In Part 2 of our series on mountain passes by Thomas Bain, we explore the master engineer’s final projects.

Cogmans Kloof Pass – 1873 – Montagu to Ashton 

cogmans kloof pass  cogmans kloof pass aerial view

Cogmans Kloof Pass is one of the grand pass engineer’s notable successes. It’s named after a KhoiKhoi clan that attacked a military outpost in the area, and features the 16-metre long Kalkoenkrantz tunnel.

Despite dynamite having been discovered a few years earlier, Bain only had the explosive force of gunpowder to blast through solid rock. The end result was a triumph for a man who had tried and failed on more than one occasion to create a thoroughfare of that sort.

The tunnel’s 5-metre high arched roof and 15-metre high retaining walls are an enduring testament to Bain's engineering skills.

Tradouw Pass – 1873 – Swellendam to Heidelberg 

tradouws pass tradouw pass 1873

Described as Bain’s masterpiece, the Tradouw Pass is a 13-kilometre long mountain pass with majestic views of the Buffelsjagrivier valley. It’s a precipitous route across the Langeberg mountains that took vision, endeavour and experience to build.

As the road follows the natural formation of the Tradouw Kloof - the ‘Poort of the Women’ - Bain had to construct high parapet walls to retain the gravel. He also erected several stone bridges to traverse the streams and rivers that run down the mountainous slopes.

During a particularly rainy season, one of the bridges was washed away. It was replaced by a beautiful teak bridge that is still standing today.

Although Tradouw Pass has been reconstructed, much of the original dry-stone walls, erected by a team of 300 convicts, have been retained.

Garcia’s Pass – 1873 – Riversdale to Ladismith 

garcias pass garcias pass 1873

The 18-kilometre long Garcia’s Pass is a scenic route through the Langeberg mountains with hairpin bends, sheer drops and Bain’s trademark supporting walls.

It gets its name from AH Garcia, the Commissioner of Riversdale at the time who lobbied the government of the Cape for a road that would link the Klein Karoo with the port of Mossel Bay.

Constructed by 107 convicts at a cost of £29,300, the pass gradually climbs the slopes of Sleeping Beauty, offering motorists sweeping views over the Goukou River valley.

The road has been widened in places and some of the bends have been relaxed, but the pass faithfully follows the route first surveyed by Thomas Bain more than 140 years ago.

Baviaanskloof – 1880 – Willowmore to Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve 

baviaanskloof pass baviaanskloof

The road linking the town of Willowmore with Baviaanskloof features four mountain passes – Nuwekloof, Combrincks, Grasnek and Holgat – built by Thomas Bain in the ten years leading to his death.

All are masterfully constructed engineering feats and splendid 4x4 adventures, as they traverse some of the most remote and rugged wilderness in South Africa.

Tight bends, hair raising curves, and corners greater than ninety degrees are standard fare as you meander slowly deeper into Baviaanskloof, a World Heritage Site, bio-diversity hotspot and the third largest nature reserve in South Africa.

You’ll reach high altitude summits occasionally covered in snow, cross rivers literally dozens of times and enjoy spectacular scenery that includes waterfalls, towering cliff faces of burnished rock and picturesque snapshots of donkey carts.

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