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Swartberg Pass 01.jpg
Swartberg pass
Highest point
Peak Seweweekspoortpiek
Elevation 2,325 m (7,628 ft)
Listing List of mountain ranges of South Africa
Coordinates 33°22′0″S 22°21′15″E / 33.36667°S 22.35417°E / -33.36667; 22.35417Coordinates: 33°22′0″S 22°21′15″E / 33.36667°S 22.35417°E / -33.36667; 22.35417
Length 230 km (140 mi) ESE/WNW
Width 70 km (43 mi) NNE/SSW
Swartberg is located in South Africa
Location of the Swartberg in South Africa
Country South Africa
Province Western Cape
Orogeny Cape Fold Belt
Age of rock Carboniferous and Permian
Type of rock Quartzitic sandstone

The Swartberg mountains (black mountain in Afrikaans) are a mountain range in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It is composed of two main mountain chains running roughly east-west along the northern edge of the semi-arid Little Karoo. To the north of the range lies the other large semi-arid area in South Africa, the Great Karoo. Most of the Swartberg Mountains are above 2000 m high, making them the tallest mountains in the Western Cape. It is also one of the longest, spanning some 230 km from south of Laingsburg in the west to between Willowmore and Uniondale in the east. Geologically, these mountains are part of the Cape Fold Belt.

Much of the Swartberg is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site[citation needed].

The two ranges[edit]

Small (Klein) Swartberg Range from the Laingsburg area
A diagrammatic 400 km north-south cross-section through the southern portion of the Western Cape, South Africa, near Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo (approximately 21° 30’ E), showing the relationship between the Little and Great Karoos, separated by the Swartberg mountain range. The significance of the various geological layers (coloured layers) can be found in the articles on the Karoo Supergroup and Cape Fold Belt. The heavy black line flanked by opposing arrows is the fault that runs for nearly 300 km along the southern edge of the Swartberg Mountains. The Swartberg Mountain range owes some of its great height to upliftment along this fault line. The subsurface structures are not to scale.

The Swartberg consists of two officially named ranges, the Smaller and the Greater Swartberg Mountains.

Klein Swartberge[edit]

The Smaller Swartberg are the westernmost of the two. Ironically, this range is the higher one, including the province's highest peak, Seweweekspoortpiek (Seven Weeks Gorge Peak) at 2325 m. The famous Towerkop[1] (Bewitch Peak) towers over the Klein Karoo town of Ladismith at a height of 2189 m. The peak is so named for its cleft peak, that, according to legend, was split by a spell and subsequent bolt of lightning.

Groot Swartberge[edit]

The Greater Swartberg is located to the east, with the dividing line between the two ranges being the Gouritz River, which cuts a gorge directly through the range. This section, almost of a similar height, is slightly lower in elevation, with the Tierberg (Leopard Mountain) at 2132 m being the highest. These mountains are home to the Cango Caves in the exposed limestone basement rocks exposed by upliftment along a 300 km fault line that runs along the southern flank of the Swartberg ranges (see diagram on the left). These are the most famous subterranean system in South Africa, located just north of Oudtshoorn.

Mountain passes[edit]

Several passes cut through the Swartberg Range, and these are famous primarily for the spectacular geology they dissect,[2] as well as for the engineering skill required in completing several of the routes across them.[3][4]

Until the first pass was cut, these mountains were virtually insurmountable, and cut the Great Karoo off from the Little Karoo and from the coast. John Molteno, Beaufort West businessman and later Prime Minister, was the first to survey the range for a pass. Andrew Bain, Thomas Bain, and he rode out from Beaufort on horseback, in 1854, for a week-long ride to traverse the range and plan the routes. The passes were cut and the routes completed in the next few years, comprising one of the era's most extraordinary feats of engineering. The passes were also a huge economic step for the interior of the Cape Colony, with an eighth of its wool exports passing through them by 1870. [5][6] Modern additions mean several different passes now cut different routes through the range.

The Great Swartberg Pass, soon after being cut

Most famous of all is the Swartberg Pass which runs between Oudtshoorn in the south and Prince Albert in the north. The pass is not paved and can be treacherous after rain, but offers spectacular views over the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo to the north, as well as astounding geology. The Swartberg is regarded as one of the finest exposed fold mountain chains in the world, and this is apparent at the northern end of the pass.[7] The plant life along the pass is particularly interesting as many hundreds of species are found on the Swartberg. Also notable is the drystone work supporting some of its picturesque hairpin bends.

To the east of the Swartberg Pass, the Meiringspoort provides paved road transit through the Swartberg along a river. The poort runs north out of the town of De Rust. The Meiringspoort offers a spectacular drive through incredible rock formations, and is the setting for an annual half marathon that ends in the town of De Rust.

Prince Albert hosts the annual Swartberg Pass Half Marathon. The race route goes out of the town and into the Swartberg Pass, with sheer rock and mountains on both sides. The warped and twisted rock formations are both beautiful and spectacular. This race is held usually on the first Saturday of May, to coincide with the Olive Festival.


The Greater Swartberg

See also[edit]