Come and join us on this amazing one day tour of the Prince Alfred Pass. Experience the beauty nature has to offer, as well as old buildings that date back to the 1860s! You don’t want to miss out on this opportunity!
Special prices for more than 4 people.
We start our journey early morning, 07:00 from the town of George. We drive through the Outeniqua Pass towards Oudsthoorn. On the way, we can have coffee, tea, and rusks.
In the small town of Uniondale, we visit some of the historical buildings, dated back to the 1860s. We will visit one of the “Old Forts” that were built by the Boer Commandos during the Anglo Boer War. Four Forts are strategically placed around, to keep guard and overlook the town.
On the way to Avontuur, we drive through a deep gorge, with beautiful rock formations that can be seen everywhere in this area. At Avontuur we turn right and then left onto the Prince Alfred Pass.
We arrive back at George around 18:00.
In the 1800sThomas Bain was asked to build the pass which provided him with his biggest challenge to date. He began his work on the pass in 1860 and completed it in 1867 for a mere £11 000.00.
Thomas Bain’s techniques and his impact on South African history – and especially so on the development of the Cape Colony. Bain was in many respects a self-taught man, who possessed a range of skills including engineering, geology, cartography, art, writing and accounting. He was the son of Andrew Geddes Bain, a Scottish immigrant, from whom he first learned pass building techniques.
He drew his own maps and plotted his own lines – either on foot or on horseback. Over time he earned himself the nickname of “The man with the theodolite eye” due to his uncanny ability to visualise the line a pass should take with his naked eye. His famous dry-walling method of construction to support roads on mountain faces involved breaking large rocks up by means of fire, followed by cold water, to create manageable triangular pieces. These would then be stacked up at an inward tilting angle of 15 degrees and backfilled from the top.
The more backfill that was added, the stronger the retaining walls became, utilising the scientific principles of friction and cohesion. There are many kilometers of his original walling still supporting this road. Many sections of this pass have been declared a national monument. Bain’s contribution to South Africa as a developing nation was profound.
Prince Alfred’s Pass is a mountain pass through the Outeniqua Mountains at an elevation of 1,038m (3,405ft) above the sea level and climbs 700 meters in 14km. The road over the pass is gravel, crosses the river 7 times while winding through the mountains and some places, very narrow. It is one of the most beautiful passes in South Africa and the longest pass. This is not a quick drive and not for faint-hearted. Many blind corners and hairpins corners. Stunning views and off the beaten track.
With four biomes on the pass, it provides a home to an abundance of indigenous fauna and flora. Coastal fynbos and coastal forest are
the main types of vegetation.
The coastal dune forest consists of dense thickets of milkwoods, yellowwoods, and candlewood.
Further inland, the fynbos is characterized by erica and restio species. This is also the home of the Middle Keurbooms Conservancy. Experience this unique conservation corridor between the Baviaans, Little Karoo & the coast.
At 68.5 km it is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use. The Montagu Pass is being the oldest.
From Avontuur the ascent to the “Kruin” at 4.5km (The Summit) at an altitude of 1038m ASL.
From the 3rd to the 6th km mark including the summit and Roode-Els Draai [Red Alder Corner] at 1031m ASL.
The road narrows slightly after the summit and starts the first big descent towards De Vlugt, where Bain built a house for himself and his family as a base during the construction of the pass. The small house still stands today. The road twists and turns following the contours of the mountain as it carves first towards the west and then back to the south. There are few places in the world more attractive than this. Heading south after summiting, it immediately becomes obvious why it was named as such.
At 1012m ASL ‘Cold Water Bend’ makes its appearance. There is a lovely perennial stream here where Bain’s labourers no doubt drank heartily. Around the next bend, the trees open up to reveal a spectacularly wide and sweeping view at a spot named Tiekieliefie Draai at 914m ASL. This is one of those “lost in translation” names which relates to the convicts receiving their “ticket of leave” on completion of doing their time. With most of the convicts being illiterate and struggling with the English language, this ticket of leave morphed into ‘Tiekieliefie’.
This lovely meandering section contains dozens of very sharp corners, many of which are in excess of 90 degrees. One will notice the infestations of black wattle, which has become a huge problem throughout the western and southern Cape. This invasive species from Australia is exceptionally hardy and survives during times of drought and even thrives after fires. The terrain starts steepening here and the first of the retaining walls start making an appearance. As altitude is lost and the Langkloof itself is approached, the walls become higher – in some places up to 12m! This point is aptly named Cloud Cottage as a result of the frequent cloud cover, the road starts to descend more steeply again as it enters the northern access to the Langkloof (Long Ravine).
Along these upper reaches of the Langkloof, you will find some beautiful examples of Bain’s famous dry-walls propping up the road. Rocks were broken up into triangular pieces using, first fire – then cold water. These rocks were then packed by hand in a close-fitting triangular format, with an inward tilt of approximately 15 degrees. As the inside section was filled with sand and smaller rocks, the weight increased and made the retaining walls immensely strong – sufficient to last 130 years with vehicles of all sizes driving over the roads they support.
For a short distance of approximately 4 km starting from the 12th km and ending at the overhanging cliff aptly named Hangkrans [Hanging Cliff].
Bain expertly circumvented this large chunk of mountain by encroaching into the course of the river by building high and substantial retaining walls. He also constructed tunnels under the road, to move floodwaters efficiently from the high side of the road into the flow of the river. His engineering standards were well ahead of his time.
This part of the Langkloof is especially beautiful with very sharp corners and steep overhanging cliffs as the river tumbles by next to the road.
