The Hottentots Holland Mountains presented the main obstacle to expansion for the Cape of the 18th Century into the fertile Overberg.
Local Khoi herders called the mountains the Gantouw and moved their cattle over them by means of the track, which is still mostly evident till today, just north of the N2 .
What is now known as the Somerset West and Helderberg areas became known as the Hottentots Holland. The Gantouw then became known as the Hottentots Holland Kloof, and the mountain range the Hottentots Holland Mountains.
The Kloof was not for the faint-hearted and became increasingly inadequate as a major route between the Cape and the Overberg. It was steep and dangerous yet it remained the only route to the east until Sir Lowry’s Pass was built in 1830.
Sir Gailbraith Lowry Cole, Governor of the Cape from 1828 to 1833 realised that the lack of decent roads and mountain passes to the interior was restricting the growth of the Cape Colony. Charles Michell, Surveyor General of the Cape at the time had proposed a totally new pass in place of the Gantouw at a fraction of the expected cost.
Construction of Sir Lowry’s Pass commenced in 1829 and the new pass was opened on July 6 1830.
The modern pass was reconstructed between 1956 and 1959 and reconstruction to it’s current format started in 1984.
Starting way down at the entrance road to Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, which previously was at the hairpin bend, it has a dual carriageway approach, which continues to the mouth of the Steenbras dam. This road hugs the mountainside on one side and overlooks the majestic False Bay and the Gordon’s Bay / Strand suburbs. Somerset West stretches out ahead of the visitor arriving from the Grabouw side.
At the top there is a well maintained viewing site, which is a must-do for any traveler. It offers a panoramic view of the Helderberg side of False Bay. Leaving this viewpoint and heading towards Caledon, one is met with the beautiful Pine forests, which stretch down to meet the shores of the Steenbras dam.
Don’t be too surprised when approaching the pass from the Grabouw side if one is confronted with the sight of paragliders hanging in the air. The face of the Hottentots Holland Mountains offers paragliders the ideal opportunity to practice their sport, though not always as the South Easter buffets the mountainside in the spring.
The pass is susceptible to the harsh South Easter and can often be engulfed in mist in the winter. But it is the sheer beauty of False Bay, which grabs the attention of any traveler, as the pass is summitted from Grabouw, with the Sun reflecting off the sea and the wine estates stretching out ahead, no signboard can convey "Welcome to the Cape" in quite the same way as this vista.