Day trip to hell, anyone? Okay: maybe we aren’t selling it with that description, but we do mean it quite literally. A drive along Swartberg Pass will take you to Gamkaskloof, also referred to as Die Hell, or “The Hell” to you and us – the most isolated valley in South Africa.
But this is mountain pass is most definitely anything but hellish. In fact, Swartberg Pass is considered to be one of the most spectacular of its kind in the whole world, so you’re in for a treat – and of course some fantastic views – with this one. Traversing an unmade road, you’ll zig-zag your way 1583 metres above sea level on a road trip that is nothing short of epic. Garden Route adventure? Tick.
Running between the ostrich capital of the world (a.k.a Oudtshoorn) and the pretty, white-washed town of Prince Albert, the road may be less than 70 km long but add in the 30 km of hairpin bends offered up by Swartberg Pass’ picturesque route and it may seem a lot longer. This is a journey to take your time on, and not just because it’s a tricky one. With various designated viewing stops along the way, you’re guaranteed a morning, or afternoon, of UNESCO World Heritage Site fun. This is any outdoors-y person’s dream come true – sinuous descent and all.
Built between 1881 and 1888, the drive may appear fairly treacherous but spare a thought when climbing it for the 250 convicts who’s labour was called upon to make the gravel and sand road – a feat that, we’re guessing, was no easy one.
When your eyes aren’t transfixed on the series of switchbacks that make up the thoroughfare, this road trip is all about the sweeping panoramas. And with a whole lot of life hiding amongst its green slopes, it’s not just the dramatic landscapes that will grab your attention.
Klipspringers – small antelopes that gained their Afrikaans name from being “rock jumpers” – and springbok hop alongside the pass, tortoises crawl across your path and baboons size you up with a steely eye.
The thriving bird population will have you reaching for binoculars at every stop. You’ll see it all, from the oh-so-pretty Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds to your classic eagles and buzzards – everyone’s favourite predators of the sky.
The diverse fauna is pretty special in the Swartberg Mountains too. As a region of extreme climates, the vegetation that grows here has unique stealth, surviving summers that reach over 40 degrees and winters that dip into subzero temperatures. This mountain fynbos is a lot harder than we are, let’s put it that way. Carpeting the striking landscapes, the verdant rolls make for a good picture too.
And don’t forget to pack a picnic – this is a long ol’ journey and you’ll want an excuse to pause for enough time sufficiently soak in the scenery.
This is one for the adventure lovers and a must during your stay in Oudtshoorn.
The towering mountain range that lies between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert.
This is a difficult drive so it’s not one for those who aren’t confident behind the wheel.
A good jacket. Unlike back in sunny Oudtshoorn, things get cold on this mountain pass.
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