Prince Alfred's Pass (P0059/R339)

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A section of dry-walling Bain style A section of dry-walling Bain style - Photo: Trygve Roberts

The Prince Alfred's Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably Thomas Bain's greatest work. Not only was this an extremely long pass, but it also presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders. Due to the length of the pass, we have filmed this pass in a 14 part series, which includes a separate 2 part video set covering the detour up to the Spitskop viewsite. At 68,5 km it is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa by a considerable margin, as well as being the second oldest unaltered pass still in use.  The video footage covers the entire pass starting at Avontuur and ending at the at the junction with the N2 just east of Knysna. 

We recommend watching the series of videos sequentially to gain a complete picture of all this wonderful pass has to offer. All 14 videos follow below and are placed in the correct sequence amongst the relevant text section. The pass is Thomas Bain's Opus Magnum - a work of monumental proportions carried out with rudimentary equipment and convict labour, but with science, ingenuity and Bain's "can do" attitude making it all possible. Bain constructed 29 passes mainly in the Cape colony in his lifetime. This pass epitomises all of his unique touches, but especially his exceptional dry walling method of construction.

Allow 1 hour and 15 minutes to watch the full video set and longer if you also want to study the text. Once digested you will be well equipped to deal with the rigours of the pass and the knowledge gained will greatly enhance your journey.

The first video is an overview of the entire pass and the first 2 km of the northern ascent from Avontuur. It will help first time drivers of this big pass to orienteer themselves with the salient features. It is recommended to watch all the videos in HD and sequentially. Allow one hour to watch the full set of videos. Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD. Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

FULL-SCREEN MODE: Click PLAY, then pass your mouse over the bottom right corner of the video screen. The outline of a square will appear. Clicking on it will toggle Full Screen Mode. Press ESC to return to the original format.

Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.


Digging into the details:

Getting there: Prince Alfreds Pass can be driven in either direction. If you're driving it from the Knysna end, head east out of Knysna on the N2. At the crest of the first big climb out of town, take the turn to the left and drive north through the township that sprawls over the mountain. This is the southern start of the pass. If you're driving it from the north (as we have filmed it), take the R62 to Avontuur and turn south at the village onto the R339, which is the northern start of the pass.

Avontuur villageFuel and basic supplies are available in Avontuur / Photo: Helgoland

The first video is an animated Google earth clip which covers the entire pass as an overview (plus the first 2 km of the northern ascent), purely to orienteer the first time viewer. We chose to film the pass from north to south for maximum scenic value and optimal camera angles. Part 1 takes one from the small farming hamlet of Avontuur (Adventure) in a southerly direction up the slopes of the northern side of the Outeniqua Mountains and ends at the 2,6 km mark.

Part 1: Overview and the first ascent from Avontuur (2,8 km)

Much of the narrative in the 14 part series deals with Thomas Bain's techniques and his impact on South African history - and especially so on the development of the Cape Colony. Bain was in many respects a self taught man, who posessed a range of skills including engineering, geology, cartography, art, writing and accounting. He was the son of Andrew Geddes Bain,a Scottish immigrant, from whom he first learned pass building techniques. He drew his own maps and plotted his own lines - either on foot or on horseback.

Scenery on Prince Alfred's PassDreamlike scenery along the northern sector of the pass / Photo: Len DamesOver time he earned himself the nickname of "The man with the theodolite eye" due to hus uncanny ability to visualise the line a pass should take with his naked eye. His famous dry-walling method of construction to support roads on mountain faces, involved breaking large rocks up by means of fire, followed by cold water, to create manageable triangular pieces. These would then be stacked up at an inward tilting angle of 15 degrees and backfilled from the top.

The more backfill that was added, the stronger the retaining walls became, utilising the scientific principles of friction and cohesion. There are many kilometers of his original walling still supporting this road. Many sections of this pass have been declared a national monument. Bain's contribution to South Africa as a developing nation was profound.

Part 2: From the 3rd to the 6th km (including the summit, Roode-Els Draai and Tiekielief POI's)

After approximately 4,5 km from Avontuur, you will arrive at the summit, marked us "Die Kruin" (The Summit) at an altitude of 1038m ASL. The top of the mountain is frequently under cloud and heavy mist and rain occurs near the summit with the southern slopes being much wetter than the northern side.

