28 Oct A beautiful day riding Prins Alfret pass, South Africa
Yesterday on my way to Zandvlakte in the Baviaanskloof, I decided to take the Prince Alfreds Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale that is probably Thomas Bain’s greatest work. Not only was this an extremely long pass, but it also presented almost every possible technical obstacle to the pass-builders.
From the Avontuur (a small town whom’s name translates into Adventure) side, after approximately 14 km from the summit, the road levels off slightly and the road bisects a small farmstead. It is best to slow right down (20 kph) and be careful of animals and children. Beyond the first farm, the road starts to descend more steeply again as it enters the northern access of the Langkloof (Long Ravine). Along these upper reaches of the Langkloof, you will find some beautiful examples of Bain’s famous dry-walls
The road passes through rugged and spectacular scenery and covers a short distance of only 2.53 km, losing over 100 meters of altitude.
A little further another sign beckons marked “Hangkrans” (Hanging Cliff). Bain expertly circumvented this large chunk of mountain by encroaching into the course of the river by building high and substantial retaining walls. He also constructed tunnels under the road, to move floodwaters efficiently from the high side of the road into the flow of the river. His engineering standards were well ahead of his time.
It is well worth stopping at any place where you can get your motorbike off the roadway and walk down the next section (camera in hand). It is truly one of the most beautiful spots in South Africa. It will leave your senses becalmed, yet invigorated. The road winds over to the east bank of the river and soon arrives at the next bridge signposted “Convicts Grave”. Looking upstream there are a series of little waterfalls as the river tumbles down towards the Keurbooms River a few kilometres away. This is a burial spot fit for a king and the convict that died here doing hard labour must be having a good rest in one of the most exquisite places on earth. This little river becomes a raging torrent after heavy rains and Bain’s stonework and river bank reinforcing still stand firmly in place 150 years on.
A short while later the road drops quickly in altitude to the Keurbooms River, where one crosses the river via a low level concrete causeway to arrive at the charming little settlement of De Vlugt. This is the spot chosen by Bain to build a home for his family, for the duration of the four years constructing the pass. The humble cottage is still intact and can be hired by passing visitors. It is approximately 150 years old and has the original creaking yellowwood floors with an old wood burning AGA stove and the piece de resistance is that there is no electricity. An overnight stay here will definitely put you in a time warp into an era of horses and gravel tracks.
There is more to do in De Vlugt – Visit the information kiosk which is a self-help system and of course Angie’s G-Spot (obviously competing with Ronnies Sex Shop near Barrydale) is a laid back country pub.
Not far from there is also the Outeniqua Trout Hatchery a little further to the south east along the river, where there is accommodation and maybe you want to have a replay of “A River runs through it” and try your hand at fly fishing.
From De Vlugt, via Dieprivier Hoogte the road ends some 22 kms later at the Buffelsnek Forestry Station. This is the highest point on the southern half of the pass and provides breathtaking scenery.
From there you wind down into the famous Knysna forests passing the Diepwalle Forestry Station as well as the King Edward Big Tree and numerous other historical and interesting sites, before the road terminates at the informal township on the hills above Knysna at the junction with the N2 highway. The final 8 kilometers are tarred.
I have never driven this road without experiencing varying degrees of potholes and severe corrugations, both which can easily cause loss of control due to lack of traction and concentration. It is not advisable to drive this pass alone, especially not after some heavy rains.
Watch the video: