Friday, June 14, 2024

Du Toitskloof Pass


Newer and faster is not always better. On an Adventure bike especially the long way round is almost always better. That is definitely the case here.

Not that I’m against development and the marvels of engineering but let's start at the beginning.

Between the towns of Paarl and Worcester in the Western Cape of South Africa lies the formidable Du Toitskloof Mountains. A significant barrier between the Cape Winelands and the South African interior. An idea for a tunnel through the Du Toitskloof Mountains was conceived in the 1930s but was put on hold due to the outbreak of World War II. The idea developed into a pass over the mountains, the Du Toitskloof pass, using the labour of Italian prisoners of war between 1942 and 1945.

Plans for a tunnel was never abandoned though and Geological surveys and design started in 1973, and excavation followed in 1984, tunneling from both ends using drilling and blasting. The two drilling heads met with an error of only 3 mm over its entire 3.9 km length. The tunnel was finally opened on 18 March 1988. The tunnel was named after the French Huguenot refugees that settled in the area in the late 1600s with one of the Huguenot refugees being Francois Du Toit, after whom Du Toitskloof was named.

This is what the tunnel looks like from the Northern entrance (Worcester side) traveling towards Paarl / Cape Town.

Photo by Zaian (sourced from Wikipedia)

Riding through a tunnel on a bike sounds like fun and I once rode a Harley Fatboy with Screaming Eagle pipes through the tunnel specifically to hear that glorious Harley sound. It was pure enjoyment... for about 30 seconds. Then the reality of so much traffic and exhaust fumes in a single lane tunnel hit. For the next almost 4 kilometers I was breathing dirty air while crawling along at 80km/h. On average 12,000 vehicles use the tunnel every day with up to 22,500 vehicles using it daily on holidays. You get the idea.

So after I picked up a new Honda CRF1100 Africa Twin in Cape Town and hit he road towards George, ‘n nice 450km ride, the tunnel was never an option. The pass over the mountain it would be and much more fun too!

The tunnel takes the bulk of the traffic away from the pass and on top of that, they are busy with maintenance work, so I encountered very little traffic on the pass on the day.

This is the view of the bridge on the South side of the tunnel as you start ascending the pass:

Vehicles are quite exposed on that bridge and it has happened several times that trucks, trailors and caravans have blown over in heavy wind on that bridge. The tunnel gets closed in such conditions and then all traffic gets diverted over the pass.

Another view of the Southern exit of the tunnel from a little higher up:

The tunnel exits below with the bridge now in the distance.

On a brilliant sunny day, you can see all the way to Paarl rock and even the Afrikaans Language Monument, but it was slightly overcast today.  

 A plaque dedicated to the Italian POWs who helped build the pass.

Ascending to the top of the pass I found myself in the clouds, the mountains and peaks around me totally obscured. The surrounding peaks often sport a covering of snow, and the Mountain Club of South Africa has huts in the area. Du Toits Peak is the highest mountain at 1,995 metres (6,545 ft). The vegetation is almost exclusively montane fynbos of the Cape floristic region I wrote about here.

Suffice to say that if you ever have the opportunity, take the pass. The scenery is totally worth it! (I might add some sunshine pics here in future).

The pass was named after Francois Du Toit, a 17th-century Huguenot refugee and pioneer who settled in the foothills. In 1930, engineer P.A. de Villiers (the Outeniqua Pass between the towns of Oudtshoorn and my hometown George was also receiving the same attention by the same engineer) explored the idea of a road over the pass and in 1938 it was investigated further by the National Roads Board with the route finalised in 1940. The project was started in the summer of 1941/42 and the 40 km long pass was opened in March 1949 by Prime Minister DF Malan.

The pass sports its own 200m tunnel!

The tunnel has a date 1948 and is simply called Du Toitskloof Tunnel, but getting more info on it seems almost impossible as all references lead to the new bigger tunnel.

The other side of the mountain revealed a beautiful sunny day, and the rest of the ride was absolutely glorious. The Africa Twin simply munches the miles in an effortless manner.

Since the CRF1100 launched in 2020 there have been few updates apart from new colours etc with the first biggish update coming in 2024 and mainly on the Adventure Sport model with a smaller front wheel etc. One of the differences between my previous 2021 bike and this 2023 model is the updated DCT programming. Drive mode was all but useless on my 2021 bike and I always rode it in Sport 1. On the 2023 model the Drive mode is actually usable if you are on a leisurely ride, while the sport modes seem to be sportier, but also more intuitive. I ended up riding this in Sport 2 the whole way and it was rather sprightly! Definitely a big improvement – it makes the horns on your head come out end entices you to be naughty. 

I paid for that at the petrol pump in the end but man – what a ride!!!

No comments: