South Africa is one of the world’s favourite tourist destinations, but it also plays hosts to some amazing roads. From gravel roads to tarred ones, from mountain passes to routes for motorbikes, SA is beautifully littered with amazing scenic routes.
A well-engineered paved road gets you to your destination quickly and safely – well, in theory anyway – but hidden roads offer so much more pleasure for the eye.
The arteries of commerce that criss-cross our land are forced by necessity to avoid interesting landscapes. Interesting diversions and tall mountain passes aren’t on your to-do list when you are trying to get from Joburg to Cape Town in as little time as possible.
We list 10 amazing roads in SA, starting with gravel roads.
By: Cyril Klopper
Gravel roads have the luxury of winding through kloofs and swerving around trees and large boulders. They make for far more interesting drives and although they do slow one’s progress, they are less risky and less stressful to use than hectic highways. Here are five extraordinary gravel road alternatives to tarred main routes:
1. The R355, Western Cape
An alternative to: The N7 highway between Malmesbury and Vanrhysdorp.
The R355 between Ceres and Calvinia holds the record for being the longest, uninterrupted dirt road in South Africa. Some may find it boring and, admittedly, the landscape doesn’t change that much over the course of the journey, but if you allow the gigantic sky and ancient ocher plains to impress you, it’ll be a mesmerising drive.
Attractions along the way: Stop at the Tankwa Padstal near the start of the route and enjoy a cold drink before you continue.
Pro tip:Ensure that your vehicle’s tyres are in good condition and that you take along at least one spare and/or a puncture repair kit. We’re not kidding, it’s important!
2. Lotheni Road, KwaZulu-Natal
An alternative to:The R617 between Underberg and Howick.
This twisty gravel road runs through the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains and connects the towns of Himeville and Nottingham Road. To the left is the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and to the right are thousands upon thousands of rolling hills all the way down to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
Attractions along the way: If you feel cooped up in your car, you should stop to explore the 10km McKenzie’s Caves hike in the Mkhomazi State Forest.
Pro tip: It’s an incredibly scenic road and a cell phone camera can never do it justice. Take an SLR camera along if you have one.
3. The Wupperthal Road, Western Cape
An alternative to: The N7 highway between Piketberg and Clanwilliam.
If you’d like to travel back in time and see landscapes and communities seemingly locked in the 19th century, then you should visit the secluded village of Wupperthal, a small town in the heart of the Cederberg mountains. A 4×4 isn’t necessary, but a rugged vehicle with good ground clearance is strongly recommended.
The road winds through narrow valleys and over rocky passes. It’s slow-going, but discovering these small communities, seemingly spared the vices of the modern world, is rewarding.
Attractions along the way:Stop at Cederberg Oasis for lunch and a cold drink before hitting the road.
Pro tip: Be careful when rounding bends. The road is narrow and hitting an approaching vehicle head-on is a very real possibility if you aren’t careful.
For the best rides to take on gravel roads, check out the Volkswagen Amarok, Land Rover Defender or a Mercedes-Benz GLS
With its variety of scenery, almost perfect weather and extensive road infrastructure, South Africa is definitely among the world’s top biking countries. Although road maintenance is not always up to par (to put it mildly), there are very nice routes within a reasonable distance from most major cities.
4. Bain’s Kloof Pass, Western Cape
Those living in the Western Cape are spoilt for choice, with several mountain passes and scenic coastal routes in close proximity of Cape Town. But if you want to venture a little further afield, I would definitely recommend the Bain’s Kloof Passon the R301 between Wellington and Ceres. The road surface is a little iffy, and I wouldn’t suggest tackling it with a sport bike, but for a rider on a tourer or adventure bike it offers 28km of beautiful scenery and challenging curves.
Image: Dries van der Walt
5. Baviaanskloof, Eastern Cape
If you find yourself in the Eastern Cape and you are feeling adventurous, Baviaanskloofshould be on your itinerary. Stretching almost 200km from Patensie to Willowmore, the untarred road takes you through almost pristine wilderness and offers spectacular views. However, some sections of this road are very technical, and I wouldn’t recommend for riders with limited or no off-road experience. Due to the roughness of the road, especially in the mountainous sections, this route is best suited to adventure bikes.
Image: Dries van der Walt
6. Golden Gate, Free State
Although most of the Free State is notoriously flat, the eastern portion of this province offers fun riding. One of my favourites in this province is the R712 between Harrismith and Clarens. The route takes you through the Golden GateHighlands National Park, and offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. There are also a myriad of looping side roads to explore, most of which are tarred – you’ll be able to enjoy the area irrespective of what bike you ride.
Image: Dries van der Walt
In order to have the best equipment for the best rides, try awesome bikes like a BMW G650 GS, Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S, or a Ducati Panigale.
Lekker mountain passes
By: Charlen Raymond
Are you searching for a challenge for your vehicle or a scenic road trip? SA has come great mountain passes and you either love taking on the mountains or you’re not bothered at all. A trip through South Africa isn’t complete without a trip through some of our magical mountains routes.
7. R44, Clarence Drive. Western Cape
Connecting Gordon’s Bay with Rooi Els, the R44 is 21km of twisting road that runs along the Atlantic Ocean, and offers a crisp driving experience. If getting the best line and corner entry/exit is of priority, full focus is needed as the road unfolds around 77 bends.
The dynamics of the Franschhoek Pass is such that a single mistake can send you crashing into the mountain, into the ravine down below, or into oncoming traffic. The pass, from both sides, is a continuous climb coupled with short bursts of speed and sudden braking. Yet the sequence of corners flow into each other. Tight bends require absolute concentration, but it is one of the purest drives you’ll experience anywhere.
9. Sani Pass, KwaZulu-Natal
Along with Chapman’s Peak Drive, Sani Pass (between KZN and Lesotho) is one of South Africa’s most iconic mountain passes. Built in the 1950s, it has never been tarred, providing a challenging gravel climb accessible by 4×4 vehicles. Traversing the Drakensberg range, Sani Pass features dramatic scenery as well as treacherous bends and curves. The pass becomes treacherous during bad weather. Due to its height it is also prone to snowfall, so be prepared! The Sani Pass starts at 1544m and rises 1332 vertical metres to summit at 2876m. This altitude gain is almost 300m more than its nearest competitor – the Naude’s Nek Pass in the Eastern Cape.
10. Baviaans-Kouga Pass, Eastern Cape
Note: This track should not be attempted by novice driver. Be prepared to get some dirt up the sides of the Landy or Jeep if you’re hoping to take on this pass.
When going through the mountain passes, you need the right vehicle to truly get your dirt on. Try the BMW M3, Alfa Romeo 4C or the Ford Focus RS.
Whether you intend to take your roadtrip down a gravel path, a bike road or a mountain pass, you need to have the correct vehicle in order to get most out of your drive.