Last week I travelled along Montagu Pass for the first time. This is a road I’d wanted to explore for ages and it was no disappointment.
Montagu Pass is a historical monument and the oldest unaltered pass still in use in South Africa. It’s only about 9 kms to the top but the low speed limit and the many opportunities to stop and explore make it a much longer trip than you’d expect. From the summit, the magnificent fynbos-lined scenic road descends for a further 15 kms of fertile valley to the small village of Heroldt.
When it was opened in 1847 it reduced travelling time over the mountains to just 3 hours and farmers were able to take their produce to George or Mossel Bay harbour instead of travelling for several days to Port Elizabeth.
It’s a gravel road (the nearby Outeniqua Pass is the modern tarred equivalent, better suited for wet weather and large vehicles) but if you have time and are interested in the route less-travelled then Montagu Pass is the one for you.
With many curves and bends, steep cliffs on one side and thick indigenous forest on the other, the road has several spots with interesting descriptive Afrikaans names such as Haarkantdraai (meaning the road curves sharply to the right) and Grogdraai (where travellers would stop and have a grog and water their oxen. Amanda’s Grave near the top is where Amanda Pienaar was buried in 1973 – the place where her lover proposed.
There are also a few interesting remnants of history such as the original toll house; a lovely bridge built in 1864; a railway viaduct, one of only a few in the country; and if you’re lucky you’ll see the Outeniqua Power Van, a battery operated ‘train’ that operates from George to the top of the pass and back down again. The road is very popular with cyclists and off-road bikers, first you see them straining uphill and minutes later they come whooshing down at great speed!
My friends and I took our time along this pass, stopping at every interesting spot that caught our fancy and to enjoy a picnic lunch with magnificent views over the valley and indigenous forest – a lovely experience. As we stopped in the silence and fynbos-scented fresh air we could almost hear the ancient oxwagon drivers cracking their whips to warn oncoming traffic of their presence – a scenic trip back in time.
If time allows, we will certainly offer this scenic alternative to our clients when travelling between George and Oudtshoorn.
Source of historical information: Mountain PassesSouthAfrica and Passes & Poorts (a Getaway publication).