Mountain passes of the Little Karoo
Did you know?
The startlingly red stone hills around Calitzdorp are known geologically as Enon conglomerate.
Let’s go on a road trip to explore the mountain passes of South Africa’s Little Karoo.
As we go along Route 62 from the west, we literally drive through a hole in the magnificent Swartberg Mountains. Welcome to Cogman’s Kloof. This scenic 5km-long pass connects Cape Town and the winelands around Stellenbosch with the valleys and towns of the Little Karoo.
Presently, we come to Montagu, which in some aspects resembles a small French mountain town. Its Cape Dutch architecture is well preserved, its restaurants are famous and its guest houses well worth visiting.
Down the R62 we drive, past Barriedale, and just this side of Ladismith, we turn right on the road to Van Wyksdorp. After lunch in the village, we drive on the Rooiberg Pass – prepare for jaw-dropping landscapes.
The Rooiberg Pass seems to keep going up, and the vegetation changes from the scrub of the Little Karoo to mountain fynbos.
At one point between Ladismith and Calitzdorp we come to a sign announcing we are in the Seweweekspoort (Seven Weeks Gorge) Pass, a beautifully cut road in a giant cathedral of the Cape Folded Mountains.
It is said the folding and the breaking of the sandstone mountains took place over more than 120-million years. It’s some of the best natural art you’ll ever see. Watch out for Verreaux’s eagles (also known as black eagles) hunting for dassies (hyraxes or rock rabbits) in the fractured rock.
Back on the R62 we drive, stocking up on port at Calitzdorp and passing through the ostrich Capital of the world: Oudtshoorn. We are going to tackle the legendary Swartberg Pass, built by Thomas Bain in the 1880s and still holding wonderfully. We stop and take photographs of the excellent dry stone walling, the views back down into the Little Karoo and, presently, the Great Karoo in the distance.
And now we’ve suddenly turned left and are descending into De Hel. That’s the old folk name for Gamkaskloof, and on this pass you hold tight and take it slow.
Through valleys of aloe ferox and burnt protea clusters we drive. The last 4km are enough to test most of our motoring skills. But it’s been a great adventure and, being travellers, that’s what we love: something to talk about when we get home.
At Gamkaskloof we stay in a CapeNature cottage, meet local people at the gift shop and then head back down the other side of the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert. From here we go to De Rust and drive through our last great pass, Meiringspoort.
It’s a 16km drive through sheer rock, with thoughtfully placed little picnic spots along the way. As we drive through this magnificent gorge and out of the Swartberg range, we immediately begin to miss the mountains and mountain passes…
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