Also known as the Greys Pass, the Piekenierskloof Pass is a vital crossing of the Oliphants River Mountain chain.
The road crosses the mountain at a height of 520m above sea level and is the lifeblood between the Western Cape and the agricultural and mineral rich areas stretching up to Namibia.
Thomas Bain named his pass after Sir George Grey, but after the opening of the modern pass in 1958, the name reverted to the original Piekenierskloof Pass. It derived its name from a band of pikemen (piqueniers) who crossed the mountains in pursuit of band of elusive Khoi.
Commencing construction with a group of 220 convict labourers in February 1857, Thomas Bain completed the Western slope by the end of that year. By July of the following year the whole pass was open to the public.
The pass was officially opened on 17 November 1858 and the Cape Argus carried a report, describing the route as having been “literally impassable, save at the risk of life and limb… Now by the completion of the works, which have been carried out under the superintendence of Mr Inspector Thomas Bain, the passage may be performed with the greatest of comfort, for the breakneck Kloof has given way to an easy carriage drive” (The Romance of the Cape Mountain Passes by Graham Ross).
To put into context the advantages delivered by Bain’s pass, travelers previously had to travel up the pass with oxen and wagons. They then often had to unload these, dismantle the wagons, cart the payload and the wagon pieces on the backs of the oxen, reassemble the wagon on the plateau and then continue their trip. This had to be repeated on the other side of the plateau.
So next time you’re on the Piekenierskloof Pass, or any pass for that matter, think of these folk as you gear to from fifth to fourth gear to take the last stretch to the top.
Bain’s pass carried traffic for on a century, when a new pass was completed in 1958. Work had actually commenced in 1939, but the outbreak of World War Two saw the closing of the unit and work was only recommenced in the 1950s.
The views on this pass are breathtaking. Take time to stop at the many viewing sites and take them in. On the way up the Western slope coming from Cape Town, stop and look down over the Swartland and on the other side look as far ahead over the valleys and to the mountains leading to the Oliphants River. Here, only 350 years ago (1660), Jan Dankaert recorded seeing a herd of elephant two to three hundred strong.