Chantelle and I enjoyed a weekend away in Tulbagh towards the end of last year. We decided to head home via Wellington for a change, and that led to a decision to tackle the rocky Bain’s Kloof Pass, a road that I literally haven’t been on since I was a teenager!
Created in the 1850s, the Bain’s Kloof Pass was built to connect Wellington to Ceres, and like all the well made mountain passes in South Africa, was designed and built by a Bain – though this time around it was father Andrew Geddes Bain as opposed to his more famous road engineer son, Thomas Bain!
The now tarred mountain pass is a national heritage site, and runs for about 20 km as it moves from the Breede River, across the Limiet mountains and along the Witte river.
Popular with hikers due to its isolation, striking scenery and of course many rock pools (perfect for swimming), the mountain pass sees a fair bit of tourist activity, with the popular bush pub at the start of the pass (on the Wolseley side) doing brisk business, particularly with all the bikers that take on the pass’s many dangerous twists and turns!
It is relatively nerve-wracking/exciting pass to drive, thanks to its narrowness, unforgiving stone barricades, and sharp drop-offs, not to mention the numerous twists and turns that seem intent on making any person sitting in the passenger seat rather… uncomfortable.
Chantelle found the drive harrowing, I loved it, and the views afforded from the summit overlooking Wellington are simply put, spectacular.
Well worth tackling if you are in the area then.
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The team behind Mountain Passes South Africa do a fantastic job in detailing the various mountain passes of South Africa, and for Bain’s Kloof Pass they’ve actually filmed a four part series, all of which are well worth the watch if you are interesting in the details and story behind this national heritage site of ours:
Part 1: Orientation and Overview:
Part 2: From Breede River to Tweede Tol:
Part 3: From Tweede Tol to Bain’s Kloof Village
Part 4: From Eerste Tol to Wellington:
Finally, a map in case you want to tackle this hairy pass yourself:
We find ourselves taking the short hop over the mountain to visit the apple rich Grabouw/Elgin area quite often, which of course then means we travel via the N2 national road over Sir Lowry’s Pass and past the Steenbras Dam (Upper) to get there.
On one of my recent expeditions to the area with my girls, I thought it a good opportunity to stop at both the entrance to Steenbras Dam (which is these days sadly closed to the public of course), as well as the Sir Lowry’s Pass view point.
(The girls were of course not impressed with this plan of mine, but I bribed them with the promise of ice cream, so all was good in the end.)
Although still a bit on the low side in terms of water level, thankfully the Steenbras Dam (a reservoir for Cape Town as well as part of a pumped-storage power system) is looking a lot better than what it was just a few short months ago – which is a big relief when you consider just how gloomy the outlook in terms of Cape Town’s water supply for the upcoming season originally was.
(Sure, it’s still not great, but it is a damn sight more positive than the original forecast outlook!)
Anyway, after a couple of minutes of standing next to the car and taking photos of the dam, guarded entrance and pretty tree next to me, I hopped back into the Getz and headed up the road, only to pull off at the Sir Lowry’s Pass view point which is probably only a kilometer or two away from where I had first pulled off the road for the dam.
The girls opted to stay in the car once more, allowing me to take my time strolling around the rather large view point area, happily snapping pictures with my cellphone in pretty much every direction that presented itself to me!
Named after Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, governor of the Cape in 1828, today’s modern and upgraded Sir Lowry’s Pass is essentially a cantilevered four-lane highway which then crosses the Hottentots Holland mountain range between Somerset West and the Elgin Valley.
As you might imagine, the lookout point affords you a spectacular view of the Helderberg basin… not that you would necessarily say that if you have only ever had my not so great cellphone camera photos for reference! ;)
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Lastly, a handy map in case you need a better idea of where this view point actually is:
I’ve mentioned Steenbras Dam on these pages before, formerly the main reservoir for Cape Town and also current source for the Steenbras Power Station (a pumped storage system).
I know that it used to be open to the public back in the day, making for a fantastic fishing and picnic spot for the local Helderberg residents, but has sadly for security reasons and due to vandalism and neglect, it has been closed to public access for a couple of years now.
Thankfully though, the Steenbras Lookout Point has remained open to the public, situated literally in front of the gates of the Steenbras Water Treatment Plant (constructed in 1946).
Once you reach the top of the steep, winding road leading up to the water treatment plant, you park in the parking area in front of the treatment facility’s gate and are immediately rewarded with a great view of False Bay.
However, for the full effect, you need to walk on the narrow path along the fence of the water treatment plant to reach an open lawn that then affords spectacular views of Gordon’s Bay, Strand, and in fact the whole Helderberg region!
Amazingly, neither of my girls appeared worried by the seemingly treacherous path to reach the lookout point, though I must say for the most part I was sticking VERY closely behind!
The reward was however worth it.
Despite the slight haze on the day, the views were amazing, and the girls and I rather enjoyed watching the cars and boats seemingly at play down below. Mountain flowers were starting to bloom and of course, the girls were rather pleased by the fact that every now and then we could see clouds floating by underneath us!
If you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favour and take the quick trip to the top. It is definitely a nice and short, but rather rewarding, little tourist attraction here in Gordon’s Bay.
Oh, and apparently this lookout point gives quite the view come night time – though I suspect I might do that without the little ones also clomping about!
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(Also, as you might have surmised, Chantelle nearly fainted when I eventually showed her the pictures of what the girls and I had gotten up to while she was away at work!)
Here’s a map in case you also want to take in the view:
Related Link: Steenbras Dam
The popular Table Mountain Aerial Cableway company gives South Africans a free cable car ride on their birthday, and although I’ve unsuccessfully tried to take advantage of the offer before in the past, this was the first year where I’ve finally been able to go up the mountain on my birthday – and what a great trip it was!
