5 incredible road trip itineraries for South Africa

Posted by Matt Sterne on 6 July 2021

This is the brief: you’ve got three weeks of holiday, you can’t cross the border and you want a trip of a lifetime. Where do you go?

Personally, I’d want a little of everything. Give me a mountain pass, a wild beach, a fine restaurant and a local dive bar and I’ll be happy. Culture, food and adventure all wrapped in one. Also, three weeks is a good amount of time to do this. Take your time. Breathe it in.

These five routes would be at the top of our list.

The Garden Path – Cape Town to Hogsback

Highlights: Hermanus, Garden Route, Eastern Cape Parks, Hogsback

You’ll hug the coastline all the way from Cape Town to Gqeberha and then drift inland stopping at two very impressive parks before reaching Hogsback. Stops are:
1. Hermanus: Choose your own adventure in this town of varied attractions. There’s the Hemel-en-Aarde wine valley, the Fernkloof Nature Reserve hiking trails, a string of pretty beaches and a coastal path that is quite possibly the prettiest in the country. Top tip: Spend a night in Gilpin Hut on top of the mountain.
2. Arniston: Check out some caves, dunes, fishing cottages and The Agulhas National Park in this pretty seaside town. Top tip: The Arniston Hotel is an old favourite.
3. Still Bay: This sleepy holiday town is good for a quick stopover and exploration. Look out for whales between June and November. Top tip: The only tame eels in South Africa can be found here.
4. Knysna: One of SA’s favourite towns deserves its fanfare. You could spend two weeks here and barely scratch the surface. Top tip: Jubilee Creek is the best picnic site and trail in the region.

Robberg is a small reserve with a big allure. Image: Scott Ramsay/ CapeNature/ Facebook.

Robberg is a small reserve with a big allure. Image: Scott Ramsay

5. Plettenberg Bay: Same deal as Knysna in terms of things to do, with a lot of beautiful places to eat from the casual open-air atmosphere of the Deck to the sophisticated vantage point of Emily Moon. Top tip: The Robberg Nature Reserve has a hut that you can stay in that will knock your socks off.
6. Jeffrey’s Bay: Surf’s up. Check out this legendary town for a slice of SA surfing history. Top tip: The Island Vibe Hostel is a good place for the budget conscious.
7. Addo Elephant Park: Now the third largest national park in South Africa, Addo Elephant National Park has expanded to conserve a wide range of biodiversity, landscapes, fauna and flora. But really, it’s all about the elephants here. Top tip: Stay within the park at places such as Matyholweni Rest Camp for added magic.
8. Amakhala Game Reserve: Time to splash out and treat yourself to a world-class game-viewing experience, but only at a portion of the Kruger lodge prices. Amakhala is an impressive reserve with a wide range of accommodation options to choose from, quality guides and a wonderful story behind them. The landscape and wildlife numbers make for a special reserve. Top tip: The Leeuwenbosch Country House has a bar underneath its dining room where the stories flow as fast as the brandy.
9. Hogsback: You’ll feel away with the fairies in this town that’s surrounded by afromontane forest, waterfalls and crystal shops. Top tip: Terra Khaya Eco Backpackers is a peaceful and fascinating place to stay.

Wild Waters – East London to Mozambique border

Highlights: Mdumbi, Drakensberg, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, Kosi Bay

With warmer seas, good surf breaks and some untouched beaches, this is the dream coastal meander. Big mountains and the Big 5 also make appearances. Stops are:
1. Chintsa: Start your trip by kicking back at this splendid beach town. If you stay at Buccaneers, a personal favourite, you’ll have a wide range of fun activities on offer such as surfing, horse rides and a brewery tour. Top tip: Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve is on Chintsa’s doorstep.
2. Bulungula: You’ll take a four-hour drive today, crossing over from the former Ciskei into the former Transkei, where things are just a little rougher and wilder. Top tip: The Bulungula Lodge is eco-friendly and is 100% owned and managed by the traditional Nqileni village, a Xhosa community.
3. Mdumbi: There are a few options to choose between in this region such as Hole in the Wall and Coffee Bay, but Mdumbi is slightly quieter. All are equally beautiful, offering beaches and hills to explore. Top tip: The Swell Eco Lodge comes highly recommended.
4. Drakensberg: Time to mix things up by swinging by SA’s most impressive mountain range. Options are endless and depend on how much time you have. You can tick off day hikes in Monk’s Cow, Cathedral Peak or maybe try out the challenging Rhino Peak day hike. If you have more time, you can take on one of the multi-day hikes. Top tip: Giant’s Cup Trail is a hutted five-day hike that is regarded as one of the best.

