The seven passes are a meandering route between George and Knysna, partly tar and gravel, it is suitable for most vehicles. It is a route which you can take either in the morning or the afternoon depending on how often you want to stop, get out, take pictures, swim in the river or do some walks in the forest.
You may either start this route from George or Knysna, depending on time of the day which will determine the angle of the sun. Keep this in mind when you would want to film from your vehicle with your GoPro but otherwise it does not matter.
Some say that the seven passes actually have got 8 passes if you include the Swart River pass just outside George. Driving from George you will follow the Nelson Mandela avenue which will cross the Swart River just past the George Dam and you might not even notice it.
Just after the entrance to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University the road will start to descend going down a winding tar road which leads to the Kaaimansgat Pass.
The seven passes route was constructed by Thomas Bain and his brother in law, Adam de Smidt. Bain started at Knysna and the route from George was the responsibility of de Smidt. Apparently, this whole affair caused a feud between them and they never spoke to each other again. Despite of this they have both done an excellent job and the route only needed minor maintenance since 1867.
The seven passes crosses 10 rivers and 7 gorges, is 75kms long and was the main connection road between George and Knysna for more than 70 years until 1952 when the N2 was opened. Be careful when navigating the s bends and be on the lookout for cyclist and other vehicles. The speed limit varies between 60 and 80km/h.
The concrete bridge at Kaaimans river was completed in 1904 and bears the initials and coat of arms of King Edward, ER. It replaced the old imported pine timber bridges which never lasted long. Here you may step out of the vehicle and go down to have a better look at this beautiful bridge.
After the Kaaimansgat pass you could drive towards Wilderness to visit the Map of Africa and have a beautiful view of the stretched-out beach of the Wilderness.
As a matter of fact, all the old timber bridges were replaced by concrete or steel in the beginning of the 1900’s. The bridges and the 7 passes route itself were declared a national monument in 1970.
It is believed that de Smidt has constructed the first 4 of the 7 passes all the way to the Touw River Pass (also known as the Duiwelskop Pass) which is also more or less halfway through the 7 passes.
Various attractions are worth a visit and depending on your time you may participate in some activities. It might be best to take with you a picnic basket with some food and refreshments depending how many stops you want to make.
You will want to get out at every bridge, there are some parking for your vehicle, to disembark and take a walk around. At some of the bridges there are little walkways taking you down to the river. It is worth it to explore and look around. On a warm summer day, you may even think of dipping your feet or cool down in the river.
After the Touw River Pass, the last pass before Hoekwil you might want to visit the big Woodville tree which is 800 years old. It could be an excellent spot for a picnic in the forest or take the 30min forest circular walking trial.
From the Hoekwil tree you will be passing plenty of dairy farms and witness pastures under irrigation spotting many cows and horses.
Past the Hoogekraal pass it might be worth it to take a detour through the village of Karatara which was established for the woodcutters after they were evicted from the forest in 1939. Colourful modest little house scattered around and many of them still occupied by the descendants of the original woodcutters. Karatara is a Khoi word which apparently means “horse hill”.
Following the Hoogekraal pass is the Homtini pass (also known as the Goukamma River Pass) which could be the most spectacular. Surrounded by indigenous forest there is also a walkway taking you down to the river. The well-known South African travel writer, Thomas Bulpin, author of many travel books on South Africa wrote specifically about the Homtine pass in his books.
Passing Rheenendal the last pass to negotiate is the Phantom pass named after the grey and brown moths who arrives in this area in spring time.
In conclusion, this is for everyone enjoying an ever-changing landscape, indigenous forest, rivers and views of the Outeniqua mountains.