3 festive road trip ideas for December

Posted on 25 November 2022 By Tsoku Maela

A road trip with the family, with a group of friends, or even just that special person in your life, is the best way to forge lasting friendships, create family bonds or really get to know another person. So, we’ve sought out three festive road trip ideas for December.

And car travel is, at the moment, the most affordable option around. Domestic flights in South Africa are at their most expensive, and public transport is limited – and limiting. A road trip gives you the freedom to take your time, explore off-the-beaten-track oddities, and follow the path less travelled.

BON Hotels – with their variety of something-for-everyone accommodation options in South Africa’s main centres – is bringing you some ideas for the road trip of a lifetime so that your next family holiday is sorted.

1. Beach to Berg to Bush

This road trip can last a week or more and takes in some surprising, lesser-known scenery and attractions while including a variety of South Africa’s greatest drawcards: pristine beaches, misty mountains and safari adventure.

From Durban it winds through the mountains of Zululand and past the tropical forests of the Elephant Coast, stopping off in the mountain kingdom of eSwatini and ending up in the bush of the Kruger National Park.

Royal Palm Hotel and Apartment

Day 1: Durban. You can now leave Royal Palm Hotel and Apartment in Umhlanga because you will already have spent some time on the beach at Mvoti and browsing at Gateway Gallery of Shopping. You can head north on the N2 until the Dodokweni offramp (Bridge No 9) where the R66 takes you to Eshowe (1.5 hours drive or 140 km).

Eshowe is worth several hours’ visit. There is Fort Nonqayi – which also houses a weaving and basket museum and art gallery – which tells the story of King Cetshwayo and his bitter-sweet acquaintance with the English queen Victoria. There is a tree-top walkway to spot the rare Narina Trogon and to get a bird’s-eye view of a tropical sand forest, and the famous George hotel with the Zululand Brewery’s Zulu Blonde beer. If you have never been to Eshowe, you are in for a surprise. After spending the day exploring the heart of Zululand, you can head north, turn right onto the R34 towards Richards Bay, and book into the BON Hotel Waterfront Richards Bay (1 hour, 85 km).

Day 2: There is a long stretch ahead today, so if you are not in the mood to rush you can break your journey in several places, perhaps even taking several days to cover this part.

From Richards Bay, the N2 heads almost due north past Mtubatuba – where you can turn off to St Lucia for a detour to the town where there is a crocodile farm, estuary tours, safari tours and walking safaris. Then on past Hluhluwe Game Reserve on the left – which can be worth a day’s detour of game driving – or the town of Hluhluwe to your right where there are private game farms, craft villages and a safari resort.

The N2 continues north past Mkhuze, where the Ghost Mountain Inn is a very special place for lunch and a swim in the summer heat, and Jozini Dam with the Elephant Lodge overlooking the lake and the Shayamanzi Houseboats. On the right-hand side, you will be accompanied by the towering Lebombo Mountains until you come to Lavumisa, which is the border post for Swaziland (2.5 hours, 195kms) and then it is a winding tour through the most charming pocket Alps of eSwatini to Mbabane (2.5 hours, 175 km) to Mountain View International Hotel.

Day 3: It is worth spending a day or so in eSwatini, which has a range of activities from craft bazaars, hikes, safaris, walking tours and curio shops such as Swazi Candles and Ngwenya Glass.

Day 4: You will be leaving the Mountain View Hotel with many backward glances of regret, but soon you will arrive at the border again at Piggs Peak (1 hour, 62 km) and your next stop is Malelane (1.5 hours, 85 km). From Malelane it is a short hop to Buckler’s Africa Lodge (half an hour, 45kms), which is right on the border of the Kruger National Park, overlooking the park from the riverbank. You can sit on your verandah with sundowners and watch the animals coming down to drink.

Next Day: A good plan is to spend the day exploring the Kruger as a day visitor, or perhaps tour the park and end the day at Shishangeni, which is inside the park on the other side of the Crocodile River Loop. Either way, you can eyeball game through the lush bush of this world-renowned park as long as you like, with two BON accommodation options available.

Spend as much time in Kruger as you desire − it is, after all, one of our top global tourist attractions and a SANParks Gold Card buys you a lot of holiday perks. After spotting the Big Five, you can either head on to Gauteng for a flight home, or back to Durban.

2. Sea to Sea

This route is quite adventurous and will take you from one corner of South Africa to the other, right along the longest route, with a wide variety of attractions along the way. After this journey, there will be a few corners of the country you will not have encountered.

Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel

Day 1: You will have started this tour at Cape Town’s Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel, the quirkiest launch pad for any road trip. From Cape Town, you hit the N1 highway to Paarl (45mins, 60kms) to spend an interesting morning at the Taal Museum, then on to Matjiesfontein (2 hours, 185kms), with its picturesque hotel and fascinating museum, then on to Beaufort West in the Karoo (2.5 hours, 270kms). This is a very long stretch, so perhaps you would like to break your journey in one of the picturesque Karoo towns or small nature reserves just adjacent to the highway. A Karoo night full of stars with the faint yip of a faraway hyena is unforgettable.

