Home Things To Do Passes and poorts around Ladismith Passes and poorts around Ladismith


Passes and poorts around Ladismith

 To reach Ladismith, the traveller will invariably have to negotiate either a pass or a poort and the town is surrounded by the wonderful and varied scenery these offer.


seweweeksp05Almost directly opposite the turn-off to Amalienstein, a  21km road heads into the Klein Swartberg to Seweweekspoort.  It was used by earlier farmers to penetrate the Great Karoo. It is 17km long and very rugged, the scenery wild and frequently the slopes or spurs of the mountain leave a narrow pass just broad enough for the stream to find a passage, while precipices of naked rock tower like walls on both sides.  The poort is dominated on the western side by the Seweweekspoort peak, at 2352m the highest in the Klein Swartberg as well as the Western Cape.

There are various explanations as to the origin of the name, ranging from the length of time it took  a commando to follow of band of highwaymen into the Great Karoo; or for the authorities to catch a rustler who escaped into the poort; or for a gang of brandy smugglers to return from Beaufort West.  Another explanation is that the poort was named after one of the first missionaries from the nearby Amalienstein mission station, namely Reverend Zerwick and that the locals could not pronounce his name.  Most of the authorities though accept the explanation that the name is derived from that of the Seven-weeks' fern (Polystichum adiantiforum), called "Seweweeksvaring"  in Afrikaans and which occurs in moist and damp crevices.


   In 1859 the authorities decided that a pass through the poort should be built. The early part of the work was done by 108 convicts, without the presence of a road engineer.  In 1860 A G de Smidt, brother-in-law of Thomas Bain, took over the command and in 1861 11 of the 17km was completed. The road was opened to traffic in June 1862 and was finally completed in November that year.

 Dr William Atherstone called it the "most wonderful gorge or mountain pass I have ever beheld" and Louis Leipoldt, Afrikaans poet and author called it the "seventh wonder of the Cape Colony".  The road crosses the Huisrivier 23 times, whilst the mountain slopes on both sides reach heights of 1 500 to 2 000m.  The awe-inspiring vertical rock folds form part of the Cape Fold mountain chain.  The traveller constantly meets new scenes, quartstone cliffs, curved and fractured in every direction, red vertical sandstones, with flexures and arches jammed together by enormous forces, just to find gentle ripple-like waves around the next bend.  Keurboom, waboom, aloes and succulents nestle in the fissures high above the road.

   The ruins of the old Toll house can still be seen at the northern entrance to the poort.  It is believed that the ghost of one of the first toll keepers still wanders amongst the ruins.  On dark, stormy nights a couple of motorists have already been stopped by a man with with a lantern.  As soon as they approach him, he disappears!

The Protea Aristata, a very rare protea which was rediscovered in 1950, after it was suspected to have become extinct, can be found here.

The poort is also home to the annual Seweweekspoort MTB, held every 3rd weekend in October, which has become the most important event in Ladismith  and is growing in popularity every year.  Click here for link 7weekspoort MTB.

Bosluiskloof Pass

From the northern end of Seweweekspoort, the road turns right, running up the northern foot of the Swartberg up to Bosluiskloof Pass, where it is hemmed in between the Swartberg and Elandberg.  It snakes for 22km between the two mountain ranges, forming the border between the Klein Karoo and Great Karoo, leading to Gamkapoort Dam.   The pass has been called the "Gateway to the Ghoup".

  Adam de Smidt built Bosluiskloof Pass while and after working on Seweweekspoort to complete the natural link from Prince Albert to the west.  It was not particularly difficult to built and the pass has a beauty of its own.   A sea of blue mountains, cones and peaks, table tops and jagged lines of hillocks, meet the eye when one starts the descent on the pass.   Fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years were in abundance - the most prolific being fossils of ticks ('bosluise') -hence the name of the river and pass. 

   The area around the Gamkapoort Dam is a treasure of fossils.  Among the numerous fossilized species discovered are trilobites, ancient arthropods which lived in the beginning of the Cambrian period 570 million years ago. They flourished as scavengers for 350 million years before becoming extinct.  Fossilized brachiopods (lampshells) also abound, superficially resembling molluscs such as clams.

   The Gamkapoort Dam was completed in 1969, cutting off the continuation of the road to Prince Albert.

Huisrivier Pass ("Huis" - Khoi for willow)

The earliest route from Ladismith to Calitzdorp was a kloof - Welgevonden or Rooielsboskloof - discovered in 1807.  It was opened by Gerrit Pretorius and being the only direct way to Ladismith, was used extensively. A few years later, in 1810, it was renamed Caledon Kloof in honour of the Governor of the Cape Colony at that time.  It could not be designated as a pass, because it was nothing but the roughest of tracks following the streambed through the mountain, emerging south-west of Calitzdorp.

The route was beautiful, but frightening, passing between high rock walls, almost touching one another in places.  The passage was so narrow that there was hardly enough room for both the stream and road.  Potholes, half a metre deep, alternated with hugh rocks and the kloof was strewn with broken wheels, bits of wagons and skeletons of oxen.  In 1882 a survey was done to investigate the possibility of a railway line, but it was found that the kloof was too narrow to carry both the road and a rail line.  The road will have to be sacrified for the railway and the road will be taken by way of the Huisrivier.  The whole bed of the kloof was washed away by floods in May 1885, thus bringing an end to the thoughts of developing Caledon Kloof as a permanent route between the two towns.

