Until the first road was built through Meiringspoort the Swartberg Mountain Range was almost insurmountable and this inhibited communication and development between the Klein and Groot Karoos.
In 1854, a group including the then MP for Beaufort West, Sir John Molteno, Andrew Geddes Bain and his son Thomas Bain, traveled from Beaufort West by horse to examine the route. The journey took a few days.
50 Kilometers east of Meiringspoort was Tierpoort, a far better route from an engineering point of view according to Andrew Bain. It involved three river crossings and was only 5 kilometers long. The downside was that it added more than one hundred kilometers to the trip to Mossel Bay, a good 4 or 5 days travel by ox wagon. Tierpoort was then not surprisingly left for the railway line to be built upon.
Andrew Bain almost accidentally developed a method for breaking large boulders into smaller more manageable pieces. He piled trees and bushes, which had been cleared from the path onto the large, dislodged and set fire to them. This caused the boulders to split, especially after pouring water over them.
The 16-kilometer road was completed in less than a year and opened to the public in 1858. The Poort was named after Petrus Meiring, a farmer from the de Rust area, who had pushed through a bridle path, the first road of any kind. He had also tirelessly campaigned for a road through the Poort.
To demonstrate just how important this route was to the economy of the Great Karoo, by 1870 one eighth of the Cape Colony’s wool clip was being transported to the port at Mossel Bay.
The major drawback of the Poort was that it was vulnerable to severe flooding which caused lengthy closures. These disrupted traffic and trade and directly led to the construction of the Swartberg Pass.
A concrete causeway was built between 1948 and 1953. Construction of a trunk road started in 1967. It was an environmentally sensitive project, superbly handled. The river had to be crossed 25 times and instead of building bridges with retaining walls, road slabs were constructed, which allowed for overflowing. As is the nature of the Karoo, high water levels dissipate rapidly, so flooding is temporary.
The project was completed in 1971 and blended the road exceptionally well with the surrounding area.
In 1996 the Poort suffered severe flooding which all but destroyed it. This resulted in closure for many months and a refurbishment, which was completed in 1996. The end result is truly beautiful. Take a leisurely drive through the Poort and take in its natural beauty. The high cliffs, which rise sharply from the edge of the road, are wondrously sculpted by nature and have one staring upwardly in absolute awe of its formation, and magnitude.
Construction of walls has been expertly blended into the surrounding areas and is an engineering marvel.
Meiringspoort is the spectacular final product of geological processes that have taken place over more than 200 million years.
Here it is clear how the sandstone layers of the Cape mountains were lifted up, pleated and folded back and forth.
A home was created for a wide variety of living organsms by terrestrial forces far beyond what we can perceive. Indeed certain plants and animals, having evolved over thousands of years are acknowledged as species unique to this area.
The plants of Meiringspoort are vastly diverse and is one of the Poorts considerable attractions. The diversity of the species is so high, it is unmatched elsewhere in the World based on a size comparison.
Some plants are World renowned. In 1689, Hendrik Oldenland collected the wild geranium and later sent samples to Europe where the Duchess of Beaufort starting cultivating them by 1710. Over the years the wild geranium has been used for selection and also to breed hybrids. and is still known as one of the parent plants of the massive geranium industry in Europe and the USA.
Meiringspoort forms part of the Swartberg Nature Reserve, which is managed by Cape Nature Conservation. This reserve comprises about 120 000 hectares, which includes the mountainous area on both sides of the Poort.