Approximately two kilometres south of Cloud Cottage, there is a ruin on the west side of the road. It is speculated that these are the remains of one of the houses Bain constructed to house his convict labourers. Bain was a smart man who treated his labourers well with proper shelter and good food – he understood the value of his labour. The first landmark you will see is signposted as “Die Kerf” (The Slice or Notch). This is a narrow part of the river gorge where there are a series of small waterfalls in a very attractive setting.
This the most scenic part of Prince Alfred’s Pass and covers a short distance of just over 1 km as the road winds its way through the narrowest parts of the Langkloof, surrounded by towering cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and calming scenery. Over this short section, the road traverses the river seven times via narrow concrete bridges, which have long since replaced Thomas Bain’s original stinkwood beams, which lasted about 40 years.
The road winds over to the east bank of the river and soon arrives at the next bridge sign-posted “Convicts Grave”. Looking upstream there are a series of little waterfalls as the river tumbles down towards the Keurbooms River a few kilometres away. This is a burial spot fit for a king and the convict that died here doing hard labour must be having a good rest in one of the most exquisite places on earth. This little river becomes a raging torrent after heavy rains and Bain’s stonework and river bank reinforcing still stand firmly in place 150 years on.
These concrete bridges were a later addition in approximately 1904. Bain accorded his labourers more dignity and respect than was the norm with convict labour in those days and the gravesite speaks volumes for Bain’s ability to work with people in the most efficient and humane manner.
This sign exudes the best of Afrikaans humour and translates into: “And you’re still peeping?” It’s probably one of the best road signs in South Africa as it immediately draws your attention away from the scenery and onto the very sharp, blind corner coming up.
The road passes through rugged and spectacular scenery. You will pass a rock formation signposted as “Tata Riet se Gat” – This is a rudimentary cave-like shelter right next to and slightly above the road. This dates back to when one of the farmhands known as Tata (Outa) Riet used to take the children for walks on Sunday afternoons and spent time in the cave-like shelter.
A distinctive rock formation comes into view with a solitary column rising on the western side. This is named ‘Bain’s Pillar’. Bain justifiably has many landmarks and passes named in his honour. It is interesting to note that Bain, as a young man, first recced the pass under the supervision of his father, Andrew Geddes Bain. The son would prove to surpass his father’s not inconsiderable achievements by a massive margin.
A short while later the road drops quickly in altitude to the Keurbooms River, where one crosses the river via a low-level concrete causeway to arrive at De Vlugt. This is the spot chosen by Bain to build a home for his family, for the duration of the four years constructing the pass. The humble cottage is still intact, it is approximately 150 years old and has the original creaking yellowwood floors with an old wood-burning AGA stove and the piece de resistance is that there is no electricity – this here definitely put you in a time warp into an era of horses, carts, elephants and gravel tracks. It is called the STASIE (Station) since it was built for the Station Commander who was overseeing the convicts. Thomas Bain first stayed in the house, Die STASIE, and then built the house where his family joined him. Bain sadly lost a daughter who fell off the steps of the house when frightened by a turkey.”
Prince Alfred was the second son of Queen Victoria who was invited to this area in 1867 on an elephant hunt. He hunted successfully (imagine how maligned he would have been today!) and graciously conceded to the new pass being named in his honor. How times have changed in just 150 years
The Dieprivier has carved a deep and attractively wooded valley and the road routes through it, descending rapidly through 15 sharp corners towards the river.
Along the descent and the steep drop-offs to the right. On the left, there are some vertical cuttings of 5m height, which must have presented Thomas Bain with some serious engineering challenges.
At the apex of the hairpin, you will find the Bain Memorial at this tranquil spot next to a small stream in thick riverine forest. The pass was opened to light traffic during 1866 and was re-named during the visit of Prince Alfred (the second son of Queen Victoria) in September 1867. The official opening of the pass was on 29 September 1868.
As altitude is gained, there are wonderful views to the east and south over the Diep Rivier Hoogte near the summit at an altitude of 440m ASL.
“Calling the Herd’ consists of interactive trumpets that symbolically call the elephant herds along a mountain ridge overlooking the valleys in the Keurbooms Corridor, encouraging them to return and call as they once did.
From the 38th km to the 44th km Buffelsnek and the Spitskop viewpoint.
at the 41,3 km point at the apex of an extremely sharp right-hand bend, the altitude here is 701m ASL and is the second-highest point on the pass. At the 43,7 km point is Valley of Ferns
A visit to the Bakhuisdraai historical buildings is noteworthy as well as the Ysterhoek convict campsite, where Bain had the prisoners camp whilst this section of the road was being built. Another interesting place to visit is the Veldmanspad historical woodcutters cottages.
At the 48,3 km point turn off to Paardekop Pass to Plettenberg Bay. At the 49 km mark, this is Veldbroeksdraai. A short walk will take you to one the Big Forest Giants – an Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpus Falcatus) which is 600 years old and stands 46m tall with a trunk diameter of 2,3m.
At the 51 km mark. Kom se Pad is a highly recommended alternative to remaining on Prince Alfred’s Pass, it includes the traverse of Gouna Pass.
Here you can follow the signs to see the King Edward Big Tree.
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama wrote that he saw elephants at Mossel Bay when he landed there in 1497. And the colonial forest service’s Conservator of Forests for the Southern Cape, Captain Christopher Harison, estimated that there were between 400 and 600 of them in the Knysna-Tsitsikamma area in 1856. But there may be only one left today.
The museum is situated at the Diepwalle is dedicated to the lifestyle of the woodcutters and The Knysna Elephants – with the complete, mounted skeleton of a male elephant that was discovered near the Garden Of Eden in 1983. The animal had probably died about ten years before it was found.
Thomas Bain – South Africa salutes you!
And so we get to a very adventurous and interesting day, through one of South Africa’s most beautiful areas.