Meiringspoort Road with Cliffs De rust

Meiringspoort today is undoubtedly the most scenic mountain pass in South Africa. Stretching through a massive cleft in the Swartberg Mountain Range, this natural passage forms a convenient link between the Little and Great Karoo.

Not only for the lovers of Fauna and Flora but also the geologist will find the rock formations and rock strata very interesting.

Meiringspoort is also the inspiration for artwork of Thinus de Jongh and Pierneef (Double Drift Corner.) Even our previous anthem got its well known “over everlasting mountains, where the echoing crags resound” from Meiringspoort.

Meiringspoort is named after Petrus Johannes Meiring. He was born in 1799 and was a grandson of Dominee Arnoldus Meiring who arrived in 1743 from Lingen, Germany.

From 1822 Petrus made the first recorded transit of the poort. Later he and Gerome Marincowitz from the farm Vrolikheid, near Klaarstroom at the northern end of the poort, opened up a bridle path along the Grootriver , then known as ’ De Groote Stroom’.

Water pool in Meiringspoort De Rust

In 1854 after many petitions from wool farmers of the Great Karoo, farmers from George, Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn, who wished to trade wool, furniture, potatoes and sweet potatoes, decisions were made to build a road.

In August of that year John Molteno, (destined to become Prime Minister), Andrew Geddes Bain, his son Thomas Bain, and Charles Pritchard, a Beaufort West lawyer, travelled from Beaufort West by horse to examine the route through the mountains.

As a result of the subsequent report it was decided that the so called ‘boer’ road, which would be subject to frequent wash-aways, was the answer. An amount of £5000 was made available.

As the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Grey, was in favour of the road through the poort, the Legislative Assembly allocated £ 5000 for the building of the road. In August 1856 work on the road started.

Meiringspoort was officially opened to traffic early on the morning of the 3rd of March 1858. There was a colourful procession and a tearful guest of honour – the champagne bottle only broke after the third attempt! It was as previous stated named after Petrus Johannes Meiring from De Rust. The first freight of wool (twaalf lange wolwagens) from the interior was dispatched to Mossel Bay on the same day as the official opening of Meiringspoort.

The Meiringspoort road opened doors for trading from the south and to the north of the poort. Tollhouses that were built, also served as shops and dwelling houses. The first toll- keeper Rankin functioned here for 15 years. He became famous as the local herbalist and tooth-extractor.

Road through Meiringspoort De Rust

It was reported on the 3rd of June 1870 more than one million kilograms of wool was transported through Meiringspoort and sold at Mossel Bay. By then the two villages De Rust and Klaarstoom on either side of the poort were well established.

In 1885 a flash flood washed away most of the road and Thomas Bain was asked for assistance. He was busy with the Swartberg Pass but nevertheless saw to the construction of Meiringspoort and by 1886, he redirected the course to eliminate a number of river crossings.

1920 – 1930. An amount of £10 000 was made available for the reconstruction of Meiringspoort. Many of the dry stone walls and supporting stone bulwarks from that time are still visible.
1948 – 1953. All the drifts in Meiringspoort were replaced by causeways at a cost of £14 928.
3 March 1958. A centenary was commemorated at Varkenskraal.
1966 – 1971. Up to now the road was still untarred and caused a major bottleneck. The civil engineer Roy Peterson was tasked with the project to tar the road through the poort and walked the old “boer road” to try and avoid sharp bends. Most building materials like dolomite were brought in from Renosterkop, near Three Sisters 180 km away. The cost of the road came to R1,6 million.
April 1988. One of the worst floods in living memory devastated large areas in the country but Roy Peterson’s tarred road, causeways and stone re-enforcing held, and only minimal damage was caused.
November 1996. A big flood and major redesign and reconstruction had to be carried out. The poort was effectively closed for several months to traffic.
December 1999. Fully reopened to traffic but finishing touches were still being done.
March 2000. Another flood occurred that delayed the official opening for six months. Total cost of the project R70 million.
20 October 2000.Meiringspoort was officially opened after a construction period of four years.