Western Cape Tourist AttractionsMeiringspoort
The towering sandstone cliff walls and breathtaking rock formations of Meiringspoort lie on the N12 between Beaufort West and Oudtshoorn. The poort follows the natural gorge hewn by the Groot Rivier (big river) through the Swartberg range connecting, on either end, the towns of Klaarstroom and De Rust, or the Groot and Klein Karoo respectively.
Where? N12 between Beaufort West and Oudtshoorn, Karoo, Western Cape
When? Best during daylight hours
How much? Free
Called Meiringspoort after the farmer, Petrus Johannes Meiring, from De Rust who relentlessly campaigned for a road through the poort, the drive rivals the Swartberg Pass (the alternative, if slower, route through the Swartberg) in magnificence, even if it is a main road and is neither as deep nor as narrow.
The well-maintained tarred road through the poort is popular. It follows a series of bends, and curves, crossing no fewer than 25 drifts, each with its own story and name, like Nooiensboom drift, Perskeboom drift and Wasgat. The road is a feat of engineering and it was only the frequent flooding of Meiringspoort that prompted the engineering of the Swartberg Pass as an alternative.
But the main attraction is the jaw-dropping beauty of the poort as it winds its way through the Swartberg Mountains.
Scenic stops include the Skelm, a waterfall information site. This tumble of water into what appears to be a bottomless pool is said to be the home of a fresh-water mermaid (rumours of mermaids in the Karoo are not as far-fetched as they sounds) Whether she inhabits one of the five popular swimming holes at the Skelm, or not, the story is a lovely one.
Herrie's Stone, also in Meiringspoort, was CJ Langenhoven's chosen place in the poort; one to which he would come to sit and relax. Here he chiselled the name of the imaginary elephant from his story Herrie op die Tremspoor (Harry on the Tram Line). Today the stone is a national monument. The discovery of ancient elephant bones in the Karoo, on a farm between Murraysburg and Graaff-Reinet, gives credence to his story.
Take the time to visit both historic villages – Klaarstroom and De Rust – as part of the journey.