Traditionally, Touchwork gives us the day off on our birthday, and so roping Chantelle along (she was working an afternoon shift on the day), we dropped the kids off and then headed out to Cape Town, with the trip through to the mountain going surprisingly fast (we were expecting loads more traffic).
The mountain itself was however a different story – despite it being a Wednesday morning, there were loads of tourist buses dropping people off, and after eventually finding a spot to park (behind a bus), Chantelle and I strolled down to the Lower Cableway Station and joined the queue – a waiting process that would last a good hour and a half in the end!
Eventually, our turn to board the Visa branded cable car arrived, and with each and every ticket scanner having happily proclaimed “Happy Birthday Craig” as we passed through, I climbed into the car grinning like a complete idiot.
This was my first time ever using the revolving cars (the last time I took the cable car was back as a kid – I’m reasonably sure of this), and I have to say, gimmick or not, I quite enjoyed this little trick up the rather impressive cart’s sleeve.
(That said, the cable car ride itself is of course ridiculously short, so there isn’t all that much time to admire things, revolving or not – so completely unlike 2014’s longer and thus slightly more enjoyable ropeway ascension in Komagatake that I did with Ryan.)
As luck would have it, it was an absolutely beautiful day at the top of the mountain, sunny skies, no wind, minimal cloud cover and thus great visibility – meaning that one could take their sweet time strolling around the tourist paths and admiring all the stunning views at whatever pace suited them best.
(It’s been a while since I’ve been up the mountain, and although ascending the mountain in this manner and this particular tourist friendly part of the mountain is not the greatest, it still remains a pretty awesome experience in terms of sights to be had!)
Chantelle was pretty keen (read: hungry) on eating something, so we headed over to the Table Mountain Cafe, ordered what on the menu reads “Ostrich Subs”, but is in reality a ostrich boerewors roll, and grabbed one of the outdoor tables that were open – quite surprising considering the amount of tourists milling about on the top!
Unfortunately we couldn’t spend too long up on the mountain because unlike me, Chantelle actually needed to go into work, but I was fortunate enough to catch two dueling birds of prey before going down – which I thought was a pretty good birthday present to myself!
The cable car ride down was smooth (with our enjoyable cable car ‘conductor’ putting on a great show in the process), and finally, the drive back to Gordon’s Bay went without incident.
In other words, it was a pretty good birthday outing!
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Related Link: Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
Continuing the trend of this being the year of weekends away as a result of my lack of mobility throughout December and January (February was Jacobsbaai, and March was Mossel Bay), April saw us head out to Warmwaterberg Spa near Barrydale – one of the oldest hot spring resorts in South Africa!
For us, the best route to get there is the N2 and then cut across the R324 to hit the R62 – in other words, we get to cross the magnificent Tradouw’s Pass in the process!
Originally opened in 1873 and built by the famous South African road and pass builder Thomas Bain, the Tradouw Pass (which more or less means Women’s Path in Khoi) is a 17 kilometer mountain drive through the rugged Langeberg region. It connects Swellendam with Suurbraak and Barrydale, and is by far one of the top tarred passes in the Western Cape in terms of beauty and engineering.
The road offers spectacular views of the surrounding areas, and numerous lookout points have been added over the years to make the most of this.
That said, this route has suffered severe flood damage in its 130+ years of existence, with several rebuilds occurring during its lifetime. 1974 was one of the big ones, with the pass being almost completely rebuilt, widened in places and a couple of hairpin bends removed for good measure. It was also completely tarred in the process, and to add an element of landscaping to the project, 4000 aloes and 2500 indigenous trees and shrubs were also planted!
Mountain Passes South Africa has a great informational video showing off the pass and its story up on their website:
Naturally, we stopped at more than just one lookout point to admire the view (and take a few phone camera snaps!) – after all, the last time that we tackled this pass was literally at the dead of night!
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Related Link: Tradouw’s Pass
Our two week long Japanese sightseeing trip was rapidly coming to an end now. With one day to go to the big day of Yuko and Terrance’s wedding, Ryan and I decided to spend our last day as tourists by taking the Komagatake Ropeway up the local mountain and see a bit of the famous Chuo Alps.
To get there we first needed to navigate from Ina to Komagane via train, slightly trickier than in the big cities because out here no English language signage is available.
Nevertheless, we managed easily enough (really, it’s essential to hire a data modem for the duration of your trip – an invaluable tool in this day and age!), and once in Komagane, we made our way up to the bus station where we were able to procure our tickets (an expensive outing mind you) up to the cableway station without too many hiccups.
First opened in 1967 (refurbished in 2014 – lucky us, best timing ever!), the Komagatake Ropeway was Japan’s first ever mountain ropeway, and climbs Mount Kisokoma, running up to the Senjojiki Cirque which is directly below Mount Hokendake.
Its summit station is noted as being the highest in terms of altitude cableway station in the country, coming in at an altitude of 2,611.5 m.
(In other words, the views of the Chuo Alps are simply beyond spectacular!)
Autumn was starting to hit its stride, meaning that the scenic forests on the way up were all starting to turn various shades of orange and red, making for a fiery spectacle on the way up, whilst at the top the landscape was a lot more barren, with loads of beautifully fragile Japanese mountain foliage on display.
Of course, that high up the air was pretty crisp and very cold – not that it bothered us South African blokes mind you – shorts and t-shirts all the way! (Much to the amusement of the other mountain travelers in case you were wondering!)
An absolute treat of an excursion and definitely a recommended pit-stop if you ever find yourself travelling through the Kiso Valley and Komagane in particular!
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Oh, and of course, Ryan’s stuffed pig got his photo taken as well:
Related Link: Komagatake Ropeway