Written by one-time tour guide Marion Whitehead, now a journalist with Getaway magazine, this 176-pager ticks most of the boxes for a useful guidebook. What makes this area special? Check. What will I see? Check. What are the best hiking, biking, 4x4 and canoeing trails? What are the area’s highlights (like picnic spots, view points, farm stalls and farmer’s markets)? Where can I stay? Check, check and check. Oh yes, and there are maps to put it all into perspective and lots of photos to give a sense of place and an idea of what you can look forward to.
The book covers 30 passes from the Cederberg in the northwest to the Tsitsikamma in the east, including my all-time favourites, Seweweekspoort and Swartberg Pass near Prince Albert in the Karoo, and the Seven Passes Road and Prince Alfred Pass along the Garden Route. It’s enough to give you itchy feet, hinting at all the fun you can have exploring some of the most spectacular drives in the country.
For those with a short attention span, there’s bite-sized info on aspects such as the area’s original inhabitants or early travellers. If you’re fascinated by 19th century road engineering, you can find out about the men behind the passes, like Andrew Geddes Bain and his clever son Thomas, or the convicts who did the blood-and-sweat work. There’s a taste of geology and floral riches, spiced up with a few bridges and a peek at some of the area’s nature reserves and wild creatures like leopards, baboons, whales – even a splash of colour with iconic birds like the Knysna turaco.
One niggle is the absence of an index, especially when there are four blank pages at the back of the book that could have accommodated one. Is it just me, or is this like a handyman without his toolbox?
Among my favourite parts are the off-beat snippets and quirky attractions: the grave in a cave; a forest named after a hermit who lived there; a succulent that is nature’s Prozac; a community cut off from the rest of the country for more than a century; a woman who still sells green ‘springbok eggs’ from her farm stall.
In fact, I’d have loved to read more about the characters the author must have met along her travels. With luck, she has kept those filed away for another book to be published soon. Oh, and while she’s at it, perhaps she can write a similar book about the stunning passes of the Eastern Cape too!
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