The Franschhoek Valley lies 60kms east of Cape Town. Approached from Stellenbosch and Helshoogte, it is closed off on the eastern side by the Franschhoek Mountains.
The pass follows the northern edge of this range, known as Middagskransberg, between the Franschhoek Valley and the Wemmershoek Mountains.
The Franschhoek Mountains was originally known as Oliphants Hoek. Here the elephants crossed the mountains at the change of seasons, treading a defined path. As with many other mountain passes, the white settlers followed the “Oliphants Pad” on foot and on horseback.
It is difficult for us to imagine these areas inhabited by elephant, but great herds of these mammals were to be found in the Cape in early settlement days.
Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony from 1814 to 1826 authorised the building of the Franschhoek Pass in 1822. Using a group of Royal Africa Corps soldiers who were awaiting shipment to Sierra Leone, Major William Holloway started work.
He built the first stone arch bridge over a kloof called Jan Joubert’s gat. Subsequent bridges have incorporated this bridge, making it the oldest bridge still in use in South Africa.
The pass was completed in 1825, and served as the main gateway to the Overberg until the construction of Sir Lowry’s Pass in 1830, which offered a more direct route from Cape Town.
The two passes were not in competition. Traffic from the Franschhoek and Paarl Valleys preferred using this pass. Holloway’s construction carried traffic for over 100 years until it was reconstructed in 1932/33 as part of the roadworks undertaken during the Depression Years.
Further improvements and tarring took place in the 1960s.
The Franschhoek Pass offers breathtaking views of the mountains, gorges and valley. The drop down to the river below of the rise to the top of the mountains delivers awe-inspiring vistas, making it a most popular tourist route. The view of Franschhoek from the pass is simply astounding.