The next stop is Three Sisters (1 hour, 75 km), then Hanover (2 hours, 170 km) and then Colesberg (1 hour, 82 km) – through the famous koppies that dot this landscape and make it unique. A little further is Gariep Dam (45 mins, 50kms), which is the perfect place to book a chalet on the water’s edge and wash off the dust of travel. A day of water activities (boating, swimming, fishing) is a break from travel and a rest before the long road ahead.

Day 2: There is plenty of time for brunch at the waterside of South Africa’s largest dam before setting off to BON Hotel Bloemfontein Central (2 hours, 190 km). Bloemfontein has plenty to interest you, including the War Museum, the Olievenhout Art Gallery (with a lovely garden restaurant), Naval Hill, the Mandela Statue, the Orchid House and De Oude Kraal Colonial Restaurant.

Day 3: Be prepared for a huge change of scenery as the road takes you through the flat Free State “Big Sky” country to the beautiful mountains of Maluti and the Drakensberg. You will be

heading east, to Thaba Nchu (2 hours, 190 km), Ladybrand (1 hour, 75 km) and then Ficksburg (1 hour, 70 km). In November the cherry season in this region is in full swing, but there are roadside stalls with cherry products all year round. Good places to stop for breakfast or lunch!

From Ficksburg you can see the beautiful golden outcrops of the Maluti Mountains in the distance until you arrive in the artists’ enclave of Clarens (1 hour, 80kms) and a little way further, Golden Gate (half hour, 20kms) with breathtaking hiking trails. The scenery of the Eastern Free State continues towards Bergville, past Sterkfontein Dam and the astonishing Oliviershoek Pass down to Bergville (1 hour, 80kms), then to Ladysmith (1 hour, 90kms) for some Boer War battlefield experiences such as Spioenkop (one of the first and nastiest battles of that unfortunate war) and that includes the picturesque Ithala Game Reserve at Vryheid (2 hours, 150kms). Then it’s on to Piet Retief (1.5 hours, 105 km) and a little further to the border towards Mbabane in eSwatini and the Mountain View International Hotel  (2 hours, 130 km). The Mountain View Hotel lives up to its name, with the most spectacular mountain views.

Since our current topic is the Eastern Free State, check out the 20 best things to do in Clarens!

Day 4: Spend a full day in Mbabane, there is plenty to see and do (walking safaris, craft villages, hiking) and then head north through the lovely mountains to the border with South Africa and on to Barberton (1 hour, 150kms) for a taste of the Gold Rush and the beautiful mountain scenery before going east towards Malelane (1 hour, 75kms) which borders the Kruger National Park, so you can perhaps take a detour into the park (and choose one of the two BON properties for your overnight stays, or head straight towards Komatipoort (half hour, 50kms) and the Mozambique border, and then straight to Maputo (2 hours, 100kms), with its faded Portuguese colonial architecture, famous prawns, and tropical beaches. You will have traversed three countries, two coasts, and around 30 different environmental zones!

2. Downhill all the way – from the Highveld to the coast

Bloemfontein Central

Day 1: Starting in Johannesburg, take the easy N1 highway to Bloemfontein (4 hours, 400 km). It is a dramatic drive of big skies, sunflowers, windmills and maize. You can spend the day in Bloemfontein, visiting the National Boer War Museum, the Olievenhout Art Gallery with its outdoor restaurant, or Naval Hill, which has a large statue of Nelson Mandela.

Day 2: It’s only a short drive to Gariep Dam (2 hours, 190 km) to stay on the banks of the largest dam in South Africa. There is boating and fishing, swimming or just relaxing.

Day 3: Now you are veering off the highway to go to Middelburg (1.5 hours, 140kms) and then on to Nieu Bethesda (1.25 hours, 100 km), to wonder at the Owl House, the legendary home of Helen Martins, who built a concrete and crushed-glass wonderland. A little further is Graaff Reinet (45 mins, 50 km), with lovely restored buildings and the famous Reinethuis Museum, with one of the largest grapevines in the world.

From here, the Little Karoo beckons. Head towards Willowmore (1.5 hours, 170 km) and then Klaarstroom and through the astonishing Meiringspoort Pass to De Rust (1 hour, 100 km). The road snakes through tunnels and past dramatic rock faces and has a waterfall where you can stop for a swim. The next stop is Oudtshoorn, with its famous Cango Caves and ostrich farms (half an hour, 35kms) which will take up a whole day.

The next stretch of road is truly memorable – it’s called Route 62 and is as quirky, colourful and unique as its American near-namesake, Route 66. People travel great distances for a waffle, a bespoke milkshake or a beer at a very strange pub called Ronnie’s Sex Shop (the name is a joke).

Your first stop on Route 62 is Calitzdorp and then Barrydale (1.5 hours, 120 km), which has the nearby hot springs called Warmwaterberg Spa. It is rustic, unpolished and uncrowded with – apparently – radioactive water. The next stop is Montagu – sweet wine and dried-fruit country. You will travel through Robertson and Worcester and pass many wine estates where you can stop for a tasting.

You should reach Paarl (45 mins, 55 km) for a visit to the Taal Museum and then the last stretch to Cape Town (1 hour, 60 km), where your final BON destination awaits in grand style.

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