When it comes to driving sportscars, supercars, or superbikes, there are few things I enjoy more than heading to my favourite mountain pass.
Living in the Western Cape, and making use of every opportunity to sample a new pass, I’ve taken the liberty of rating my favourites.
1. Helshoogte Pass, Western Cape
Location: Outside Stellenbosch on the way to Franschhoek.
Why: Like several Western Cape mountain passes, it features super-smooth tarmac. It has two fast corners, the rest being medium to fast. It is around 5 km in length but is perfect for fast cars and especially motorcycles. Because of its proximity to Cape Town it provides a perfect doorway to some of the other passes mentioned below.
Type of car: A Clio RS might feel slightly undercooked here, but pretty much anything that offers good power, ranging from a Golf GTI to a Porsche 911.
2. Garcia Pass, Western Cape
Location: Head north from Riversdale on the R323.
Why: Mainly the landscape. I discovered this road in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and the scenery was so gobsmackingly beautiful that I focused more on the landscape than the car. Mostly fast corners and surface is reasonably clean too.
Type of car: Anything really, the last time I did it at 100 km/h in Ian McLaren’s Volvo V60 estate (hang on a second… – Ian).
3. R44, Western Cape
Location: Linking Gordons Bay and Rooi Els.
Why: Drive it first and then you tell me! This world-renowned road was used for the international launch of the Mercedes McLaren SLR. Not only is the tarmac some of the best we have but it has several challenging corners – with little room for error.
Type of car: Smaller cars are actually best. I took the SLS AMG Roadster there and although that wonderful exhaust and engine note bounced of the rock faces, this wide car filled the road. Think hot hatches, motorcycles or something like a Lotus Exige. (My best run was an early-morning dash in a 1998 Honda VTEC Sport – Ian.)
4. R40 outside Baberton, Mpumalanga
Location: From Baberton you head towards the Swaziland’s border.
Why: View from the top and length of the road.
Type of car: I’ve only been on this pass in a Mark 2 997 Porsche 911 Turbo and I have to say that is suited the road perfectly. But I also know someone who drives his Lotus Elise 111R up there regularly and has an absolute ball. Surface was okay, although the road needed some resurfacing in some places.
5. Vanrhyns Pass, R27, Northern Cape
Location: 6 km before you enter Niewoudtville.
Why: Experience the vastness of our country. The surface isn’t great so avoid with a superbike (as I discovered the hard way) but, if in the area, make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to sample this beautiful stretch of road.
Type of car: Any really but the harder the suspension the less fun you will have.
6. Du Toitskloof Pass, Western Cape
Location: Off the N1, 40 km before Worcester as you head north. Alternate route to the Huguenot Tunnel
Why: A long mountain pass that climbs high before diving down into the valley. Like Vanrhyns, the surface, especially through the corners, isn’t great, and there are plenty of trucks that use it to avoid the toll. Early morning is best and the view from the top over the Cape is definitely worth a stop.
Type of car: Anything.
7. Franschhoek Pass, Western Cape
Location: Heading north from Franschhoek.
Why: Why not? It’s smooth, long, and offers a variety of corners. In some places it is downright scary. Be wary of other traffic though.
Type of car: Enough fast and slow corners to cater for all type of cars/bikes.
8. Bainskloof Pass, Western Cape
Location: Leave Wellington on the R301, heading towards the mountain.
Why: Feels as though it goes on forever. Also, you feel like you could be anywhere in Europe. It’s tight and extremely bumpy, but the view is spectacular.
Type of car: Any small SUV (no, really).
9. Michell’s Pass/Ceres Road, Western Cape
Location: Heading into Ceres on the R46
Why: Fast, flowing corners and remember to stop at the Tolhuis Restaurant for a drink. Combine it with Bainskloof Pass or Gydo Pass.
Type of car: Any.
10. Name: Gydo Pass, Western Cape
Location: Head north from Ceres on the R303.
Why: Once used for an annual hillclimb, the surface is fairly good with a variety of different corners.
Type of car: Suitable for any car.
11. Outeniqua Pass, Western Cape
Location: Outside George, heading towards Oudtshoorn
Why: Fast and wide. Experience the green coastal region of George and the warmer climate of the Karoo within half an hour, while heading inland. Surface is also quite good.
Type of car: Any. Renault used this pass a few years ago and the Renault Clio RS and Mégane RS both felt at home.
What is your favourite mountain pass and why?