The ultimate South African road trip for 2021

Posted by Leila Stein on 6 November 2020

If there is anything that 2020 has taught us, it’s that travel needs to start at home. For many South Africans, domestic travel isn’t a bad option but when looking over the map of our massive country, it can become quite intimidating.

Not many plan to undertake a full country road trip, with most of us choosing to pick a town, route or coast instead. However, if you’ve got the time and a taste for adventure, making your way around most of the country is not impossible.

We’ve consolidated all the best holiday spots, secret hideaways and must-do adventures into a once-in-a-lifetime road trip. If you’re brave enough to do it all, then hit the road.

This itinerary can also be broken up into smaller segments.

It must be noted that while we’re trying to be as representative and comprehensive as possible, we couldn’t include everyone so if you want to go investigate the route on Google Maps and pick some detours and additions, the choice is yours.

For the sake of simplicity, the route is aimed to be a circular one starting and ending in the Mother City. Much like you can add your own twists, it can start and end in the location of your choice.

Important notes: 

– The aim is for each leg to take six hours or less to drive from one stop to the next. This will depend on a driver’s ability and road works.

– Accommodation recommendations are not included because this depends on the budget of the traveller. South Africans are lucky enough to have a wide variety of accommodation from camping to five-star hotels in most places.

– While we’re trying to keep the activities and attractions to those that are not likely to disappear anytime soon, it is possible that certain places mentioned could close down so always check ahead especially if it’s a privately-run activity or location.

Total trip time (without breaks): +- 116 hours (around 5 days)

Recommended length for full trip: Two-three weeks

Trip Maps

Leaving the Mother City to the real end of Africa

Time: 4 hours 12 min

 

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Since this trip begins and ends in Cape Town, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to get in all the Cape Town sightseeing before or after. If you live in the Mother City you can leave this part out if you want to.

The trip starts by taking the scenic route along the coast from Cape Town to Cape Aghulas, the Southern most tip of Africa. While you could take the quicker drive over Sir Lowry’s Pass, this route is special as it winds its way around the mountains and along the coastline, through the smaller towns along the way.

If you like you can stop to take in the great views, have lunch in Hermanus or make it all the way to Aghulas so you can start sightseeing.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even a book a shark-cage diving adventure in Gansbaai.

Must-dos:

-Visit the Aghulas National Park and climb up to the top of the lighthouse and take a picture where the two oceans meet

-Visit the Sea Shack in Struisbaai for fish and chips

-Peak into Arniston and visit its famous cave

Off to Knysna on Route 62

Time: 6 hours 41 min

 

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You’ve started the journey off along the coast but now it’s time to go inland. Experience South Africa’s famous Route 62 through the Klein Karoo.

The change in scenery from crashing waves to a dry, stark valley surrounded by the incredible Swartberg Mountains is a phenomenal experience and provides a whole new perspective on South Africa’s incredible landscape.

The drive is long so plan your stops carefully and even consider staying over in Oudtshoorn which is around the half-way mark and also where most of the activities are.

Must-dos: 

– Take a quick stop and look around Barrydale, a town of artists and creatives

– Take a picture and look inside the Instagram-worthy Ronnie’s Sex Shop

– Visit an Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn and discover they hey-day of this tiny town

– Find out all about stalagtites and stalagmites at the Cango Caves

– Go Meerkat spotting early in the morning as they wake up

– Visit the Knysna Heads

– Find out more about our gentle giant friends at the Knysna Elephant Park  

A stop off with the Elephants

Time: 3 hour 50 min

 

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Now it’s time to take on the Eastern Cape as you cross the Bloukrans Bridge. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take a bungy jump while you’re at it? This is the third highest bungee jump in the world and is only for those seeking the most exciting thrills.

As you wind your way further into the province you’ll notice why it has been home to famous poets, painters and writers for centuries. The landscape is filled with incredible aloes, rolling hills and seemingly endless expanses.

Make your stop for the end of the day at the Addo Elephant National Park, which is the third largest national park in South Africa. While you can roam the park in your car, another way of seeing the park is on horseback, trails through the park are guided and get you closer to nature.

Must-dos: 

– Swim at the beach in Port Elizabeth

– Visit the Big Pineapple in Bathurst

– Drop-in at Kenton-on-Sea for a beach picnic

Along to Coffee Bay

Time: 6 hour 58 min

 

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Heading further into what was previously known as the Transkei, you’re heading into the Wild Coast. This stretch of South Africa is not as big of a tourist hub, although more people are coming to realise the beauty and charm of its craggy cliffs and secluded beaches.

As you make your way you’ll notice the landscape dotted with rondavels, punctured intermittently by a new bustling town.

