Poorts and Passes: From Calitzdorp Over the Swartberg to De Rust
Weaving in and out of the Swartberg Mountains and the Cape Fold has carried us over and through well over 25 poorts and passes.
The Western Cape is all but encircled by sharp mountain ranges such as the Swartberg, Langeberg and Cedarberg. The pioneers of South Africa breached these mountains and developed routes that would help expand the farming trade and push the frontiers of the country via wagon and foot travel. As a result there are almost 500 beautifully carved gateways that carry travelers through majestic landscapes and provide links to sometimes vastly different ecosystems.
A pass, by obvious definition, is a road built over mountains at an approachable part in the range. Here, they were sometimes based on ancient animal or foot paths and bolstered to allow wagons carrying daring explorers and goods to be traded. Although some passes are paved, some are gravel, and many still offer amazingly rugged rock-strewn dirt descents weaving through countless switchbacks that melt disc brakes.
Poorts are quite different. They are natural passages through the mountains cut by primordial rivers and the roads through them are generally flat in nature. Everything is big here and that fact becomes strikingly evident within a poort. Massive cliff walls and stunning spires of folded and jagged rock loom above the roads which weave through the stone rivers. Maringspoort is one of the most famous, and although it’s paved, when approached from North to South it offers a slow freewheel coast that allows full attention to the wonderland of scenery.
The most magical aspect of these mountain doorways are the places they connect. Sometimes the passes can take you from desert to a lush floral landscape, sometimes from farmland to town. Meeting people who live in the Klein Karoo, often near a pass or poort where water is abundant often say, ‘This is the best place in South Africa.’ So far, I don’t disagree with any of them.
For more information on this route, including GPS and logistics, click here. Also, check out our growing list of bikepacking and dirt road touring routes.
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