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Thomas Bain – The Mountain Pass Master Builder

Thomas Bain – The Mountain Pass Master Builder

Thomas Bain completed 42 mountain passes in his lifetime. Add to this the number of passes his father, Andrew Geddes Bain built, and the tally is 57.

Thomas Charles Bain builds roads and passes in South Africa

Thomas Charles John Bain (1830 – 1893) whose work as road engineer still lives today in the many mountain passes he built.

The Bains family

In terms of bridge building, roads and pass construction deemed impossible by others, this father-and-son team can be called the passbusters of South Africa.

The Bains Kloof Pass (1853) between Wellington and Ceres in the Western Cape is considered Andrew Bain’s opus magnum.

If road engineering is genetic, the proverbial apple fell several times right under the tree with the birth of his second son. Thomas cut his teeth as a road engineer while apprenticing under his father during the construction of Bain’s Kloof Pass. He then qualified as a civil engineer.

Driving through a Bain’s original

Two of Thomas’ major works are the scenic passes that cut through and over the Swartberg Mountain that divides the Little and Great Karoo: Meiringspoort and the Swartberg Pass.

Thomas Bain's work includes the Meiringspoort Pass

The Meiringspoort Pass follows the course of the Groot River through the Swartberg Mountains.

Thomas Bain is the man responsible for the Meiringspoort Pass.

A picnic area along the Meiringspoort Pass.

Noteworthy points about Meiringspoort

  • Thomas Bain completed the pass in 1858
  • It is rated as a Top 10 destination and it follows the spectacular gorge though which the Groot River runs.
  • It is on the N12 and connects the small villages of Klaarstroom and De Rust.
  • The first geranium in the world was discovered here in 1689.
  • The geology of the mountain range is 200 million years old.
  • The road is in excellent condition and there are several points of interest and picnic spots.
  • Without stops, it takes about 30 minutes to drive
  • Floods occur occasionally and the pass is then closed for repairs

Check out the beauty of the Sani Pass Wildflower Walk.

Interesting fact about the Swartberg Pass

  • Thomas Bain completed it in 1884 and it is now a national monument
  • It is considered Bain’s best piece of road building
  • Some sources call this pass the Rubicon of gravel passes and a challenge to the motorist
  • More than 130 years after it was built, it is still not tarred and in excellent condition
  • It connects the towns of Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert
  • The spectacular views over the Little Karoo on the one side of the mountain and the Great Karoo on the other are spell bounding.
Thomas Bain is the man responsible for the Swartberg Pass

The Swartberg Pass over the Swartberg Mountains with the Klein Karoo landscape in the background.

People still applaud Thomas Bain for his work on the Swartberg Pass

The Swartberg Pass is still a gravel road and as good as it was when it was constructed in 1884.

For more on some of SA’s favourite Road Trip Stops, click here.

For more information, visit mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za

Words and Photography Anita de Villiers

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