Find Your Adventure X Swartberg Pass (July 2022)
The Swartberg Pass (black mountain in English) is for many South Africans, the epitome of gravel mountain passes. The pass runs between Oudtshoorn in the south and Prince Albert in the north. The pass is not tarred and can be a little treacherous after rain but has views over the Little Karoo to the south and the Great Karoo to the north. The plant life along the pass is very interesting, many hundreds of species can be found on the Swartberg. There’s also thousands of wild Proteas littering the steep slopes.
The Swartberg Pass runs over the Swartberg mountain range which runs roughly east–west along the northern edge of the semi-arid area called the Little Karoo in the Western Cape. It’s the only road access to Gamkaskloof.
The construction of the Swartberg pass was started under the guidance of Jan Tassies who used 100 workers from Mozambique. After just over a year, he went bankrupt and only completed 6km of the pass. The rest of the pass was built between 1883 and 1888 by Thomas Bain, son of the famous Andrew Geddes Bain who built Bain’s Kloof Pass and many other passes. It was Thomas Bain’s final and arguably his best piece of road building. It followed their earlier construction of another pass in 1858, the Meiringspoort, through the same mountains but further east. The pass was built using convict labor and opened on 10 January 1888. The dry-stone retaining walls, supporting some of its hairpin bends, are still in place and over 130 years old. To the north of the range lies the other large semi-arid area in South Africa, the Great Karoo. Much of the Swartberg is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Swartberg mountains are amongst the best exposed fold mountain chains in the world, and the pass slices through magnificently scenic geological formations. The contortions in the rock display astonishing anticlines and synclines, and the vivid coloration of the surrounding Quartzite is remarkable.
The pass is especially known for the unusual geology that is found at the Northern end closest to the small town of Prince Albert. Here, towering quartzite cliffs of the upper Table Mountain Group can be seen. Arguably the most famous of all these cliff faces is the spectacular ‘Wall of Fire’.
The pass is a 23,8 km long and summits around the 2,325m mark. It takes about an hour to drive, excluding stops. The pass can be driven cautiously in any vehicle provided the weather has been fair and there has been no rain or snow. The Swartberg Pass has almost so much to offer the adventure traveler with a never-ending changing set of views – each as awe inspiring as the one before.
The pass being somewhat remote and only close to small towns, we knew there would be very little light pollution and so the team stayed behind after dark to test the Fenix LR40R. A 12 000 Lumen flashlight used predominantly by security, search and rescue and park rangers.