Passes & Poorts: Clarence Drive

Between a rock and the deep

Clarence Drive is a spectacular, cliff-hugging route that curves along False Bay’s eastern coast between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els. It’s a great day drive from Cape Town, or a scenic treat en route to a weekend getaway, says Marion Whitehead.

This 22-kilometre stretch of tar offers views over the deep-blue ocean and tantalising glimpses of delightful coves and beaches against a magnificent backdrop of craggy mountains. There are plenty of places to picnic and watch dolphins and whales in season. The coast here is notoriously dangerous for swimming and fishing; over-zealous anglers have been washed off exposed rocks by sudden waves.

Clarence-Drive-Hiker-at-BridgeThe route fringes the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s fynbos biome. In this botanical hotspot, you can see more than 1650 different plant species and there’s always something in flower. About 77 are noteworthy endemics – pop into the Biosphere Eco-centre at the Village Shop in Rooi Els for information on local fauna and flora, and a labelled display of flowers in season.

Bird-watching is particularly rewarding for twitchers as there’s a variety of habitats, from wetlands, seashore and coastlands to fynbos-covered mountains, providing homes to some 360 species, including at least 20 endemics. You could spot African black oyster catchers on the beach and martial eagles in the mountains.

What you'll see
Yachts from the small craft harbour at Gordon’s Bay dot the ocean as you head south past Bikini Beach and the first whale interpretation board. Just beyond the bridge over the Steenbras River is the beginning of the popular walk to Crystal Pools, a splendid spot where a series of five deep natural pools in a rocky gorge fed by waterfalls compete for top honours in sheer beauty.
Koeël Bay is dominated by Koeëlberg (canon-ball mountain). It was first called Colebrooke after a ship wrecked there in 1778 when it struck an uncharted rock on the opposite side of False Bay, drifted across in a stiff northwesterly and grounded on the cannon-ball shaped rocks.

Day visitors aren’t permitted at Kogel Bay Holiday Resort, but you can walk down a path to this long, sandy but treacherous beach from Dappat Se Gat parking area. A safe, protected tidal pool can be accessed from the Sparks Bay Day Camp.

On the last rise before Rooi Els, watch out for some dark rocks and an old tunnel in the face of the road cutting below Blousteenberg (bluestone or manganese mountain). This curiosity and the ruins of a small jetty in the sea below are all that remain of an old manganese mine.

Rooi Els has been a watering hole of sorts for centuries; its where the Khoisan brought their stock to drink at the river stained the colour of tea by the humic acids from the vegetable matter in the soil through which the rains percolate. Today the Drummond Arms is a drinking hole of another kind that serves as a hub for permanent residents and visitors to the holiday homes clustered around a shallow lagoon where children can play for hours on end.

Building the pass
Clarence-Drive-Car-on-Winding-RoadBefore Clarence Drive was built, holidaymakers sent their provisions to Rooi Els by boat and hiked along a rough footpath along the coast. This developed into a bumpy track along the coast as far as Steenbras River.

Property developer Jack Clarence owned land in Hangklip and Betty’s Bay and motivated for a proper road to be constructed. Work started in the 1940s and, during World War II, labour was provided by Italian prisoners of war.

One of the stone cairns beside the road is dedicated to Jack Clarence for his vision and foresight in motivating the route, while the other marks the modernisation and upgrading of the road in 1998.

Where to stay
Holidayscape has a wide selection of self-catering houses to let in Kleinmond, Betty's Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooi Els, ranging from budget to luxury.
Tel 028 271-5775 | Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  | Website

Barnacle B&B is right on the beach at Pringle Bay at the corner where the Buffles River meets the ocean. It has two suites with kitchenettes to let on a self-catering or B&B basis.
Tel 028 273-8343 | Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | Website 

Villa Marine Guest House is at the point in Pringle Bay, with marvellous views over the rocky shore and False Bay. B&B offered in five luxuriously furnished, modern bedrooms. Dinner on request.
Tel 028 273-8081 | Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | Website 

Kogel Bay Holiday Resort is a popular camping spot on the edge of False Bay. Camping permits are for a maximum of six people and must be obtained from the municipal office in Strand.
Tel weekdays only 021 850-4172

Best view and picnic spot: you'll be spoiled for choice as practically every parking area on Clarence Drive has incredible views.

Best sandboarding: Silver Sands Beach, Betty's Bay

Best walks: Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in Betty's Bay (Tel 028 272-9311 | Website ).

Safest beach: Bikini Beach at Gordon’s Bay which has blue flag status.

Funniest birds: Stony Point Penguin Colony at Betty’s Bay.

Recommended route
The full Monty: do a circular 200km route from Cape Town along the N2, up Sir Lowry's Pass, down Houw Hoek Pass, then take the R43 towards Hermanus, turning right at the R44 to Kleinmond and Betty's Bay to Rooi Els. Driving Clarence Drive from the south, most of the viewpoints are conveniently on the left shoulder of the road.

Go direct: Cruise Clarence Drive on the R44 from Gordon's Bay to Rooi Els and back again.

Useful Contacts
Overberg Info and

Hangklip-Kleinmond Tourism
Tel 028 271-5657 | Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  | Website

Gordon's Bay Info
Cell 082 929-9583 | Tel 021 856-5204 | Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | Website or

This is an extract from Marion’s Passes & Poorts: Getaway’s top 30 Scenic Mountain Routes in the Western Cape. To order it online, go to