Things To Do in OudtshoornSelf Drive Oudtshoorn to Meiringspoort
Where? Route: Oudtshoorn, Swartberg Pass, Prince Albert, Meiringspoort, De Rust
When? Best during daylight hours.
How much? Free
Route: Oudtshoorn, Swartberg Pass, Prince Albert, Meiringspoort, De Rust
Description: Follow the road that winds along the banks of the Groot River as it meanders through Meiringspoort, after using the Swartberg Pass to cross the bank of mountains
Length: roughly 190 km
Time: a day, with an overnight at either Prince Albert or De Rust
Overnight: Prince Albert, De Rust
This tree-lined street, in particular, has some wonderful examples of the kind of house built during the ostrich feather booms, with lavish ironwork, turrets and balconies.
As you leave town, the road runs alongside the Grobbelaars River through Schoemanspoort that connects Oudtshoorn with the Cango Caves.
The R328 takes you past the Cango Caves (if you have not already visited, now is a good time) and on to the Swartberg Pass, one of the most spectacular passes in the country, a national monument, and a magnificent example of road building.
The pass was designed by Thomas Bain and completed in 1887, with the help of 250 convict labourers, after years of hard work during which labour stalled in winter due to snowfall on the pass (it is a good idea to make sure there is no snow on the pass if you are driving this in June or July).
The gravel road winds its way to the summit 1583 metres above sea level. About 1.5 km in from the start of the pass the road passes two ruins - relics of the old toll house and a prison.
Along the route are historical points of interest like Die Stalletjie, Witdraai and Die Top. And there are several picnic sites on the southern ascent, near the river, worth stopping at merely to drink in the views (the summit is not a good place to picnic as the wind can pick up).
Just after the summit is the turn off to Gamkaskloof and Die Hel (you need time and a 4x4 vehicle to attempt this road as the 57 km journey is a lot rougher than the pass – you will need about 5 hours for a there-and-back trip; not advisable as part of this drive).
Just past this turnoff is the Teeberg viewsite that offers panoramic views, after which you descend on the western side of the mountain. A highlight are the multiple hairpin bends of the pass.
Once down the pass, turn left at the t-junction for Prince Albert, one of the prettiest towns of the Karoo with fine examples of Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian buildings. Overnight here and take a drive to the Gamkaskloof Dam for a picnic, in the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains.
If you are there on a weekend, the Saturday market is a great place to stock up on fresh vegetables, fruits, bread, cheeses and other items.
The next morning, retrace your route out of Prince Albert, passing the road from the Swartberg Pass, and following the road to Klaarstroom / Beaufort West (R407).
Pass the N12 turn off to the left to Beaufort West and continue to Klaarstroom. Roughly 7 km later, and the road bends around the tiny hamlet of Klaarstroom. At the t-junction continue straight on the N12, don't take the R407 to the left. About 1 km later you enter Meiringspoort (not to be confused with Meiringskloof near Fouriesburg in the Free State).
Meiringspoort is another route through the almost impenetrable Swartberg Mountain range. Before it was built, the Groot and Klein Karoos were divided. Built by Thomas Bain and his father, Andrew Geddes Bain, the 16 km road was finished fast, in under a year, opening in 1958, named after the man who had campaigned for a road to follow the bridle path he had managed to carve through the poort.
The poort is beautiful, with towering sandstone mountains on either side of the road. Its highlight is the waterfall, clearly signposted, which you reach after a short walk.
From De Rust it is a short 35 km drive back to Oudtshoorn, via the N12.