Tulbagh is ideally situated as a base from which to explore our beautiful Valley of Abundance and also the surrounding areas. It is within easy driving distance of the most extraordinary mountain passes in South Africa, most of which are easily driveable by all types of vehicles. In fact, in order to get to our lovely village, you must pass through one or other of them anyway – and why not take a different one on returning? So, if you enjoy incredible views of Nature’s splendour, book a Tulbagh stay without delay!
Looking at a geological map of South Africa, you will notice a dragon’s spine of mountains separate the coastal regions from the interior. About 260 million years ago, collision of the crustal plates covering the earth’s molten core caused horizontal layers of sediment and rock to buckle and tilt, thus creating the mighty ranges of the Cape Fold Belt. One cannot but stand in awe of the power of those tectonic forces, which simultaneously gifted us with kloofs of cathedral-like beauty. Talented engineers took on the challenge to carve roads through them – names such as Andrew & Thomas Bain and Charles Michel resonate down the centuries - whose legacy has not only been to open the hinterland economically but also deliver magnificent passes for the marvelling tourist.
From CapeTown, Tulbagh may be accessed via several different mountain passes:
Approaching via the N7 and then through Malmesbury on the R45/R46, one will pass through the Kasteelberg via the Bothmaskloof dating back all the way to 1661) which offers superb views over the quaint town and vineyards of Riebeeck-Kasteel looking towards the formidable Limietberg range (specifically the Groot Winterhoek mountains, beyond which lies Tulbagh, with the higher Witzenberg behind). Spare a thought for the Voortrekkers of yore – their hearts must have sunk into their velskoene at the very sight!
Further on (and also approaching Tulbagh via Wellington on the R46) one passes through those very mountains via the Nuwekloof. Incidentally, while staying in Tulbagh, do book a tractor-drawn ride up historic Oudekloof to view the monument in the original pass into the valley and the marks made by the ox waggons in the rock – gives one an appreciation of the ease of modern-day motoring…
The even older Roodezand pass once formed the most northerly access through the Winterhoek Mountains from Piketberg to Tulbagh (previously also known as Roodezand - named for the colour of its soil). This old road is still clearly visible from the air, but is no longer publicly accessible – the closest you can get to it is the view of the nek from Oakhurst Olives at the apex of the Tweejongezellen road leading out of Tulbagh, or through a glass of bubbly on the elevated deck of the tasting room at The House of Krone!
To your left are the imposing Saronsberg and to your right the Obiqua (named for the San tribe that lived there since time immemorial). A rough track served the farmers of the Tulbagh valley since the 1760s until the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in the mid-1800s precipitated construction of the old road and ultimately railway access. At that time the Tulbaghkloof pass, as it was then known, was the only access to the interior (excepting the precipitous Sir Lowry’s pass from Somerset West), so it was de facto the N1! The current Nuwekloof road, built on the other side of the Klein Bergrivier, was constructed much later and opened in 1968.
Alternatively you can get to Tulbagh via Bainskloof from Wellington on the R301. Carved through living rock in places, this beautiful winding pass was completed in 1853 by Thomas Bain, thus providing a more direct route to the towns of Ceres and Worcester. The northern section of the pass follows the course of the Witterivier through the Limietberg nature reserve, and in summer it is very pleasant to paddle in its natural rock pools. The summit offers spectacular views of the Swartland over Voelvlei dam.
If you're not in a hurry, yet another delightful route to Tulbagh is via the old Du Toitskloof Pass through the Hawequa mountains (built by Italian POWs during WWII), taking the R101 off the N1 and thus avoiding the newer toll road through the Hugenot Tunnel (constructed in the 1980s). You cannot ask for more dramatic scenery and the views of the Paarl/Wellington valley are simply amazing! Turning off the N1 at Rawsonville (continuation of the R101), one can then turn left again to Slanghoek. Particularly beautiful in autumn, this route meanders gently between the impressive Slanghoek mountains and the smaller Badsberg mountain, showcasing a pastoral landscape of vineyards and fruit farms. It eventually joins the R43 and one heads north and down towards Tulbagh through the equally beautiful Breedekloof valley, flanked by the Elandskloof and Obiqua to the left and the Hexrivier & Mosterdshoek (outside Wolseley) mountains and finally the Witzenberg range to the right.
If you are lucky enough to drive through the valley at sunset, you will witness the sun setting in a blaze of glory over the Obiqua to the west and painting the easterly Witzenberg pink. A certain section of last mentioned are known as the ‘elephant trunks’ (for obvious reasons) – so only in Tulbagh will you get to see pink elephants - with or without the benefit of a glass of local wine!
NB: Avoid using the Slanghoek pass in winter after heavy rain, as the low floodwater bridge is unsafe. It will be cordoned off if flooded, which means one must turn back to Goudini Spa in order to rejoin the R43 between Worcester and Ceres.
Written by Wendy Upcott February 2018
(With acknowledgement to Trygve Roberts for his cyber Mountain Passes of South Africa)