There’s no better way to explore the open road than on the back of a motorcycle. For some, it’s the freedom evoked by the adventure – a certain freshness about there being nothing between you and the tarmac, wind, and nature.
Here are 10 of the best day trip motorcycle routes across South Africa – each one owning their own highlights and challenges, as well lengths of times and cautions, but each are beautiful in their own right.
R44 : Gordon’s Bay ← → Rooiels
This is a slow paced route that holds magnificent beauty and is ideal for a two-up ride. Starting at Gordon’s Bay, which is set in the lee of the Hottentots Holland Mountains and is home to two sandy beaches ideal for swimmers, the route is around 24km so will take a short 30 minutes one way. It’s a curvaceous road – so be cautious, but every turn is highlighted by either the steep mountain backdrop of fynbos or the ocean, lined with the hazy silhouette of land in the far-off distance.
Riding along the eastern contours of False Bay one can see as far as Cape Point on a clear day – but it isn’t any less beautiful when mist covers the ocean: to some, the pass is reminiscent of California’s Pacific Coast Highway.
Your end destination, Rooiels, is home to a small cluster of holiday homes and a river mouth where you will be able to catch lunch at a family-friendly restaurant before you head home. Just be aware that the route is very busy over weekends and there are many pedestrians and slow traffic turning across lanes as there are camping sites, view points and beaches along the way.
If you feel the need to ride longer, pop around the point to Betty’s Bay and check out some penguins – or carry on to the popular whale hangout, Hermanus.
The Baviaanskloof: Willowmore ← → Patensie
This is a challenging yet uniquely rewarding route. Set along the Baviaanskloof pass, the 197km route is all gravel – and mostly a single track lane. It is recommended you begin in Willowmore and tackle the rigorously winding roads first, getting the hard part out in the beginning.
As you ride between the Baviaanskloof range to the north and the Kouga range on the south side, your journey will take you through time – and a World Heritage Site, as the area is one of the richest plant regions in the world with seven of South Africa’s eight biomes being represented!
There are stones, and rocks, and mud patches, and low river crossings – ideal for an adventure bike. The road also passes through the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, so make sure you watch out for roaming Kudu and other animals.
The dirt road was built between 1880 and 1890 by South Africa’s most famous road engineer, Thomas Bain and takes about 7-9 hours to ride, depending on the amounts of stops you enjoy. Ideally, stay the night at one of the many self-catering places along the way – but remember, there are no shops, petrol stations, or ATMs – nor is there cell phone signal once you’re in the valley.
West Coast: Cape Town ← → Lambert’s Bay
This is a magical day trip and its beauty is only emphasised during flower season. Although the route suggests a coastal trip, most of the way is inland – and stunning. Around 3 hours, take off on the Cape Town end of the N7 and slowly wave goodbye to the disappearing magic that is Table Mountain.
The N7 gently winds through low valley passes that dip into wide basins of sustainable farmland – welcome to the Swartland. Gentle rivers flow in the lowest of the valley’s contours, and only winter has the ability to entice them to spread their banks.
The land is strange – almost reminiscent of industrial farmlands that have yet to be mechanised and the result is a beauty that is both structured, yet natural. Think summer gold and wintergreen wheat fields.
The long open roads make this mini-journey a dream – but be weary of trucks and farmers who know the road like the back of their hands.
Eventually, lavish mountains will guide you along the route – and stopovers include historic towns and road works that have been going on for around 20 years.
The route is about 256km long and leads you into the picturesque and unpretentious seaside village of Lambert’s Bay where you can experience the best seafood in the heart of crayfish land.
M6 : Noordhoek ← → Hout Bay
If you want to feel as if you’re at the edge of the world, there’s nothing better than taking a slow drive along the world renowned Chapman’s Peak just before the sun sets. A delightfully short trip of around 15km, various stops along the way allow you stretch the 15 minute drive into an hour. At points, it seems as if there is nothing else beyond the Atlantic Ocean over which the cliff faces, especially when the sharp bends seem to end in the sea. High above the crashing waves, the remnants of falling rocks line the base of the mountain that edges the opposite side of the contouring pass.
A popular route, there’s lots of traffic as tourists and locals alike enjoy the views and sense of adventure the breath-taking pass offers.
On one side, there is the sleepy town of Noordhoek that offers a delicious range of food at the Noordhoek Village or stunning walks along the white sandy beach. On the other side, the valley of Hout Bay is full of trees, nature and restaurants too – try the Chapman’s Peak Hotel for calamari or the Hout Bay Market which picks up quite a bit and is right near the harbour.
On either side of the towns there is room to travel further, heading north into Camps Bay or Constantia when leaving Hout Bay or along the coast through Kommetjie around to Misty Cliff and Scarborough if you end up Noordhoek side.
Sometimes you find a motorcycle route that’s a rider’s ultimate pleasure: one that has beautiful bends and long straights – and this route is perfect for the gang. Since the route begins in the seductive town of Franschoek, have everyone meet up there for either breakfast or lunch – and then hit the road.
