Dacres Pulpit
Dacres Pulpit - Photo: Karel Stone

The Bain's Kloof Pass (R301) provided a more direct route from the town of Wellington to the more northern towns of Ceres and Worcester, in the Western Cape. It was a much loved route by the wagoneers who appreciated the gentle gradients that the oxwagons could manage. It remained the main road to the north for almost a hundred years, before the Du Toits Kloof Pass was constructed from 1940 till 1946.

It is 26,8 km in length from the bridge over the Breede River to the outskirts of Wellington. Built circa 1849 by Andrew Geddes Bain, this pass was a tough nut to crack, working with convicts and raw, rough materials and methods. As always seemed to be the case with Bain, he oversaw a marvellous job of the pass which, having stood the test of time, is now a national monument.

The more dramatic, northern section of the pass roughly follows the course of the Witte River, a raging torrent during the wet winter season. There are many points of interest along the pass including the two toll points (Eerste & Tweede Tol), Dacre's Pulpit, Bell Rocks, Pilkington bridge, Borcherd's bridge, Gawie se Water, Bain's Ruins and Bain's Tunnel.

Editors Note: This page is currently under reconstruction. The new four part video series will be uploaded between Oct 29th and Nov 7th, 2022.

Part 1 Video (Orientation; Overview; Northern start to Tweede Tol)

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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. This phenomenon is particularly exaggerated in the case of this pass.


Digging into the details:

Getting there: We filmed the pass from north to south for maximum scenic value. From the junction of the R43 and the R301, head south onto the R301 and cross the Breede River via the single lane concrete Darling bridge, which is showing signs of wear and tear. The first 4 kilometers head in a south westerly direction over an easy gradient, adjacent to the flood plain of the Witrivier (White River). The Limietberge loom majestically to the right whilst the Lategansberg takes sentinel on the left. The valley progressively closes in and both the road and river are forced into closer company. For those seeking refreshment, there is a popular bush pub on the right hand side of the road toward the northern end of the pass.

This part of the road forms the south-eastern border of the little known Mount Bain Nature Reserve. A second nature reserve appears in short order - this is the Steenbok Park Nature Reserve. This part of the pass allows for slightly higher speeds and the road has fewer bends as it heads towards a gap in the mountains. This section is much more of a poort than a pass as the road essentially follows the course of the river.

The mountains close in quickly and the twists and turns in the road become sharper and more frequent. Please don't use this road if you are in a hurry. It's an old road built for ox wagons and was never designed for speed. Drive slowly and enjoy the incredible scenery - this is one of the Western Cape's top passes.

There are two small laybyes on the left, which can accommodate three or four cars. As Tweede Tol campsite limit the number of day visitors to 120, there is always demand for river access by those that arrive late. It is common to find parked vehicles at these spots that encroach partially onto the roadway (illegally). It creates a dangerous situation as the road is narrow. Add to that the laybyes are on blind corners, which means a head on collision can easily occur. Be particularly careful and slow right down if thereare vehicles parked there.

The road curves sharply to the right skirting a buttress and a small weir can be seen in the river below to your left. The water quality is exceptionally high. A small arched bridge follows a sharp left hand turn, as the road crosses a side stream at its confluence with the Witte River. This is Borcherd's Bridge and is beautifully built. The only way to see and photograph the stonework under the bridge is to access the campsite and take the short walk under the bridge. This stream bisects the Wolvekloof, which is part of the Limietberg Nature Reserve.

The three day Limietberg Hiking Trail descends down this kloof and terminates at the camp site next to the river, called Tweede Tol. This translates into Second Toll and this was the exact spot of the second toll point on the original road, with Eerste Tol (First Toll) being at the summit village (Bain's Kloof Village).

Today Tweede Tol is a lovely oasis offering camping and some of the best rock pools in South Africa. It gets quite busy in the summer months and is a popular day spot with locals. Get there early!

 

Part 2 Video: From the Tweede Toll ascending to Eerste Tol

 

 



The real climbing begins after Tweede Tol as the gorge narrows even more. The corners along the next 7,5 km are very tight and dangerous. There are 101 bends, curves and sharp corners along this section, rising 286 vertical metres producing an average climb gradient of 1:26 which is comfortable - even for cyclists. This section is by far the most dramatic of the pass and presents countless photographic opportunities.

Next the road crosses under a precariously balanced overhanging rock called Dacres Pulpit (featured on our cover photo). There is a height restriction, which keeps heavy trucks and busses off the pass. At both ends of the pass overhead booms with chains will indicate whether your vehicle will make it under the rock or not. 

Here's a short drone based video produced in January, 2023

 

The drop offs to the left are near vertical and the only protection is a row of large spaced rocks as can be seen in the video. The next landmark is the Pilkington Bridge, which straddles a very powerful side stream. This has been dammed and a clever overflow culvert designed to prevent damage to the roadway. The bridge is tucked into a tight corner.