The iconic Hole in the Wall is always worthy of a visit. Image: SA Tourism

5. Durban: Pop into the East Coast hub for some city energy. Top tip: Florida Road near Morningside is one of the trendiest streets in Durban. It has a cool vibe with café pavements, antique stores, art galleries and nightclubs.
6. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park: From beach to mountains to city to Big 5. HiP, as it’s known to some, is one of South Africa’s most evocative and accessible parks. It covers 960 sq km (around a 20th of the size of Kruger), yet there’s plenty of wildlife including lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, giraffes, buffaloes and painted wolves.
7. St Lucia: Cruise on the estuary in search of hippos and crocs, go on a bird walk to cross off some lifers or explore the nearby Cape Vidal. Just be sure to avoid the night-wandering hippos on main street, they’re not as cute as they look. Top tip: The guided snorkeling trips in Cape Vidal, in the Eastern Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, should not be missed.
8. Sodwana: Sodwana Bay is bordered by lush forest on one side and glittering sands on another. The diversity of underwater seascapes and marine flora and fauna makes it one of South Africa’s diving capitals. Top tip: Don’t miss the diving!
9. Kosi Bay: The jewel of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Kosi Bay features a string of four lakes, starting from an estuary lined with some of the most beautiful and quiet beaches in South Africa. Top tip: Provided you have 4×4 abilities, the campsite here is one of the best in the country.

Bush Bonanza – Joburg to Kruger

Highlights: Pilanesberg, Waterberg, Kruger, Panorama Route

This is the trip to really immerse yourself in the Kruger, while also visiting other parks of note as well as the beautiful Blyde River Canyon. You do this trip and you can definitely call yourself a proper (and lucky) South African.
1. Pilanesberg Game Reserve: Often spoke of with love and adoration by those who know it well, the Pilanesberg remains a haven where lions, buffaloes and day-trippers still roam. In 1979, Operation Genesis reclaimed this area of land from agriculture and today all the Big Five can be seen, as well as cheetahs, caracals, African wild dogs, jackals, hyenas, giraffes, hippos, zebras, a wide variety of antelope and 300-plus bird species. Top tip: Hippo Loop and Mankwe Dam are always good spots to see wildlife.
2. Marekele National Park: One of South Africa’s more underrated reserves, this mountainous national park in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve combines fabulous wildlife with dramatic landscapes. The Big Five are all here, the birdwatching can be excellent and the park is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of the endangered Cape vulture (800-plus breeding pairs). Top tip: A former Getaway intern, who now lives in the area, says, ‘Don’t bother with any of the accommodation other than Tlopi Tented Camp. It is the only place you can access a waterhole, so you’re almost guaranteed to see the Big 5.’

Sagole Baobab, near Pafuri Gate, is the biggest baobab in the world and is estimated to be around 1 200 years old. Visit it on your route. Image: Matthew Sterne

3. Mapungubwe National Park: A land of baobabs, elephants and rich history, Mapungubwe is unlike any other of our national parks. Top tip: Check out the interpretive centre to learn more about the famous archaeological finds in the area.
4. Kruger National Park: I’d dedicate a full 10 days to this section of the trip, and make my way from the northern gate at Pafuri, known for sparser wildlife but more beguiling landscape, all the way down south. There are countless ways to go about this, check out our other articles to see how. Top tip: Each section of Kruger has its own special traits and attractions, spend some time researching to find out which area you’d enjoy most.
5. Panorama Route: Finish off with something slightly different, by taking in the beautiful waterfalls, viewpoints and splendour of the Panorama Route. Top tip: The Blyde River Canyon is the highlight, try to get there for sunrise or sunset for the best pics.

