The Delicious Heart of the R44

If you like good coffee, getting out into the mountains and cruising the local village, the route from Gordon's Bay to Kleinmond, along Clarence Drive, is the perfect road trip.

With Piketberg and Hermanus at either end of the R44, there are more than a few visually and gastronomically compelling stretches to write about. However, nothing on that route can compare to the tar strip connecting Gordons Bay (via Clarence Drive) to Kleinmond.

It’s the same old story: you need to get from A to B expeditiously but want to enjoy the drive. It’s a problem when living in Cape Town, for it’s easy to think ‘next time’, but when road-tripping from other parts of the country, careful planning is always a good idea because this road, in my well-travelled view, is just shaded by the Chapman’s Peak drive as the country’s finest.

When I was in the area, the section of the R44 known as Clarence Drive was closed for repairs, with rockfalls like those that periodically plague Chapman’s Peak. Tired of the N2, on our return to the southern Cape we determined that we weren’t going to miss this gorgeous route.

A brief investigation revealed that only one stop-start lane was operating, in a season of daily closures. As we were based in Kleinmond, we decided we’d explore this eastern portion of the R44 before taking a chance on Clarence Drive on our way into Cape Town.

Here’s a list of my five favourite things along and accessed from the R44.

1. No Potholes aka ‘Coffee, on Clarence’, Betty’s Bay

The good news is that over the 10 days between Hermanus and Gordon’s Bay, we couldn’t find a pothole. There is no bad news about this route, unless you get impatient about the holiday-season queue for a ‘cuppa jo’ and a croissant at the grammatically disturbing ‘Coffee, on Clarence’. That’s all that disturbs because the coffee is very good, and with croissants, open sandwiches and sourdough on offer, it’s like you never left home. I realise that’s not the idea of a holiday, but when the temptation is there, it’s just too great.

Tip: bring your bicycle — MTB or road bike — because the cycling opportunities are endless and, if you’re from a city, probably a lot safer than at home.

2. Under the Palmiet River Bridge

“Don’t jump off that bridge when you’ve had one too many,” warned a school friend after I posted a few images taken from the rocks below the bridge and of the Kleinmond mountains behind. I did see local kids jumping off big boulders in the river, but that wasn’t the highlight for this roadtripping adult.

Chilling on those rocks in the river and reading, with the water temperature way warmer than the chilly ocean a couple of clicks downriver at Palmiet beach is heaven. And just in case you have kids of an age to jump, there are lifeguards on duty in the holiday season. Pack everything in your daypack, and maybe a lilo for the kids.

Chilling on the ocks in the river and reading under the Palmiet River Bridge

3. Harold Porter Botanical Garden, Betty’s Bay

If you appreciate the Kirstenbosch or Witwatersrand (Witpoortjie) Botanical Gardens, you’ll love this epic spot. The SA National Botanical Institute (SANBI) by definition manages beautiful properties, and this is one of them, which will be of great appeal to fynbos enthusiasts.

Here, the ericas, restio and protea families speak to you in the landscaped garden, before you head out on the Leopard’s Kloof Trail to the rockpools at the head of the kloof. Walkers are shadowed on their gentle journey into the gorge by swallows, martins, swifts in summer, and giant ferns. A wonderful touch is the keys given to visitors walking this trail, which limits numbers, making it a relatively exclusive experience.

Harold Porter Botanical Garden, Betty’s bay

4. Kleinmond Circular Route

Taking around two hours, this hike, starting opposite the Palmiet bridge is short(ish) and drop-dead beautiful. Make an early start in summer, 6.30am is my suggestion, packing a light fleece or sweater in your daypack (because you start in the shade), along with water, a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen.

The views from Kasteelkopnek at the top take your eyes over Kleinmond and Fisherhaven, to Hermanus in the east, and Palmiet beach toward Hangklip to the west. In case you weren’t aware, just about anywhere you hike around here is in the Kogelberg UNESCO Biosphere. It’s a treat.

Kleinmond Circular Route

5. Oupa se Boekwinkel

In addition to the fabulous Ficks (tidal) Pool just off the R44 in the Westcliff part of Hermanus, and Pringle Bay beach, this brilliant Kleinmond bookshop is a somewhat different but unique attraction. The village actually has three bookshops, but this one, with its vast and well-catalogued variety, including some Africana (I found a TV Bulpin book on the origins of the Zulu nation) is a must-visit. It’s found on 2nd Street, two blocks off the R44, next door to Die Bloubakkie, Kleinmond’s iconic fruit ‘n veg.

All images Angus Begg

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