Mountains of Wonder!
Just when I thought “I’ve seen and done it all”, a less than well organized day trip would halt this assumption.
The morning of this trip, I awoke feeling rather blaze over the day ahead, after all my husband had arranged matters as it was his yearning to visit the historic town of Prince Albert in South Africa.
Both of us now retired allow us the time to explore “Out of the Way” places as Prince Albert is.
The town, so quaint, so small but hugely historic, hides away beyond the mountain ranges in the Western Cape Province.
Our journey there and our return from the coastal town of George would astound me, as it had for the many overseas tourists I would meet along the way.
Starting out we could see ahead the Outeniqua Mountains that wrap around the Northern side of George as though “a protection”, I thought, so majestic that their tips and clouds share the heavens.
This beauty was satisfying to me as it couldn’t get better. Mistaken!
Our route was taking us through the gorge of the Swartberg Mountains just beyond the Outeniqua Mountains.
Slowly driving through the ever winding road, we crossed bridges over the narrow river several times as the river takes it’s course through the mountain range. If memory serves me correctly, there are twenty five river crossings. The old road had been replaced by a new one with well positioned stopping points along the way. At these points I was able to take photos of the sheer rock mass lining both sides of the road otherwise impossible to capture when driving.
If I can entice my readers to tour in this region I suggest you allow time out to venture into the Cango caves, a must! These caves are en route to Prince Albert
- Cango Caves
The Cango Caves is situateds in a limestone ridge parallel to the well known Swartberg Mountains near Oudtshoorn - South Africa. Here you will find the finest dripstone caverns, with their vast halls and towering formations.
The drive through the gorge takes approximately one hour thereafter entering the town of Outshoorn known for it’s farming of ostrich. As the fencing of these farms are often right up to the roadside it allows the tourist ample opportunity to stop and photograph these seemingly calm animals. I say “seemingly”, as I was chased by an ostrich once while walking in a Game Park camp site. I was quickly reminded that they don’t take kindly to brightly colored clothes!
When one sees the brilliantly colored feather dusters that are made from ostrich feathers it gives inspiration to cleaning, so do buy one in town at the open markets before passing through.
We drove into Prince Albert right on lunch time so our priority was to eat. The little town consisting all of one main street, has preserved perfectly the old Victoria Hotel and that’s where we headed for lunch. It was not hard to find being almost smothered by it’s Old English garden in full bloom. In a garden setting we were served the best in Cape cuisine with good old fashioned service.
Hot but happy, we took a quick drive around town to see the historic buildings and headed homeward.
On the outskirts of the town we read a notice board stating that only cars could take the route across the top of Swartberg Mountains so, no caravans, trucks etc. This was our queue that this was no ordinary road ahead.
The Pass - The Crossing
The Swartberg (Black Mountain in English) is regarded as one of the finest exposed fold mountain chain in the world.
This unspoiled World Heritage site of mountains are above 2000m high making it the tallest range of mountains in the Western Cape.
The route across the Swartberg Mountains is very picturesque especially on the many hairpin bends. The pass has an untarred very narrow and very windy road to challenge any driver.
The road was built in the main by prisoners over a period of twenty years and was completed in 1862 and is clearly an engineering feat.
Drivers have to display patience by giving way to oncoming traffic each one debating who will reverse or maneuver into a position to accommodate the other.
There is a limited number of stopping points but at each one the spectacular views are awe inspiring. I couldn’t help but think at each viewing point that my photos could never do such views justice.
This is when you feel you are on top of the world enjoying crisp air, solitude and never ending mountain peaks in the distance to view.
I recommend that anyone planning a visit to the Swartberg bear in mind that in the autumn the flora is at it’s best. The Protea flowers are in bloom then and they attract the sugarbirds, so delightful to see!
Hundreds of species of Plant life are found on the mountains. And on record is 130 species of bird life.
Wildlife can be spotted en route such as Klipspringer, Grey Rhebuck, Kudu, Baboon and Dassie. Leopards have been seen in the area but seldom.
After two hours of slow driving over the pass we descended into a fertile valley where we stopped for refreshments and to reflect on the day’s experiences but six months later as I write, I still relive every minute of the day spent in the magnificent Swartberg!
“The Swartberg Mountains, I will return one day”.