Michells Pass (R46), Ceres

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Michells Pass circa 1930 Michells Pass circa 1930 - Photo: Ceres Museum

Michells Pass (frequently misspelt as Mitchells Pass) was named after Charles Michell who planned the original route through the Skurweberg & Witzenberg Mountains from Tulbagh and Wolseley through to Ceres. He was a talented military engineer, who perhaps gained more fame for his exploits by eloping with the 15 year old daughter of a French colonel. This might explain why he was "transferred" to the Cape of Goof Hope! Michell went on to build several prominent Cape passes and was a major influence in road construction in the Cape.

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Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

Digging into the details:

The pass was deemed to have significant financial importance to the region as it opened up a decent trading route to the Warm & Koue Bokkeveld farming areas, cutting off some 150 kms of the alternative route to Ceres. The pass was completed in two years and built by none other than Andrew Geddes Bain circa 1848. The pass was widened and concreted in 1938 just before WW2 (due to a shortage of asphalt), but closed in 1969 when an earthquake shook the area and caused serious rockfalls. It was given a complete revamp in the same year, utilising sections of the original Bain construction and drywall supports. These remains have been declared a national monument in 1998.

The pass carries considerable traffic, but due to the excellent engineering of the last rebuilt, the road is now much safer with double lanes in several places. There are however, still some surprisingly sharp corners and very steep gradients to contend with. There is a bend near the bottom of the pass at the southern end which curls through almost 90 degrees. Just after the old toll house, the gradient increases to 1:5 as the road crosses the railway line. It then eases off again to around 1:9

The scenery is rugged and spectacular and during the winter months the surrounding peaks are frequently covered in snow. When the snow comes, so do the crowds. We offer some sage advice on snow spotting. Weekends are the worst time to go, as the roads can sometimes get grid-locked resulting in traffic backing up all the way to the bottom of the Michells Pass. If you can, rather visit during the week. If a weekend is your only option, then get out of the city by 7am and get to Ceres by 8.30 am or earlier. The best place to get into the snow, if you dont drive a 4WD vehicle, is at the Klondyke Cherry farm or Matroosberg. These farms can be accessed via the Swaarmoed Pass north of Ceres (available on this website). The Theronsberg Pass also gets plenty of snow, but access to the snow is a little more difficult. Try and get out of the area before 11.30 am to avoid the crush.
Ou Tolhuis

Left - Visit the Ou Tolhuis halfway up the pass / Photo: Panoramio

It is a comfortable gradient to drive up, except for the steep bit over the railway line. The Old Toll House, halfway up the pass, is worth stopping at where refreshments are available. Further up the pass there is a large view site on the right, where one gets a good view of the waterfall at the head of the Dwarsrivier, which can be breathtakingly dramatic in the rainy season. If you're lucky, you may catch an exciting glimpse of a kayaker shooting the falls. Just above the waterfall and to the west side, the railway line (now fallen into disuse) disappears into a tunnel.

Watch a short video below of the lovely waterfall near the top of the pass, which many people are not aware of. It can be seen from the last two view-sites on the right hand side of the road on the ascent (heading north). 



S33.420136 E19.265928


S33.378788 E19.296601


S33.374997 E19.299158


















10 minutes


60 - 80 kph








Ceres (10km)


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Mountain Passes South Africa

Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.

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