A delightful detour off the N2 coastal highway on the Garden Route is known as South Africa's Seven Passes (or 7 Passes) route between George and Knysna in the Western Cape. It's a scenic route which passes guest farms, tiny wooden settlements, and whisks visitors through the dramatic Phantom Pass, named for a butterfly and not a ghost.
The Seven Passes route is a 75km long trip that takes you past 7 gorges cut deep by rivers flowing to the sea. Legendary engineer Thomas Bain designed the road in 1883, but it was a sweaty business for the great road engineer.
Not only did he and his crew have to battle through dense bush, he was also constantly at loggerheads with his brother-in-law, Adam de Smidt, who shared the contract. Their differences of opinion concerning the Seven Passes near George were so severe that after the job they were no longer on speaking terms.
In the end, Bain came up trumps and produced a very user-friendly dirt road with his gang of convicts who, amazingly for those times, were actually paid salaries.
Today, you'll drive past tiny villages such as Rheenendal and Karatara, the scene of a brief gold rush in 1975. The 7 rivers for which the gorges are named are the Swart, Hoogekraal, Homtini, Karatara, Silver, Kaaimans, and Touw. You'll traverse single-lane bridges, forestry settlements, picnic at a place called Big Tree and slowly unwind as you absorb the relaxing woodland atmosphere.
One of the main attractions along this route is Millwood, one of the early gold-rush towns in the Outeniqua Mountains, which is also home to another mountain pass near George. In its heyday it had bars, banks, hotels and a police station. Today, there's a guesthouse, a small museum, and a disused mine that is now open to the public.