The 100km off-road route of the Buco Lion’s Karoo to Coast from Uniondale to Knysna takes in the R339 which features the iconic Prince Alfred’s Pass.
And what a pass it is. Many have called this Thomas Bain’s greatest work. A big call for someone as pioneering and prolific as that. Bain was responsible for the planning and construction of more than 900 km of roadways in South Africa.
So first, a bit of history then (bare with us, it will be worthwhile)… Thomas and his father, Andrew Geddes Bain, (from who he learned most of his road-engineering techniques) were commissioned to build the Pass and work started in 1860.
Bain tackled the forested valleys and steep slopes and – with his crew of convict labourers – cut and dry-walled for four years to link the Klein Karoo with the coast. According to the Knysna Historic Society, the pass was opened to light traffic during 1866. When Prince Alfred (the second son of Queen Victoria) visited in September 1867 it was re-named and then the pass was officially opened on 29 September 1868.
Most of the original pass that ox wagons used to cross the mountains is where you now roll your knobbly tyres. When you’re suffering up some of the climbs and bombing the tight switch-backed descents, take a minute or three to appreciate that. Here are a few more things to be mindful of:
- The pass goes traverses four different biomes on its route from Klein Karoo plains to the coast. A section of the pass also bisects the Middle Keurbooms Conservancy – a 30 000 hectare conservation and eco-tourism hot spot.
- At 68,5 km it is officially the second longest mountain pass in South Africa (behind the 73,3km Baviaans-Kouga 4×4 route). However that pass is not accessible to sedan vehicles, making it technically the longest pass in South Africa. It also holds the distinction as the second oldest unaltered pass still in use.
- It is the only pass in South Africa where people live along side the road and trade in the pass. This thanks to the town of De Vlugt. Spot of tea?
- This pass is one of the finest examples of Bain’s unique (and self-taught) dry-walling method to support roads on mountain faces. He had his crew break large rocks up by means of fire and cold water. Then stacked the triangular pieces at an inward tilting angle of 15 degrees and then backfilled from the top.
Keen to experience this iconic piece of history from your bike without any other cars on the pass? Enter the Buco Lions Karoo to Coast Mountain Bike Challenge today at www.karootocoast.com.
Remember, the K2C entries often sell out fast, but entering the Dr Evil Classic 3 Day Stage Race – the warm up event (20th to 22nd September with daily distances of between 70 and 50km) will receive a preferential start in the Karoo to Coast. The final stage of Dr Evil Classic is also shorter (about 50km) so there is time for all transfers and the like on the Saturday before Karoo to Coast on Sunday 23rd September.