The Cape Town region is surrounded with coastal plains, stunning valleys and rugged mountain ranges. By driving over the mountain passes, one can enjoy the true beauty of the spectacular landscape of this region. There are quite a few passes in the immediate surroundings of Cape Town. Every time when arriving in Cape Town I look around in amazement at these steep mountains, often with snow on the summits in winter.
I have listed here our Top 5 mountain drives in the Cape Town region all with a maximum distance of about an hour’s drive from the marvellous Cape Town city bowl area.
Top 5 Mountain Drives around Cape Town
Chapman’s Peak Drive
Various roads lead southwards from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope. By far the most stunning road is the Chapman’s Peak Drive. A mere 20 km south of Cape Town city centre, the town of Hout Bay is the starting point of this amazing marine drive and connects this picturesque town with Noordhoek.
Over a distance of 9 km and 114 curves, breathtaking views stretch out over the rocky shoreline, the hanging cliffs and the rolling waves of the ocean. It is just jaw dropping how the engineers managed to construct a road like this in an at first glance impassable and inhospitable area. The road however is constructed on a solid granite rock base whereas the cuttings were done in softer sand stone rocks. It took a full seven years to complete the road which was opened for the first time in 1922.
The beauty of this drive also has its dangers. On a regular basis there were hazardous and frequent rock falls and mud slides. After a fatal accident due to rock slides, the road was closed end of the 90’s and only reopened again in 2005. A private company took a concession and fixed the safety issues of the road with among others safety nets and cantilevered bridges.
The Chapman’s Peak Drive reopened as a toll road and can be driven both ways in a car. With height restrictions, tour busses and larger vehicles (including larger camper vans or RV’s) are only allowed to drive from Hout Bay to Noordhoek. This is to avoid larger vehicles having difficulties to pass one another on the narrow road.
There are frequent lay-by’s for stopping to enjoy the views, to take photos or to have a picnic. We recommend to drive from Noordhoek to Hout Bay as it is easier to stop on the lay-by’s, which are all located on the left hand side of the road. Furthermore, since tour busses are driving the southbound way in the morning on their way to the Cape of Good Hope it will be busier then. So it is recommended to take this road at the end of your visit of the Cape Peninsula on your way back to Cape Town.
The small town of Franschoek is set in a picturesque valley surrounded by the protruding mountains of the Cape Winelands. First established by the French Huguenots in the 17th century, the Franschoek Valley is now home to dozens of wine farms.
An hour’s drive away from Cape Town, Franschoek is reachable via the R45 to Stellenbosch or Paarl. Another way to reach or to leave this quaint town is via the Franschoek Pass. This mountain pass connects Franschoek with Villiersdorp through the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve, which is part of the UNESCO declared Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve. To reach the pass from Franschoek continue on the R45 or Lambrechts road towards the mountains.
Even if you are not leaving the area, it is worthwhile just to take a drive to the top of the pass, which is 724 meters above sea level to enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley below, before heading back. On your way back, you can take advantage visiting some wine of the farms situated on this road.
During the early settlement days, this pass used to be called Olifantshoek (corner of elephants) since huge herds of elephants used this pass to cross the mountains for the change of seasons. But that is a few centuries ago.
Du Toits kloof Pass Old Road
Located 70 km before Cape Town, the Du Toits Kloof Pass used to be part of the main road between Johannesburg and Cape Town. The R101 still connects the town of Paarl with Worchester, but is now more a touristic road after the construction of the huguenot tunnel on the N1.
The pass was named after the local French Huguenot farmer Francois Dutoit, who lived in the area. When driving down to Cape Town on the N1, just before the new tunnel entrance, you can take the exit to the pass and will rejoin the N1 just outside of Paarl. At an elevation of 820 meters, you can stop for stunning views over the Cape Winelands down in the valley. It is a steep and winding road, and one should be very careful when the notorious South Easter is blowing.
Du Toits Kloof Pass via Huguenot Tunnel
In 1988, the Huguenot tunnel and the high altitude viaduct bridge were completed which connects the N1 directly with Cape Town through the Du Toits mountains without having to pass the narrow road via the R101. The total length of the tunnel is 4,4 km, the construction of which shortened the total route by 11 km.
Coming from Cape Town, located just outside of Paarl is the toll booth (1 toll booth for both directions). After the toll, the road starts climbing and arrives first at the Miaspoort viaduct which curves over the valley some hundred meters below. Be very well aware when the South Easter wind is blowing while driving over the bridge especially in high vehicle such as a camper. The surrounding mountains work as a funnel which makes the gusts of the South Easter even stronger on the bridge. After the bridge, the road climbs further into the new Huguenot tunnel. With the steep mountains towering high above, it is a beautiful stretch of highway with amazing scenery to enjoy while driving.
On a certain occasion the South Easter was blowing very strong and coming out of Cape Town with a rental camper van, the people from the toll booth recommended us not to proceed. Small vans had already been blown over in the past and our camper van did not look very stable to a gust of strong wind. Especially because while driving over the bridge the wind takes you completely in the side of your vehicle. We took their advice and had to drive around via the Franschoek pass (even the old Du Toits pass would not have been safe).
Sir Lowry’s Pass
As part of the N2, the Sir Lowry’s pass crosses the Hottentot – Holland mountain range and connects Somerset West with Grabouw. Named after sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, governor of the Cape, the pass was opened in 1830, the budget for building this pass was overspent. In order to make up, the pass initially opened as a toll road.
Even though being a 4 lane road, during the holiday season, expect long traffic jams in and out of Cape Town. It is also a high accident road. Heavy transport passes here to provide deliveries to the coastal towns.
A viewpoint is situated at the summit of 920 meters, overlooking the False Bay area towards Cape Town, with towns such as Somerset West and Strand in the foreground and Table Mountain in the far distance.
At the viewpoint, be aware of baboons who are hanging around in the area looking for an easy lunch, especially if you are planning a picnic on the summit.
When visiting Cape Town by car, try to take at least one of these mountain passes, as it ads something to the experience of your journey to the region.