friends and family and when we stopped for a few nights in Prince Albert this September we got to experience it first hand. Although the road is not tarred it is well kept and suitable for a normal car. As with all mountain passes we recommend that you take the drive slowly and stay well clear of the edges.
The Swartberg Pass links Prince Albert with Oudtshoorn and was officially opened on the 10th January 1888. The pass is 24 kilometres long and tops out at 1585 metres (or 5,600 feet in old language) above sea level.
We set off from Prince Albert on the R407 and just a short way out of the town there is a left hand turn that takes you onto the Swartberg Pass. The road is gravel and clearly regularly graded (infact on our way down we passed a grader). The start of the pass takes you past steep rugged cliffs making us feel rather insignificant in our car.
The road takes you upwards in a series of zig-zag turns where we were constantly met with stunning views across the mountains and gorges. We couldnt help but marvel at how the road was built in the first place. It really is a masterpiece of engineering and an amazing achievement by the famous road-builder Thomas Bains.
It’s well worth picking up a book on the Swartberg Pass before you drive it. There are small books for sale in Prince Albert which you can buy for R55 and which provide a wealth of information regarding the history of the pass and also tell you all about the different ‘drifts’ or ‘curves’ you pass along the way. Each one seems to have a story behind it.
Before the Swartberg Pass was built the only way for farmers to get their wares to the port of Mossel Bay was to take the Meiringspoort or Seweweekspoort routes. The downside of these routes were that they were constantly being closed due to floods or rock falls.
We stopped regularly along the way to take photos before we reached ‘Die Top‘ where we pulled over to eat our sandwiches and where you have views across the Swartberg Mountains to one side and to the Outeniqua Mountains on the other. Unfortunately the weather at the top was just 5 degrees and the wind was blowing strongly so we didnt stay there for long.
On the way down we passed some old ruins which were the remains of a rather modest hotel.
The total drive took us about 1 hour and we were driving quite slowly and stopping to take photos. The route is well worth it for the views alone. When we returned from Oudtshoorn we drove back over the Swartberg Pass and spotted three small Duiker. As we stopped our car they darted off into the bush beside the road and stood watching us for a few moments – awesome.