The early Governors of the Cape Colony realised that access to the interior was the key to economic growth and expansion. One or two took decisive action to remedy the situation and played major roles in the development of the Colony through the building of Mountain Passes.
Early settlers and farmers had to transport their wares by ox-wagon. The inhospitable, mountainous terrain made just about any journey most difficult. Most mountain crossings involved unloading the ox-wagon, dismantling it, carrying the payload and the wagon over the mountain piecemeal on the backs of the oxen, and then re-assembling and reloading the wagons to continue the journey on the other side.
Early passes followed the paths trodden by herds of heavy animals. In early settlement times, large herds of elephant, buffalo and other wild animals we only now see in game reserves, roamed the Cape Colony.
The development of the passes did indeed prove to be the injection the fledgling economy required. Andrew Bain's signature pass above Wellington, Bain's Kloof, opened up a route to the North. This, together with his Michell's Pass near Ceres, had helped reduce the travel time between Beaufort West and Cape Town by ox-wagon, from 20 to 12 days. This route through Ceres, remained the main road to the north until the du Toitskloof Pass was completed in 1948.
Aside from the main routes, other passes opened up the route to market for many areas.
The Cogmanskloof Pass near Montagu presented a route to the Cape for the fruit farmers, just as the Burgers Pass on the other side offered a way for the farmers of the Koo Valley to transport their produce.
As another example of how passes benefitted the economy, the beautiful Meringspoort opened up a line of communication between the Groot and Klein Karoos, and within a year, one eighth of the Colony's wool produce was being transported through this poort to Mossel Bay.
Today, while the value of some of these passes may have been reduced, they are still vital to the economy of the region.
Yet it is the beauty the passes exposes to us as travellers which gives us the opportunity to see this beautiful country from a different angle
The passes of the Winelands are not only achievements of engineering, both modern and early, but also unlock some of the most beautiful sights availabe at the mere cost of a few hours behind the wheel of a car.
There is so much activity near each of these. Wonderful hikes, wine route excursions and interesting fauna and flora.
Take the time out to enjoy the Passes of the Winelands. Travel them, stopping to enjoy nature and also man's achievement. Think of the early pioneers and the challenges they faced. Enjoy the experience.