The Swartberg mountains are a mountain range in the Western Cape province of South Africa.It is composed of two main mountain chains running roughly east-west along the northern edge of the semi-arid Little Karoo.To the north of the range lies the other large semi-arid area in South Africa, the Great Karoo.
Most of the Swartberg Mountains are above 2000 m high, making it the tallest range of mountains in the Western Cape province.It is also one of the longest, spanning some 230 km from south of Laingsburg in the west to between Willowmore and Uniondale in the east. Geologically these mountains are part of the Cape Fold Belt.Much of the Swartberg is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Two Ranges:
The Swartberg consists of two officially named ranges, the Smaller and the Greater Swartberg Mountains.
- Klein Swartberge:The Smaller Swartberg Mountains, are the westernmost of the two. Ironically this range is the higher one, including the province's highest peak, Seweweekspoortpiek (Seven Weeks Gorge Peak) at 2325 m.The famous Towerkop (Bewitch Peak) towers over the Klein Karoo town of Ladismith at a height of 2189 m.The peak is so named for its cleft peak, that, according to legend, was split by a spell and subsequent bolt of lightning.
- Groot Swartberge:The Greater Swartberg is located to the east, with the dividing line between the two ranges being the Gouritz river, which cuts a gorge directly through the range.This section, almost of a similar height, is however slightly lower in elevation, with the Tierberg (Leopard Mountain) at 2132 m being the highest. These mountains are home to the Cango Caves, the most famous subterranean system in South Africa, located just north of Oudtshoorn.
There are several passes through the Swartberg Range, and these are famous primarily for the spectacular geology they dissect,as well as for the engineering skill required in completing several of the routes across them.Most famous of all is the Swartberg Pass which runs between Oudtshoorn in the south and Prince Albert in the north. The pass is not tarred and can be treacherous after rain, but offers spectacular views over the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo to the north, as well as astounding Geology.
The Swartberg is regarded as one of the finest exposed fold mountain chains in the world, and this is apparent at the Northern end of the pass.The plant life along the pass is particularly interesting as many hundreds of species are found on the Swartberg. Also notable is the drystone work supporting some of its picturesque hairpin bends.