Once you arrive in Cape Town, you’d be forgiven for not wanting to leave. But as beautiful and jam-packed with galleries, restaurants, shops and museums as it is, there is also plenty that’s worth leaving the city limits for.
Day trips from Cape Town offer wondrous wilds and variety. Take the wineries – hundreds of them, lending a pretty finishing touch to an already exquisite landscape backed by jagged purple-grey mountains. Once you cross the mountains, you’re met by undulating forest eventually giving way to a ruggedly handsome coastline. To the north the landscape flattens out, with long straight roads leading to foodie towns, whitewashed coastal villages and an easily accessible national park.
A mother and calf southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) off the Western Cape coast east of Cape Town © Peter Chadwick / Getty Images
Partake in an artisan feast in Darling
Darling is in the midst of a culinary revolution. A farming town once known for little more than milk, the pretty Swartland dorp (village) is now home to artisan everything. Rather than planning to sit in one spot for a long lunch, consider a grub crawl, hopping from one producer to the next. There are places specialising in either cheese, charcuterie, toffee or olives, as well as cafes showcasing the local produce in sandwiches, salads, pizzas and pies. To wash it all down, there are half a dozen wineries in the area, plus Darling Brewery, a proudly eco-friendly craft brewery on the edge of town.
Getting there: A daily bus to Darling leaves Cape Town’s bus terminal on Strand St at 5pm, taking just over 90 minutes.
A Cape gannet, one of the many birds flocking to West Coast National Park © Peter Chadwick / Getty Images
Find feathered friends at the West Coast National Park
You won’t likely see any of the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino) at the West Coast National Park, but it still gives you a good feel for the wildlife watching experience in South Africa. Birdlife is abundant, particularly around the lagoon, with more than 250 species sighted in the park. Summer (November to January) is the best season for birding, and it’s a great time to take a dip in the lagoon, but there’s plenty happening throughout the year. The park is known for its impressive wildflowers, usually on show in August and September, while the cool, dry months from March to May are great for hikes to spot zebra, ostrich and several types of antelope.
Getting there: There is no public transport, but it’s a pleasant, hour-long drive from Cape Town to the park via Rte 27.
A stunning stretch of coastline that can be seen while cruising in a car along Clarence Drive © Lucy Corne / Lonely Planet
Spot whales from the car along Clarence Drive
What’s that old adage about the journey being the important part, rather than the destination? When it comes to Clarence Drive, it’s true. Once you leave the N2 highway, you join the winding coastal road, hugging the mountain and affording cliché-worthy views across False Bay to Cape Point. The road meanders for 40km, offering equally photogenic vistas of ocean and mountain, and from June to November, you stand a good chance of spotting whales in the bay. Stretch your legs at Betty’s Bay, home to a picturesque botanical garden and the Stony Point penguin colony. You can return the same way or continue to Hermanus, whose clifftop pathway affords awesome views of whales in winter and awesome views without them the rest of the year.
Getting there: This is a trip you need to do in your own car, stopping frequently along the way to admire the views. From Cape Town, take the N2 east past the township of Khayelitsha and then join Rte 44 at Gordon’s Bay.
Soar above the mountains on a zipline tour
Outdoor adventures abound in Cape Town, but there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as the half-day canopy tour swooping above the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve outside Grabouw. A series of ziplines transport you across deep ravines, truly giving you the feeling of flying over the waterfalls and forests far below. Afterwards, take in one or two of the Elgin Valley vineyards, such as Paul Cluver Wines – the region is home to some lesser-visited wineries specialising in cool climate white wines. To round off the trip, stop at the Peregrine Farm Stall for tea and cake or a drop of local cider. Locals like to stock up on padkos – road trip snacks – and while it’s only an hour back to Cape Town, it’s the perfect time to enjoy some biltong (dried, spiced meat), crunchies (oat-based biscuits) or just a tasty meat pie.
Getting there: There is no public transport from Cape Town to Grabouw, but it’s a simple, hour-long drive from Cape Town along the N2 and Rte 321.
Franschhoek may be South Africa's culinary capital, with equally famous wine estates, but it's now home to a few microbreweries too © Lucy Corne / Lonely Planet
Feed your inner gastronome in Franschhoek
Franschhoek is best known for its centuries-old wine culture, with elegant wine estates surrounding the town in every direction. If you don’t have your own wheels, the Franschhoek Wine Tram is a great way to hop between the wineries close to the town centre. For those who prefer grain to grape, there are now some excellent microbreweries serving innovative ales (craft beer is no longer just an inner city thing). But it’s not all about the booze. Franschhoek is often referred to as the culinary capital of the country, with its main road lined with high-end restaurants, choco-centric cafes, coffee roasteries and elegant eateries run by local celebrity chefs. It’s a good idea to book a table in advance, particularly in the summer months.
Getting there: There are regular trains from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, from where you can get a shared taxi to Franschhoek, though a rental car is the best way to see the region – assuming you have a designated driver. The easiest route takes you along the N1 and then on a glorious drive through rolling hills to Franschhoek.
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