Hit the road: Four of the Cape's best day drives

Nick Yell shares his favourite routes for a pleasant ramble with lots to see, eat and do along the way

01 November 2020 - 00:04 By Nick Yell
A canola field in full bloom in the Overberg.
A canola field in full bloom in the Overberg.
Image: Nick Yell

When I was growing up in a middle-class Cape Town home in the 1960s, Sunday afternoon drives were all the rage. They usually involved ambling along in my dad's big black Valiant to some or other viewpoint on the peninsula. But what we looked forward to most was the ice-cream treat somewhere along the way, enjoyed mostly at Spotty Dog in Retreat or the Dairy Den roadhouse in Constantia.

Longer drives into the countryside occurred only during the holidays and involved hampers of padkos lovingly prepared by my mother, food which my brother and I couldn't wait to get our hands on before we even left town. But the eating ritual was strictly reserved for languid stops around concrete picnic tables on a pass, or some other similarly scenic spot.

Fast-forward 50 years and much has changed. The "going-for-a-drive" culture has morphed into a "We're going somewhere and let's get there already" mania that negates the pleasure of a ramble.

But, in the time of coronavirus, we're bound to enjoy these simple pleasures anew, if only to escape the press of our four walls and the limits of our overtaxed imaginations.

With that in mind here are a handful of the Cape's best day drives:

PENINSULA CIRCULAR DRIVE

Route and itinerary:

Yes, it's the most obvious and best known, but its raw beauty never fails to lift the spirits, and there's increasingly more to see and do along the way these days.

Starting at the V&A Waterfront (which allows for breakfast first and also for you to team up with friends/family and use only one car for the trip), take Beach Road through Mouille Point and Sea Point to Bantry Bay, up onto Victoria Road and then via the coastal road (M6) past ritzy Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno to Hout Bay.

The harbour there is always a good stop to check out the performing seals and grab fish 'n chips before taking on the daddy of all South African coastal drives, Chapman's Peak (toll: R50).

After this epic transit, some may opt for a wine-tasting at Cape Point Vineyards, while others will prefer to stretch their legs on Noordhoek beach before heading for Kommetjie and the underutilised M65 coastal road past Slangkop lighthouse, Misty Cliffs and Scarborough. Take a right at the Redhill T-Junction and continue southeast on the M65 towards Smitswinkel Bay.

Idyllic Smitswinkel Bay, just outside the Cape Point Nature Reserve.
Idyllic Smitswinkel Bay, just outside the Cape Point Nature Reserve.
Image: Nick Yell

If you haven't done so before, enter Cape Point National Park (R80 adults/R40 kids), ride the funicular railway to the point (R80 adults return/kids R35) and consider a top-notch lunch on the deck of the Two Oceans Restaurant.

Then enjoy a post-prandial drive past Millers Point (M4) and Boulders Beach (the penguin colony there is a must-visit) and the "Historical Mile" in Simon's Town.

Continue on the M4 past Glencairn and Fish Hoek into Kalk Bay. If you're running short on time, go left at the first traffic lights (to follow scenic Boyes Drive and bypass Muizenberg) and head back to the Waterfront on the "Blue Route" (M3).

If you're not in a rush, first take a leg stretch around the artsy high-street shops of Kalk Bay.

Distance and time: About 150km (full route and itinerary), about eight hours.

Road surface: All tar, sedan-friendly.

WEST COAST

Route and itinerary:

This cool and rugged coastline, with its many islands, bays, lagoons and estuaries, has an untamed wildness about it that the east coast just can't match.

Get onto the R27 coastal road out of Cape Town as soon as you can (far nicer than the crammed N7) and make your way northwest to Yzerfontein. It's worth taking a drive around this model coastal village and stopping at one of the coffee shops or restaurants. I'd recommend packing a coffee flask and rusks in a knapsack, parking your car at the tourism offices and walking along the coastal paths to the start of the pristine
"16 Mile Beach".

After either of these outings, head back to the R27 and make for the West Coast National Park. The daily conservation fee (R64 for South African adults/R32 for children) is a small consideration for the unique faunal, floral and environmental tapestry you will experience here. Of course, flower season is the best time to go (the Postberg Peninsula is also open then) but late autumn and early winter are also good.

Hiker Grant Petersen admires the view on the day-trip-friendly 1km Dawid Bester Trail in the West Coast National Park.
Hiker Grant Petersen admires the view on the day-trip-friendly 1km Dawid Bester Trail in the West Coast National Park.
Image: Nick Yell

However you spend your time there, a visit to Preekstoel for a swim in the aquamarine waters of Kraal Bay is a must. To appreciate some of the park's other attractions (taking a drive to Tsaarsbank beach, sampling a couple of the bird hides and visiting the lofty Seeberg view site) you should budget for at least three hours there.

Exit the park at the Langebaan gate and make your way back to the R27. You're now on your way to Laaiplek (outside Velddrif) to take in the fishing trawlers moored near the mouth of the Berg River. If you're peckish, a fish 'n chips takeaway from Doepie's will enhance the harbour-gawping experience tenfold.

