This resulted in a spectacular road that sweeps through the narrow mountain "poort" with many opportunities to stop and admire the awe-inspiring scenery and the sheer twisted ramparts of rock that tower above the road. The rebuilt road through Meiringspoort was opened in Approximately halfway through the "poort" there is an information centre.
From this facility a narrow footpath leads around a sheer fold in the mountain to a deep rock pool and cascade of water fed by a mountain stream that sweeps over a lip of rock that frames the blue sky above. Beyond Meiringspoort the N12 highway reaches the small Klein Karoo town of De Rust and the junction with the tarred R road that leads east through the Kamanassie Valley towards Uniondale and Willowmore. Beyond De Rust the N12 highway traverses the southern slopes of the Swartberg Mountains towards Oudtshoorn , the principle town of the Klein Karoo, a further kilometres distant.
Just beyond De Rust towards Oudtshoorn a gravel road branches north-west towards Spitzkop, hugging the southern slopes of the Swartberg Mountains and passing to the south of the Koos Raubenheimer Dam. The views to the north are framed by the bulk of the Swartberg Mountains and the vista across the dam with the mountains beyond is particularly beautiful.
After a distance of kilometres the gravel road joins the R linking Oudtshoorn to the south with the Cango Caves and the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert beyond. The Cango Caves attract thousands of visitors every year to experience one of the most spectacular limestone cave formations in the world. Two tour options are available. The more sedate Heritage Tour includes the easy to access sections of the caves and includes the spectacular Van Zyl's Hall dominated by the giant organ pipes, a magnificent dripstone flowstone combination. For the fitter and more adrenalin seeking visitor, the Adventure Trail begins at the termination of the Heritage Trail.
During both tours the guides will switch off the lights and the true experience of being in the total blackness of the caves makes one thankful for the light when it is switched back on. Beyond the Cango Caves junction the R begins to ascend the lower slopes of the Swartberg Mountain Range passing the junction west towards Matjiesrivier, or Little Friends River, and beyond to Calitzdorp.
From this point the road becomes gravel and begins the ascent of the Swartberg Mountain Pass.
The southern slopes of the Swartberg Mountains are particularly beautiful during the spring months with an abundance of flowering fynbos and proteas. The views to the south are spectacular with sweeping vistas of fynbos clad mountains and valleys stretching away seemingly to infinity. At intervals as one ascends there are lay-byes where you can alight from your car and savour the beautiful views and breathe deeply on the fynbos scented fresh air of the mountains.
The road ascends to the summit of the pass at metres above sea level rounding a broad gap in the mountains known as "Die Top" or the Top. From here a battered old road sign indicates that the distance to Prince Albert is nineteen-kilometres, however this information is dwarfed by the splendour of the vista towards the north with the rolling mountains receding into the distant arid plains of the Koup. On a clear day the Nuweveld Mountains towering above distant Beaufort West are visible on the far northern horizon.
The road begins the descent of the northern slopes of the Swartberg Mountains through meadows of flowering fynbos resplendent with the blooms of proteas and watsonias littering the landscape in spring. Pull over and take a stroll through this beautiful landscape to admire the prolific fynbos and the spectacular variety of flowering plants dwarfed by the immensity of the surrounding mountains and on a clear day, the vast indigo dome of the African sky. The road reaches the turnoff to Gamkaskloof otherwise known as "Die Hel" or The Hell, a cut-off valley reached by a lonely, winding and precipitous road that ends at the end of the valley on the banks of the Gamka River.
From the Gamkaskloof junction the road towards Prince Albert plunges precipitously into a rugged valley through a series of switchback turns each shored-up by the dressed sandstone walls constructed by Thomas Bain more than years ago. The views down into the valley with the road finding its way down this jumbled mountain side is both beautiful and a marvel of nineteenth century construction.
The view from below reveals the extent of the stonework required to have constructed the road from the narrow valley below up onto the high slopes of the mountain. There are a number of places to stop on the way down and the views and the wild serenity of this beautiful mountain pass are a sensory experience of absolute delight. The mountain pass in its entirety is largely unchanged since it was constructed during the s and is fittingly a National Monument and clear evidence of the pioneering spirit of these early road-builders in South Africa.
The road traverses a narrow rocky gorge sharing company with a clear mountain stream before emerging from the jumble of mountains rather suddenly into the relative flatness of the Prince Albert Valley and beyond to Prince Albert. Another shorter drive from the village traverses the northern slopes of the Swartberg Mountains due west towards the Gamkapoort Dam.
Before the construction of the dam this road crossed the Gamka River and connected with Seweweekspoort and Ladismith in the Klein Karoo via Bosluiskloof, or Tick Kloof. In order to control the erratic and somewhat violent flooding of the Gamka River with its huge catchment across the Western Koup, the dam was built in The area is now part of the Gamkapoort Nature Reserve and access to the dam is subject to park entry fees which can be paid at the Prince Albert Tourism Office in the village.
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The dam is approximately kilometres from the village and the views across the dam towards the crowding mountains are best experienced in the morning with the sunlight from behind. Prince Albert is also a great base from which to explore the wide open spaces of the Koup , the vast open landscape between the Swartberg Mountains to the south and the Nuweveld Mountains in the north. At Leeu Gamka turn onto the R towards Fraserburg. Approximately kilometres from the junction at Leeu Gamka the road reaches the gravel road junction towards Merweville to the west and Beaufort West to the east.
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Turning towards Merweville the gravel roads undulates through typical Koup countryside passing isolated farmsteads with occasional distant views of the Nuweveld Mountains to the north and the edge of the escarpment towards Sutherland to the west. The road winds along the banks of the Dwyka River before entering the atmospheric village of Merweville. Dominated by its imposing Dutch Reformed Church, Merweville slumbers in the midst of the undulating hills of the western Koup and is a great place to stretch the legs and enjoy a leisurely lunch.
If one is travelling east towards Graaff-Reinet , rather than routing via the N1 highway take the little known gravel road directly east along Pastorie Street from the centre of Prince Albert. The road strikes out due east across the southern Koup flanked by the Oukloof Mountains to the south passing through a narrow defile in the Tierberg before terminating on the N12 highway linking Beaufort West and De Rust.
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Seven kilometres north of this junction towards Beaufort West a gravel road branches off east for kilometres to the isolated village of Rietbron in the midst of the vast "vlaktes" or flats. Enjoy a light lunch at the local coffee shop before heading out further east towards Aberdeen and distant Graaff-Reinet.
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