South Africa’s top 13 scenic drives

Posted by Cherene Pienaar on 29 November 2011

People who can truly appreciate a scenic route are usually those people who believe that life is about the journey, not the destination. As South Africa boasts some seriously scenic drives, it is easy to make life about the journey.  Here are my top 13 scenic drives in South Africa.

Western Cape

1. Chapman’s Peak Drive

Chapman's Peak, Western Cape, Scenic Drives

This world-renowned scenic drive is enthralling. You’ll understand why it is a toll road when you see the ingenious road engineering. Chapman’s Peak Drive winds its way between Noordhoek and Hout Bay. The drive offers stunning 180° views. A must if you’re visiting the Cape.

2. Swartberg Pass

Swartberg Pass, Western Cape, Scenic Drives

The spectacular Swartberg Pass (read: favourite Western Cape mountain passes) runs through the Swartberg mountains which runs from East to West along the Little Karoo in the Western Cape. The best route to do the Swartberg pass will be through Oudsthoorn in the direction of De Rust and then turn to Prince Albert, have lunch there and return to the pass and follow the directions all the way down. This way arround, you will be on the safe side of the mountain coming down and end at the Cango Caves where you can stop again and stretch legs.

3. Cape Town to Grabouw via Franschhoek and Villiersdorp

N2, Elgin Valley, Western Cape, Scenic Drives

Heading from Cape Town to Grabouw via Franschhoek and Villiersdorp is a fantastic drive that winds it’s way through the scenic winelands of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek (read: Driving East: a road trip of landscapes, wine and whales). Take the R45 over the Franschhoek Pass for breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and vineyards. Follow the R45 and then take the R43 to the N2. Take the N2 back to Cape Town via Elgin and Grabouw. This route offers a combination of beautiful sights from sweeping vineyards and rugged mountains to apple and peach orchards.

Image: Franschhoek Valley by Andrew Brauteseth

4. Meringspoort Road through the Klein Karoo

Meiringspoort Road, Klein Karoo, Scenic Drives

There’s nothing boring about the Little Karoo. Meringspoort Road is beautiful and drivers who have been there millions of times are thrilled every time they are on this road. Stop at the picnic spots, do the short walks and enjoy the indigenous plant life and the stunning fynbos and restios.

Eastern Cape

5. Port Elizabeth to Colesberg via Graaf Reinet (N9)

N9, Graaff Reinet, Eastern Cape, Scenic Drives

Head up from Port Elizabeth to Colesburg (or the other way round) on the N9 highway that runs past Addo Elephant Park before tackling the breathtaking pass up the Escaprment that eventually joins onto the N1 (to Cape Town or Johannesburg). If you have time, take a detour and visit the gorgeous town of Graaff-Reinet and the famous valley of desolation in the nearby Camdeboo National Park (read: Camdeboo: Graaff-Reinet’s valley of green).

Image by Don Pinnock

Northern Cape 

6. Opt for the gravel road

If you’re looking for a scenic route in the Northern Cape, you’re spoilt for choice. During the past few months, journalist and photographer Willem van der Berg travelled the whole of the Northern Cape on his bike in the search for interesting stories and to him it seems unfair to choose only one scenic route.

“The most wonderful gravel road must be a narrow road meandering from Strydenburg to Vosburg. It passes the Sodium train station that’s completely deserted. It’s this desertedness that makes this route so interesting. In fact, I have never found another vehicle on this route. Marvellous. From Vosburg it’s a treat to take the alternative gravel road to Carnarvon. Drive 10 km out of Vosburg on the Van Wyksvlei gravel road and turn left. The road meanders near the Karee mountains and is a lot prettier than the main gravel road to Carnarvon,” says Willem.

7. No limits on the Molopo border

Another great road is the Molopo border road from Van Zylsrus to Andriesvale. This is the police’s old patrol road along the Botswana border and isn’t maintained any more, but the farmers regularly opt for this route. This is the ideal route if you’re on your way to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.


8. Detour to Derdepoort

As if the Jakaranda trees in Pretoria aren’t enough, this city hosts a range of must-see natural and urban attractions, such as Derdepoort, a captivating rural village situated a few minutes away from Pretoria’s modern, urban centre. The village hosts the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens, the Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve and many other activity hot spots.

9. On the road to Hartebeespoort Dam

Take the scenic road from Johannesburg to Hartbeespoort, along curving roads that meander between aloes in bloom during the winter months. The Hartbeespoort Dam offers an array of water sports, a local bird sanctuary, challenging hikes and gentle rambles.


10. Baberton to Bulembu to Badplaas

Although the round trip from Barberton to Bulembu to Badplaas is roughly 160 kms, it can take up to 4 hour or more to complete. More so because there are so many places to stop and view the magnificent landscape, than anything else. Many describe this route as one of the most scenic routes in Southern Africa.

11. The Panorama Route is a must

Best known for its dramatic routes, the magnificent Panorama Route offers fresh mountain scenery, panoramic views and tungsten sunsets over the Klein Drakensberg escarpment. These views are quite spectacular and give the area its name of ‘Panorama Route’. Viewpoints are named for the spectacle they offer, and God’s Window and Wonder View hint at the magnitude of the scenery.

Image by Sean Hunter Christie

Free State and Lesotho

12. The scenic Sandstone Route

The region stretching from Clarens to Ladybrand in the Free State offers a great scenic route for the self-driver. Make your way to experience the amazing sandstone rock formations found in the eastern Free State area.

13. Admire the mountains on the Maluti Route

Meandering over the scenic routes of the Free State Highlands, this route snakes over the border of the Maluti Mountains and ends in the Seekoei Nature Reserve. Starting in Harrismith, it goes through the Free State and crosses to the Eastern Cape over the Orange River, from where is continues on to the Wild Coast. Dominated by the Maluti Mountain Ranges, this scenic route offers the traveller various options from art, culture, history, rock art sites and spectacular scenery to a host of cultural experiences.

If you’re always on the look-out for routes that capture the beauty of South Africa, this guide may help with your quest for that picturesque route on your self drive holiday.


Six of South Africa’s scenic road trip routes by Alison Westwood

My five favourite South African scenic drives by Theresa Lozier

What are your favourite scenic drives in South Africa? Leave your comment below.


Main image: Chapman’s Peak by Justin Fox

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