It's probably mid-afternoon now and time to head homewards on the R27. If you still feel like exploring, though, make a left onto the R315 to Darling and take in some of the quirky sights at the Evita se Perron complex, do a beer sampling at Darling Breweries and taste wine at Darling Cellars and Cloof Wine Estate.

From here take the R304 through Mamre and the N7 back to Cape Town.

Road surface: 98% tar (bar some short gravel stretches to viewing sites and bird hides in the WCNP) so it's sedan-friendly.

Distance and time required: About 335km (full route and itinerary), about eight hours.

BOLAND AND OVERBERG

Route and itinerary:

This mixture of Boland wine country and epic mountain passes combines well with a touch of the Overberg as you make your way past Theewaterskloof Dam to Franschhoek.

Take the N1 and head for the Durbanville off-ramp. Once through the small town, you need to get onto the R312 to Wellington. If you haven't had breakfast yet, there's a Spur in town and many other good restaurants (see tripadvisor.co.za) and for the wine buffs, remember to do some tasting at Diemersfontein and Rhebokskloof - both are open seven days a week.

Once done here, head for Bain's Kloof Pass on the R303. This 18km masterpiece (a national monument) was opened to horse-drawn traffic in 1854 and reaches a height of about 600m before descending through the kloof formed by the Witte River. It's along this stretch of water that you'll find the best picnic sites so it's a good idea to pack some comfy camping chairs, coffee flask and cookies for an alfresco pit-stop of note.

When you're done meandering through this sculptural ravine, turn right onto the
R43 and, after 3km, turn right again towards Goudini.

This is a slightly longer route to Worcester (you don't actually go into the town as you'll be making for Villiersdorp via the R43), but it's more scenic and offers a number of wine-tasting opportunities along the way.

If you're peckish when you arrive in Villiersdorp later, try Kelkiewyn Cafe - on
the left as you enter town. For art lovers, a visit to Dale Elliot's gallery (80 Main Street)
is sure to delight.

You're now on your way to Franschhoek - take the R321 and turn right onto the R45 just before the bridge over the Theewaterskloof Dam. Apparently once known as Olifantshoek (herds of elephant used to transit this valley), the Franschhoek Pass was completed in 1825 and is one of SA's most venerable and scenic, with many idyllic picnic spots along its course.

Arguably SA's best gastro-town, Franschhoek offers many fine-dining experiences, but it's also home to exclusive retail outlets and museums (the Huguenot and Motor museums, for example - the latter by appointment only) so you'll be spoilt for choice.

Get back to Cape Town via the Helshoogte Pass to Stellenbosch, the M12, Faure and the N2.

Road surface: All tar, sedan-friendly.

Distance and time required: About 325km (full route and itinerary), approximately eight hours.

FALSE BAY, OVERSTRAND AND OVERBERG

Route and itinerary:

Sometimes mistaken by early European sailors for Table Bay, there is certainly nothing false about this bay's beauty. On this route, you will cover two of its three sides and then venture inland for a while before returning via Bot River and Sir Lowry's Pass.

Take Baden Powell drive out of Muizenberg and head for the N2 on-ramp just past Khayelitsha. En route, look out for fishermen pulling in their nets as they've done for centuries. Head east on the N2, turn right at the R44 off-ramp towards Strand and make for Gordon's Bay.

The writer, Nick Yell, on Koeëlbaai’s 4km beach.
The writer, Nick Yell, on Koeëlbaai’s 4km beach.
Image: Nick Yell

If you need a good coffee or meal at this point, pull into the PitStop just before the Steenbrass River Bridge, or continue along Clarence Drive with its jaw-dropping views of the bay framed by the impressive peaks of the Kogelberge to the north. Apart from the chance to walk the 4km beach at Koeëlbaai’s and take a dip (be careful of the strong backwash in places) there is also a tidal pool just past the resort, which offers safe swimming.

Continue on to Rooi Els and, besides having a look at this quaint seaside town, its coastal walking paths and beaches, you may want to pop in for a drink or snack at the popular Drummond Arms.

Then carry on with the R44 past Pringle Bay (some good shops and restaurants) and Betty's Bay (if you have time, stop to see the penguins here or stroll around the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens) towards Kleinmond. On the outskirts of that town you'll see a turn-off to the harbour. If you haven't had lunch yet or would just like to browse a few shops and art galleries, this is a good place.

After this short sojourn, head back to the R44 and make for the R43 to Bot River, the home of many fine wine-tasting opportunities at estates including Wildekrans, Genevieve MCC, Beaumont, Gabrielskloof and others (see botriverwines.com).

From Bot River, head up the Houwhoek Pass (try the home bakes at Houw Hoek Farm Stall) and make your way towards Grabouw. If you still feel like exploring, aim for the Elgin Railway Market (open from 9am to 5pm on weekends) where steampunk, good food, live music and fresh produce are always in fashion.

All you need to do now to get back to Cape Town is roll down Sir Lowry's Pass (stop at the viewpoint for one last look over False Bay) and follow the N2 to the city.

Road surface: All tar, sedan-friendly.

Distance and time required: About 230km (full route and itinerary) - about eight hours.