The most impactful way to knock the socks off of visitors to the Cape is to take them on any one of the many scenic drives we have to offer. It’s not hard. You quite literally cannot drive for more than 30 minutes outside of Cape Town without encountering a view that forever stamps itself upon your memory. There’s the dramatic, ocean battered peninsula to the south, arid coastal shrubbery, steep dunes, and pristine beaches to the west, and, in every other direction, undulating farmlands and craggy escarpment.
So, for those of you expecting out-of-town visitors or who want to impress on a first date, or just need a change of scenery, here are the Cape’s most epically beautiful drives…
What used to serve as a shortcut for residents avoiding the traffic on the perpetually congested M4 from Kalk Bay to Muizenberg, has now became “the scenic route” taken by visitors to this series of quaint coastal towns. The drive skirts the southeastern periphery of the Muizenberg Mountains, yielding panoramic views of False Bay and the harbour below. Between June and November, keep an eye out for visiting Southern right whales and, if you’re lucky, the occasional great white shark!
Tip: Stop and have a chat with the shark-spotter who is stationed on this road with flags to warn surfers below of any recent sightings.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
Can you really call yourself a Capetonian if you haven’t run the gauntlet of Chapman’s Peak Drive? Affectionately termed “Chappies”, this is not only one of the grandest, most scenic drives in Cape Town, but also in the world. From Noordhoek to Hout Bay, this hair-raising route takes you on a weaving journey between sea and sky: sheer cliffs border the road to the east and nothing but glittering Atlantic to the west… several hundred meters below. Chapman’s Peak Drive has a toll but, presumably, that goes into the steep maintenance costs to keep the cliff sides stable and to prevent rock falls.
Tip: Make a pitstop at Chapman’s Peak lookout cave to soak up the view. On the short walk up to the cave, you’ll notice rocks with ripples in them – they’re ancient sedimentary rocks laid down by rivers long gone.
You’ll understand the name of this mountain pass when you drive it. Houwhoek literally means “hold corner”, a name given to this stretch of road by the early settlers who had to slow down or hold back their ox wagons on the descent, unless they wanted to bollamakisie down this steep mountain pass, rather than walk it in a safe and civilized fashion. Today, the N2 cuts a winding path through the rugged crests of the Hottentot-Holland Mountains and descends into a patchwork quilt of farmlands before trotting on to Hermanus. Watch out for those hairpin bends!
Tip: In spring, the canola fields burst into buttery yellow blooms giving the farmland scenery a spectacular makeover.
Huguenot Tunnel to Worcester
Following the N1 highway past Paarl will take you through some lovely bucolic scenery and over an exhilarating bridge before hitting the Huguenot Tunnel, which carves a path through the Du Toitskloof Mountains. The scenery before you enter is pretty enough but just wait until you shoot out the other end to find yourself driving through a narrow river valley bordered by rugged mountain ranges. After rain, great waterfalls cascade off the watersheds of these mountain crests and the effect is spellbinding.
Tip: Get someone else to drive: you’ll want to enjoy this one with your face plastered to the car window!
R44 from Gordon’s Bay
The R44 from Gordon’s Bay is the “long way round” to Hermanus, by God, is it worth the extra petrol and time! This route winds around the outskirts of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, tracing the barrier between mountain and sea all the way from quaint seaside town to the world famous whale-watching town of Hermanus. Located outside of the sheltering of False Bay, the ocean here is wilder and a broodier shade of blue but that just adds to the incredible drama of this scenic drive.
Tip: During whale watching season, the ocean along this stretch of road is littered with Southern right whales so keep your eyes peeled!
There is practically no route or road in the Franschhoek Wine Valley that doesn’t afford you views that will make you want to cash in everything you own, buy a cottage here, and take an early retirement. The R45 carves a path right through the heart of this absolutely gorgeous valley with its precipitous border of jagged mountains, lush carpeting of vineyards, and Cape Dutch style homesteads. The route takes you past scores of wineries, cafés, and restaurants, as well as the Franschhoek Motor Museum, which maintains a staggering collection of vintage cars.
Tip: Book yourself in for a night at any of Franschhoek’s wine estates so that you can conclude your scenic drive with a bit of “wine and dine”.
Cresting the saddle between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, you’ll find a small road – Signal Hill road – forking off to the right (if you’re coming from town). Past the perennially popular Lion’s Head hike starting point, the vegetation opens up, revealing vistas of the city in its glorious entirety. From the looming Table Mountain and Hottentot-Holland Mountains to the east, to the twinkling city below and its vast shawl of the Atlantic Ocean.
Tip: Go to the Signal Hill viewpoint to watch the sunset – you won’t get a better view – and take a picnic basket and blanket with.
Simon’s Town to Cape Point to Kommetjie
Take in all of the Cape peninsula’s epic beauty with a leisurely drive from the historic naval base of Simon’s Town to the Cape of Good Hope. You can hike up from the parking lot or catch the Flying Dutchman funicular to Cape Point’s promontory for incredible cliff and ocean views. Then, drive on to Kommetjie on the M65 along pristine coastline clad in Fynbos vegetation until you spot the lighthouse.
Tip: Make a day of it – there are many spectacular viewpoints and attractions to take in, such as Boulder’s Beach penguin colony. So pack a picnic and prepare to spend the day with your jaw on the ground.
Sir Lowry’s Pass
Sir Lowry’s Pass is a mountain pass on the N2 highway that crosses the Hottentot-Holland mountain range between Somerset West and the Elgin valley. Upon exiting Somerset West, the industrial scenery becomes replaced with Fynbos and the road winds its way up the steep countenance of the mountains. Near the top, the views over False Bay, the Cape Peninsula, city, and farmlands are utterly breath-taking. Just keep an eye out for baboons because they love to hang out on the sides of the roads here.
Tip: Stop for breakfast or lunch at the Peregrine Farm Stall in Grabouw and be sure to stock up on all the wonderful homemade and home-baked goodies they sell!
For residents of Hout Bay, Victoria Road between Hout Bay and Camps Bay is a part of the daily commute. Viewed through fresh eyes, however, it truly is one of the more underrated scenic drives in Cape Town. The entire route hugs the coastline and is perfumed by the sea with views of Atlantic Ocean, kelp forests, marine birds, and boulders dotted with Cape fur seals. Towards Hout Bay, the altitude of the route increases until it passes over the saddle between the Twelve Apostles Mountain Range and Klein Leeukoppie, and suddenly, the verdant Hout Bay valley comes into view.
Tip: Go for lunch at Fish on the Rocks at the old Naval Heritage site in Hout Bay – it’s been serving fresh fish and chips for decades and is considered a must-do when visiting the valley.