I’m talking, of course, about the Seven Passes Road along the back roads from George to Knysna. Obviously, the name is a hint: there are seven passes along this road, from the Kaaimans River to Hoekwil and Homtini, via Karatara and Rheenendal, ending at Phantom Pass, which runs along a river and spits you back out onto the N2 on the western outskirts of Knysna. (By the way, you don’t need to worry about being stalked by ghosts on Phantom Pass, it’s actually named after something far more earthly – the white phantom moth.)
Thanks to the 19th-century ingenuity of Thomas Bain, without whom the Western Cape would look very different today, your route twists and turns through indigenous forests and gorges. It’s so special that it’s been declared a national monument, and that’s not something you can say about many roads in South Africa. Yeah, yeah, it will probably take you at least twice as long to drive this back road as it would to cover the same distance on the N2, but who’s in a hurry?
On the eastern boundary of George, turn left onto the road that goes to the Saasveld Forest Station. Although the Seven Passes road starts and ends in tar, there’s lots of gravel in between so if there have been heavy rains, check locally whether parts of the road have been closed due to wash-aways. Then prepare to immerse yourself in a shady green world of forests and vistas peppered with romantic old bridges that are begging to be photographed; a world you’ve read about in Dalene Matthee’s novels; a world of behind-the-times rural settlements and fat, happy cows.
Whatever you do, don’t rush. Take the time to explore. Take the detour to the Map Of Africa viewpoint at Wilderness Heights for a spectacular view over river and forest in one direction and sea in the other. Stop at the Woodville Big Tree (about 800 years old) for a short forest walk or picnic, or at one of the small country shops along the way to buy a cold drink and talk to the locals.
Use your drive to cherry-pick places you might want to return to on another day, such as the picnic sites and forest walks at Millwood and Jubilee Creek, or the Homtini mountain bike route at Krisjan se Nek in the Goudveld forest. Another deviation for another day might be to take the Rondevlei turnoff after the Woodville big tree, carrying you into the totally different world of Wilderness’s very own Lake District.
If you don’t come away from this remarkable route with a fistful of things you didn’t know about before but now desperately want to experience, I'll bet you were asleep at the wheel.
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