The route starts by travelling up-hill, ending with breath taking views at the top. Both up and down the other side of the pass are a set of pretty easy bends that make the drive a just a tad more entertaining. There are many stops along the way which are great for photographs – and, as always, stretch the short 25km drive from 30 minutes to however much time you have. Once down the mountain you get a number of straights that are ideal for the speed junkies to take a crack at. And, because the route is virtually in the middle of nowhere, connecting two main spots, the road has little traffic and, even better, minimal traffic cops, so the space is yours to enjoy. But please, safety first.
Waterberg: Polokwane and back again – Mokopane ← → Modimolle
The towering mountains of the Waterberg Massif offer riders spectacular views paramount to any other route in the area. A short round about route, travelling through the Waterberg Reserve is a great way to cleanse your mind.
The road is generally quiet, but do be careful of the animals which pop up along the way.
The area was once over-farmed and left the soil and natural habitats of animals such as antelope, white rhino, giraffe, hippopotami and other species in poor form. But land owners have since reformed the land so your drive will teeter towards a wildlife safari – and watch out for the roaming animals.
The Waterberg Biosphere is the first region in the northern part of South Africa to be named a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The extensive rock formation was shaped by hundreds of millions of years of riverine erosion to yield diverse bluff and butte landform.
Modimolle, meaning ‘the gods have eaten’, is a beautiful town that epitomises the rich flora and fauna of the Waterberg region. If you decide to stay in the sleepy agriculture town, there is much to do in terms of wildlife and nature activities.
Valley of a Thousand Hills: Ixopo ← → Camperdown
If you have never experienced the seemingly open-ended beauty of The Valley of a Thousand Hills then you need to get a bike up to KwaZulu Natal and travel the road from Ixopo to Camperdown. But note: you are travelling through a rural area. The roads are tarred, but host a series of pot holes along the open road and speed bumps when you enter through the small villages.
The road takes you through a number of gorgeous green hills and over spectacular rivers, offering your eyes an endless spectacle of the natural beauty of the gods.
The road has frequent and amazing corners that allow for some speed if you’re careful enough as, paired with the condition of the road and heavy day-time traffic, could be dangerous. Rather ride in the early mornings to avoid any unnecessary confrontation.
The route is around 90kms and offers beautiful green views of magical beauty in a region that I’m sure has more shade of green that Ireland.
Balito Run: Durban ← → Dolphin Coast
There’s something magical about Durban’s coast line. It boarders on the tropical, allowing for light clothing and sun praising, hosting a fantastical array of greenery that masks the grime that coats every aspect of the City.
Escaping Durban itself is very easy and taking a quick ride up to Ballito makes for a fun early morning ride. A thriving community, Ballito has grown into a thriving community of its own, but retains a sense of escapism.
Along the drive, stop off on the coast with hopes of spotting large frolicking schools of bottlenose dolphins – hence the name. You will also cross the many river mouths that make their way into the ocean, hosting a fantastic array of wildlife as well as endless fields of sugarcane.
There are excellent fishing spots and the warm, humid climate makes it ideal for a frolic in a rock pool or two. Around 62km, the trip is short and beautifully spacious – but travel early on a Sunday morning to avoid the Saturday morning cyclists in training. It’s also a short one, but the 50 minute ride ensures a spectacle of activities that always promises beautiful distractions. And, of course, an early morning breakfast in Ballito just in time to watch the dawny surfers is always a treat.
The Northern Cape
Springbok ← → Alexander Bay
However you get to Springbok, once you leave the small town to make your way North West to Alexander Bay, the air starts to get cooler and is a much welcome relief after travelling through the hot Northern Cape. The Karoo’s heat is a melting phenomenon, but what’s even more beautiful to experience is the sharp drop in temperature as you make your way to the coastal town.
The road is beautiful and lonesome, with the open sky that are all yours to take in – and it doesn’t hurt that the 229km stretch is very quiet. The Anenou Pass makes for an interesting set of testing curves, while the selection of open road allows a fair bit of throttle opening. The natural rugged and desolate beauty of the area has great appeal to many people. This combined with the cultural history of the Nama people , who are now sharing and contributing to the development of the tourism industry, should help to make Alexander Bay a must visit destination, especially for anyone willing to travel to where South Africa meets Namibia. If you would like to cross into the neighbouring country, be sure to obtain a pass – gates are open until 22:00.
Gauteng/North West Province
Pretoria East to Lion and Rhino reserve Via Harties
The change in season is probably most visible in the lowveld. Summer rains litter the ground with lush green vegetation and cover the sky with distressing, yet simultaneously delightfully beautiful afternoon cumulonimbus clouds. During winter, the air is thick with the smell of veld fires as the ground is dry, brown and disheartening.
Although the summer months provide a stimulating backdrop, they also bring with them hazardous road conditions. This is extremely apparent when riding through the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, although they are brilliant at keeping the roads in as best condition as possible.
Pretoria is obviously a stunner of a city, its long roads lined with the purple of the Jacaranda trees, adding to its beautiful green hills. Although the road to Harties has never been upgraded, its condition is still legitimate and there are no tolls along the route.
Once in Harties, or Hartbeespoort, the dam is refreshingly beautiful. The circular route takes you through bustling Centurion and changes drastically once you leave. Around 186km, this is a full day of adventure, especially if you take a slow drive through the nature reserve. The roads are standard so it won’t tire you out as much during the 2 hour trip.