Chapman's Peak Drive - one of the World's most scenic drives

Chapmans Peak Drive

Chapmans Peak Drive - one of the World's most scenic drives

Chapman’s Peak Drive is named after John Chapman, the Captain’s mate of an English ship, the Consent. The peak which looms overhead was not named after a governor or brave mountaineer, but a lowly ship's pilot. In 1607 the skipper of the British ship Contest found his vessel becalmed in what is now Hout Bay and sent his pilot, John Chapman, to row ashore in the hope of finding provisions. The pilot later recorded the bay as Chapman's Chaunce (chance) and the name stuck, becoming official on all East India charts.

In the early 1920’s Sir Nicolas Fredrick de Waal, first administrator of the Cape Province, ordered the construction of a high-level road linking Cape Town with the Southern Suburbs. The roadway (De Waal Drive) was extremely well received. Enthused with this success he called for another road linking Hout Bay to Noordhoek. Two possible routes were under consideration in 1910. The route over the low nek between the Chapman’s and Noordhoek Peaks was second to the more spectacular route along the vertical sea cliffs.

In 1914 preliminary surveys on the road got under way. Surveying the route was a scary business. 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. The route over the nek appeared to be no better; and the project appeared to be expensive and a ‘mission impossible’. De Waal however, would not take no for an answer and eventually he ordered the ‘go ahead’ for along the cliffs which appeared, at the time to be the better option.

The road was cleverly planned with the road surface based on the solid and conveniently located 630 million year old Cape Granite contour, while the many roadside cuttings would be carved out of the more workable Malmesbury series sediments.

In 1915, with the use of convict labour supplied by the newly formed Union Government, construction began from the Hout Bay end, and in the following year work began from Noordhoek. The first portion of the road to the Lookout was opened in 1919.

This spectacular roadway took seven years to complete, at a cost of ₤20 000. The Hout Bay - NoordHoek Road ‘hewn out of the stone face of Sheer Mountain’ was opened to traffic on Saturday 6 May 1922 by the Governor of the Union of South Africa, His Royal Highness Prince Arthur of Connaught.

In 1962 a section of the road was widened, and in 1977 a portion of road was washed away, and subsequently the road was closed on 14 May, after a large section was washed away and the damaged section was replaced by a bridge at a cost of R150 000.

Chapmans Peak Drive - Road Closure in 2000

In 1994, Noel Graham was injured and partly paralysed in a landslide incident on Chapman’s Peak Drive, which resulted in a court case against the Cape Metropolitan Council who was the road management agent at the time of the incident. In February 1999 a High Court judgement was given against CMC for negligence in management of the road. The matter was appealed by the CMC but the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in November 2000, thus reaffirming the Cape High Court’s decision, and CMC was ordered to pay all claims and costs.

Amidst increasing concern for public safety and legal liability, the South Peninsula Municipality (SPM) – the new road management agent appointed in 1997; established a sub-committee of officials from the local, metropolitan and provincial authorities to guide the management of Chapman’s Peak Drive, who instigated high visibility rockfall warning signs to be erected on Chapman’s Peak Drive during 1999. The sub-committee also adopted a specific Chapman’s Peak Drive closure policy which inter alia stipulated that the road had to be closed to traffic in rainy weather (very light drizzle excluded) and remain closed for a number of hours after cessation of any rainfall and until deemed safe by SPM’s road management staff. This closure policy/procedure was implemented by SPM’s road management staff with lockable booms put in place to prevent unauthorised entry.

On 29 December 1999 however, a falling rock caused the unfortunate death of a Noordhoek resident. In early January 2000, Ms Lara Callige was killed, and a passenger in the same car seriously injured in a rockfall incident on Chapman’s Peak Drive in good weather conditions when the rockfall risk on the road was not considered to be high. This was of serious concern to the local and provincial authorities alike and emergency meetings to discuss closure of Chapman’s Peak Drive were held between the relevant political bodies. Before a decision could be taken on the matter, and still in January 2000, the worst mountain fires in many decades raged in the Cape Peninsula, including in the mountains above Chapman’s Peak Drive, causing numerous rockfalls onto the road and effectively rendering the road impassable.

As a result of these incidents Chapman’s Peak Drive was officially closed to traffic indefinitely by the Provincial Minister of Transport in January 2000.

Development 2000 - 2003

Based on the recommendations of geotechnical specialists, the Provincial Administration’s Transport Branch made available funding for “rockbarring” (a term used for removing loose or dangerous rocks) of the mountain slopes above the road to make them safer. Contracts for this work were awarded in March 2000 by the SPM.

It soon became apparent that the rockbarring process deemed would take substantially longer than originally anticipated and cost commensurately more. The work was thus stopped in May 2000 and an integrated environmental management process (IEM) was put in place with the goal of producing an agreed management plan for Chapman’s Peak Drive by mid-2001. The IEM process brief required management to include:

  1. the improvements deemed necessary to make the road safe for users,
  2. a strategy for managing/operating the road,
  3. recommendations on funding sources for the capital improvements as well as the continuing operational needs.


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+21 21 791 8222
1 Chapmans Peak Drive
Hout Bay Harbour
Hout Bay
Cape Town
South Africa
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