The History of Prince Albert, South Africa
The famous Swartberg Pass which runs between Oudtshoorn in the south and Prince Albert in the north. The pass is not paved and can be treacherous after rain, but offers spectacular views over the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo to the north, as well as astounding geology. The Swartberg is regarded as one of the finest exposed fold mountain chains in the world, and this is apparent at the northern end of the pass. The plant life along the pass is particularly interesting as many hundreds of species are found on the Swartberg. Also notable is the drystone work supporting some of its picturesque hairpin bends.
To the east of the Swartberg Pass, the Meiringspoort provides paved road transit through the Swartberg along a river. The poort runs north out of the town of De Rust. The Meiringspoort offers a spectacular drive through incredible rock formations, and is the setting for an annual half marathon that ends in the town of De Rust.
In 1881 construction began in the Swartberg Pass but it was only in 1883, when Thomas Bain took over the project,that work started in earnest. In 1886 the pass was opened to the public – but at their own risk, as construction was still under way. The post-coach left the Prince Albert Hotel every morning at 6.00am, on one occasion the driver stopped at the little settlement at the top of the pass for a cup of coffee and returned to find his coach gone – the horses had headed back towards Prince Albert and the warmth of their stable. The Swartberg Pass was officially opened on 10th January 1888. In 1904 Dr Russell from Oudtshoorn drove the first motorcar over the pass.
Prince Albert was founded in 1762 on the loan farm De Queek Vallei with Zacharias De Beer as its first incumbent. Originally known as Albertsburg, when it obtained municipal status in 1845 it was renamed Prince Albert in honour of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.
Prince Albert enjoys a beautiful healthy climate with high temperatures in summer and comfortable sunny but crisp conditions during winter with cold nights, reaching midwinter minimums of 2 °C, with frost in places. Summer and winter blend into one another, leaving only a matter of weeks for spring and autumn. Prince Albert’s dry heat is ideal for anyone suffering from chest conditions and many people feel the health benefits of living here. This dry heat may spike up to 40 °C on a few days in the summer with an average of 33–35 °C, and 17 °C in the winter months.
Points of interest
The village has many well-preserved Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian buildings, thirteen of which are National Monuments. There are several olive farms and other very large export fruit farms in the area, as well as sheep farms, an export mohair trade, and each year the village celebrates the well-known olive festival. Birding, hiking, cycling and stargazing are other pursuits for visitors. The area is well known for its hardy endemic veld plants and is frequently a destination for botanists from all over the world. Visitors also enjoy excellent dining on fine Karoo lamb and cheeses from the local dairy.
Prince Albert and its surroundings offer attractions for everybody from hikers and bikers, to birdwatchers, stargazers and botanists. Artists & writers find themselves enthralled by the stark and dramatic beauty of the endless plains and the towering peaks.
With a water supply from the Swartberg Mountains, Prince Albert is a quirky little oasis in the middle of the arid Karoo Plains. The town is filled with quaint, beautifully-restored Victorian buildings and has become home to many artists and fascinating people.
The town offers a plethora of places to stay both in town and on surrounding farms. There’s something for everyone here. And the same goes for things to do – from veld walks and scenic drives to galleries and fantastic restaurants, you won’t be bored in Prince Albert.
Prince Albert was the Western Cape winner in the ‘Town of the Year 2012’ competition!
Gamkasloof known as “The Hell” can be reached via the picturesque town of Prince Albert, via the Swartberg Pass and is approximately 1½ – 2 hours (65km) from Prince Albert.
Kokkedoor the first Afrikaans reality television show focused on food was produced in Prince Albert.