Driven with the wind in your sails, you can get to Namibia from Cape Town in just over eight hours, if you’re prepared to forego lunch or any of the attractions vying for your attention along the way.
But you could treat the 890 km (more like 1500 km if you’re intent on Windhoek) route as a road trip and do it in a more leisurely fashion, savouring the chance to explore the nether regions of South Africa’s north western hinterland.
Most people take the N7 north but off this are numerous highways and byways that if you are prepared to explore, using the N7 as the skeleton of your route, give you plenty to see and do before you come to the border with Namibia.
Perfect time to travel: Winter. Cape Town has been experiencing unseasonably warm, windless and dry winters with day time temperatures around 18 degrees, making it balmy and conducive to outdoor living…
Our list of dorps and highlights between here (Cape Town) and there (Namibia): The Cape Town To Namibia Route
Piketberg, roughly 115 km north of Cape Town, is a typical Swartberg town in amongst the Piketberg mountains surrounded by wonderful rock formations. Highlights include its impressive NG church, the night skies, the mission villages of Moravia, Goedverwacht and Genadenberg, and the wetlands of Verlorenvlei.
Not far from Piketberg, over the Piekenierskloof Pass, Citrusdal is a citrus producing town surrounded by farms in the heart of the heady Olifants River valley. Its famous for its historical Baths fed by hot mineral springs, hiking trails into the Cederberg, rooibos tea tours, the Piekenierskloof zipline, Die Sandveldhuisie and the Old Village on Modderfontein Farm.
Not even 60 km further up the N7 the newly renovated road will take you to Clanwilliam, the heart of rooibos farming, famous for its shoe factory, historical walks, access to the Cederberg Wilderness Area, and annual wild flower show. The R364 will take you east through the wilderness to the Biedouw Valley (look out for the turnoff, however, or you’ll end up in the Hantam Karoo).
Take the R364 in the opposite direction to Lamberts Bay, only 60 km from Clanwilliam on the coast. About halfway there you will stumble on Graafwater that, on the face of it, may lead you to think it is only a couple of houses rich but stop here and you’ll find pretty gardens, a rooibos factory, a nature reserve and the rock known as Heerenlogement, which sheltered early settlers for a night.
Lamberts Bay is more commercialised than you’re expecting. Quad biking vies with Bird Island and numerous accommodation venues, whilst the fish factories dominate town. Still, it is worth a visit for access to the largest gannet colony on the country’s coastline. Views from the glass modern hide out are fantastic, whilst dinner at the Weskus Kombuis is a must.
THE SECRET BEACH DRIVE
If you can, take the alternative R363 to Lutzville from Lambert’s Bay. Then follow the signs to Tormin Mine Skaapvlei, a left turn to Platskraal off the R363. You’ll need a high clearance vehicle for this 90 km strip of sandy beaches, but it’s one of the most incredible roads to travel. You should also have time on your hands as it is the slow route to the Namaqua National Park.
Just south of Lambert’s Bay, this is one of the most beautiful expanses of beaches on the coastline with a modest town that has managed to elude the gentrification and development of other seaside villages. Verlorenvlei is fantastic for bird watching. The train that runs through Elands Bay takes a little getting used to, if you plan to stay overnight make sure that your accommodation is away from the line.
The railway gravel service road between Lambert’s Bay and Doringbaai saves you the conventional route via Vaalvlei. Doringbaai is a remote fishing village where time slows, ideal for weekends filled with deserted beaches, hiking trails and access to spring flowers.
Only 8 km from Doringbaai, Strandfontein, is a weekend bolthole for the inland towns of Vredendal, Vanrhynsdorp and Lutzville. Although small it is similar to seaside towns closer to Cape Town with new concrete edifices that have great views over the long stretch of white sandy beach, but which lack the small-town character of Doringbaai and Elands Bay.
Little Papendorp, by comparison, is a must-visit. The fishing hamlet is one of two on the Olifants River – Ebenhaezer is further inland. Papendorp is one of the few remaining places where life continues as it has for years – locals still live off the ocean, whilst the wetlands and salt pans are protected natural assets. There is a labyrinth at Fryer’s Cove.
The bustling farming town of Vredendal acts as a shopping hub for all the little towns and farms that surround it. It is on the Olifants River Wine Route, is usually incredibly hot, and is where you’ll find the remarkable Sishen Saldanha Railway Bridge.
The not-quite-halfway mark to Namibia, Garies may look unappealing but the road between Bitterfontein and Garies has access to some of the most unusual and beautiful spring flowers in the country. The imaginary line that marks the border between the Northern and Western Cape runs between Bitterfontein and Garies.
Honneklip, as its known to locals, is real ‘gone fishing’ country and a bit of a detour. The road from Garies to Hondeklipbaai is gravel and not all that great and it will take you longer to get there than you think. The seaside village, which attracts colourful characters, is a collection of a couple of restaurants, a few guest houses and a general store.
Whilst it may look like little other than its hotel, scratch a little deeper and you’ll find that renowned photographic courses take place here and that people come here for the legendary flower displays in the Skilpad Wildflower Gardens.
You need to arrive here equipped. At least with a compressor, tools, hitches, a tyre gauge and a tow rope. 4X4 kit, in other words.
Untouched describes most of it.
There are basic ablutions, unmarred beaches and a single, sandy 4×4 track to these beaches, making it difficult for anyone with an ordinary vehicle. Namaqualand is dry, flat but so biodiverse that it rivals any other dry region in the world.
North of the Namaqua National Park the coastline has belonged to mining for years. Now open to the public Kleinsee and Port Nolloth are only just opening up to tourism. Otherwise, add the leg to Springbok to refuel, and to drive either the Messelpad or Burke’s Pass just south of town.
Whatever your route between Cape Town and Namibia, what you will experience is a journey into another world of quaint villages, endless beaches and eccentric personalities.