Seven passes in one drive – a self-drive route more beautiful than any other.
One of the most popular reasons for picking Knysna as your holiday destination is to experience the spectacular natural beauty of the area. One of the easiest ways to take in the glory of the towering mountains, indigenous forests, rolling hills and rivers of this section of South Africa’s Garden Route all at once, is by car. And the most impressive route to take is, by far, the Seven Passes Road. So, fill up your tank, get your driving music ready and make sure that your camera, cell phone, or whatever else you use to take photos, is fully charged.
Before you hit the road
- The Seven Passes Road begins and ends on tarmac, but most of the route is a dirt road. While most cars can handle the entire road, heavy rains may affect some sections. Check in with the Visitor Info Centres about the state of the road first.
- You can travel this road from either side, so decide if you want the rising morning sun or the setting afternoon sun behind you.
- It’s a good idea to pack a picnic basket or some snacks, water or cooldrink as this is at least a half-day outing.
- If you’re driving the route in summer, be sure to bring your swimming costume and towels for cooling off in one of the many streams; but
- Always bring something warm, too!
- Remember the sunscreen and bug repellent.
A national monument
The route swerves through thick forest, over streams, rivers and gorges, and across rolling farmlands. The Seven Passes Road is so remarkably extraordinary that it has been declared as a national monument, along with its historic bridges. And it’s no wonder, as all passes were the brainchild and handiwork of 19th century super-engineer Thomas Bain and his brother-in-law, Adam de Smidt.
Stops well worth your while
Besides immersing yourself in the lush greenery, design ingenuity of the bridges and spotting Knysna Loeries, other beautiful birds and small forest animals, there are interesting things to do along the route.
- Visit the Map of Africa in Wilderness Heights for a jaw-dropping view of the forests over the river in one direction, and the ocean in the other.
- Stand in awe of the 800-year old Outeniqua yellowwood Woodville Big Tree, which is 33m high and has a circumference of 12m.
- Enjoy a forest walk and picnic at Millwood or Jubilee Creek.
- Load the bikes and make a day of it by including one of the many mountain bike routes along the way, like the Homtini bike route.
Or simply stop to appreciate the historic bridges, dip your toes in the running forest streams and listen to soundtrack of the forests.
The magnificent seven
The seven passes that make up the route, when traveling from Knysna to George (east to west), are the Phantom, Homtini, Karatara, Hoogekraal, Touw River, Silver River and Kaaimansgat passes. An eighth pass, the Swartrivier Pass, connects the end (or beginning) of the route at Saasveld, just outside of George, with the N2 national road.
To find the start of Phantom Pass, travel out of Knysna and turn right off the N2 at the road sign Belvidere / Brenton-on Sea, just as you’ve crossed the lagoon. Do not take the loop under the bridge, but carry on straight and find the Phantom Pass on your left.
To start your drive from George, find the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University / Saasveld road sign between the Garden Route Mall and the town. Turn north-east onto this road to start your discovery of the Seven Passes Road.