Scenic Garden Route Drives

Part of the beauty of the Garden Route and Little Karoo is found in the spectacular passes that connect the two and in those between the Little and Great Karoo. Be sure to drive at least one.

Between Oudtshoorn and George, you’ll encounter the Outeniqua Pass (via the paved N12) or the more historic Montagu Pass (off the N9, after it diverges from the N12, on a narrow gravel road built in 1843 by Henry Fancourt White). The latter offers excellent views, picnic sites, and examples of Victorian road building, including a five-span arch bridge, railway viaduct, and expertly laid dry-stone embankments. An old tollhouse still sits at the bottom of the pass.

The Robertson Pass, between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay, is an easy, paved road with some fabulous views. One of the most interesting things about this route (especially if you're traveling from Mossel Bay) is that you can see the abrupt change of vegetation as you crest the ridge and drive over into the rain shadow.

For a great loop between the Great and Little Karoo, drive counterclockwise from Oudtshoorn through De Rust and the spectacularly scenic Meiringspoort. This road runs along the bottom of a deep gorge, crossing the pretty Meirings River 25 times as it cuts through red cliffs. Halfway through the pass is a rest area, where a path leads to a 200-foot waterfall. Local legend is that a mermaid lives in the pool at the base of this waterfall. Head west on the R407 to the pretty Karoo town of Prince Albert; then head south over the Swartberg Pass on the R328 back to Oudtshoorn. (The views are more dramatic from this direction.) This pass, built between 1881 and 1886, is regarded as the legendary road engineer Sir Thomas Bain’s masterpiece. At times the road barely clings to the mountainside, held only by Bain's stone retaining walls. From the top, at 5,230 feet, you can look out toward the hot plains of the Great Karoo and the distant mountains of the Nuweveldberg or down at the huge gorge and sheer walls of deep-red rock.

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