South Africa // The Western Cape //

Passes and poorts of the Little Karoo


The Little Karoo is hemmed in by a gauntlet of rugged mountains and steep-sided valleys (or poorts) that for centuries made this area virtually impassable for wheeled transport. In the nineteenth century, the British began to tackle the problem and dozens of passes were built through the Cape’s mountains, 34 of which were engineered by the brilliant road-builder Andrew Geddes Bain and his son Thomas. In fact, whatever the Little Karoo lacks in museums and art galleries is amply compensated for by the towering drama of these Victorian masterpieces. We’ve listed a selection of some of the best of the passes here.

Cogman’s Kloof Pass Between Ashton and Montagu. A five-kilometre route that’s at its most dramatic as it cuts through a rock face into the Montagu Valley.

Gamkaskloof Pass Also called Die Hel (The Hell), reached from the summit of the Swartberg Pass. Arguably the most awesome of all the passes leading into a dramatic and lonely valley, all on gravel.

Meiringspoort A tarred road through a gorge in the Swartberg, which can be taken to reach Prince Albert, which keeps crossing a light-brown river, while huge slabs of folded and zigzagging rock rise up on either side.

Prince Alfred’s Pass On the R339, between the N2, just east of Knysna, and Avontuur on the R62. A dramatic dirt road twisting through mountains, past a few isolated apple farms.

Swartberg Pass Between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. Over-the-Swartberg counterpart of Meiringspoort, with 1:7 gradients on narrow untarred roads, characterized by precipitous hairpins.

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