10 South African roads which bring the joy of driving to life
By Jesse Adams and Denis Droppa
South Africa has some beautifully scenic and twisty roads which bring the joy of driving to life, whether you enjoy carving through corners or simply like cruising along and enjoying the scenery. Ahead of the summer holidays, we’ve selected 10 of the country’s most awesome driving roads.
Franschhoek Pass (R45)
Technically known as the R45, or Lambrechts Road between Franschhoek and Theewaterskloof Dam, this mountain pass flows for around 15km and features multiple hairpins and bends with pretty much every conceivable radius. It can be enjoyed in either direction, but we suggest lunch and dessert in Franschhoek with a completion of the pass in both directions in between. Beware the occasional baboon troupe and truck. Also beware of some corners which unexpectedly tighten up.
Outeniqua Pass (N9)
A gloriously winding road through the Outeniqua mountains, linking Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo to the coastal town of George in the Western Cape. It’s a wide road with long, flowing bends, making it a real driver’s treat without hairpin bends or hard braking to contend with. Great scenery too, though occasional dense mists can reduce visibility to a few metres.
Helshoogte Pass (R310)
At just over 7km long, Helshoogte Pass (R310) is a relatively short route connecting the lovely town of Stellenbosch with Pniel in the Western Cape. It’s a two-lane road with sweeping, banked corners and has good visibility, making it popular with motorcycle breakfast runners looking to take advantage of numerous overtaking possibilities.
Long Tom Pass (R37)
One of Mpumalanga’s most famous driving roads, the R37 joins Lydenburg and Sabie and the summit of the pass lies at an altitude of 2 150m. It’s a slice of handling heaven with around 50km of twists and turns, but can be quite hairy on the descents with some hard braking required into tight turns. But you can take a break and sightsee the forest-carpeted lowveld below or the Long Tom war cannon the pass is named after.
One of the most iconic roads in Southern Africa, this 18km gravel pass on the road between Underberg in KZN and Mokhotlong in Lesotho is the big momma of mountain passes, peaking at an elevation of 2 876 metres. The stunning scenery as the rough, steep road winds its way up the Drakensberg is best enjoyed in a 4x4, but more adventurous souls have scaled the tortuous climb in two-wheel drives and even on scooters. Despite long-running reports that the pass will be tarred, it remains a gravelly adventure.
The “22” (R536)
A favourite of car drivers and motorcyclists alike, this undulating piece of serpentine tar is an adrenaline-charged drive through Mpumalanga’s hills and forests. Starting at the famous Woodsman restaurant in Sabie, the R536 winds for 45km towards Hazyview but is most famous for its first 22km section (hence the nickname) to the Kiepersol turnoff, which has 76 corners!
Clarence Drive (R44)
Nestled between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els, Clarence Drive (aka R44) skirts the Western Cape coastline for around 21km and features almost 80 bends. The road’s surface is very well kept with neat lane markings and pristine asphalt which rises and dips in a way reminiscent of a tarmac rally stage. Slow moving traffic mostly comprising tourists gazing at views of the Hottentots Hollands mountains can be problematic, but there are numerous pull off viewing points offering some reprieve for either you or them. Watch out for cyclists and occasional rock falls.
Bains Kloof Pass (R301)
Linking the town of Wellington to Ceres and Worcester in the Western Cape, this 27km road built in 1849 is a national monument. The more dramatic, northern section of the pass roughly follows the course of the Witte River, a raging torrent during the wet winter season.
On the N12 freeway between Beaufort West and Oudsthoorn is an awe-inspiringly scenic drive cutting through the Swartberg mountains between Klaarstroom and De Rust. The narrow road takes you through mountains towering overhead, and there’s a beautiful waterfall to gawk at.
Though it pales in comparison beside the other roads mentioned here, we couldn’t leave out Joburg and Pretoria. The entertainingly twisty R540 Kromdraai road has been afflicted with speed humps and cyclists, but Gauteng motorists can still enjoy the roads around Magaliesburg and Hartbeespoort Dam, which are particularly popular with bikers on Sunday breakfast runs. The best of these is probably the R563, starting at the R400 (Satellite Road) turnoff and ending at the Hekpoort T-junction. The meandering 10km road has a few nice corners but watch out for a section of ripple speed humps about halfway along the route.
* Read more Ultimate SA road trip stories here.