Route 339 stretches from the Karoo town of Uniondale to the Fourways intersection with the N2 just outside Knysna.
It is 80 km of gravel road connecting the Klein Karoo with the Garden Route; Knysna with the Langkloof. It serves as an appealing alternative to the Outeniqua Pass between George and Oudtshoorn.
Which does nothing to describe its beauty – the glorious views of early morning mist, proteas, heather and ericas on either side of the road, forests in which elephants are easily lost, and kloofs, valleys and mountains that appear to go on forever.
However, for all its beauty Prince Alfred Pass is not a short cut, neither is it for the faint hearted…
The drive takes the better part of a morning, without stops (and you will want to stop for there are a number of attractions en route), portions of the road are corrugated and pockmarked, making an off-road vehicle almost a necessity, and there are a number of sharp switchbacks and turns on what can only be described as ‘single track’ (little space for two vehicles), making for more than a few hairy moments.
And forget cellphone contact.
In other words, Prince Alfred Pass is an event, not a quick drive. And you probably should not drive it in bad weather, or at night.
That said: it is one of the most stunning passes in the area, and you can drive it in an ordinary sedan (people we know did it in a VW Polo without any issues); but you will take it slower.
Prince Alfred Pass begins after the intersection with Route 62, the world’s longest wine route. Just 10 km from Uniondale and you are already sandwiched in amongst the characteristic twists and turns of Thomas Bain’s work of art (he was to spend four years living on the pass whilst he built it).
The intelligence of his design endures the test of time.
Here are 10 things to do on the Prince Alfred Pass:
STAY AT CLOUD COTTAGE
This is the perfect overnight venue as it lies on the summit of the pass near Uniondale, in the heart of the Outeniqua Mountains. The pass subdivides Voog se Kraal farm, which lies in a micro-climate all its own.
Why stay: for a soul-restoring experience, gentle streams, fynbos, goat bells, no electricity and the slow of time.
HIKE AT KAMMANASSIE NATURE RESERVE
The Kammanassie Nature Reserve protects state forest but it is was given its name by the Khoisan, whose art remains in the caves in the mountains. Kammanassie means ‘mountain of water’. It rains all year round here for the isolated Kammanassie Mountain that seems to rise out of nowhere forms a sanctuary for forest and animals, including a herd of Cape mountain zebra. Stop here for one of two hikes through the streams and kloofs.
EAT MILK TART AT DE VLUGT TEA GARDEN
Andrew Geddes Bain and his son were commissioned to find a route inland from Knysna in the mid 1880s. There was already a rather terrible road between Plettenberg Bay and De Vlugt, where Thomas and his family moved after he widened the elephant tracks through the forest on the Knysna side. De Vlugt, 50 km from Knysna in the Keurbooms River valley, has altered little since he lived here. The convict camp has gone, but most of the buildings remain. Stop at the unpretentious tea garden for a slice of milk tart.
DRINK HOT BEER AT ANGIE’S GSPOT
“Hot beer, lousy food, bad service. Welcome” says the board on the side of the road. We didn’t stop at Angie’s, just past De Vlugt, but we did have a good laugh, and made a note that next time…By all accounts the completely off-the-grid farm is popular with off-road bikers and run by a couple who are ‘salt of the earth’ and superb hosts. The views are fantastic. And the beer really is cold…
EXPLORE ‘CALLING THE HERD’ AT JUNCTION R339 & R340 (PLETT OR KNYSNA)
About 35 km into the pass you reach the junction of R339 and the R340. At the junction is a piece of permanent land art by Strijdom van der Merwe entitled Calling the Herd. Explore whilst you decide which route to take…
PICNIC AT VALLEY OF FERNS
Some 7 km after the junction along Route 339 to Knysna is the Valley of Ferns picnic spot. It won’t take long to work out why the area is called valley of the ferns.
SEE THE VIEWS FROM SPITZKOP
Not far afterwards is the signpost for the lookout point of Spitzkop. It is, admittedly, an added length of rather bumpy gravel road, but the views all the way from Plettenberg Bay to Knysna are worth it (we gave this a skip as it was misty).
DO THE ELEPHANT WALK AT DIEPWALLE INDIGENOUS FOREST
Only another 8 kilometres or so later you arrive at Diepwalle Forest, where you can do the Elephant Walk. It’s admittedly a little more than a stretch-your-legs trail (20 km), and you are highly unlikely to see any elephant, but you are in amongst a series of giant yellowwood trees, incredible ferns, mushrooms and plants, and may sight the Knysna loerie.
CRANE YOUR NECK AT THE BIG TREE
Another 2 kilometres along Prince Alfred Pass will bring you to the parking area for the King Edward VII Big Tree. It’s 1 000 years old and stands at 36.6 metres. You won’t be wrapping your arms around this one, unless you can span 9 metres.
DRIVE KOM SE PAD
Also known as Gouna Pass, Kom se Pad is a gorgeous drive through dense indigenous forest to the Diepwalle forestry station.