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Part of the Seven Passes route between George and Knysna in the Western Cape Province, the steep Phantom Pass has sweeping views of the Knysna River valley as the road snakes through picturesque sylvan farmland, bubbling streams and dense indigenous forests.
The Phantom Pass is named after the swarms of phantom moths that appear here every spring.
Prior to the construction of the pass, transport riders travelling between the 2 towns could wait for days to cross swollen rivers and were forced to dismantle their wagons to negotiate steep sections of the makeshift route. Then in the 1860s, the great roadbuilder Thomas Bain was tasked with establishing a permanent road between George and Knysna. The resulting Seven Passes route is a beautiful gravel road that crosses 7 ravines and 10 rivers over more recent Edwardian stone bridges. Bain’s original wooden bridges have long since perished but the stone pillar supports can still be seen. The route took 15 years to complete.
Today this classic pass is a scenic route and eco-friendly destination rather than a busy thoroughfare.
Top 6 reasons to visit Phantom Pass
1. Enjoy the peace and quiet in the Phantom Pass area bird watching, taking long forest walks and canoeing along the river.
2. The town of Knysna is a hub of activity with modern amenities, a waterfront and buzzing marina alongside the 13km² lagoon and a wealth of restaurants.
3. This section of the Garden Route offers a range of water-related activities; suntan and swim at the various beaches, otherwise fish off the beach at nearby Buffelsbaai (buffalo bay) or take a chartered deep sea fishing trip out into the Indian Ocean.
4. A drive to the old gold rush town of Millwood is worthwhile to explore the hills pitted with mine shafts and abandoned machinery. The original Millwood house was dismantled and taken to Knysna where it serves as a museum.
5. Nearby Victoria Bay is renowned for surfing where the take-off is a rock that lies some distance off the small but beautiful beach.
6. Take a leisurely stroll along the Touws River lagoon boardwalk in the Wilderness lakes district. Watch the pied, malachite and giant kingfishers dive for fish along the lagoon edge.
The nearest airport is George Airport, located 70km outside of Knysna. Several car rental agencies are based in Knysna and at George airport to hire a vehicle or you could order a rental online. There are a number of metered taxi companies in Knysna. Shuttle service operators transport visitors between George Airport and Knysna.
Did you know?
The phantom moth is dependent on the Keurboom (choice) tree. The female lays eggs at the root, the larva then tunnels through the tree bark and seals the opening for it to safely pupate inside the wood. When ready, the adult breaks the seal and emerges at night.
Thomas Bain is regarded as South Africa’s greatest road builder, responsible for the construction of over 20 significant passes during the mid-1800s, most of which are still in use today. No form of mortar was used for dry stone walling and the passes were cleared without dynamite, making his road building feats all the more remarkable.