Clouds billowing over the summit of the Outeniqua MountainsClouds billowing over the summit of the Outeniqua Mountains / Photo by Trygve RobertsThe road narrows slightly after the summit and starts the first big descent towards De Vlugt ,where Bain built a house for himself and his family as a base during the construction of the pass. The small house still stands today and can be rented as a self catering dwelling. The road twists and turns following the contours of the mountain as it carves first towards the west and then back to the south.

The better known landmarks are signposted and the following places are all worth a stop and a few photos. There are few places in the world more attractive than this. Heading south after summiting, you will first arrive at Rooi Els Draai at 1031m ASL (Red Alder Corner) and it becomes  immediately obvious why it was named as such.

[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

At 1012m ASL 'Cold Water Bend' makes it's appearance. There is a lovely perennial stream here where Bain's labourers no doubt drank heartily. Around the next bend the trees open up to reveal a spectacularly wide and sweeping view at a spot named Tiekieliefie Draai at 914m ASL . This is one of those "lost in translation" names which relates to the convicts receiving their "ticket of leave" on completion of doing their time. With most of the convicts being illiterate and struggling with the English language, this ticket of leave morphed into 'Tiekieliefie'.

Part 3: From the 6th to the 12th km (Upper Langkloof / Cloud Cottage)

Cloud CottageThe only alternative self catering cottage available between Avontuur and De Vlugt called Cloud Cottage / Photo: Farmer John

This lovely meandering section contains dozens of very sharp corners, many of which are in excess of 90 degrees. The trees are still fairly sparse at this higher altitude, allowing motorists to enjoy the excellent mountain scenery. Those interested in botany, will notice the infestations of black wattle, which has become a huge problem throughout the western and southern Cape. This invasive species from Australia is exceptionally hardy and survives during times of drought and even thrives after fires. The terrain starts steepening here and the first of the retaining walls start making an appearance. As altitude is lost and the Langkloof itself is approached, the walls become higher - in some places up to 12m!


[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]

After approximately 10 km from the start, the road levels off slightly and the road bisects a small farmstead. It is best to slow right down (20 kph) and be careful of animals and children. This is the first point where accommodation is available from the northern descent. The farm has a delightlful chalet, aptly named Cloud Cottage which can be hired. Beyond the farm, the road starts to descend more steeply again as it enters the northern access to the Langkloof (Long Ravine).

Part 4: From the 12th to the 16th km including Die Kerf & Hangkrans POI's (Middle Langkloof)

Dry stone walling in the passThomas Bain's dry stone walling still intact / Photo: Trygve RobertsAlong these upper reaches of the Langkloof, you will find some beautiful examples of Bain's famous dry-walls propping up the road. Rocks were broken up into triangular pieces using, first fire - then cold water. These rocks were then packed by hand in a close fitting triangular format, with an inward tilt of approximately 15 degrees. As the inside section was filled with sand and smaller rocks, the weight increased and made the retaining walls immensely strong - sufficient to last 130 years with vehicles of all sizes driving over the roads they support.

Part 4 of the Prince Alfreds Pass (R339) covers a short distance of approximately 4 km starting from the 12th km and ending at the overhanging cliff aptly named Hangkrans. This part of the Langkloof is especially beautiful with very sharp corners and steep overhanging cliffs as the river tumbles by next to the road. The middle section is best appreciated by walking it or taking a dip in one of the many rock pools.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

Approximately two kilometers south of Cloud Cottage, there is a ruin on the west side of the road. It is speculated that these are the remains of one of the houses Bain constructed to house his convict labourers. Bain was a smart man who treated his labourers well with proper shelter and good food - he understood the value of his labour. The first landmark you will see is signposted as "Die Kerf" (The Slice or Notch). This is a narrow part of the river gorge where there are a series of small waterfalls in a very attractive setting.

A little further another sign beckons marked "Hangkrans" (Hanging Cliff). Bain expertly circumvented this large chunk of mountain by encroaching into the course of the river by building high and substantial retaining walls. He also constructed tunnels under the road, to move floodwaters efficiently from the high side of the road into the flow of the river. His engineering standards were well ahead of his time.

It is well worth stopping at any place where you can get your vehicle off the roadway and walk down the next section (camera in hand). It is truly one of the most beautiful spots in South Africa. It will leave your senses becalmed, yet invigorated.

