Prince Albert lies at the entrance to the 27km Swartberg Pass, considered one of the most
spectacular mountain passes in
the world: an untarred road winds to the summit 1 583 metres above sea level in steep
zig-zags and sudden switchbacks, with breath-taking views at every
turn. The turn-off to Gamkaskloof lies
near the summit of the pass.
entrance is through a narrow Cape sandstone kloof where the eye is drawn
upwards by the convoluted rock
faces to the sparkling sky above. The
only sounds are bubbling water, the wind in the trees and birdsong. Several
picnic sites near the river provide tranquil spots to stop and absorb the peace
you drive on you gain your first sight of the valleys and peaks of the Swartberg
Pass. The natural characteristics of the Pass are magnificent – as are the
man-made features. This was Thomas Bain's last engineering masterpiece.
His construction philosophy, which has stood the test of time was: "Good
hat and good boots".
Dry-stone walls -
a great engineering feat
dry stone packed retaining walls are amazing, in one place on the southern side
the wall is 2,4kms long. They range in height from ½ metre to 13 metres. Laws
of friction and cohesion govern the pressure on retaining walls. The bed (ledge,
base or shelf) measures up to 1 metre plus up to 300mm at the top. Selected
stone was used and laid with grain at right angles to the natural bedding line.
The walls were battered (sloped inward) in a rise of 1:6. To illustrate the
scale of the highest sections of the walls, Boegoekloof measures 13,1
metres vertically and the second hairpin on the north, 7,3 metres. Pressure on
the roadway through traffic has compacted and secured the walls and roadway.
larger stones on the ledge bedding provided good drainage but further provision
was necessary. Bain’s original specifications give "rule of thumb"
measurements and clear instructions as to how many culverts, side drains etc.
there were to be, but it is not stated how these were arrived at. What is clear
is that they appear adequate, for after over a century of rain the walls are
essentially still in place and until recently, with little or no damage.
September 2000, a concerned group of design and construction professionals from
Prince Albert initiated a crisis meeting with the Provincial and District Roads
Engineers to discuss their difficulties in providing adequate maintenance of the
Pass after the bouts of heavy rains over the past three years. The meeting
resulted in all concerned walking the Pass to discuss specific problem areas and
a folio of photographs and drawings was handed over. The Pass underwent
specialist maintenance and Prince Alberters were delighted to see their old
friend (declared a National Monument in its Centenary year 1988)
receiving such a comprehensive facelift.
Along the way there are relics of
an old prison, toll hut, hotel and other interesting historical sites
Often covered in snow in winter,
the mountains' unique micro-climate supports
fynbos and a rich bird
population, in contrast with the arid zone flora and fauna outside its cool,
shady kloofs. Watch out for black eagles and klipspringers.
The Swartberg Pass is now part
of a World Heritage Site.
Snow clings to grass at "Die Top" on a chilly spring
morning - click on picture to enlarge
Top of page
There are a number of options for hiking in the Swartberg Mountains, from day
hikes to a demanding five day hike.
Lindsay of Dennehof
Tours arranges a hiking permit and then drives you into the Swartberg
Pass with a picnic lunch, a bird list and map and you hike back down to Malva
Draai, where beers or soft drinks will be cooling in the river. Choose between a
9km and an 18km route. Call Lindsay on 082 456 8848 for more information.
The best months for hiking and cycling are
April/May and September/October. Details and permits are available from the
Nature Conservation Office in Oudtshoorn. Tel: 044 279 1739, fax: 044 272
You must have a permit to hike in the Swartberg
|You can wonder at the folds of the Table Mountain sandstone strata
which constantly change colour as you move through sunlight and shade. |
|Look out for the bright green lichen, an indicator of the
sparkling clear, pollution free air which we enjoy.|
|We can boast 130 species of bird-life. Watch out for black
|Baboons, klipspringers and dassies are often
seen along both routes. You might also see kudu and grey rhebuck. Leopard,
karakal and jackals also roam the mountains, but are rarely seen.|
|Vegetation includes renosterveld, mountain fynbos, Karoo veld, spekboom
veld and numerous geophyte species. Tenacious succulents, pelargoniums
and other hardy plants cling to rock faces. On the plateau at the top of the
Swartberg Pass and down towards the Oudsthoorn side you will drive through mountain
fynbos, in autumn this stretch is bright with ericas and proteas -
look out for sugarbirds and sunbirds.|
|In winter you can see snow on the Swartberg - where temperatures
drop well below freezing. (in summer we experience temperatures of 40oC