South Africa is unrivalled for beautiful, scenic drives and travelling by road is one of the best ways to see what the country has to offer. If you’re a firm believer that it’s not about the destination but the journey, then a South African road trip holiday is a stunning way to explore the diverse region. From the dramatic landscape in the Drakensberg to the beautiful coastal routes in the Western Cape, South Africa is a smorgasbord of scenery that is just waiting to be discovered.
Driving in South Africa is fantastic simply because of the vast expanse of countryside available. From the border of Botswana to the utmost tip of the Western Cape, travellers can expect to cross nearly 2000 kilometres in a time period of around one day. The road infrastructure is also good, with tempting highways, adventurous off-road routes and spectacular mountain journeys. The benefits of exploring the country at your own pace are boundless and choosing a road trip holiday means it’s impossible to miss out on the most iconic sights in South Africa.
The Eastern Cape and Addo Elephant Park
The Eastern Cape region of South Africa is well known for it’s laid-back lifestyle and sandy beaches. It is also one of the most diverse regions within the country, home to South Africa’s only skiing resort Tiffendell as well as the world famous wild beaches in the Jeffery’s Bay area. For those looking to travel around the Eastern Cape by car, one of the best routes to take is from Jeffery’s Bay to East London. Often known as the Sunshine Coast, travellers can expect to discover unspoiled beaches, typical Eastern Cape bushveld and outstanding game reserves.
The route takes the N2, which is one of the main highways in South Africa and branches off onto the R72 for those who want a scenic coastal route. For a true Eastern Cape experience, it is recommended that you spend at least ten days exploring the region, as there are historic towns, beautiful beaches and incredible landscapes to experience. Some good stop-offs include Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred and the many small hamlets along the route. If you’re keen to travel inland, the Addo Elephant Park is the place to go to see the ‘big five’ and is a great way to experience African wildlife in its natural habitat. Grahamstown is also worth a visit, particularly as it plays host to the continent’s biggest arts and culture festival during the South African winter months.
The Drakensberg and Kwazulu-Natal
The Drakensberg is the biggest mountain range in South Africa and offers travellers some of the most stunning mountain views in the world. Spanning around 200 kilometres, the mountain ranges is predominantly located in the historical province of Kwazulu-Natal. For international road trippers, it’s a good idea to pick up a car in Durban or Johannesburg and travel towards the region from these international airports. From Durban or Johannesburg, the main highway into the Drakensberg region is the N3. Driving into the region, you can expect crisp mountain air, crystal clear streams scattered with waterfalls and unrivalled landscape views. It’s a haven for hikers and mountain bikers, but also offers some of the most ‘drivable’ roads in the country. For travellers interested in history, the Drakensberg has around 40,000 examples of Bushman rock art that date back at least a thousand years.
With such a plethora of things to do, it’s worth spending around two weeks driving around Kwazulu-Natal, particularly if you have an interest in the Boer War, Bushman history or enjoy outdoor pursuits.
Cape Town and the Garden Route
The Garden Route is perhaps the most famous driving route in South Africa and for good reason. Predominantly based within the Western Cape, the journey offers travellers the chance to see some of the most dramatic scenery within the country. Cape Town is a must-see for visitors to the region and it goes without saying that Table Mountain is a sight not to be missed. It’s worth visiting some of the less ‘touristy’ areas in the city to really get a feel of Cape Town life, too. Woodstock is an up and coming area that is teeming with artists, craft stalls and quirky restaurants. Noordhoek beach is also one of Cape Town’s hidden gems and is popular with locals and travellers alike - particularly those who enjoy horseback riding.
Leaving the bustling city behind, road trippers can expect lush and diverse scenery along the Garden Route. The journey stretches between Cape Town and the Eastern Cape, with the option of stopping off in the many picturesque towns along the way. The main roadway is the N2 and there are a number of stops that travellers should visit in particular.
Swellendam is known for being a sleepy yet extremely pretty town and travellers have the opportunity to go horseback riding, hike to nearby waterfalls and experience true a South African braai. Mossel Bay is another great place to stop on the Garden Route and is popular for tourists looking for a typical beach destination. Knysna offers a slightly different variety of scenery, boasting one of the country’s largest indigenous forests. Road trippers can end their Garden Route voyage in Plettenberg Bay, which is another picturesque town on the N2 or continue into the heart of the Eastern Cape.
The Karoo National Park and Oudtshoorn
For travellers looking to sightsee away from the coast, travelling through Oudtshoorn to the Karoo National Park is a great road trip route. Oudtshoorn is a popular tourist destination, particularly because it is known as the ostrich capital of the world but it is also an area of fantastic scenic diversity. Based in the region known as the Klein Karoo (little Karoo), visitors can experience the beautiful Swartberg mountain range or explore the Cango Caves. For adventurous travellers, the ecologically diverse area provides the opportunity to ride an ostrich or even eat an ostrich egg omelet, which is rumoured to feed at least twelve people.
This South African road trip journey is based on Route 62, which is often seen as an alternative to the Garden Route as it practically runs parallel to the famous scenic drive. It is scattered with wine vineyards, which gives travellers a great excuse to sample some of the high quality South African wines available.
Travelling by car means that visitors can merge onto the N1 and drive to the small but biologically diverse Karoo National Park. The Park is a fascinating example of animals that have had to adapt to adjust to the harsh conditions of the Great Karoo. Here, tourists can see lions, Cape mountain zebra and brown hyenas, along with a huge variety of flora and fauna.
The Limpopo River and Kruger Park
The Limpopo area of South Africa is the north most region and borders with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is an area of rich cultural heritage, spectacular wildlife and beautiful African scenery. For travellers exploring the area by car, one of the best routes to drive is the Limpopo Valley Route. This follows the historic Great North Road, which is now the N1 highway and allows road trippers to retrace ancient steps along the Limpopo River.
Whilst in the region, visiting the Kruger Park is an absolute must. The iconic game reserve is home to all of the ‘big five’ (lions, elephants, buffalo, rhino and leopard) and is a safari that all visitors to the region have to experience. The park is a vast expanse of land, covering nearly 20,000 square kilometres and has nine gates that visitors can enter through. It is worth spending a good length of time within the Kruger Park and most seasoned safari goers recommend staying between five and seven days in the game reserve.
These are just a few of the fantastic driving routes in South Africa and it can be difficult to choose between all of the roads the country has to offer. Road trips are a great way of exploring the country at your own pace and experiencing the scenery at its best. If you’re thinking about using a car to sightsee in South Africa, consider the routes above and discover some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.