Part 5 - From the 16th to the 17th km (Lower Langkloof)

Part 5 is the most scenic part of Prince Alfred's Pass and covers a short distance of just over 1 km as the road winds its way through the narrowest parts of the Langkloof, surrounded by towering cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and calming scenery. Over this short section the road traverses the river seven times via narrow concrete bridges, which have long since replaced Thomas Bain's original stinkwood beams, which lasted about 40 years.

The road is at it's narrowest along this section, and should you meet oncoming traffic, one of the vehicles will need to reverse back to a wider point where passing is possible.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

The road winds over to the east bank of the river and soon arrives at the next bridge signposted "Convicts Grave". Looking upstream there are a series of little waterfalls as the river tumbles down towards the Keurbooms River a few kilometers away. This is a burial spot fit for a king and the convict that died here doing hard labour must be having a good rest in one of the most exquisite places on earth. This little river becomes a raging torrent after heavy rains and Bain's stonework and river bank reinforcing still stand firmly in place 150 years on.

Afrikaans humourThe sharpest corner of the entire pass with an indigenous road sign / Photo: Trygve RobertsIt is worth taking the few stone steps down below the little bridge (these concrete bridges were a later addition in approximately 1904) to examine how the road builders cleverly constructed the newer concrete supports which blend in with the natural rocks below. Bain accorded his labourers more dignity and respect than was the norm with convict labour in those days and the grave site speaks volumes for Bain's ability to work with people in the most efficient and humane manner.

Immediately after the bridge at the convict's grave, there is a small widening of the road under some indigenous trees - a good spot to take a break and soak in the primordial beauty of this kloof. We recommend walking this section of the kloof to enjoy the natural aspects to the full. 

We don't approve of grafitti on the passes (or anywhere for that matter), but this sign exudes the best of Afrikaans humour and translates into: "And you're still peeping?" It's probably one of the best road signs in South Africa as it immediately draws your attention away from the scenery and onto the very sharp, blind corner coming up. 

Part 6: From the 17th to 21st km (Includes Bains Pillar, De Vlugt and the ascent out of the Keurbooms River valley)

This 6th section of the Prince Alfreds Pass covers the section from the 17th to the 21st km and includes the small settlement of De Vlugt in the Keurbooms River valley, passing through some of the finest, jaw-dropping scenery anywhere in South Africa. Besides some lovely waterfalls, the Bain built embankments are most impressive here, having withstood untold torrents of flood waters over 150 years. This video ends at the summit of the ascent out of the Keurbooms River valley.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts}

The road passes through rugged and spectacular scenery. You will pass a rock formation signposted as "Tata Riet se Gat" - This is a rudimentary cave like shelter right next to and slightly above the road. This dates back to when one of the farm hands known as Tata (Outa) Riet used to take the children for walks on Sunday afternoons and spent time in the cave like shelter.

Die Langkloof - a historical part of the passThe section called Die Langkloof is almost completely original and fabulous to drive / Photo: Trygve RobertsThree hundred meters further, as the road curves through a gentle S bend, a distinctive rock formation comes into view with a solitary column rising on the western side. This is named 'Bain's Pillar'. Bain justifiably has many landmarks and passes named in his honour. It is interesting to note that Bain, as a young man, first recced the pass under the supervision of his father, Andrew Geddes Bain. The son would prove to surpass his father's not inconsiderable achievements by a massive margin.

A short while later the road drops quickly in altitude to the Keurbooms River, where one crosses the river via a low level concrete causeway to arrive at the charming little settlement of De Vlugt. This is the spot chosen by Bain to build a home for his family, for the duration of the four years constructing the pass. The humble cottage is still intact and can be hired by passing visitors. It is approximately 150 years old and has the original creaking yellowwood floors with an old wood burning AGA stove and the piece de resistance is that there is no electricity - and even better there is no cellphone reception. An overnight stay here will definitely put you in a time warp into an era of horses, carts, elephants and gravel tracks.



[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

A river runs through it!The narrow road clings to the river bank providing a constant view of tumbling waterfalls / Trygve RobertsThere is more to do in De Vlugt - Visit the information kiosk which is a self-help system and of course Angie's G-Spot (obviously competing with Ronnies Sex Shop near Barrydale) is a laid back country pub, strongly reminiscent of the hippie era.

