There is the “scenic route” and then there is Prince Alfred’s Pass (R339), which winds for 87 kilometres between Uniondale and Knysna, around the edge of the Kammanassie Nature Reserve and through the Tsitsikamma mountains and Knysna forests.
On maps and the GPS, this looks doable in a day, and it is in good weather, but time is relative on Prince Alfred’s Pass and it will enjoy you at its own pace. The road is mostly 87 kilometres of gravel S-shapes, but that probably won’t faze careful travellers – even those without 4x4s.
What makes it essential to start exploring this pass bright and early (to avoid ending it panicking in the dark) are the incredible vistas that open up during the climb or descent … the whiplash-provoking profusion of bird life, the indigenous vegetation, from watsonias and proteas to keurboom and yellowwood trees, and the spectacular streams, cliffs and waterfalls along the way. The road crosses the river seven times, which can make the pass treacherous during heavy rain.
There are two villages on the largely unpopulated pass: Avontuur, a little farming village 10 kilometres from Uniondale, which one enters at the top of the pass, and De Vlugt (or Die Vlug), about 50 kilometres from Knysna in the Keurbooms River valley. Avontuur (Afrikaans for “adventure”) was established on a farm owned by Matthys Zondagh. It is the last stop of the narrow-gauge Apple Express steam train from Port Elizabeth, on a rail route originally established to transport fresh produce.
De Vlugt developed when Thomas Bain stayed there while finishing Prince Alfred’s Pass in the late 1850s (with the help of 270 convict builders). The De Vlugt Tea Garden and Farm Stall and Angie’s G-spot restaurant and bar are irresistible stops, and charming accommodation is nestled here and there in the lofty hills and fertile river valleys. Bear in mind that there is no cellphone reception and no ATMs or petrol stations on the way.
Look out for
The area is home to the 30 000-hectare Middle Keurbooms Conservancy, which was started by landowners to protect indigenous fauna and flora and promote eco-tourism and eco-farming. The Conservancy’s self-help information kiosk and toilet are situated opposite Outeniqua Trout Lodge, which provides accommodation and activities including flyfishing. Fresh or smoked trout is also available.
Keurbooms River Game Trails are on a 4 000-hectare private reserve south of De Vlugt. Hikes with natural pools, game drives, fishing, birdwatching, camping and mountain-biking can be enjoyed. There are three six-sleeper timber chalets.
Spitskop is a view site up a bumpy 1,5-kilometre road offering 360-degree views of the Garden Route seas and mountains.
On the Knysna side of the Pass, sign a permit and wander through the legendary Diepwalle and Ysterhoek Forests, amid huge yellowwood trees. It feels as though you are breathing the forest’s history and spirit.
On the two-day Keurbooms River canoe trail, managed by CapeNature, provides for a great rustic canoeing and overnight experience. The trip is around 14km there and back.
Outeniqua Nature Reserve near George comprises 38 000 hectares of rugged mountain ranges parallel to the coast. The Cradock Pass Day Trail (12,4 kilometres - five hours) is a strenuous and difficult walk following the tracks of settlers' ox-wagon wheels.