Soaring cliff walls with spectacular rock formations line the 25 km tarred road which winds along the floor of the gorge, crossing the Groot River 25 times. Each crossing, or drift, has its own name and story – stop at the Waterfall information site to learn more.
Entry to the poort is via Klaarstroom, 55 kms east of Prince Albert en route to Oudtshoorn and the coast.Following spectacular floods which caused great damage, the road was reconstructed at a cost of R70 million. Meiringspoort was officially re-opened by the Western Cape Premier, Gerald Morkel, on 20th October 2000.
The first road through the poort was constructed between 1856 and 1858 by Adam de Schmidt. On the morning of 3 March 1858 a colorful procession of about 250 mounted men and 100 distinguished guests in “spiders”, carriages and wagons departed through a triumphal arch decorated with flags for the journey to Klaarstroom – where a deputation of important guests from Prince Albert and Beaufort West awaited their arrival under another triumphal arch.
The first freight of wool from the interior was dispatched to Mossel Bay through Meiringspoort in “twaalf lange wolwagens” (12 long ox-drawn wool wagons) on the same day.
The road through the poort is a remarkable engineering feat, but the overwhelming features of a drive through Meiringspoort are the wonders of nature. The folds of the Table Mountain sandstone strata tower above the road, constantly changing colour as you move through sunlight and shade. Hardy plants, including indigenous pelargoniums, cling to the precarious rock faces while birds, baboons and smaller fauna abound in the protected kloofs and crevices. Among the most scenic spots is the Skelm, tumbling into a dark pool which, legend has it, is bottomless. (In 1938 it stopped flowing for the first time in human memory).
A beautiful mermaid was said to live in the pool at the foot of the waterfall. During the 1996 floods a story circulated that she had been washed out of the pool, down the Groot and Oliphants rivers and out to sea. She had been caught in a fisherman’s net and taken to the CP Nel Museum in Oudtshoorn, where she was preserved in spirits! The Museum was overwhelmed with telephone calls and visitors keen to see the mermaid!
Look out for Herrie’s Stone – there can’t be much graffiti that has been declared a National Monument. C.J. Langenhoven carved the name of his famous fictional elephant on a boulder in Meiringspoort in 1929.
Meiringspoort has been flooded several times in its 140-year history (the floods of 1885, 1968 and 1996 were devastating) and so the idea for building a high road over the mountains was born – the Swartberg Pass was opened in 1888.
Meiringspoort is now part of a World Heritage Site.
A drive through Meiringspoort to Oudtshoorn and back over the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert provides a delightful day out with spectacular scenery.