We have produced a short video clip which adequately describes the story behind the suggestive name of the establishment. The little pub has become something of a rite of passage for the adventure biking fraternity and the presence of bikers on Prince Alfreds Pass over weekends needs to be taken into consideration when driving the pass.

One of our readers, Mr. Pieter van Rensburg, submitted this information:

"I own the original house Thomas Bain stayed in for a while at De Vlugt when he constructed the Prince Alfred’s pass. It is called the STASIE (Station) since it was built for the Station Commander who was overseeing the convicts.

Keurbooms River causeway at De VlugtThe Keurbooms River causeway at De Vlugt - part of the 68 km long Prince Alfreds Pass - the longest pass in South Africa / Trygve RobertsIt was subsequently sold to the Berlin Mission station and our family acquired it in 1928. I recently upgraded the homestead and it looks great now. I also own the adjacent land on which the convicts were housed during the construction of the Prince Alfred’s pass. According to my late father, Thomas Bain first stayed in our house, STASIE, and then built the house where his family joined him, which is now owned by Daan van Rooyen of De Vlught. Bain sadly lost a daughter who fell off the steps of the house when frightened by a turkey
."

There is also the Outeniqua Trout Hatchery a little further to the south east along the river, where there is accommodation and maybe you want to have a replay of "A River runs through it" and try your hand at fly fishing. At the info kiosk there is a clean flush toilet and drinking water available. The conservancy corridor was set up by concerned residents in 2006 and today comprises approximately 50,000 hectares of protected land. There is an ancient Wild Fig tree on the western side of the road which makes for a lovely picnic spot.

 Part 7: From the 21st to the 28th km

This section features the section from just after the summit of the ascent out of the Keurbooms River valley and ends just before the entrance gates to the Keurbooms River Game Trails office. This is the second highest point on the northern half of the pass and provides breathtaking scenery.



[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

Prince Alfred was the second son of Queen Victoria who was invited to this area in 1867 on an elephant hunt. He hunted successfully (imagine how maligned he would have been today!) and graciously conceded to the new pass being named in his honour. How times have changed in just 150 years....

KeurboomsRiver Valley at De VlugtThe views of the Keurbooms River Valley near De Vlugt / Trygve Roberts Along the the southern side of the Keurbooms River valley the views are dramatic and produce excellent, sweeping vistas of large tracts of the valley with rank upon rank of blue and gray serried mountains fading off into the distance. After two kilometers, the road turns away from the river and heads resolutely south through beautiful pastoral scenery before plunging into the next section of the pass, where the road can be seen winding its way far below you down the mountainside.

This 7 km section, although a fairly easy drive, contains many bends, corners and curves - in fact 35 of them, so drivers need to remain alert. There is also a severe hairpin at the 26 km mark, where speed needs to be reduced to 20 kph. This section ends on the approach to the Keurbooms River Game Trails office and reception at the 28 km mark. 

Part 8 : From the 28th to the 31st km and includes Dieprivier Heights and the Bain Memorial.

This short 3 km section packs a scenic wallop and after the Langkloof, must rank as the second most enjoyable section of the Prince Alfred's Pass. At the entrance gates to the Keurbooms River Games Trail office, the road swings through a 90 degree right hand bend and starts ascending quite gently at first. The Dieprivier has carved a deep and attrcatively wooded valley aand the road routes through it, descending rapidly through 15 sharp corners towards the river.

Along the descent, the road gets narrow (as in single width) and the steep drop-offs to the right are masked by dense vegetation. On the left there are some vertical cuttings of 5m height, which must have presented Thomas Bain with some serious engineering challenges.

Bain PlaqueBain Plaque / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe road winds its way laboriously down to the river, which is reached at the 30 km mark. A very sharp hairpin bends marks the spot where there is a small, shady picnic site next to the river, which is usually nothing more than a trickle in dry weather. A fairly new concrete bridge has recently replace the old dift which often presented travellers with problems in the past. At the apex of the hairpin you will find the Bain Memorial.

Here at this tranquil spot next to a small stream in thick riverine forest, you will find the memorial plaque in honour of Thomas Bain. Doff your hat to one of South Africa's greatest men as you allow the birdsong and silence to transport you back in time when horse and cart and oxwagons trundled past this spot in 1867. According to the Knysna Historic Society, the pass was opened to light traffic during 1866 and was re-named during the visit of Prince Alfred (the second son of Queen Victoria) in September 1867. The official opening of the pass was on 29 September 1868.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

The road rises steeply from that point via multiple sharp bends. The drop offs on the left are fairly extreme and unguarded and to add to driver concentration issues, the road surface gets quite rough. The road is also narrow along the first half of the ascent. As altitude is gained, there are wonderful views to the east and south over the Dieprivier Hoogte. This video clip ends at the 31st km near the summit at an altitude of 440m ASL.

