Chapmans Peak Drive, South Africa
South Africa, and the Western Cape in particular, has some breathtaking natural beauty to showcase, with many scenic routes just waiting to entice you off the beaten track to admire yet another wonderful view. The Chapman’s Peak Drive (aka “Chappies” to the locals) must be at the top of the list of scenic drives in South Africa that you just cannot miss. The geography of the Cape peninsula is responsible for this beauty – the route is along the Atlantic seaboard of the south western tip of South Africa and hugs the edge of the coastline, seemingly suspended between the towering mountain peaks on one side and the thundering Atlantic ocean many metres below on the other side.
To drive the route from the Hout Bay side, leave Cape Town along the M6 coastal road, which runs along the coast from Seapoint, Camps Bay and Llandudno (this section of the approach is a scenic route in its own right, with many places to stop and admire the sea views or shop for souvenirs at the craft stalls along the way.) to the picturesque old fishing harbour at Hout Bay. This is a great place to stop for fresh fish and chips on the pier or to stock up with seafood for later!
Chapmans Peak Drive Departs Hout Bay
Chapmans Peak Drive departs from Hout Bay some 26 kilometers south of Seapoint, where there are wonderful beaches and ample parking spaces for motorhome or campervan rentals. As the road rises slowly up the cheeks of the Twelve Apostles, we glimpse the Beta Beaches below us. Then the road dips down to sea level again past Glen Beach and then Camps Bay.
From there, the road rises slowly, as it passes inland for a while through the foothills of Constantia. Then it drops down again through scenic countryside. After a short while it reaches Hout Bay where we tarry a while to admire the colourful fishing boats. We may dream of fried fish and chips in the wharf-side restaurant I personally believe are the best I ever tasted..
Hout Bay Where Chapmans Peak Corniche Begins
The word “hout’ is the Dutch for wood. By the time early seafarers arrived in Cape Town from Europe, their rigging was often in tatters from passing through fierce Atlantic storms. They rested here to replenish their masts and spars from the quality timber growing in maritime forests. After they gradually cleared the land, it became vineyards, and later dormitory suburbs for people working in Cape Town.
But I digress. It is time to engage the mighty Chapmans Peak Drive. A toll company maintains the road, so the surface is in good condition. See here for access details and fees. The cliffs soon rise almost vertically to our left, while to our right they fall almost as steeply to Atlantic rollers crashing on the rocks below. Short of destroying the view, there is no way to make this drive completely safe. If you leave the road in a moment of inattention you are on your own. So please drive carefully here.
One of the best times to drive this route is late afternoon or evening so that you can witness one of the most beautiful sun sets in the world. Between June and November you may also be lucky enough to see a pod of whales passing by.
Negotiating Along the Near Vertical Face of the Mountain
The elevation of the corniche is no accident. It marks the point where flat, sedimentary rocks meet cape granite. This juxtaposition is famous among scientists around the world. Hence there was no question of the route in the minds of the road builders in 1915. They followed the seam with picks and shovels for five long years through to 1922. Many of these were prisoners of war, and more than a few refused to return home.
Can you wonder at this, given the view. At this point, the road twists and turns around buttresses so high they sometimes disappear into sea mist. If we are fortunate we may find parking for a smaller motorhome at one of the tiny stopping spaces. If we look down we see achingly lovely stony coves where we dream of swimming. But these are inaccessible even at sea level. And then the road dips down as the cliffs disappear, almost as innocently as it rose from Hout Bay. Our journey has ended. We have done Chapmans Peak Corniche and Kommetjie Lighthouse lies ahead. We park the motorhome rental there, and admire the view over a picnic lunch.