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Swartberg Pass

The Swartberg Pass was built using convict labour and opened on 10 January 1888

Swartberg Pass

Swartberg Pass

The brilliant engineer and road builder, Thomas Charles Bain (1830 - 1893), built seventeen mountain passes in the Cape Province. The Swartberg Pass is one of the most spectacular and well known mountain passes in South Africa, linking Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn. The pass was declared a National Monument in 1988, 100 years after it was opened on the 10th January 1888.

The project began in 1879 when Thomas Bain was commissioned to plan a new route over the Swartberg Mountain Range due to the fact that the existing routes between the port of Mossel Bay and the towns and villages of the Great Karoo were often closed due to flood damage and rock falls. The footpath which already existed over the mountain between Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn was only suitable to be travelled either on foot or on horseback. Planning the route was a tough task due to the unavoidably steep gradients. The engineer tried four different lines before he succeeded in finding a practical one. Bain's plans for Swartberg Pass were approved by the Government in 1880.

John Tassie started building the pass from Prince Albert in 1881 with 100 Mozambican labourers from Delagoa Bay, but he was declared insolvent after building only 6km of the pass. Bain took over the building of the pass in November 1883 and used between 200 and 240 convicts to tackle the task. What people need to remember when looking at the feat, is that there was no heavy machinery involved, the pass was built using of pickaxes, spades, sledgehammers, crowbars, wheelbarrows and gunpowder. The giant boulders were split by heating them with fire and then dousing them with cold water. Rocks were broken into smaller pieces with sledgehammers and then carefully dressed by the convicts. And the dry-wall method of construction that was used to build the impressive retaining walls that held the road up against the mountain slopes is still holding it up a century later. The convicts were divided into teams and the ruins and remains of the convict stations can still be seen in the Swartberg Pass. It is said that Bain finished ahead of schedule and under-budget, a task which is unheard of especially in this day and age.

The Swartberg Pass was officially opened on 10th January 1888 and was a major event in the history of the town of Prince Albert. The opening saw the town of Prince Albert come to a standstill as every store was closed for the festivities. A procession left the town at 7am that day, on a 3 hour journey to the summit 1 585m above sea level. The procession included almost 500 people and 100 vehicles which were made up of spiders, capecarts and mule wagons. The pass was officially opened by Colonel F.X Schermbrucker who was the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public Works and a twenty-one gun salute concluded the ceremony.

Over the years there has never been a need to tar this masterpiece the locals believe that this would actually ruin its beauty and its value as a national monument. A trip over the Swartberg Pass is an unforgettable experience for any visitor, whether local or foreign.

Nearby Listings

Sleeps: 10 in 5 units/rooms

Mirtehof Guest Farm Estate

Bed & Breakfast Accommodation in Prince Albert

10.5km North West of center of Swartberg Pass

Mirtehof Guest Farm Estate offers a choice of bed and breakfast accommodation and self catering cottage accommodation in Prince Albert in the Klein & Groot Karoo region of the Western Cape. We offer our guests the opportunity to enjoy the peace and quiet

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Sleeps: 10 in 5 units/rooms

Saxe-Coburg Lodge

Bed & Breakfast Accommodation in Prince Albert

12.7km North West of center of Swartberg Pass

Saxe-Coburg Lodge offers bed and breakfast accommodation in Prince Albert in the Klein Karoo and Groot Karoo region in the Western Cape. Nestling in Prince Albert, possibly the prettiest small town in South Africa, with its Karoo style, Cape Dutch and Vic

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Sleeps: 30 in 7 units/rooms
From R 545,00
Per person, per night sharing.

Karoo View Cottages

Self Catering House, Cottage, Chalet Accommodation in Prince Albert

13.2km North West of center of Swartberg Pass

Karoo View Cottages offer self catering accommodation in Prince Albert in the Klein & Groot Karoo region in the Western Cape. We offer 7 cottage units and can accommodate up to 30 people. Units range from a 2 sleeper to an 8 sleeper. Our luxurious self-ca

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Wilgewandel Holiday Farm

Self Catering Apartment, Flatlet Accommodation in Oudtshoorn

18.1km East of center of Swartberg Pass

Wilgewandel Holiday Farm, the getaway to the largest showcase in Africa awaits your highly valued presence, this place of excitement and fun activities will offer you and your family appealing and aesthetically beautiful surroundings witch will satisfy yo

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Old Mill Lodge & A la carte Restaurant

Guest House Accommodation in Oudtshoorn

23.5km East of center of Swartberg Pass

Luxury riverfront tent & luxury waterfront Cabin accommodation as well as omfortable and affordable bed and breakfast 4 star accommodation, Oudtshoorn. Accommodation near the Cango Caves, Schoemanshoek, only 12 km from us. We offer Family, normal and self

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The Retreat at Groenfontein

Bed & Breakfast Accommodation in Calitzdorp District

27.1km South West of center of Swartberg Pass

The Retreat at Groenfontein offers bed and breakfast accommodation in the Calitzdorp District in the Klein & Groot Karoo region in the Western Cape. The Retreat is an old Victorian farmhouse set in 560ha of the Groenfontein Valley Conservancy bordering on

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Adley House

Bed & Breakfast Accommodation in Oudtshoorn

28.2km South East of center of Swartberg Pass

With modern amenities, relax in our well kept gardens and pools, park in safety ,in house on our large property. 14 large en-suite individually decorated rooms, all with TV stocked bar fridges, tea and coffee trays, individual modern remote ...

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Sleeps: 26 in 8 units/rooms

Avondrust Farm Stay

Self Catering House, Cottage, Chalet Accommodation in Klaarstroom

44.2km North East of center of Swartberg Pass

Avondrust Farm Stay offers 2 self catering cottages near Klaarstroom in the Klein & Groot Karoo region in the Western Cape. Accommodation consists of 2 self-catering cottages (old farm houses): Môreson Cottage (sleeps 12) and Ebeneser Cottage (sleeps

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