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Meiringspoort: Heritage & Environment 







Meiringspoort An unique ecosystem

Compiled by:  W.J. Immelman  


Pierneef: Double Drift CornerPierneef: Double Drift Corner


Meiringspoort today is undoubtedly one of the most scenic mountain passes 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 - see below.) 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.


PJ MeiringPJ Meiring



In 1848 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’. 


In 1854 after many petitions from wool farmers of the Great Karoo, farmers from George, Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn, who wished to trade wood, 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.


The old road through MeiringspoortThe old road through MeiringspoortMeiringspoort 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 previously 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, they 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.  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.  


                                                                             Meiringspoort – Construction Details 


The route was surveyed at various stages by a Mr Woodfield, Adam DE SMIDT, Andrew BAIN, and later Thomas Bain. Initial work was done by Thomas J Mellville, Sub-Inspector of Roads in the George District with a labour-force of 93 hired labourers, but replaced by Adam de SMIDT as supervisor under general control of Thomas BAIN. Here Bain invented the rock-splitting technique of creating bonfires over impeding rocks then shattering the heated rocks with buckets of cold water. This traversable cutting gave direct link to the Great Karoo and its produce, the wool clip, to the outside world. 




Ox wagon in Meiringspoort 1878Ox wagon in Meiringspoort 1878   Horse cart crossing one of the streams at Double Drift in MeiringspoortHorse cart crossing one of the streams at Double Drift in Meiringspoort


Ox wagon in Meiringspoort 1878



Horse cart crossing one of the streams at Double Drift in Meiringspoort


Rankin’s Toll Gate at the Southern Entrance to Meiringspoort 1876Rankin’s Toll Gate at the Southern Entrance to Meiringspoort 1876


Rankin’s Toll Gate at the Southern Entrance to Meiringspoort 1876 


Dr. Russel of Oudtshoorn in his 1902 Wolseley Siddeley crossing one of the drifts at Meiringspoort.Dr. Russel of Oudtshoorn in his 1902 Wolseley Siddeley crossing one of the drifts at Meiringspoort.

Dr. Russel of Oudtshoorn in his 1902 Wolseley Siddeley crossing one of the drifts at Meiringspoort 

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.
Motor Vehicle on early road through Meiringspoort – 1925Motor Vehicle on early road through Meiringspoort – 1925

Motor Vehicle on early road through Meiringspoort – 1925 

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 tasked with the project to tar the road through the poort, 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 1996A 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.








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