The Montagu Pass – The Route Over The Outeniqua Mountains

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.

montegu pass gmam south african steam railway george sa

GMAM Climing Out Of George Starts The Montagu Pass Ascent

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.

GMAM George Mossel Bay steam passenger south africa

GMAM Heads West Towards Mossel Bay Near The Southern Coastline

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.

GEA steam train western cape caledon freight garratt

GEA From Caledon Western Cape Heads Towards Hoehoek Pass

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.

GMASM Montagu Pass Outeniqua Mountains south africa steam train

GMAM Descends Montagu Pass Taken From The Road

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.

GMAM Montagu Pass Passenger Train Garden Route South Africa

GMAM Climbing Montagu Pass On The Daily Passenger

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.

GMAM Descends The Pass On A Freight. Note The Road On The Other Side Of The Valley

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.

GMAM montagu pass steam train south africa

GMAM Climbing Montagu Pass


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


  1. Dawie Kuyler says

    I must tell you that I am very impressed by your photos and train stories. Very well done. Looks like hard work, but it is such good memories. When I was a child we used to go over the Montagu pass every year.
    The sound of those garrets will never be forgotten. Thank you for all the hard work. I am sure you enjoy
    doing it. Keep it up.
    Dawie Kuyler.

  2. Charles says

    Hello John,

    What a wonderful collection of photographs and recollections of a particularly beautiful section of railway. Thank you for sharing, having just visited that part of the country only ghosts whistle at the crossings and just the wind whispers the beat of old engines climbing bravely to the summit.

    Much obliged

  3. I have just started an online publication for steam locos/trains in South Africa
    I would like to ask you for permission to use your article(s) on South African steam on the above website

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