The big attraction is the stop for the night, Coffee Bay. With the famous Hole in the Wall formation off the coast, beaches undisturbed by big crowds except for the cows who like to sit in the sand and hiking trails that should be on most hikers lists, this spot is extremely underrated.

Must-dos:

– Surf at the Mdumbi and Mapuzi point breaks

– Take the coastal hike to Hole in the Wall

– Hike to the Mapuzi Cliffs, find the secret caves, swim in the pools below and jump off if you dare

– Go diving in the warmer, crystal clear water off the coast

– Visit the Nelson Mandela Museum at Madiba;s birth place, Qunu

Up into the Drakensberg mountains

Time: 5 hour 27 min

 

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As good as it gets. 📸 @graeholliday #hikemzansi #hikingsouthafrica #royalnatalnationalpark #tugelagorge #drakensberg #amphitheater

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Now onto the iconic Drakensberg mountains. High up on the list of the must-see regions of South Africa, these mountains are perfect for those who love the outdoors and if you’re doing a road trip this big, that is definitely you. The Maloti-Drakensberg National Park spans across South Africa into Lesotho and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the area on foot, bike or horse back as the region is made for adventure.

Must dos: 

– Pick your preferred hiking route and take in the natural beauty

– Swing across the mountains with the Drakensberg Canopy Tour

– Find incredible cave paintings on the Sherry Cave hike

– Go fly-fishing in the rivers which flow down from the mountain

Curry and the beach in Durban

Time: 2 hour 27 min

It’s time to head into another city and it’s been a while. Take a break in Durban and get to know South Africa’s laid-back, coastal gem. Known for it’s warm water and incredible food, Durban is everything you could want from a costal town stopover. The city centre is studded with colonial buildings and the promenades along the beach stretch out for ages, the city feels like a mix between California and Cape Town.

Must-dos: 

Try the world famous Bunny Chow (no real bunnies used, we promise)

– Walk along the Golden Mile

– Take a trip up to Umhlanga, the resort town outside the city

– Visit uShaka Marine World

– Take a picnic to the Botanical Gardens

– Catch some waves

– Jump off the swing at Moses Mabhida Stadium

Border sitting in Piet Retief

Time: 5 hour 42 min

 

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“Jozini Lakescape” 📍 @thewildlifespiritafrica 📸 @painteddog_photography 📷 @samsung_galaxy.s10 This picture of the scenic Lake Jozini (Pongolapoortdam) and its beautiful surroundings was taken from the hidden little gem that is @thewildlifespiritafrica. A lot of magic (besides the magnificent view) happens at this stop off in the Lebombo mountains. The Wildlife Spirit is the birth child of @elephant_dung_paper and @elephantgin and its main goal is to educate the local community in the area on their wildlife and environment, as well as give local and international visitors an opportunity to learn about elephants including their intelligence, importance in the ecosystem and the need to protect them for future generations. Activities offered here include activities on elephants, indigenous plants, local arts & crafts and elephant-dung-paper making and venue hire for events 👌👍👏 #wildlife #spirit #elephant #dung #paper #recycle #elephantgin #gin #community #project #education #environment #wildlife #ecosystem #activities #indigenous #plants #nursery #arts #crafts #curios #landscapes #lakescape #lake #jozini #pongolapoortdam #lebombo #mountains #travel #travelblogger #travelphotography

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Back into the countryside we go as you make your way north and then inland towards Mozambique. Take the N2, which will make the journey a little longer but keeps you close to the coast and able to stop in at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. If you have the time, stay over so you can enjoy the incredible beaches, scuba diving and game drives in this often overlooked park.

If you’d rather carry on your journey, make your way to Piet Retief, a town on the border with eSwatini. While we’re not crossing borders on this trip, hugging our neighbouring country is a great way to experience some of the landscape found in its southern region.

Must-dos: 

– Kayak on Lake Sibaya in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park

– Stop in at the oldest reserve in South Africa, the Pongolapoort Nature Reserve

– Find the point on the route where the N2 sits on the border, with SA on your right and eSwatini on your left

Time for the Kruger

Time: 5 hour 15 min

 

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You can’t do the ultimate South African road trip without including one of the most famous places on the map: The Kruger National Park. For the sake of time we’ve picked Skukuza as our rest camp but if you have more time you can explore further north into the park.

Whether you’re camping or living it up in a luxury resort, the park is so unlike any other game reserve you’ve ever been to. Every game drive is an exciting new adventure and you never know what you’re going to see next.

Must-dos: 

– Go on a game drive!

– Take a guided walk to get closer to the action

– Sign-up for a bush braai, out among the stars

Into Limpopo we go

Time: 4 hour 48 min

 

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We’ve finally reach the 5th province of the trip and the most northerly in the country, Limpopo. Wind your way up to Louis Trichardt, this will be the furthest north we’re heading but if you want to carry on closer to the border with Zimbabwe, it’s up to you.

