Weaving in and out of the Swartberg Mountains and the Cape Fold has carried us over and through well over 25 poorts and passes.
The Western Cape is all but encircled by sharp mountain ranges such as the Swartberg, Langeberg and Cedarberg. The pioneers of South Africa breached these mountains and developed routes that would help expand the farming trade and push the frontiers of the country via wagon and foot travel. As a result there are almost 500 beautifully carved gateways that carry travelers through majestic landscapes and provide links to sometimes vastly different ecosystems.
A pass, by obvious definition, is a road built over mountains at an approachable part in the range. Here, they were sometimes based on ancient animal or foot paths and bolstered to allow wagons carrying daring explorers and goods to be traded. Although some passes are paved, some are gravel, and many still offer amazingly rugged rock-strewn dirt descents weaving through countless switchbacks that melt disc brakes.
Poorts are quite different. They are natural passages through the mountains cut by primordial rivers and the roads through them are generally flat in nature. Everything is big here and that fact becomes strikingly evident within a poort. Massive cliff walls and stunning spires of folded and jagged rock loom above the roads which weave through the stone rivers. Maringspoort is one of the most famous, and although it’s paved, when approached from North to South it offers a slow freewheel coast that allows full attention to the wonderland of scenery.
The most magical aspect of these mountain doorways are the places they connect. Sometimes the passes can take you from desert to a lush floral landscape, sometimes from farmland to town. Meeting people who live in the Klein Karoo, often near a pass or poort where water is abundant often say, ‘This is the best place in South Africa.’ So far, I don’t disagree with any of them.
Off of the beautiful Groenfontein road, we stayed 2 nights in the guest room attached to Roger Young’s photography gallery and studio. Both evenings we joined he and partner Phyllis for drinks, dinner and great conversation. In passing, Roger offered a few great photography tips, including, ‘Be careful what gets thrown away, sometimes good landscapes can be flat, then you flip them to grayscale and they come to life…’
The lush landscape around Kruisrivier.
The Swartberg appearing over the farms in the distance.
Roger was kind enough to wake at 5AM and take us the final 30kms to the foot of the Swartberg pass to begin our climb, in attempt to beat the intense heat.
The foothills of the Swartberg unfolding.
The ascent begins.
Clouds pouring over the Swartberg created some magical light and composition.
Gin, tiny in comparison, makes her way up the steep switchbacks over the stacked rock road.
Halfway up, a decorated sign teases us that it’s near the top.
The view from halfway.
Look closely to see the klipsprigner, a tiny species of antelope standing atop a rock.
Gin pauses to look back as we inch up the pass.
At the top looking over into Die Hel, plus a beard photo-bomb.
Beginning the long, rocky and jarring descent.
An eternal downhill where we had to pause on several occasions to let our brakes cool.
Tall Lord of the Rings spires loom over the poort toward the bottom of Swartberg pass.
A festive gentleman greets us on the streets of Prince Albert on Christmas eve.
Windmills are everywhere in the Karoo.
These downhill scooters are catching on here, fully equipped with hydraulic disc brakes.
Gin was sad it was closed… she’s becoming quite the fiend for this magical jerky-like substance.
Merry Chrismas. We did 80kms while all of you back in the US were still dreaming of sugar plums.
Wving goodbye to the Prince Albert Valley over the Kredouwpas.
Where South African bikes go to die.
Making flat bread in De Rust (the rest).
For more information on this route, including GPS and logistics, click here. Also, check out our growing list of bikepacking and dirt road touring routes.