Part 9: From the 31st km to the 38th km and includes the sculpture at the intersection with the R410 and ends at the lower Buffelsnek forestry village.

This is questionably one of the easier sections of Prince Alfred's Pass, where a slightly higher speed can be maintained as the road is wider and has fewer bends, corners and curves than those already covered. The road heads west along a high ridge for 2 km following the northern side of yet another river gorge. At the 33 km point, there is a very sharp left hand initiated S-bend, which changes the heading into the south-west. The road climbs up steadily to a ridge where there is a multiple point intersection. This area has recently been harvested for pines, so the views are currently wide and open.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

At the 34 km mark, the road curves away to the left and follows the contours of a long ridge. From this vantage point there are wonderful views over open hillsides and forest clad slopes as the road winds its way down to the intersection with the R340/R410 to Plettenberg Bay. The gradients are gentle along this descent, but there is often water on this part of the pass, so be prepared for some deeper pools on the inside radii of some the bends.

At the 35.5 km mark, the intersection is reached. Here you you will see an odd metal tree-like structure with what looks like old fashioned loud-hailers attached to the ends. This is a relatively new sculpture and is explained below (courtesy of the Addo to Eden website)

Sculpture "Calling the Herd"Calling the Herd - a sculpture by Strijdom van der Merwe / Photo: Pinterest

Strijdom van der Merwe’s ‘Calling the Herd’ consists of interactive trumpets that symbolically call the elephant herd along a mountain ridge overlooking the valleys in the Keurbooms Corridor, encouraging them to return and call as they once did.

In 2013 the second land art piece, 'Calling the Herd' was erected by Strijdom van der Merwe, to celebrate the Keurbooms Corridor connecting the Garden of Eden section of the Garden Route National Park to the Tsitsikamma National Park section. The unveiling of the art piece opened the 2013 Site Specific International Land Art Biennale.

This exciting interactive land art work in the Keurbooms Corridor consists of several trumpet-like funnels combined in a tree shape. Visitors can blow these trumpets - recalling the sounds of elephants on their ancient migration route across the mountains. Symbolically this artwork links to the three elephant sculptures of Aartmoeders - calling them (and all humans that can hear the call) to join in the Eden to Addo journey towards re-establishing nature's ancient routes for all species.

Strijdom: “I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to create the second sculpture in a series of works planned for the Eden to Addo trail. The trail was developed as a fundraising activity to preserve and rehabilitate the elephant's habitat, and it follows their traditional route – now no longer in use. When visiting the site to familiarise myself with its' natural environment and geographical circumstances – I was impressed with the great valleys that open up in front of the viewer, and thought about how they echo and reflect sound. In close collaboration with the Eden to Addo steering committee, we agreed on a permanent work titled 'Calling the Herd' in honour of the elephants. The work is a symbolic calling or trumpeting from us to the elephants as an invitation and encouragement to get them back and walking the route again."

Scenery towards the middle of the passHigh altitude scenery amongst vast plantations of commercial pines / Photo: Willem Nabuurs

You have two options at this intersection. You can take the left hand option onto the R340/R410 and descend via the Paardekop Pass to Plettenberg Bay or you can keep right and remain on the Prince Alfred's Pass.

The road heads south, then swings into the ESE as it starts climbing along the northern face of the next ridge. Most of the forests here consist of commercial plantations. At the 37,2 km mark, there is a very sharp right hand bend of 160 degrees. The road changes direction into the west and climbs gently towards a small cluster of timber buildings in the distance, which is the lower Buffelsnek forestry village.

There is usually logging activity here on weekdays, so be aware of heavy duty vehicles on the road and there is also a school close to the road, so be aware of children and domestic livestock. The video ends just before the village.

Part 10: From the 38th km to the 44th km and includes the Buffelsnek upper forestry station and the Spitskop view point

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

From the lower Buffelsnek village the road rises steadily towards the Buffelsnek Forestry Station at a steady, but reasonable gradient of 1:18, producing wide views over ridges and valleys covered with neat rows of pines. At ythe 40,6 km mark, the road swings away to the left and follows the now familair pattern along the northern slope of the next ridge.


