It’s difficult to imagine that the jewel in the crown of South Africa’s mountain passes – the Swartberg Pass – wasn’t built for the exclusive pleasure of us in the 21st Century with our bikes, mountain bikes, and motor cars.
It’s a spectacular gravel road that was carved out by convict labour under the direction of Thomas Bain between 1883 and 1886, which crosses the Swartberg Mountains via the Swartberg Nature Reserve (a World Heritage Site since 1997) to connect the town of Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo with Prince Albert in the vast hinterland of the Great Karoo –and while it was an important highway in days gone by, it’s a must-do tourist attraction today.
But you could also think of the Swartberg Pass and Prince Albert as a metaphor for life in our troubled times, since so many of us dream of climbing our own personal mountains to arrive at a place that refreshes us in peace and tranquility.
And that enviable lifestyle, said Pam Golding Properties Prince Albert area specialist and Private Property advertiser, Eric Ahrens, is exactly what you’ll find in PA (as it’s locally known) – and it’s one of the main things that draws buyers to the village, too.
“It’s important that people get an idea of what to expect here, so whenever anyone comes to me wanting to buy I always begin by taking them on a drive to see every aspect of the town,” he said.
“Without getting out of the car, I show them all the properties we have on our books – and also many of the attractions like the Swartberg Hotel (the only hotel and one of 19 national monuments in the village), the new, world-class Showroom Theatre, African Relish Cooking School, the Fransie Pienaar Museum, and even our very good provincial hospital and the less privileged suburb of North End.
“Prince Albert is ideally located – it’s 420 kilometres from Cape Town, 110 from Oudtshoorn, and 175 from George, where they’ve got the airport – and it’s a good farming area, too,” he said, noting that the Prince Albert Valley and spectacular Weltevrede Valley are both well suited to citrus, figs, vineyards, olives, onion seeds, and many winter crops.
But the physical assets of a place form only part of its allure, of course. The list of events on Prince Albert Tourism’s website paint a picture of a lively and interested community that hosts an annual Olive Festival, an annual Winter School, an annual Literary Festival, and numerous courses, markets, shows, and more. And, according to Eric, its municipality and the local police are involved and engaged, too – so it’s hardly surprising that the investment climate is a healthy one.
Property prices on the up
“Prices of property continue to escalate steadily – although perhaps not at the rate we were seeing eight years ago,” he said.
In fact research by Lightstone Property in 2011 – which looked at annual growth in average value for eleven different categories of property – placed Prince Albert as the best performing municipality in South Africa (according to the report it “steamed to first place ... with a 237% year-on-year annual growth in average property price; values escalated from R175 000 in 2010 to R 590 000 for the same period in 2011”).
Of course many potential buyers want to establish themselves in business, and Eric – who has 39 properties listed on PrivateProperty.co.za – said that Prince Albert can be a viable option for people who want to opt out of the urban environment.
“Many of the farms on our books are offered as going concerns, and there are other opportunities, too: I think there’s a need for a laundry, and there’s definitely a gap for a dentist,” he said.
All of which prove that Prince Albert, the grand old lady of the Karoo (she turned 250 in 2012!), is anything but a dowdy destination.