The Swartberg Pass, Western Cape
Did you know?
The Swartberg Pass was Thomas Bain's last assignment - and his greatest achievement.
The natural divide between the plains of the Great Karoo and the lush valleys of the Little Karoo has always been the imposing Swartberg Mountains. There was a time when these crags were impossible to breach, and people had to take circuitous routes to get to their destinations.
Thus a road between Oudtshoorn and the village of Prince Albert became one of the first mountain pass projects through the Swartberg.
Initially, the tender for the Swartberg Pass was awarded to one John Tassie. But the mountain beat him, and he could only build 6km of road before going bankrupt.
Enter Thomas Bain, an extraordinary road engineer dubbed ‘The Man with Theodolite Eyes'. By now he had built 16 of the country's most challenging mountain passes. He had learnt his craft from his father, Andrew Geddes Bain, a brilliant road engineer, palaeontologist, geologist and explorer.
Thomas Bain worked with 200 convicts and a lot of gunpowder. He finished the Swartberg Pass ahead of time and under-budget. The real story of his exploits lies, however, in the fact that even today, more than 120 years after it was built, the Swartberg Pass still stands strong.
The magic of this pass really hits you during the river crossings, when you see the parapets of Cape Fold rock. More than 120 million years ago, the tectonic shifting of the earth caused these rocks to fold and thrust in on themselves, eventually taking on the appearance of flaky pastry.
There has never been a need to tar this marvellous road. In fact, the locals are dead against it. The Swartberg Pass has extremely low accident levels, for which most credit Bain and his ‘Theodolite Eyes'.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Western Cape Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)21 487 8600