Cape Town  - Tsitsikamma

Tsitsikamma Mountain Passes

 Lagoon at Nature's valley

Lagoon at Nature's Valley

In the old days travelling through South Africa and especially along the Garden Route used to be really interesting. People had older type cars which struggled up hills and ran away downhill as brakes overheated on the steep slopes. In the mountainous terrain through the Tsitsikamma some of the old mountain passes were a nightmare for drivers.

The roads through the mountains have some really scary hairpin bends and are really steep with sheer drops into deep ravines covered with indigenous bush and trees. Go over the side in one of these passes and not only do you have a long drop but it could be really difficult to rescue you..

  Low water bridge Bloukrans River

The low water bridge over the Bloukrans River with the encroaching forests

The first pass we come across while travelling eastwards from Plettenberg Bay is the Groot River Pass. To find this pass one turns off the N2 highway to Nature's Valley just before the toll road through the Tsitsikamma. The road runs through farmlands and then into the open countryside along the high slopes above the Groot River.


Some of the fynbos on the approach to the Groot River pass

In this area, on either side of the road you will find the indigenous bush or fynbos that South Africa's Floral Kingdom is well known for. The roads along this section of the drive give you no warning of what is to come. Suddenly, after driving along the top of the hillside with beautiful views the road takes a 90 degree bend and drops away at an alarming rate down into the valley. On either side of the road hundreds of South Africa's indigenous trees still grow wild as they did back way back in the 1650's when the Dutch arrived in Cape Town.

The trees growing in this area used to cover large tracts of the Western Cape but as the Dutch colonists and later the British only had profit in mind much of the indigenous forests were chopped down and sold for profit. The first forest to disappear was the one found in Hout Bay as the demand for timber increased in the Cape. As the colonists moved further afield the forests in the Tsitsikamma area were discovered and shortly afterwards the rape of the forests began.

Consequently, today there is only about 5% of the original forests that were here in the 1600's left. Most of the remaining forests are found in the Tsitsikamma area and some of the passes mentioned in this article run through them.

   Natures Valley Lagoon

Nature's Valley lagoon

After making our way down the Groot River pass we come across the lovely little village of Nature's Valley nestled away amongst the trees at the bottom of the valley. It has some spectacular beaches and a lagoon which forms part of the Groot river estuary. The estuary which forms the eastern boundary of the village functions as a partially open system where periods of tidal interchange alternate with periods of no interchange and causes the salinity of the water to vary widely. Every now and again the mouth of the estuary closes and then flooding of the village occurs. When flooding occurs humans intervene and open the mouth of the river to release some of the flood waters.

This of course has a detrimental effect on the mouth as scouring of sediments is optimal when breaching takes place naturally and especially if breaching coincides with flooding.

After leaving Nature's Valley we cross a low level bridge across the river and make our way up the other side of the Groot River pass along the road that leads us to the east and the Bloukrans River pass. Today just a few kilometres to the north of the low level bridge crossing the Groot River is a spectacular road bridge spanning the gorge through which the river runs.

   Bloukrans bridge from the old mountain pass

Bloukrans bridge photographed from the old mountain pass
(see the bungy ropes hanging from the centre of the bridge)

After crossing the N2 highway and toll road we come to the Bloukrans Pass which is just as spectacular with steep ravines covered with indigenous trees and hairpin bends as the Groot River pass is. Unfortunately the passes are not as well maintained as they used to be and are often closed due to rockfalls, especially during the winter months when it rains in the area. When driving through these passes with our modern cars one can just imagine the struggles of the settlers who negotiated these mountains with their oxwagons and horses during the 1700's and 1800's before motorised vehicles were introduced.

Today, because of the pace of modern life man does not want the uncertainty of roads that might be closed and of course slow one's speed down, so they have built a modern highway and toll road through the Tsitsikamma which cuts out travelling through the old passes. Along the route of the new highway were a number of large ravines and valleys cut through the escarpment by the rivers and these caused the engineers many headaches when they were constructing the toll road. They however came up with some spectacular bridges which now span the valleys along the route.

Three major bridges had to be built along the route and the most spectacular of them is the Bloukrans River bridge which has a length of 451 metres and is 216 metres above the valley floor. It has an arch supporting the bridge and this arch has become the focal point of bungy jumpers who want to leap from the highest commercial bungy jumping platform in the world. Just to walk out onto the arch of the bridge is scary stuff but to don the bungy ropes and leap off the side of the bridge is pure madness in my estimation.

Adrenalin junkies obviously think otherwise as many thousands of them have taken the risk and jumped off the bridge. For the not so brave or stupid there is a rest area where one can view the bridge and watch the people jumping off the bridge.

Leaving the Bloukrans River bridge we make our way to the Storms river where today another spectacular arch bridge crosses the river.

   Storms River mouth

Storms River Mouth

The old pass with its low level bridge at the bottom of the valley still exists but these days this pass is closed to traffic. People however still use the old road to get to the river where they launch their inner tubes on which they ride the river and its rapids through the deep ravines and valleys to the sea.

The Tsitsikamma is one of the most spectacular areas to visit along the Garden Route and as you can see has much to offer visitors. Not only is there the extreme sport mentioned above but also many other activities which familes can enjoy. For hikers there are trails such as the famous Otter Trail and for those who just want to lie in the sun and tan there are the beaches with their beautiful golden sands and warm water.

It is to this coastline that our Garden Route tours take you.

Why not book your vacation and tour today.

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Cape Town - Tsitsikamma mountain passes