The Bell Rocks can be seen near the upper section of the mountain on your left and to your right the Limietkop towers up to height of 1174m

The road curves to the right to cross another small bridge. If you look up to your left, you will see some unusual rock formations - these are the Montagu Rocks. Around the corner on your left, another deep side gorge comes into view. This is the Bobbejaansrivier Kloof. There is a hiking trail (a fairly tough one) that you can follow all the way to a series of waterfalls at the head of the ravine. Just to the left at the top of the ravine is a peak known as Observation Peak. The whole mountain from Tweede Tol to the summit is the Slanghoek Mountain Range and the tallest peak at the top of the Bobbejaansrivier ravine is paradoxically called Kortberg (Short Mountain) [1497m]

Some of the beautiful rock formations have been defaced by grafitti - although grafitti is meant to be an art form and painting your name on a rock does not constitute art. It's nothing more than a self indulgent, immature act of criminality. Defacing of a national monument is a criminal offence and if you're caught the penalties are severe. 

Driving the pass in winter is the best when the fynbos shows off its colours and the rivers run white with rishing water. 

Within the next 500 meters, the road reaches its maximum altitude of 586m ASL and levels off before dropping slightly into Bains Kloof Village. Stop and explore the serenity and peace of this mountain top village. Mountain fires are a big issue here and many homes have been razed to the ground over the years.

Watch a short tour through Bain's Kloof Village which includes the Bain memorial plaques and the views over Groenberg to the south-west:

[Video cover photo of Groenberg and the Wellington Valley by Trygve Roberts]

 

Part 3 Video: Eerste Tol to Bain's Tunnel

 



This was Bain's original work site for the duration of the construction of the pass and housed a school, a hospital and stores. There are a few convict graves on the village, if you can find them. These were convicts that died during the building of the road.

Just after the village is a small area where you can park and walk over the road to the viewsite. Here you can look to the west over the indescribably beautiful Groenberg and the valleys spread out below you in a vast tapestry of forestry, fields and orchards.

The first two kilometers of the descent towards Wellington takes on a southerly heading. Above you on your left are two domnant peaks - the smaller is Deviation Buttress [1239m] and the second, higher one is Klein Wellington-Sneeukop [1597m]. A little further to the south-east is the Groot Wellington-Sneeukop [1685m]. At the bottom of this long descent the road turns sharply towards the west. A strong stream flows under the road here and is labelled "Gawie se Water".

Part 4 Video: Bains Tunnel to Wellington 

  



In the 1800's farmers in the valley needed a reliable supply of water. They dug a furrow and diverted a portion of the Witte River which runs under the road at the sign marked as Gawie se Water. It has remained as such for over 120 years. If you are cycling up the pass, this is a good place to top up water bottles with clean mountain water.

The next 8 kms of the descent is peppered with sharp corners and steep gradients. There are 39 corners in total of which 4 are hairpins. Look out for a small sign "Bain's Tunnel".

There is space to park your car, but the entrance and access to the tunnel is badly overgrown. If you find the tunnel, you will be witnessing the attempt by Bain to make the pass shorter by boring through this nose in the mountain. The tunnel kept collapsing, until he abandoned the idea altogether. What you see is the remains of both the western and eastern portal attempts.

Finally the corners come to an end and the road straightens out and levels off a bit at the crossing the Leeutuinsrivier, next to the Suiderkruis and Antoniesveli camp sites. Another steep, but straight descent follows through rows of tall bluegum trees, then curves past a well known local winery, before descending finally past a farm dam. The town of Wellington lies another 2 kms down the road.

The Western Cape's magnificently unique and world-famous fynbos cloaks the majestic Boland mountain slopes -- the perfect backdrop for sweetly shy little klipspringer deer ('rock hopper') and the beautiful Cape sugarbird. The abundant wildlife that can be spotted - some more easily than others - include dassies, baboons, mongoose, porcupine and, the rare caracal or leopard. Birdspotters? Bring your camers, tripods and binoculars! Quiet patience will reward you with sightings of kites, black eagle, owls and the protea canary.

Activities abound for the adventurous - with the area being most famous for its excellent hiking trails. Swimming and cycling are also very popular with tranquil, crystal-clear (and icy!) rock pools and rivers.

And for those with a penchant for something more cultural and slow, a number of the Cape's most prestigious wine farms offer beautiful views, and wines that sing of the warm Cape sun and crisp mountain air!


Fact File:

GPS START 

S33.520165 E19.185615

GPS SUMMIT

S33.611912 E19.104491

GPS END 

S33.638722 E19.021220

AVE GRADIENT

1:63

MAX GRADIENT

1:5

ELEVATION START

235m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

594m

ELEVATION END

137m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

457m

DISTANCE

28,6 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

South

TIME REQUIRED

50 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

40 - 80 kph

SURFACE

Tar (Sub standard)

DATE FILMED

03.01.2016

TEMPERATURE

28C

NEAREST TOWN

Wellington (25km)


Route Map:

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Route files:

||Click to download: Bainskloof Pass (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)