Swartberg Pass

A waterlogged dirt road en route into the Swartberg Pass.

The Swartberg Pass is carved through the ancient quartzite of the Swartberg Mountains.

South African tours frequently pilot travelers through some of the most beautiful panoramic routes. One such route is the Swartberg Pass in the Little Karoo, a striking maze of exposed quartzite mountain folds. Much of the region is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pass skirts along many nerve-wracking hairpin bends between intricate hollowed geological formations.

The Swartberg Pass was built over a nine year period in the 1880s by Thomas Bain, the son of Andrew Geddes Bain who constructed the Bain’s Kloof Pass. Stretching between the popular Karoo hamlets of Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn, the pass is one of the steepest that can be explored in South Africa and climbs around 1000m in 12km.

Though the soil is not particularly rich or deep, fynbos and semi-arid Karoo flora carpet the Swartberg’s rocky slopes with the occasional protea – South Africa’s national flower – jutting merrily from the earth. The mountain trails are home to a variety of birds and mammals, from baboons, dassies and klipspringer to sugarbirds, martial eagles and the Cape eagle owl.

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