Top towns of the interior – Joburg to Cape Town

Highlights: Parys, Clarens, Graaff-Reinet, Franschhoek
This will take you to the heart of our country, in more ways than one. Seven famous towns, 21 days, three days a town. While it might not be the most exciting route on this list, it’s almost definitely the most interesting.
1. Parys: Get a taste of the good life at this gem on the Vaal River, where the Vredefort Dome, river rafting and feisty locals will keep you entertained. Top tip: Check out O’s for one of the best meals and locations in town.
2. Clarens: At 1850m, Clarens is the Free State’s highest town and probably its most charming too. With a backdrop of craggy limestone rocks, verdant green hills, fields of spun gold and the magnificent Maluti Mountains, Clarens is a picture-perfect village and a wonderful place to spend a few days. Top tip: Be sure to check out Golden Gate National Park, 20 km east of Clarens.
3. Gariep: Come for the dam, stay for the koeksisters. A good stopover point between Joburg and Cape Town (or, in this case, Clarens and Graaff-Reinet). Top tip: Get out on the water with Gariep Boat Cruises from the Forever Resort.

Clarens is calling. Image: Melanie van Zyl

4. Graaff-Reinet: One of the oldest towns in South Africa has many interesting things to do and nearby places to explore. David Livingstone, the famous explorer, once travelled through Graaff-Reinet and called it ‘the prettiest little town in all Africa.’ Top tip: The Valley of Desolation at sunset is a must-do – watch as the Plains of Camdeboo stretch out from the base of towering dolomite columns.
5. Prince Albert: Is this the prettiest town in the Karoo? I’ll let you decide. Top tip: The dramatic Swartberg mountain pass is one of the most scenic in the country.
Franschhoek: Delicious wine, breathtaking mountain views, world-class restaurants and a tram that drops you off at the wine farms, what more do you want? Top tip: The Elephant and Barrel is the local pub and often has live music, check it out if you want something more laid back than the other sophisticated spots in town.

The Highlights Reel – Cape Town to Joburg

Highlights: Kruger, Drakensberg, Wild Coast, Garden Route, Cape Town

This is the type of trip those young European backpackers come do in a Citi Golf and end up seeing more of South Africa in three weeks than most South Africans see in their entire lives. You could be those backpackers. You could be in that Citi Golf!
1. Cape Town: Kickstart your trip with the old favourite and cross off those classic tourist destinations such as Boulders Beach, Kalk Bay, Table Mountain and Camps Bay. Top tip: Hire a bicycle at the Sea Point pool for a beautiful seaside cruise.
2. Knysna (Or Plett): Choose to spend a few days at one of these Garden Route favourites. Beach walks and mountain strolls are the order of the day, in between feasting of course. Top tip: If you want something a little more adventurous check out the tubing and kayaking on Storms River.
3. Hogsback: Chase some waterfalls in this moss-covered pocket of our country. Top tip: The Edge is another fantastic place to stay here.

Hogsback has some of the best forests in the country. Image: Matthew Sterne

4. Mdumbi (Or Coffee Bay): I dream about these two places more often than almost than any other in South Africa. Go surfing, catch a fish, walk up a hill or stay in your hammock, the choice is yours. Top tip: Watch out for those potholes.
5. Drakensberg: Spend a few days in our most impressive mountains. A good combo is to visit Royal Natal National Park and do the Gorge Walk and then go stay at Witsieshoek Lodge and do the Tugela Falls day hike.
Panorama Route: A stunning canyon and beautiful waterfalls – you’ll be well in love all over again with this country by this point. Top tip: A stopover in Underberg is a good idea to break up the driving.
6. Kruger National Park: Finish at our most iconic national park, where you can do your best to sniff out the Big Five in your own vehicle. Top tip: Read Getaway to stay on top of the latest news and attractions in and around the park.


Picture: Pexels

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