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Many people think that the 75-odd kilometres of the R44 from Gordon’s Bay along the Whale Route is probably the most interesting and exciting stretch of road in South Africa. Certainly it is crammed with colour, breath-taking scenery and dozens of places of interest. What more can one ask for?
You can drive it in 45 minutes or so, or you can take three or four days to really explore this magnificent stretch of Western Cape coastline and get the most out of the many jewels and treasures the area offers. There are plenty of B&Bs, self-catering hostelries and guest-houses, so why not sample everything the Route has to offer?
You can start at either end, as it were: the one being at the T-junction on the main road between Botrivier and Hermanus; the other is at Gordon’s Bay which is only a few kilometres off the N2 highway. But be warned! It is difficult to keep your eyes on the road! There is so much to feast your eyes on and so much to soak up.
The road hugs the cliffs and often seems to be wedged between the mountains and the ocean so that there is barely room for the two lanes. This often means there is no way you can pull off to stop and enjoy the view except at a lay-by – but luckily there are plenty of these. Sometimes it feels as if the road is actually below sea level and then suddenly you are way up high looking down at the waves breaking on the rocks far below. With mountains towering above you and wonderful sea vistas, some stretches of the route rival Chapman’s Peak Drive for spectacular views.
Along the way there is no shortage of eating, drinking, coffee or snacking places without having to leave the route, as well as great spots to stop and enjoy your own picnic or “padkos”. Alternatively you can slip down to any of the picturesque villages such as Pringle Bay, Rooiels (which would be better spelt as Rooi Els,) Betty’s Bay or Kleinmond. The Harbour Road precinct in Kleinmond offers a fascinating variety of art and craft boutiques and book shops in addition to the coffee-shops and restaurants.
Close to Betty’s Bay is the renowned and magnificent Harold Porter Botanical Garden which is well worth a visit. It is situated in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and the walks and trails are spectacular. You can spend half-an-hour there or devote a whole morning to absorbing its calm and peaceful ambience. There is also a coffee-shop/restaurant. The huge variety of plants that make up “fynbos” is clearly exhibited as well as many other indigenous plant varieties.
However, the place where there are more species per hectare than anywhere else in South Africa (and possibly the whole world) is the nearby Kogelberg Nature Reserve. Often referred to as the “Heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom” it is a World Heritage Site and boasts 1 800 plant species including various members of the protea family and 150 very rare species that are endemic.
A brief visit to the reserve would not do it justice because it has so much to offer, but if you have no option it is still worth popping in for a casual stopover. The scenery is almost overwhelming. If you choose to stay over, there are stone-and-timber self-catering cabins and plenty of things to do, such as mountain-biking, swimming in the streams, kayaking and white-water rafting (for experts only) and, of course, hiking. The hiking trails are all pretty and some are pretty strenuous, so it’s best to make enquiries (from Cape Nature) before making a decision. If you are into plants, you must take a plant guidebook to help you through the 1 800 species.
You simply cannot travel this Route without visiting Stony Point at Betty’s Bay where there is a delightful colony of about 150 breeding pairs of African Jackass Penguins. Superbly maintained by the local municipal authority, the reserve’s wooden boardwalk allows you to get right up close to these fascinating birds, to see them in their burrows, to watch them take to the water and swim as well as any fish of the same size and to hear them bray exactly like donkeys. In a matter of minutes you will fall in love with these enchanting creatures as they waddle about the shore with their partners-for-life or set off into the cold sea in search of food.
At the final kilometre or so of the Route is the Arabella Golf Estate with its 5-star hotel and golf course which has been voted the fourth best course in South Africa. The very impressive entrance gate gives you an idea of what to expect inside.
If you manage to travel this scenic route, a good idea is to get a map before you do so you don’t miss out on some of the many places of interest. A Slingsby map is probably the best and this also itemises the dozens and dozens of shipwrecks that occurred on this stretch of coastline over the years.
So here is the challenge: name any 75 kilometres that has as much beauty, as much interest and as much colourful scenery per kilometre as this short section of the R44. Even if you have to concede (and you almost certainly will have to throw in the towel) make a point of adding it to your bucket-list of places you absolutely have to visit.