Take in the change in scenery and the wilderness including incredible waterfalls.

Must-dos: 

– Canopy tour in Moagoebaskloof

– Visit the Dzata Venda Ruins

– Go for a hike in Hangklip Forest Nature Reserve

Off to eGoli

Time: 4 hour 28 min

 

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It’s time to make your way to the biggest city in South Africa. Jozi is filled with things to do so taking a few days here to get to know the city is a must. This will also be a great opportunity to enjoy all the perks of city life with great restaurants and bars after a long time on the road with Steers lunches and petrol station snacks.

Must-dos: 

– Take a tour of Soweto, especially Vilikazi Street

– Visit the Apartheid Museum

– Take in the Maboneng Precinct

– Visit the Johannesburg Art Gallery

Go back in time at the Cradle of Humankind

A hike in the Highlands

Time: 3 hours 5 min

 

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From the city back out into nature. Head to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, one of the most overlooked parks in the country. Found around the Maluti Mountains in the Free State, this park is home to incredible rock formations that glow gold in the setting sun.

You can just stop off at the park and spend the day if you like, however the real recommendation is to do the Ribbok Trail which is a 28km two day hike which lets you really experience the region and sleep on the mountain. If that’s not your style there are also shorter day trails to try.

Must-dos: 

– Hike in the National Park

– Visit the Basotho Cultural Village

– Stop in at the nearby town of Clarens

Can’t miss the big hole

Time: 4 hour 46 min

We’re entering the last province before returning to the Western Cape! On our way to Kimberley and you’re not a South African if you haven’t at least heard about the Big Hole in Kimberley. This massive open pit mine crops up in all school curriculum and general knowledge.

The route there takes you skirting along the border with Lesotho and through Bloemfontein, the country’s judicial capital. Watch how the landscape changes from the lush greens to the dusty, small shrubs as you get closer to the Klein Karoo.

Must-dos: 

– Visit the Big Hole

– Take a ride on the Kimberley Tram

– Find out more about our history at the Sol Plaatjie museum

– Watch the Flamingos at Kamfers Dam

All the way to Upington

Time: 3 hour 56 min

 

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Making your way to Upington, the Northern Cape reveals more of itself to be filled with spectacular natural wonders often overlooked for their remote location. Wind your way down and across the top of the province, skirting the Orange River, and really take some time to find out what the Northern Cape has to offer.

Must-dos: 

– Visit the Augrabies Falls National Park

– Take a dip in the Riemvasmaak hot springs 

– Stop along borders in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park

Now Namaqualand

Time: 4 hour 24 min

It’s on to Springbok, the town at the centre of Namaqualand. This area is known for its beautiful display of flowers once a year as these beautiful flowers burst into bloom and blanket the whole area between August and October. If you can time your trip to coincide with this site, you won’t be disappointed.

However, even if you don’t make it during that window, there is still so much to explore. Up at the top of the Klein Karoo, the area has its own unique plants and sometimes feels like another planet entirely.

Must-dos: 

– Visit the Namaqua National Park and Goegap Nature Reserve

– Ride the Namaqua Horse Trails

– See the Aristea Shipwreck can be found in Hondeklipbaai

Hanging by the Clanwilliam Dam

Time: 3 hour 21 min

 

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You’re back in the Western Cape and it’s time to take a break by the Clanwilliam Dam. Located in the Cederberg, this very old town has a whole lot of activities waiting for you. Known for some of the oldest San paintings in the country, this area has history literally painted onto its walls. The hot weather also means there is no shortage of great outdoor activities, from waterskiing on the dam to Rooisbos tea tastings.

Must-dos: 

– Go for a rooibos tea tasting

– Take a tour of the San paintings found in the region

– Visit the Cederberg Wine Cellars

Last hurrah on the West Coast

Time: 2 hour 10 min

 

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The West Coast, while a popular destination, is often overlooked in exchange for the Garden Route but this shouldn’t be the case. Pick a town to stay in along the coast because no matter where you choose, whether it’s Paternoster, Langebaan or Saldanha Bay, you won’t be disappointed. With long stretches of coastline and amazing natural beauty, this is a great last stop before heading back to Cape Town

Must-dos: 

– Visit the West Coast National Park and take a picnic 

– Eat at Wolfgat in Paternoster

– Play in the Langebaan Lagoon

– Drink at the Groote Post Wine Cellar

Back to Cape Town

Time: 1 hour 44

 

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Table salt 🧂

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You’ve made it to the end of your trip and are surely both satisfied and exhausted. While this trip tried to be as comprehensive as possible, there is always more of our beautiful country to see so try fit in the stops you missed or even the return to the ones you loved the most.

Picture: @SafariKZNMark/Twitter






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