Potholes at BuffelsnekThe road condition deteriorates from Buffelsnek / Photo: Trygve Roberts

The Buffelsnek forestry station makes its appearance at the 41,3 km point at the apex of an extremely sharp right hand bend, where there is also a 3 way intersection. The altitude here is 701m ASL and is the second highest point on the pass. This is one of the few places one could get assistance in the case of an emergency.

From Buffelsnek you are facing a non-stop downhill of 27 km all the way to Knysna through some of the finest indigenous forests in South Africa. Immediately after Buffelsnek there are two distinct changes. The first is that the road is mostly riddled with potholes filled with muddy water and the second is the change in vegetation as the road plunges into the forest. If you don't normally drive with headlights on, we strongly recommend that you do so from this point. The dappled light from the overhead trees makes it difficult to see an oncoming vehicle, and more so when you are concentrating on avoiding potholes.

Valley of Ferns picnic siteValley of Ferns picnic site

The major problem along this specific section is potholes and it's impossible to avoid driving into at least some of them. There's not much one can do about it, other than to drop your speed down to a level where the bumps become more bearable. We dropped our tyre pressures right down to 1,1 bar for this section and found conditions to be quite reasonable.

At the 43,7 km point there is a sharp left hand bend with a small green sign on the right hand side announcing the 'Valley of Ferns' picnic site. If you have planned for a picnic stop, this is an excellent spot. It's neat and tidy and surrounded by indigenous forests with birdsong. The views are lovely down a deep wooded ravine that trails away into the east.

The very next bend after the picnic site is a right hander, where another signboard points the way to the Spitskop view site. This is a short, but steep and fairly rough drive up to the top of a conical hill, which offers commanding 360 views over the entire area. There are also wooden benches at the viewsite, but the likehood of experiencing wind is much higher than at the Valley of the Ferns site. Allow about 30 minutes to do the excursion to Spitskop, but cars with inadequate ground clearance might struggle or damage the undercarriage. It also makes a nice walk for those who have the stamina. (30 mins either way for walkers)

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts]

The steeper sections have been concreted to aid traction for vehicles without 4WD. The gradients on this climb get as steep as 1:5 and the return leg is along the same road. It's only wide enough for one vehicle for much of its length and if you meet a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, one of you will need to back up to a spot which is wide enough to allow safe passing. Vehicles that are descending get a good view of most of the road and can easily spot another vehicle ascending. It's wise to seek out a passing point early and wait for the ascending vehicle to pass (which has right of way) 

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts] 

Part 11: From the 47th km to the 53rd km including Diepwalle Forestry station, Kom se Pad and the King Edward big tree.

The 11th section of the pass comprises 6 km of driving through some of the finest indigenous forests in South Africa and includes several noteworthy points of interest. Whilst this section is not scenically as diverse as the other sections, it nontheless offers a feast of forest driving for those who enjoy being immersed under a canopy of trees.

Most of the next 6 km is gradual downhill at fairly moderate gradients. It's always important in these sections where the road is covered by the forests overhead to drive with your headlight on (not your parking lights - your headlights). This will make you more easily noticed by drivers approaching. In the dappled light caused by the forest canopy, certain coloured cars become almost invisible. Make sure you are visible!

If you enjoy history, a visit to the Bakhuisdraai historical buildings is noteworthy as well as the Ysterhoek convict campsite, where Bain had the prisoners camp whilst this section of the road was being built. Another interesting place to visit is the Veldmanspad historical woodcutters cottages.

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts] 

After a short section of 400m, the road enters a very sharp left hand bend of 150 degrees at the 47,4 km mark. Speed needs to be lowered to 20 kph for this corner. Once negotiated, the road changes heading into the south-east for the next kilometre, remaining within the forest canopy and only a few gentle bends to watch out for. Most of this section is usually wet and filled with muddy potholes.  Keep your speed low and drive carefully. Many people end up on the wrong side of the road in their efforts to avoid the potholes. This is OK as long as you remain aware that oncoming traffic could appear at any time and you need to be ready to react swiftly.

