The Swartberg Pass is probably top of the list in the history or Road building in South Africa. Now a national monument, it was Thomas Bain’s final and probably his best piece of road building. He built the pass between 1883 to 1886 with the help of some 250 convict labourers.
He managed to keep the gradient to less than 1:8 throughout the pass, compared to the steeper 1:6 of the Montague Pass. He achieved this by using the ridges of the foothills to build a steady incline towards the lowest saddle of the Swartbergs.
The entire pass is 24 km long, with the highest point at 1575m above sea level. The views are spectacular and there are numerous viewpoint and picnic stops along the way but be warned that the higher you get, the windier and colder it can become.
From the high point (Die Top) looking South you can see most of the farmlands of the Klein Karoo, whereas to the North you will see the much drier mountains with fantastic view of the gorge along which the road will take you. If there is no-one else around, turn off your engine off, sit still and listen to the sounds of silence.
The road is narrow in some sections and be prepared to have to do some reversing to get past an oncoming vehicle. The Rule of the Road is that you give way to ascending vehicles and don’t exceed the speed limit. Not for the faint-hearted but if you make the effort, it is something you will never forget.
The nearest town is Prince Albert (30 km) which we shall go to next.