The Little Karoo is hemmed in by a gauntlet of rugged mountains and steep-sided valleys (or poorts) that for centuries made this area virtually impassable for wheeled transport. In the nineteenth century, the British began to tackle the problem and dozens of passes were built through the Cape’s mountains, 34 of which were engineered by the brilliant road-builder Andrew Geddes Bain and his son Thomas. In fact, whatever the Little Karoo lacks in museums and art galleries is amply compensated for by the towering drama of these Victorian masterpieces. We’ve listed a selection of some of the best of the passes here.

Cogman’s Kloof Pass Between Ashton and Montagu. A five-kilometre route that’s at its most dramatic as it cuts through a rock face into the Montagu Valley.

Gamkaskloof Pass Also called Die Hel (The Hell), reached from the summit of the Swartberg Pass. Arguably the most awesome of all the passes leading into a dramatic and lonely valley, all on gravel.

Meiringspoort A tarred road through a gorge in the Swartberg, which can be taken to reach Prince Albert, which keeps crossing a light-brown river, while huge slabs of folded and zigzagging rock rise up on either side.

Prince Alfred’s Pass On the R339, between the N2, just east of Knysna, and Avontuur on the R62. A dramatic dirt road twisting through mountains, past a few isolated apple farms.

Swartberg Pass Between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. Over-the-Swartberg counterpart of Meiringspoort, with 1:7 gradients on narrow untarred roads, characterized by precipitous hairpins.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

South Africa features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
6 reasons your next trip should be to Durban, South Africa

6 reasons your next trip should be to Durban, South Africa

Subtropical heat, golden beaches, craft distilleries and spicy curries: Durban is an intriguing mix of urban South Africa and the Indian subcontinent, with a ge…

25 Apr 2017 • Andy Turner insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook