Four Passes. Through the Cape Winelands | 140km

Four Passes, Cape Winelands.

Sir Lowry's Pass

The route into the Cape interior across the Hottentots Holland Mountains initially followed a game trail known to the Khoikhoi as the Gantouw, a name meaning 'elands' path'. The route, about 2 km northeast of the summit of Sir Lowry's Pass, followed a steep, narrow kloof; the deep ruts carved by the thousands of wagons that crossed the mountain can still be seen in the rocks.

At nearby Kanonkop, the Dutch East India Company sited two cannons to signal the arrival of ships in Table Bay and to warn of impending Khoikhoi attack. The Gantouw was replaced in 1828 by a new route named in honour of Sir Lowry Cole, the Cape Governor at the time. At the top of the pass there is a splendid view over False Bay, to be enjoyed while on a South African holiday.

Hottentots Holland Mountains

The name Hottentots Holland was originally given to the mountainous area between False Bay and the Palmiet River, but in time the whole mountain range came to be known by that name. An entry in Jan van Riebeeck's diary for 6 June 1657 states that the name was given to the area by the Khoikhoi, who called it their Holland, or fatherland. The Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve covers 42 000 ha and provides protection to some 1 300 species of mountain fynbos.

The reserve stretches from Sir Lowry's Pass in the south to the Franschhoek Pass in the north and from the Stellenbosch Mountains in the west to the Groenland Mountains in the east. There are several day walks and overnight trails along which the reserve can be explored.

Grabouw

...is the centre of one of the country's most important apple-producing regions, and is also a major producer of pears, plums and nectarines. Situated on the banks of the Palmiet River in a sheltered valley between the Hottentots Holland and the Groenland mountains, the town developed around a trading store opened by Wilhelm Langschmidt in 1856. He named it Grabau, after his birthplace in Germany.

Elgin

When the railway reached Grabouw in 1902, the station had to be built on more level ground as the gradient above the village was too steep. Land was made available on the farm Glen Elgin (named in honour of the 9th Earl of Elgin, the Colonial Secretary at the time) and the station was named Elgin. In time, the name was also used to refer to the whole valley. The first apples were planted in the area in 1905 by Sir Antonie Viljoen, and today Elgin is famous world-wide for its Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Starking apples.

The story of the apple industry is told in the Elgin Apple Museum (open daily during summer), one of only two apple museums in the world. Several local farm stalls tempt travellers on their South African holiday to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as homemade farm produce.

Viljoen's Pass

After meandering through a mosaic of apple and deciduous fruit orchards, the route reaches Viljoen's Pass. The original pass wound along the mountain slopes east of the river, but was replaced in the early 1900s by a route cutting through the Groenland Mountains along a gorge carved by the Palmiet River. The name of the pass honours local apple pioneer Sir Antonie Viljoen.

Theewaterskloof Dam

...was built along the course of the Riviersonderend in the 1970s, primarily for irrigation, but also to provide water for domestic use to the Cape Town metropolitan area, Stellenbosch and Paarl. Covering an area of approximately 52 km, it is the seventh largest dam in South Africa and has a capacity of 483 million cubic metres. It is linked to the Assegaaibos Dam on the Berg River by a 11,7-km-long tunnel, and by a 20-km-long tunnel to the Jonkershoek Dam.

During the dry summer months, water is pumped from Theewaterskloof through the tunnels into the two dams, and in winter excess water is pumped into Theewaterskloof. The large dam is a popular destination with water-sport enthusiasts on a South African holiday.

Franschhoek Pass

The original route over the Franschhoek Mountains followed the tracks of the San and migratory herds of game - hence the original name of Elephant Pass. It was not until the completion of the Cats Path in 1819 that wagons could make the journey over the mountains. Building of the present pass began in 1823 on the instructions of Lord Charles Somerset and was completed two years later. From the 750-m-high summit there are splendid vistas over the Franschhoek Valley.

Franschhoek

...was established in 1688 when 207 French Huguenots, who had fled France because of religious persecution, arrived at the Cape. The French origins of the town still persist in the surnames of many residents and the distinctly French names of many of the farms in the fertile valley. A prominent landmark on the eastern outskirts of the town is the Huguenot Monument; the three arches symbolise the Trinity, while the figure of a woman, with the Bible in her right hand and a broken chain in her left, represents freedom of religious belief.

The nearby Huguenot Memorial Museum houses exhibits on the history of the Huguenots, and is also a research, information and education centre. Franschhoek is famous for its many fine restaurants offering Cape Huguenot, French, traditional South African and Malay cuisine.

Franschhoek Wine Route

The Huguenots brought with them their extensive knowledge and skills of winemaking, and the fertile Franschhoek Valley 1 became one of the earliest wine-producing regions in the Cape. In 1885, the vineyards were ravaged by an outbreak of phylloxera, and many farmers planted fruit trees instead. Almost a century later, new vineyards were planted and the valley has once again established itself as an important wine-producing region.

Owing to the variations in climate, soil conditions and the location of the farms, the area produces an unusually large variety of wines. The Vignerons de Franschhoek, an association of over 20 wine farms, was formed in 1984 to promote their wines and the valley. Among the well-known wine farms are Boschendal, La Motte, Mont Rochelle, Augusta Wines, Dieu Donné, L'Ormarins and Cabrière Estate.

Boschendal

...with its magnificent setting in the Groot Drakenstein Valley and impressive Cape Dutch manor house - is one of the most famous wine farms in the Cape. The farm dates back to 1685 when it was granted to a French Huguenot, while the U-shaped manor house was completed in 1812. Since the release of the first wines under the Boschendal label in 1976 the estate has established a strong reputation for its white wines, but in recent years more red varietals have been planted.

The museum in the manor house boasts antiques from the 17th and 18th centuries and has a priceless collection of Ming porcelain and Dutch East India Company glassware. Boschendal is famous for its French-style picnics, which can be enjoyed while on your South African holiday, under the fragrant pine trees between November and April.

Pniel

...located at the foot of the Simonsberg along the Dwars River, is a picturesque village set among oak trees, vineyards and orchards. Founded in 1843 as a mission station by the Dutch Reformed Church, the mission was named after the place where Jacob struggled with God (Genesis 32:30).

Helshoogte

At the head of the Banhoek Valley, the Helshoogte Pass winds up to the saddle between the Simonsberg and the Jonkershoek Mountains. Built in 1854 to link Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, Helshoogte means 'hell's heights'. The name is thought to come from the difficulties encountered by ox wagons in negotiating the precipitous route, as well as from the fearsome reputation of the Banhoek Valley, which was believed to be haunted. In the early Settler days, numerous lion and leopard roamed the area, prompting travellers to name it Ban(g)hoek, or 'scary corner'.

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