Montagu Pass Introduction
South Africa has amazing geography including the Montagu Pass. From miles and miles of beautiful beaches to the Highveld it offers great desert scenery, and wonderful mountain passes. The Montagu Pass takes you from sea level at George to Oudtshoorn at 2,486 feet, quite a climb.
The Garden Route
The railway line from Capetown East follows the coast for quite a way from Mossel Bai to George. This offers some great photographic opportunities. From George a branch to Knysna offers great scenery as well and this line was a steam tourist line for many years. Currently it is not operating.
The main line headed north through the Montagu Pass and then on to Kliplaat and eventually Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. I believe passenger trains are no more on this section of line, which is a great pity. I managed to ride a steam hauled train up the Montagu Pass in 1975 headed by a GMAM. A few years earlier, hand fired GEAs were used. I can only imagine this would have been back breaking for the fireman. By the time I was there GEAs were restricted to Northern Natal and the Cape lines to Sir Lowry’s and Hoehoek passes.
Montagu Pass Photography
On my grand steam tour of South Africa, along with Kerry James from New Zealand and Mike Grainger from the UK, we decided to spend some time on this spectacular climb. The historic roadway, built in 1847 by convict labour, runs up one side of the valley, while the railway line snakes its way up the Eastern side of the pass. There being no road access to the railway line, we parked our car at the summit and walked down complete with food, tents and cameras for a 3 day camp.
Possibly the most difficult challenge was the Baboons. There were a few around and if you left your food unsecured, it would vanish! I know a friend of mine caught, cooked and ate a snake at the Montagu Pass.
Being on foot represents its own challenges. First, you can’t chase the trains even though they go rather slow. That means reconnoitring the line by foot, picking out the best spots, and then co-ordinating the light with the train timetable. With only a few movements a day, it was not easy. Fortunately for us, we picked good weather with 3 days of total sunshine. This is almost unheard of on this very green part of the country. The Montagu Pass is quite a contrast to most of South Africa which is very dry.
This photo below was on the short list for “The Great Steam Trek” well known as one fo the very best pictorial books on South African steam.
I put together all of my photos from the 3 days on the pass in a Youtube clip. The sound track is a South African steam loco accelerating from a standing start. I hope you enjoy it.
We really enjoyed our 3 days camped on Montagu in April, 1975. The scenery is so brilliant it was well worth it. I think you will agree some of these photos taken on the Montagu Pass are rather special