Navigating the Swartberg Pass

The Swartberg Pass is a stunning mountain pass which links the Klein Karoo towns of Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert via an incredible untarred road. It’s a scenic and daring alternative to driving through Meiringspoort (which is also a beautiful drive). The pass was the last of Thomas Bain’s engineering projects and there are numerous relics of historical sites along the way, including an old prison. The narrow roads and steep dropoffs can be quite daunting so you need to have your wits about you. Here are some tips for taking on the Swartberg Pass:

Guests on our Karoo Escape enjoying the views

1. It’s better to drive down

I mean, to drive from Prince Albert to Oudtshoorn. I think it’s more scenic although I’m sure others will argue otherwise. Spend a night or two in Prince Albert and then take the mountain pass to Oudtshoorn.

2. It’s all about timing

Often the pass is covered in snow during winter so the roads will be closed. Spring time is beautiful as the mountainsides are dappled with pops of pink flowering proteas and other flowers. I’d avoid it in rainy weather; an already intimidating road in slippery conditions is just looking for trouble. During autumn it may be misty as well which will put a damper on the views but on a clear day, the views will be spectacular.

3. Slow down

This trip is best enjoyed at a slow pace for two reasons: 1. safety and 2. the views. You will need to heed extra caution around the switchbacks and steep zigzags of the road. Take your time, don’t rush. It will take you about 2 hours to drive the 23 km route with a few stops. Drive with your headlights on and be extra vigilant around blind corners. When you do stop, make sure your handbrake is fully applied. Vehicles driving ”up” have right of way. Also, be warned that cyclists and motorbike enthusiasts love this pass so take extra care to keep our friends on 2-wheels safe!

A curious little klipspringer

4. Stop. Breathe. Take it all in…

Upon entering the pass from Prince Albert, one drives through a narrow sandstone kloof. There are a number of picnic spots here next to the river. From here, be amazed by the magnificent rock formations and stunning views. There are a couple of safe areas where one can alight from the vehicle for admiring the view and taking some photographs. Keep your eyes open for adorable little klipspringers and graceful black eagles. The turn off to ”Die Hel” or Gamkaskloof is near the summit. This is a strictly 4×4 track and camping is by reservation only. The other side of the pass is just as beautiful; one can see for miles on a clear day.┬áIt’s mind blowing to think that wagons and carts in drove here 1886!

5. Pack something warm (and a snack)

Regardless of when you travel, take something warm with you. At such high altitude (1 583 m) there is bound to be an icy breeze. You don’t want to be stuck in the vehicle at a viewpoint because you’re not prepared. Also, depending on how many stops you make, this trip could take between 2 and 4 hours so I’d advise to pack a couple of snacks to nibble on!

View from near the summit

This really is a magnificent drive and simply a must-do roadtrip. If you need a weekend getaway, the friendly Klein Karoo and the Swartberg Pass is the perfect escape. Join us in a few months as we explore this region on our Karoo Escape. Looking forward to showing you one of South Africa’s natural treasures! A