The passes and how they came into existence have an interesting history. Their development was invariably in the interest of economic expansion and growth. The early settlers for instance needed the supplies of the Khoi, mainly the meat of the cattle, to sell onto the ships calling in Table Bay.
The Khoi in turn, not interested in confrontation were constantly on the move and were somewhat elusive. Nevertheless, this cat and mouse game played a role in the discovery of some routes into the hinterland.
The main purpose of mountain passes, was and still is for the transportation of goods. Although we do not perhaps place the same importance on transportation, probably a side effect of our 'instant lifestyle', road transportation is still the main mode for the majority of the Cape's produce. Easy crossing of the passes of the Cape is therefore of paramount importance to our economy.
As individuals we probably do not need nor appreciate the full value of the passes, and probably see it as a part of the road, or an opportunity to see a piece of land from an elevated position.
The passes of the Westcoast are underestimated in their historic and current importance. Moreover, they are sometimes not appreciated to their full extent; perhaps paling in comparison to some of the more popular and much discussed passes on busier holiday routes.
The Westcoast is not without its fair share of beautiful passes. Until one reaches Piketberg on the N7, the route is pretty much flat.
To encounter other passes, one has to leave the N7, which should not be a problem if the journey is more important than the destination. Visit the quaint town of Riebeeck Kasteel via the Bothmanskloof Pass on the R46, from the Wolesley side.
Enjoy brunch at one of the wine farms or a scone and tea at one of the restaurants and farm stalls.
Just after Piketberg, one encounters the Piekenierskloof Pass, with its impressive views over the Swartland Plain below. The pass itself has an interesting history, including recollections of elephants in the area. To think that a little more than 300 years ago, great herds of elephant roamed the valleys of the Oliphants River.
Reaching Citrusdal, one could go over the Middleberg Pass to Ceres and the access other interesting passes such as the Gydo Pass, Michells Pass, du Toitskloof Pass and up to Hex River Pass & Poort, around through Rooihoogte and Burgers Passes into Montagu.
It is however suggested to stay on the “Westcoast Road”, which offers its own unique beauty, culture and ‘personality’.
Skip the Middleberg Pass and head onto Clanwilliam, stopping for lunch or a bite to eat. Drive along the R364 and encounter one of the Cape’s most rustic and beautiful passes, the Pakhuis Pass. Still mostly gravel, the high quality surface allows one a tranquil drive over the pass, taking in the unique rock formations and scenery. Head on through to the Biedouw Valley, where most of the region’s rooibos tea is cultivated. Stay over in the area and enjoy the tranquility of true country life.
On a warm summer’s night, lie down on the grass and lap up the multitude of clear, bright stars, which are far more visible in the absence of light pollution.
The next day head back onto the N7, turn right at van Rhynsdorp and encounter the superb van Rhyn’s Pass and also, if you feel like going off the beaten track, the Gifberg Pass, on a gravel road off the R27 south of van Rhynsdorp.
After experiencing the beautiful van Rhyn’s Pass, of course stopping as much as possible to take in the beautiful sights on the way, stay over in Niewoudtville and enjoy the flowers in the Spring or continue to Calvinia and enjoy the tranquility of this town and their succulent lamb.
The Westcoast culture is one of the gems of Cape life and must be experienced at some stage. The Westcoast has a number of festivals during the year, and of course its World famous wild flowers, an annual explosion of colour as nature celebrates the rebirth of life in a kaleidoscope of hues.