For many, the greatest highlight of visiting the Klein Karoo is traversing the Swartberg Mountains to Prince Albert, a charming 18th-century Groot Karoo town that lies 100km (62 miles) north.
To reach the Swartberg Pass, a 27km (17-mile) gravel road built more than 100 years ago by master engineer Thomas Bain, take the R328 (also known as Cango Valley Rd.) north from Oudtshoorn. About 1km (a little more than a half-mile) before the road terminates at the Cango Caves, you'll find a turnoff to the west, signposted PRINCE ALBERT. This marks the start of the pass, which soon begins its steep ascent. By the time you reach the summit, you will have enjoyed stupendous views of the Klein Karoo, which lies some 1,220m (4,002 ft.) below. Stop to gird your loins, for the journey has only just begun. The northern descent is hair-raising -- 10km (6 1/4 miles) of zigzags, serpentines, twists, and steep gradients on a narrow dirt road with nothing between you and the abyss but a good grip on the wheel. You'll note a turnoff to the west that will take you to Die Hell (Gamkaskloof). This is another magnificent drive, particularly popular with fynbos lovers, but unless you overnight in one of the rudimentary Cape Nature Conservation cottages, you'll have to return the way you came. Set aside most of the day for this detour.
The road continues to twist and turn before finally winding its way out of the Swartberg. At this point, you can either go to Prince Albert or turn back into the mountains and return to Oudtshoorn via Meiringspoort. Opt for Prince Albert; the town is an architectural gem, with almost all the buildings preserved and maintained in their original 19th-century form. If you're in need of tranquillity or wish to wander the streets at sunset to view the mix of architectural styles, consider spending the night or contact Prince Albert's Tourism Information, Church Street (tel. 023/541-1366; Mon-Fri 9am-6:30pm, Sat 9am-1pm).
To return to Oudtshoorn, take the road back to the Swartberg Pass, keeping an eye out for the R407, which takes you east through Meiringspoort. This is another spectacular drive, though this time the views are up.
In prehistoric times, the Great Karoo was a swamp that apparently broke through to the sea at Meiringspoort. The majestic Meiringspoort Pass, a natural ravine created by the course of what came to be known as the Groot River, features soaring cliffs and spectacular rock formations. The 25km (16-mile) tarred road follows and crosses the river several times as it winds along the floor of the gorge.
To explore the area on foot, Erika Calitz and CapeNature (tel. 083/628-9394; www.donkeytrail.com) offer a guided 4-day, 26km (16-mile) hiking trail from Calitzdorp over the Swartberg and to Die Hel; your gear is transported by rescued, rehabilitated donkeys.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.