If you know anything about the passes in the Cape then you would have heard the name Thomas Bain more than once. Thomas Bain built 17 passes in the Cape but the Prince Alfred's Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably his greatest work. At 88 km it is the longest mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use. The full pass starts at Avontuur and ends at the junction with the N2 just east of Knysna.
Thomas Bain and his father Andrew Geddes Bain were asked to build the pass which was to be Thomas's greatest challenge. Work on the Pass started in 1860 and took only 4 years to complete. They mapped out the route that would go through dense forests and cost a fortune at that time. Bain cut, planed and dry-walled, and with his team of Cape convicts, spent those four years building the Prince Alfred Pass. As with most of his passes, Thomas Bain surpassed himself and built a mountain road that was safe and scenic and is still the same over a century later. Today, Prince Alfred's Pass is a well-travelled road for both South Africans and international tourists linking the Klein Karoo with the coast.
The pass goes through four different Biomes on its route from Uniondale to Knysna which provide a home to an abundance of indigenous fauna and flora. The pass is also home to the Middle Keurbooms Conservancy which is a 30,000 hectare area which protects indigenous fauna and flora and participates in various eco-tourism and eco-farming activities. It is recorded that it is the only pass in South Africa where people live alongside the road and trade in the pass. The 88km pass is a long and beautiful road but about half way through it you will find the small town of De Vlugt. The town offers an array of quality restaurants, tea gardens and many unique outdoor activities.
There are a couple of things that visitors traveling this pass should take into consideration. There is no mobile phone reception on the pass, so make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip. There are also no banks or petrol stations so it is advisable to fill up your tank and your wallet at Uniondale before you negotiate the pass. For safety it is recommended that visitors always drive at a safe speed, remembering it is a gravel road so travel slowly. Descending traffic stops for upcoming vehicles. Look out for dust from approaching traffic and hoot on sharp bends. Please note that caravans and quad bikes are NOT allowed on the pass.
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