Heavy vehicles aslo use the passDespite low traffic volumes be constantly aware of heavy trucks / Photo: Trygve Roberts

At the 48,3 km point, there's another sharp right hand bend, marked by a triangulated intersection. This road heads eastwards and is another shortcut, linking Prince Alfred's Pass with the R340 and Paardekop Pass towards Plettenberg Bay. Once through the corner, the heading changes into the south-west for 500m, then enters an S-bend. At the end of the S-bend at the 49 km mark there is a picnic site on the right hand side of the road. This is the Veldbroeksdraai Picnic Site which offers superb forest views and forms part of one the Elephant Hiking Trails (Red). A short walk into the forest towards the west (which is well signposted) will take you to one the big forest giants - an Outeniqua Yelowwood (Podocarpus Falcatus) which is 600 years old and stands 46m tall with a trunk diameter of 2,3m

One of the Knysna big treesKnysna forest big tree / Photo: Wikipedia

After the picnic site, the road enters a double apex right hand bend, which once again sees the heading into the south-west.

Next follows a fairly long stretch of almost 2km with only two gentle curves to contend with. A small road intersects from the left which is a minor access road to the Diepwalle forestry village.

The forestry station and village lie just 300m to the south-east of this point and covers a large area cleared out of the indigenous forests. The main access route for visitors is a little further on.

At the 51 km mark, at the next big left hand bend, a signboard appears, showing Kom se Pad to the right and Knysna straight ahead. We feature Kom se Pad separately elsewhere on this website and is a highly recommended alternative to remaining on Prince Alfred's Pass, but please note that it is a much narrower and slower road, which will add considerable time to your journey if you are short of time. It includes the traverse of Gouna Pass and will get you back to Knysna's western side via the Simola Golf Estate. It is a magnificent drive.

The road now enters a double S-bend, all the while remaining under the forest canopy and arrives at a staggered intersection where there is a substantial clearing. The road forming a Y-junction from the left is the access road to Diepwalle. This is a recommended point of interest and offers a number of interesting historical buildings as well as being the main office to obtain cycling and hiking permits for the area, as well as a tea-room. To the right is a large clearing with a picnic site. Here you can follow the signs to see the King Edward Big Tree, which involves a short walk of about 300m.

Old frester's house at DiepwalleTea room at Diepwalle / Photo: Sanparks

The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama wrote that he saw elephants at Mossel Bay when he landed there in 1497. And the colonial forest service’s Conservator of Forests for the Southern Cape, Captain Christopher Harison, estimated that there were between 400 and 600 of them in the Knysna-Tsitsikamma area in 1856. But there may be only one left today.

The Forest Legends Museum at Diepwalle is dedicated to those elephants, and also to the woodcutters of the 19th and early 20th Centuries who harvested the indigenous forests.

Very recently (2014) there was a sighting of one of the Knysna elephants here with photos to prove their existence, as they are rarely seen - even by the game rangers.

Forest Legends Museum

The Forest Legends Museum occupies a historic building in a clearing in the forest. Its three rooms are dedicated to:

  • The lifestyle of the woodcutters
  • The Knysna elephants – with the complete, mounted skeleton of a male elephant that was discovered near the Garden Of Eden in 1983. The animal had probably died about ten years before it was found. (This is the same skeleton that stood in the window of Knysna Tourism, at 40 Main Street, the late 1980s.)
  • A collection of photographs and books about the plants and wildlife of the forests

Tea-room

  • The historic forester’s cottage next door to the Museum is now a tea-room serving tea, coffee, cooldrinks, cakes, and light meals.

‘Rooted in Time’ self-drive tour

  • The Forest Legends Museum and forester’s cottage tea-room are way-points on SANParks’ ‘Rooted in Time’ self-drive tour of local heritage sites.  

Find the Forest Legends Museum

  • The museum is situated at the Diepwalle Forest Station, just off the R339 (the approach road to the Prince Alfred’s Pass between Knysna and Uniondale). It’s 16 km from the N2 national road
  • GPS: S33.948627 E23.157718

Forest Legends Museum hours

  • The museum & tea-room are open daily 9:00 – 5:00

Contact the Garden Route National Park

  • Telephone +27 (0) 44 302 5600
  • www.sanparks.org 

The road continues heading south-east and enters wide right hand bend, where there is another clearing. Our video ends just after this point at the 53 km mark.

