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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in South Africa

The awe-inspiring landscapes of the Swartberg Mountains

To me, this place is nature at its most raw, with dramatic rock formations, amazing plants – and hardly any people…

By Jan Bester
Owner of True South Travel

To me, the Swartberg Mountains are nature at its most raw, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with dramatic rock formations, amazing fynbos plant species such as Proteas, cone bushes, Ericas and pincushions – and hardly any people. So you’re climbing and climbing along the Swartberg Pass, this historic gravel road, and you get out of the car and you’re a thousand metres above the surrounding landscapes. And the views are incredible. You can look south for 110 kilometres over the Little Karoo towards the Garden Route, and when you look north you can see even further – 170 kilometres – over the Great Karoo. And it’s so peaceful. There are places where we stop to observe the landscape and where people can go for a hike, and people are gobsmacked at how quiet it is. I think they’re even more amazed by that than the klipspringer antelopes, baboons and birds such as Verreaux eagles that we sometimes spot.  

And then, from the top of the Pass, you drop down along the renowned ‘zigzags’ and suddenly you’re meandering through this steep-sided gorge where the sandstone strata have been folded and shaped by the movement of the tectonic plates until they’re almost vertical. It’s an amazing experience to travel through the different landscapes with their unique formations, biomes, geology and history. And then you find yourself in the scenic little town of Prince Albert, where we enjoy bygone years by lunching at the type of hotel that’s no longer a regular sight in most South African towns anymore – it’s like slipping back in time 100 years. It’s quite a contrast to the wild expanses of the Swartberg Mountains, whose northern edge you’ll skirt on the way to the 60-metre-high waterfall at Meiringspoort in the afternoon.

If you’re interested in prehistory, the original Khoi people inhabited limestone cave systems in the foothills from 80,000 years ago, and I learned everything I know about herbal medicines, which I use primarily, from how they used the local flora. So we will often visit the Cango Caves as well as part of the tour, depending on the client’s preference and available time. But for me, the day is essentially about experiencing nature at its most elemental. When you’re in these vast landscapes, you realise just how small and insignificant we are, and I think that’s inspiring.

Categories

  • History
  • Scenery
  • Trips to take
  • Wildlife

Available in these itineraries…

Alfred & Jan Bester

Jan Bester gave up the city rat race to set up True South Travel 15 years ago so that he could share his passion for nature in general, and the Swartberg Mountains in particular, with others. He’s just as passionate about responsible tourism, from respecting the environment to giving back to local communities.

Alfred&

Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Andy, who's travelled extensively in South Africa. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - ex banker who can show you the hottest foodie spots in Cape Town, the award-winning young sommelier who can introduce you to Stellenbosch's finest wines and the walking safari ranger who can guide you to the best game.

Freephone an expert 01306 744 656