Rooihoogte Pass (R318)

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Mr. Burger's bluegum trees at the viewsite Mr. Burger's bluegum trees at the viewsite - Photo: Gerhard Marx

Over a distance of 7.6 km, the tarred Rooihoogte Pass loses/gains 370m of altitude, with a comfortable gradient of 1/20. The views out over the Koo Valley are refreshingly reminiscent of a patchwork in 'greens of fruit farms' -- a rejuvenating sight for the urban escapee! (Literally a stone's throw along the same road is Burgers Pass, formerly known as Koo Pass.) Both of these passes were designed by master road engineer, Thomas Bain in 1877. The Rooihoogte Pass was originally known as Thomson's Pass and together with the Koo pass, both received name changes in the 1940's. The pass was completed in 1877. This is reputed to be the pass with the highest summit altitude in the Western Cape.

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Digging into the details:

Getting there: Head west out of Montagu on the tarred R381 for 30 km and ascend the Burgers Pass. Continue for a further 20 km to arrive at the southern start of the Rooihoogte Pass.

This pass is inextricably linked to Burger's Pass (Koo Pass) as well as with Cogmanskloof to the south of Montagu. Thomas Bain designed and supervised the construction of all three during 1877. The two passes of Burger's and Rooihoogte climb out of the Koo Valley over the Waboomsberge to summit on the plateau of the Nouga Hills.

P.M.Burger's map of the pass and the old passesP.M.Burger's handdrawn map showing all four passes / Courtesy: T.MurrayHistory tells us that at least two earlier passes traversed these mountains before Thomas Bain cast his "theodolite eye" over the lndscape. The earliest pass may have been built as a co-operative venture by the first farmers that settled the Koo valley between 1730 and 1740. This pass was known as the Eselsgal Pass (for the steepness of its gradients and the displeasure it gave the mules) and existed as far back as 1800. Wagons had to be half unloaded and needed to return to the bottom to haul the second half of the cargo up. The gradients were steeper than 1:5!
Surprisingly, the 200 year old road is still in reasonable shape, despite being covered by Waboom bushes (Protea Nitida) with some neat stonework still evident.

Thomas Bain's road took a far easier line which was well to the west of the Eselsgal route.

Bain's meticulous dressed stone walls can still be seen below and to the south-west of the current road. The Bain pass was opened on 11th November, 1877 - a date which was commerorated for many years thereafter in the form of a traditional Koo Picnic.

Snow at the summitSnow near the summit looking west at Matroosberg / Photo: Mauritzg In 1919 a Mr. P. Ravenscroft built a third route over the mountains on a route very close to the current pass. Eager to have his name remembered in posterity, he carved his famly crest into a rock, which still exists today.

This gravel road was used by farmers to transport apples and pears to Matroosberg station - the trip taking two full days.

The modern tarred road (R318) was completed in 1967. With a summit altitude of 1244m ASL, it makes this the highest of the Western Cape passes. Similar to the Outeniqua Pass near George, this is one of only two passes in South Africa, where four passes can be seen simultaneously.

The pass was originally named Thomson's Pass after Mr. J. de W.Thomson, who was the MPC for Swellendam and the MEC for roads until 1968. He was remembered for his great endeavours towards improvements to the pass. The pass has now reverted to its old name of Rooihoogte, despite the fact that another Rooihoogte Pass exists between Villiersdorp and Worcester; not to mention a plethora of similarly named passes and poorts in South Africa. History has a way of repeating itself and the renaming of places for political reasons happened then and is doing so again right now, depending on who is in power. 

Rooihoogte PassGreat views and a safe pass, but no safety shoulders / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe pass starts at its southern end at a small river and heads west, whilst steadily gaining altitude. After 2 kms it goes through a long, but persistent wide right hand horseshoe bend of almost 180 degrees, turning back on itself but at a higher altitude.

It then turns into the north east and commences a long and stiff climb. The total altitude gain over the 7,6 km is 375 vertical meters, producing an easy average gradient of 1:25 which is very comfortable.

Soon you pass through the 1000m altitude mark and the road climbs even more to summit at 1244m ASL near an unattractive concrete microwave tower,  unable to mar the serene beauty of this pass's surrounding vistas of rolling farmlands and rocky mountains. From the summit one can see Matroosberg peak to the west which is frequently snow capped during the winter months.

Our measurement of the summit altitude is 10m higher than the official sign board - a fairly common phenomenon, as in those days, altitudes were measured based on trigonometric beacons using mathematical calculations as opposed to using a GPS and Google earth in modern times.

Some of the best rock-climbing is to be had in Montagu, with a diverse range of crags for both novices and experts alike.

[Credits and Sources: Dr. Graham Ross; Patricia Storrar; Patrick Coyne; Tony Murray]

Fact File:


S33.630389 E19.826707


S33.605934 E19.849288


S33.605934 E19.849288














7,6 km




10 minutes


80 - 100 kph


Tar R318






Montagu (50km)

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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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