Chapman’s Peak Drive celebrates a 100 years of feats

His Royal Highness Prince Arthur of Connaught rides in his Studebaker through the arch of greenery at the official opening of Chapman’s Peak Drive on May 6 1922.

Chapman’s Peak Drive which is considered one of the world’s most scenic drives celebrates its centenary tomorrow, Friday May 6.

It was nominated by Big 7, an online travel website, as the 40th most scenic route in the world on their list of 50 epic drives in March 2020.

To celebrate its centenary, a large frame was put up at the big picnic site overlooking Hout Bay. In the 100 days running up to its centenary, visitors were encouraged to take a photo of themselves in the frame and share it on social media to win “great prizes.”

The frame that was specially put up in honour of Chapman’s Peak Drive’s centenary.

The winding road, which has 114 curves and stretches from Noordhoek to Hout Bay is 9km long and was built over a seven-year period at a cost of ₤20 000, according to the Chapman’s Peak website.

Making use of convict labour supplied by the newly formed Union Government, construction began at the Hout Bay end in 1915 followed by construction of the Noordhoek side in 1916.

Construction at the Noordhoek side of the road started in 1916.

The road, which is carved into the mountainside along the Atlantic coastline, was completed in 1922 and officially opened on May 6 of that year by the Governor of the Union of South Africa, His Royal Highness Prince Arthur of Connaught.

Construction of the road was ordered by Sir Frederic De Waal, the first administrator of the Cape, in the early 1900s. Although the cliffs and ravines along the proposed route were steep and unstable, Mr De Waal was unperturbed and ordered that plans for the road go ahead.

The new drive was very popular and large crowds gathered to admire the spectacular views.

In 1914 preliminary surveys on the road got under way. Surveying the route, according to the website, was challenging as the cliffs and ravines were steep, rotten, and unstable, and at times, the surveying party was on all fours as they investigated the perpendicular terrain.

To create a stable road on an almost vertical cliff face, the website states that the road surface was cleverly built on top of a 630 million-year-old Cape granite contour on an erosional contact surface overlain by sandstone and mudstone of the lower Table Mountain group. The many roadside cuttings were carved out of these more workable Table Mountain rocks.

Chapman’s Peak is named after John Chapman, the Captain’s mate of an English ship, the Consent. In 1607, when the vessel was unable to sail due to a lack of wind in what is now Hout Bay, Mr Chapman was instructed to row ashore in the hope of finding provisions.

He later recorded the bay as Chapman’s Chaunce (chance) and the name stuck, becoming official on all East India charts.

Chapman’s Peak Drive.

While the original construction of the road was a remarkable feat of engineering, the feats have continued with modern efforts to stabilise the route and protect it from rockfalls.

According to the website, a section of the road was widened in 1962, and in 1977 a portion of the road was washed away, and subsequently, closed in May that year, to replace the damaged portion with a bridge at a cost of R150 000.

Between 1998 and the end of 1999, rock falls along the road resulted in four deaths and several serious injuries. As a result, the road was closed to the public in January 2000.

At the time, the provincial administration’s transport branch provided funding for rockbarring – a term used for removing loose or dangerous rocks – of the mountain slopes above the road to make them safer.

However, it soon became apparent that the rockbarring process would take substantially longer than originally planned and cost more than anticipated. To solve these financial problems, a public-private partnership was suggested as well as making it a toll road under the Western Cape Provincial Toll Road Act. A feasibility study concluded that the majority of the costs attached to the Chapman’s Peak Drive reopening and operation could be obtained through tolling the road.

In 2002, this task was handed to Entilini Concessions in the form of a 30-year contract for the rehabilitation and operation of Chapman’s Peak Drive.

The road was re-opened in December 2003 as a toll road after intensive design and reconstruction. However, since the reopening in 2003, the rockfall measures that were put into place were put to the test with heavy rainfall in July and August 2004 and the road had to close for 55 days to clear the debris and replace the four catch fences.

In June 2008 the road was closed again for upgrades and construction work took more than a year.

It was reopened in October 2009 and has since then remained open, albeit with temporary closures for routine maintenance and during dangerous weather conditions.

General manager of Entilini Operations Mark Jacobs said in the 100 days leading up the May 6, a series of special events and give-aways sponsored by local businesses and individuals across Cape Town had been on offer on the Chapman’s Peak Drive Facebook page.

On Saturday, May 7, a soccer derby celebrating Chapman’s Peak’s centenary will be played at Noordhoek Football Club between Noordhoek and Hout Bay football clubs, honouring the “spectacular” road that connects these two suburbs. Matches will be played all day from 9am.

Noordhoek Football Club chairman, Joey Delcarme said there would be food and festivities throughout the day and he would love to have the local residents come and join them.

Brad Bing, chairman of the Noordhoek Ratepayers’ Association (NRPA) said: “Our local club and the Hout Bay Football Club are places where people from all the different communities, rich and poor, can come together to celebrate the beautiful game. This is going to be a day worth supporting. We urge all Noordhoekers to come to the field to give support to your local team.”

Mr Jacobs said Chapman’s Peak Drive is a bridge that connects communities and allows for life on the southern peninsula to thrive.

“It has opened pathways to new opportunities and even after 100 years, Chappies continues to connect communities, businesses, and people from all over the world.”

One of many roadside cuttings that were carved out of mountain on Chapman’s Peak Drive.