SA’s top scenic drives

2013-11-07 00:00

DID you know that tourism has its genesis in religion? The earliest pilgrimages were religious. I have just celebrated 21 years as a driver. In that time, I have covered more than two million kilometres. I reckon that makes me about 20 times more religious than Joe Average! But seriously now, this article is a celebration of the joys of travel. And a trip down memory lane to some of the most scenic drives I have covered during this time. But it is also to honour the cars that have taken my family and me to the longitudes and latitudes of this beautiful country: in my case, a Honda Jazz that has just turned 10 years old with 400 000 km on the clock, and a 14-year-old VW Beetle. As hard as they have worked, they too have no doubt enjoyed the scenic drives listed below.

• Richmond to Ixopo

I know this does not sound like an exciting journey, but once you pass the traffic cops at Richmond, you encounter some of the most exhilarating hairpin bends in SA. A road for the driving enthusiast. That Paton bloke was right: lovely beyond the singing of it.

• Mpumulanga

The road between Dullstroom and Lydenburg has to rank as one of the most memorable stretches of road in SA. In fact, all the roads in this vicinity are special. Pilgrims Rest to Graskop. The roads to Sabie. The Panorama Route. You’ll want your wife to chase you out the house more often after you’ve driven this route. This corner of Mpumulanga is truly a driver’s delight.

• N1 to Cape Town

You may think this route is boring, but not in autumn/winter as you drive through the Hex River Valley. Its beauty will bewitch you. An autumnal patchwork quilt crafted by that master quilter in the sky.

• Matjiesfontein to Sutherland

Travelling through the Karoo icon that is Matjiesfontein, one is on a short leash. The main street of town is about 300 m long. But cross the N1 and head out to Sutherland — that is a journey to remember.

• Swartberg Pass

The Swartberg Pass links the Groot Karoo with the Klein Karoo. It links Oudtshoorn with the beautiful town of Prince Albert. Scenery that will take your breath away.

• Meiringspoort

Some of the greatest rock formations in SA can be found here. It links Beaufort West with the Klein Karoo town of De Rust. This is one of the primordial plains of SA and is iconic. Turn off the radio, wind down the windows, and marvel at one of the geological wonders of SA.

• Sani Pass

As great as the Swartberg Pass and Meiringspoort are, Sani Pass is better. It will fill you with awe — a mixture of admiration and sheer terror. It is the pass with the steepest gradient in SA. You have not lived until you have bounced and zig-zagged your way to the highest pub in Africa atop Sani Pass. But this is not a route to be driven by inexperienced drivers. Once you’ve experienced Sani Pass, you will mourn the fact that it is going to be tarred. For wilderness areas need to be celebrated for their wild, untamed qualities.

• Chapman’s Peak

South Africa has some of the greatest coastal drives in the world. Chapman’s Peak is right up there with the best, although the expensive toll has taken away the sheer joy of this drive for me. It is one of the few drives that make me wish I was not a driver, because you can’t afford to take your eyes off the road for a minute.

• Gordons Bay to Betty’s Bay, Western Cape

This is a route to be savoured in an open top with a beautiful woman at your side. No matter what your worries, this drive will leave you with a smile on your face for weeks to come. There is something about a blue azure ocean that is good for the soul.

• Hibberdene to Margate

KZN need not be outdone in the coastal drives department. The old road from Hibberdene to Margate is a driver’s delight. So different from the Western Cape, but just as beautiful. Tropical is the word that best sums it up. A concoction of beach, sunshine, sugar-cane fields and banana plantations. Out-of-Africa scenery to die for.

• The road from Muizenberg to Simonstown to Cape Point

This drive can be done in an hour, but you can literally spend an entire day here as you explore the beautiful seaside hamlets of Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay. On your return journey, take the turnoff marked Boyes Drive. Then you will understand why this is one of the great drives in SA.

• Knysna Lakes

The Garden Route is essentially one great scenic drive. But the Kynsna Lakes are unparalleled. It’s easy to understand why Knysna regularly wins Town of the Year. It is one of the few roads in SA on which I yearn for a traffic jam.

• Area between Sedgefield and Wilderness

Beautiful lakes on one side, gorgeous seascapes on the other. How lucky some people are to live in this Eden. Take in the famous Kaaimans River Bridge, but linger even longer at The Views Restaurant.

• Plettenberg Bay

Some towns simply have magical entrances. Drive down the road to Beacon Isle Hotel and you will understand why people call this ‘the beautiful bay”. But even better is Mossel Bay. From the highway it looks like an industrial wasteland, but when you take the Marsh Street off-ramp, you start singing hallelujahs to God. Head to the vicinity of High Street and Roger Place, and you will realise why this has to be SA’s best-kept secret.

• Karoo

Tired of the sea — head out to the Karoo. You have not lived until you have driven a dirt road in this land of thirst. Whether you are in Cradock, Graaff-Reinet, Philipstown or Richmond, the sands of this semi-desert have a way of getting under your skin.

• Nieu-Bethesda

This is a place that will haunt you for the rest of your life. It is home to the Owl House and where Athol Fugard has chosen to be buried. And it must rank as one of the great drives in the Karoo. This journey, via dirt road, is best undertaken in autumn, when the poplars stand proud like yellow pencils against a blue sky.

• Potjiesberg Pass, Karoo

There are a few beautiful passes in the Karoo; however, Potjiesberg Pass offers you great vistas over the beautiful town of Uniondale, and as you exit, amazing views as far as the eye can see. But even grander and more sweeping is the Lootsberg Pass a few kilometres out of Graaff-Reinet. Even though you are cocooned in a modern vehicle, you will feel a sense of accomplishment once you have driven this pass.

• Route 62

Taking in the towns of Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Barrydale and Montagu has to be on every South African’s bucket list. As you enter Barrydale from Calitzdorp, it appears like an open book on which an artist has sketched quaint houses and magnificent scenery. But Montagu must rank as even better. Mountain ranges akin to Meiringspoort. Beautiful vineyards all around you. In winter, aloes to warm your soul. Even if you approach Montagu via Swellendam, you will feel a sense that you have driven some of the greatest roads in SA.

• Wellington to Tulbagh to Ceres is special

Mountain ranges to take your breath away. And if you are lucky to see it with a sprinkling of snow, this is a region you can lose your heart to.

• West Coast National Park

The entire West Coast from Langebaan to Lamberts Bay to Paternoster is a beautiful drive, taking in some of the quaint West Coast villages. But the West Coast National Park in flower season is something you will never forget. Namaqualand flowers, tortoises crossing the road, a lone ostrich against a blue ocean. The West Coast is pure Nirvana for those who love nature and the open road.

• Golden Gate

This has to be my favourite drive. For me it starts with the Drakensberg, then Oliviershoek Pass. And when you finally crest the pass and the majestic Sterkfontein Dam appears, something in your soul will stir. And you will ask yourself: can there be a bluer dam in all of SA? In winter, set against the blonde grass, this image will remain burnt on my retina. But the best is yet to come once you enter Golden Gate National Park. Olive Schreiner, when describing the Karoo, once remarked: ‘Such a sense of wild exhilaration comes over me”. This is how I feel when I enter this paradise. It is other-worldly. No such mountains are to be found anywhere else in SA. And as the shadows lengthen and the poplars give off their most golden hue, with the majestic Golden Gate mountain range as a backdrop, I know then I was right in naming my daughter Kiara, after Kiara Lodge in the heart of Golden Gate.

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