  Finally in 1996 a new road was built through the Huisrivier Pass, and a modern highway was constructed.  Four kilometers from Calitzdorp one enters the pass.  It is a spectacular road winding through the mountain up to 665m above sea level, providing some spectacular views of the rock formations - composed of sedimentary sandstone strata, originally laid down under the sea and forced upwards by such enormous pressure that they became warped and twisted into intricate shapes, - a continuation of the Cape Fold mountain range.  Parts of the old gravel road can still be seen in places. 


To reach Laingsburg from Ladismith, the traveller has to travel to the west to round the Klein Swartberg mountain to Rooinek Pass or drive through Seweweekspoort via Vleiland to reach his destination.  The Buffelsrivier runs mainly south and east from Rooinek Pass through a 12 km gorge and this offered the chance of a more direct route between the two towns.

During the sixties the Cape Provincial Adminstration investigated the possibility of building a road through the poort and ran a survey along the route.  Besides the normal hazards of a road survey (the poort was heavily bushed), the survey party had to flee in haste up the sides of the gorge one evening when a flood came down.  After this initial survey, consulting engineers investigated the route in considerable detail.  It was realised that a high-standard road was needed and when the catchment area of the Buffelsrivier was taken into consideration, there was no way in which the road could run along the narrow riverbed.  There would have to be a long section where it was necessary to provide precast concrete brackets, as long as the width of the road, bolted to the rock face to keep the road above flood level.  Obviously this would have made construction very expensive and the project was shelved.

After the Laingsburg flood in 1981, it was realised that no road through Buffelspoort could stand bad floods, making sure that Buffelspoort  could be classified as "one of the passes which never were" as well as "a pass that will never be".

Buffelspoort is an absolute pristine wilderness area and has been declared a Nature Heritage area.  The impressive S-shaped poort with 600m high spectacular folded rock formations, was formed by the Buffelsrivier carving its way through the mountain.    It is said that leopard still roams there, as well as the fish and black eagle.  Nature's amazing healing ability has seen to it that the vegetation has reinstated itself after the devastating 1981 flood - stripping it completely of its vegetation.

Buffelspoort also offers 4x4 routes, one being the challenging organized Rubicon route through the gorge, as well as several mountain bike routes.  Click here for more on mountain bike routes.


Rooiberg Pass

The Rooiberg Conservancy covers 60 000 ha intact veld and was the first nature conservation area in the Klein Karoo and forms part of the Gouritz Biodiversity meander (click here for more information), which covers 3  - Succulent Karoo, Fynbos and Subtropical Thicket - of the 35 Biodiversity Hotspots around the world.

It is a mountainess area with deep ravines and as in a catchment area, several rivers and pools have been formed.  At the low-lying areas of the pass the vegetation is succulent Karoo, changing to more fynbos as the road winds to the summit.   In the higher lying areas are ravines with indigenous forests, with stinkwood trees growing in some of the ravines.  Several mammal species occur in the area, such as klipspringer, grey rhebuck, duiker, grysbuck, leopards and other cat species.  A new endemic butterfly, Thestor rooibergensis has been discovered some time ago in the area.

From Vanwyksdorp one could take the turn-off towards Gamkaberg, via Dwars-in-die-Weg over the Rooiberg Pass to  Calitzdorp.  While not spectacularin the way of providing huge drops, the pass is a substantial one, rising to a height of 800m and crossing the top of the range before descending to the west bank of the Gamka River near Calitzdorp.  It is said that the pass was constructed during the depression and built with spades and wheelbarrows by the inhabitants of Vanwyksdorp.

At the summit of the pass is a site where earlier travellers prayed to give thanks everytime that they did the dangerous and difficult trip and also asked for help with the steep descent.  Each deposited a stone on a prayer heap and it can still be seen today.  From here one has a 360º view of the surrounding Klein Karoo, with the Langeberg in the south and the Klein Swartberg to the north, with rising hills on the plains, which is so typical of the Klein Karoo landscape.

Garcia Pass

To reach Riversdale to the south of Ladismith, one has to travel over Garcia Pass.  The development of Ladismith in the early 1850's and the necessity for the farmers and traders to have access to Riversdale and thus so to the port of Mossel Bay, called for a more direct route through the Langeberg mountains.  At that time, Plattekloof Pass was the only existing route over the mountain - quite a considerable detour.

Mr A H Garcia, Civil Commissioner of Riversdale was not an engineer, but he realized this fact and rode into the mountains following the course of the Kafferskuils River Gorge to see if there was a possibility of constructing a pass at that point.  Although the river was not large, the gorge is and Garcia found a way through the mountains.  With the help of a few convicts, he constructed a bridle path and by 1868 it was in general use by horsemen.

A proper road was demanded by some people and in 1871 Thomas Bain was asked to examine the route.  He reported that a pass could be built. By the end of 1873 work commenced on the road, using 107 convicts to do the work.    Despite many problems causing frustration for Bain, the pass was officially opened by Mr A H Garcia on 31 December 1877, having taken 4 years to complete.

The old Toll house was built in 1877 and was in use till 1918, when Toll Stations were abolished.  It has been restored and declared a National Monument in 1986.  The pass was finally widened and tarred in 1963.  Garcia Pass is one of the lesser known passes of the Cape and deserves more publicity, for it's a fine example of the pass builders' craft.  After crossing the Kafferkuils River the road climbs the velvety slopes of Mosambiekkop. The old pass has been reconstructed and widened in places, the sharp curves eliminated and cuttings substituted.  From the new road one can admire the strength of the supporting walls (sometimes 15m high) which Bain's convicts built. The view over the valley is extensive and striking.  The deep canyon is formed by the river, on the far side of which the houses of the Corrente-Vette irrigation scheme is visible. 



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