Part 12: From the 53rd km to the 68th km ending east of Knysna at the junction with the N2

[Video cover photo: Trygve Roberts] 

The remainder of the pass is a mix of indigenous forests and commercial plantations of pine and bluegum. The closer one gets to Knysna, the more the plantations dominate the scenery. At the 64 km mark a large quarry appears on the right hand side of the road and it's been brick paved here to carry the weight of the heavy vehicles that access the quarry.

Once past the quarry, the road begins the final climb, which gets as steep as 1:10 and there are some fairly sharp corners on this section as well. The fact that the road is tarred here, makes the going much easier and a reasonable speed can be maintained.

The final 6 km are tarredThe final few km are through commercial plantations and the road is tarred / Photo: Trygve Roberts

If you lowered your tyre pressures at the start of the pass, remember not to exceed 80 kph at this stage. Under-inflated tyres on tar can overheat and cause a blowout.

The road climbs up through a steep double S bend and as the small summit is reached, the first houses appear on the right. This is the initial entry into the sprawling township of Khayalethu.

Drivers need to exercise extreme caution here as the rules of the road are to all intents and purposes ignored - especially so by the the many minibus taxis. Expect badly parked cars, livestock, dogs, children and other pedestrians as you weave your way cautiously to the end of the pass, which occurs at the 68,5 km mark, where the R339 forms a T-junction with the N2.

Turn left if you want to head for Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth and turn right to access Knysna. Be careful on the descent past Hornlee as there are regular laser speed monitoring points and the speed limits range between 80 and 60 kph. Watch the signs and comply.

If you want to avoid the last section through the busy streets of the township, we can recommend a right turn at Diepwalle onto Kom se Pad. This fabulous road forms an east-west traverse through beautful indigeous forests. Click on the hyperlink above for details and directions.

The last 2 km traverse Khayalethu east of KnysnaBe on high alert towards the end of the pass which bisects the township of Khayalehtu / Photo: Trygve Roberts It exits at the Gouna forestry station and heads south from there through the technical and stunning Gouna Pass, before descending past the exclusive Simola Golf Estate down to the N2 on the western side of Knysna. This option will add at least an extra hour onto your travel time, but its worth every second of it. 

Another (less time consuming option) is to drive east along the Old Cape Road, which will also bring you out at Simola at the same point. Take the hyperlink for directions and GPS coordinates.

We have never driven Prince Alfred's Pass without experiencing varying degrees of potholes and severe corrugations, both which can easily cause loss of control due to lack of traction. If you have the good fortune of being in a 4WD vehicle, deflate your tyres to 1.2 bar and engage 4WD high range. (In older models, lock your centre diff). If you can attempt to travel at between 60 and 70 kph (where possible and permissable) your vehicle will 'float' over the corrugations, making for an infinitely more comfortable drive. Any slower and it's terrible. Any faster and it's dangerous. For conventional and front wheel drive vehicles, just drive slow enough to maintain control.

And so the end of the magnificent and historical journey is reached. This road, once driven will give the observer a good understanding of the difficulty of terrain, lack of technology and a raw and unskilled (and probably unwilling) labour force with which Thomas Bain had to contend. It is mind boggling to think that without bulldozers, pneumatic drills, graders, trucks and dynamite, he completed this incredible pass in under four years.

Thomas Bain - South Africa salutes you!


Fact File:

GPS START 

S33.725712 E23.164605

GPS SUMMIT

S33.757541 E23.163033

GPS END 

S34.041719 E23.105142

AVE GRADIENT

1:81

MAX GRADIENT

1:6

ELEVATION START

878m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

1035m

ELEVATION END

191m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

844m

DISTANCE

68,5 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

South

TIME REQUIRED

120 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

60 kph

SURFACE

Gravel (P0059/R339)

DATE FILMED

10.10.2017

TEMPERATURE

19C

NEAREST TOWN

Knysna (5 km)


Route Map:

Use these powerful features to get the best use out of the map:

  • Choose either Map View or Satellite View (overlaid on the map detail.)
  • Zoom in and out; rotate in any direction.
  • Use the Get Route'feature (directly beneath the map): type in your address to get a personalised route straight from where you are to the pass, with time and distance included.
  • Detailed written and printable directions.
  • Drag the 'little orange man' icon onto the pass for a complete 360° tiltable "street view".

From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: Prince Alfreds Pass (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)

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Mountain Passes South Africa

Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
 

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.
 

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