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Posted on: Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Garcia Pass between Riversdale and Ladismith

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Garcia's Pass

Garcia’s Pass

Taking the road less travelled makes a holiday that much more of an adventure, and with time on our hands (we didn’t have to be back in Cape Town much before early evening and it was now mid-morning) the R323 out of Riversdale suddenly looked like an attractive option to the N2.

In fairness to those of you who at least like to travel in the right direction when going home, the Garcia Pass is not remotely en route to Cape Town. Instead it links Riversdale with Ladismith, taking a cut through the Langeberg mountains in a northerly direction.

It would be more honest to call what we did a detour. But a detour well worth the  extra kilometres. In doing so we passed from the Overberg wheat belt and the Agulhas Plain via a series of beautiful mountains to the dry yet beautiful Little Karoo. The change in both climate and vegetation was palpable, even in the middle of the day, and the contrast of one with the other made the drive feel like watching a show reel in a movie theatre.

The road, tarred for most of the way – until we took a short cut to Barrydale to join Route 62 a little earlier – was devoid of traffic. Our only reminder of humanity was a donkey cart, just outside Riversdale, and possibly one car on the pass proper.

We had time to drive slowly, stop and gasp at the views (for they are gobsmacking) and pull off on the bend of the road at the old Tollhouse – built originally in 1887 on the summit of the pass and now a national monument – tucked in amidst so many trees that if it weren’t for the sign one wouldn’t know it was there (certainly when coming at the pass from Riversdale).


Garcia Pass

Photographs — Left: Garcia Pass sign / Right: Looking back

The Garcia Pass is fairly unknown. Ask your average person about the passes in the area (and there are numerous in and around the Langeberg that include the Tradouws  and Cogmanskloof) and they won’t even realise that this one was also built by Thomas Bain, who improved on the initial bridal path of 1868 by AH Garcia, the then civil commissioner of Riversdale who realised that a pass through this section of the mountain was important for his town.

I was rather grateful for the lack of publicity of the pass. Whilst it really deserves more recognition, being able to drive through such beauty at one’s own pace emphasised the striking views and the incredible slopes of Mosambiekkop, also known as the Sleeping Beauty. Views out over the valley and the deep canyon of the Goukou river are effortless and immense. They bring home our vulnerability in the face of nature.

Whilst the pass is not all that high, one has to nonetheless take the pass reasonably slowly as it full of sharp curves. The views, right up against the Mosambiekkop mountain, are worth taking your time over anyway. On the pass expect incredible vegetation – buchu, renosterveld, mountain fynbos and spekboom veld. Covering various parts of the mountain when we drove the pass were splashes of pink heather (Erica).


Garcia Pass

Photographs — Left: On the pass / Right: The road less travelled – just outside Riversdale

To do in the area:

  • Hiking trails – Kristalkloof, Rooiwaterspruit, Sleeping Beauty, Boosmansbos, Grootvadersbosch (in which there are three further hikes)
  • Route 62 includes the Klein Karoo Wine Route
  • Mountain bike trails – Gamkaberg, Besemsfontein
  • Nature Reserves – Anysberg, Swartberg, Gamkaberg and Garcia
  • Towns – Riversdale, Ladismith, Barrydale, Stilbaai

Useful Links:

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Karoo Guest Houses
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Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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