Cape Town - Were you captivated the by intro of the classic film The Italian Job (1969) where a Lamborghini Miura cruises along the Italian Alps, before regrettably crashing into a lurking bulldozer?
Or perhaps you imagine yourself as James Bond in an Aston Martin DB5, racing sexy Russian agent Onatopp on a mountain pass high above Monte Carlo.
We may not have the Alps in South Africa but we do have a number of epic mountain passes with glorious views and tight curves.
Top five passes
Here are our five top mountain passes that’ll put you in the driver seat of your favourite action movie.
Note: To be eligible for this list passes had to begin and end within South Africa and the drive must last long enough to listen through On days Like These by Matt Monroe as featured during the opening credits of The Italian Job at least once (3 minutes 37 seconds).
5. Bainskloof Pass (R301), Western Cape
Image: Cyril Klopper
Length: 27.5 km
At first glance the nearby Du Toitskloof Pass with its smoother road surface and fast corners seems like a better candidate but bumpy, old school Bainskloof is both more challenging and rewarding.
Certainly less suited to a Lamborghini Aventador than a BMW Z3, this pass requires your full attention – particularly on the western section near the summit.
Sights: Stop at Boland Cellars at the eastern end of the pass for a case of local wine. There are a few lay-byes to pull over and appreciate the view but you’ll mostly be focussed on the road. Those of you with a morbid sense of humour will smirk at the telltale skid marks that disappear over the edge of the cliffs.
4. Franschhoek Pass (R45), Western Cape
Length: 23.9 km
This pass is a favourite among motoring photographers. The scenery resembles the Pyrenees in eternal summer (in the north) to the Scottish moors (in the south). The road surface is pristine and if you pick your line right the cambers provide extra security. Don’t be too unperturbed though; many a motorcyclist has plunged off the mountainside to their doom. One 180-degree hairpin is particularly tricky and should be handled with respect.
Sights: The view over the Franschhoek Valley makes you want to sell your house in the city and move here instead, but it is the other side of the mountain which got Franschhoek Pass onto this list. The long curves through natural fynbos and the expanse of the Theewaterskloof Dam is breathtaking.
3. Long Tom Pass (R37), Mpumalanga
Image: Cobus van der Merwe
Length: 47.6 km
Arguably the greatest pass of the north, certainly the best in Mpumalanga. A series of S-bends and long curves, some a full 180 degrees, make it a delight to drive in a bruiser such as a Ford Mustang.
It is a favourite haunt for traffic officials who make a killing thanks to the relatively conservative 70km/h speed limit – be on the lookout. The steepest section has a 1:5 gradient which provides a satisfying climb up the Drakensberg escarpment, and the scenery is equally pleasing when it is cloaked in green.
Sights: An obligatory stop is the titular canon at the summit. You should also keep an eye out for the nearby Whiskey Creek Waterfall in the rainy season.
More into dirt? Check out our top 5 gravel passes.
2. Chapman’s Peak Drive (M6), Western Cape
With half a dozen hairpins, roughly 40 turns and an avalanche tunnel, is it any surprise that this pass made the list? It narrowly missed out of the top spot because of one small problem: Occasional rock-falls lead to long road closures.
You can count yourself lucky if the road is open and when it is the throng of sightseers can be frustrating, plus it has a toll gate. Other than that the pass is amazing and must be experienced at least once in an AC Cobra.
Sights: You’ll be torn between stopping to take in the views and staying in the zone. This is why you’ll just have to turn around and head back the other way and repeat. Look out for Leopard Rock which commemorates the last leopard sited in the area since 1930.
1. Clarence Drive (R44), Western Cape
Length: 42 km
What is this, four out of five passes are in the Western Cape? The author of this article is a Capetonian, right? Yes it’s true, but let’s be frank: Can any province rival the Cape’s passes?
Clarence Drive may not be as stunning as Chapman’s Peak but it does have the virtue of being open whenever you feel like a drive. The road is immaculate and the long sweeps allow you to really air out the old carburettor, plus a few corners will warm up the rubber nicely without trying to fling you over the edge of a cliff. Supercar nirvana!
Sights: Gosh, expect anything from Southern right whales frolicking near the rocky coastline to nubile sunbathers stretching out on silky beaches.
‘The 22’ (R536), Mpumalanga
Popular among superbikers, this famous route involves a 22 km run from Sabie towards Hazyview and consists of fast sweepers and tight curves.
Outeniqua Pass (N9), Western Cape
Consisting of a wide lane and plenty of overtaking opportunities, it is a good place to listen to the roar of your car’s engine.
Van Reenen’s Pass (N3), KwaZulu-Natal
This majestic pass belies a reputation as the most dangerous pass in South Africa. Beautiful road that turns perilously slippery during inclement weather.
Meiringspoort (N12), Western Cape
A winding road with a good surface nestled between extraordinary cliffs on either side – too bad it’s over so quickly.
Disclaimer: Please note that Wheels24 does not advocate or condone breaking posted speed limits. The passes listed above can easily be appreciated while still obeying the law.