In 2013, I left my country for the first time on a 3-week trip to Italy. After that, the travel bug took hold of me. I got home, quit my job and moved to Cape Town where I got a job in the travel industry as a Marketing Assistant.
From there, I started collecting stamps in my passport, quit my job (again) in 2016 to teach English in Thailand and go full-time with my freelancing business. While teaching, I started my own travel blog Wanderlust Movement, and that kick-started my love for photography and gave me the motivation to learn more about it and invest in my first DSLR camera.
While I love travelling abroad and immersing myself in exciting new cultures, sometimes there is nothing better than simply exploring my own backyard of South Africa. This country is endlessly beautiful and diverse.
Why South Africa should be on your Bucket List
South Africa is one of those destinations that has so much to offer for every kind of traveller – no matter your budget. From our uber-luxury safari lodges to incredible road trips that will take you past rugged coastlines, arid deserts, towering mountain ranges and our fascinating local culture.
I’m always discovering something new and my bucket list never gets shorter (despite multiple around the country road trips)! These trips allow me to see so much of the country in such a free way. Below I would like to share with you how to experience the ultimate South Africa road trip.
How to Plan the Ultimate South Africa Road Trip
Due to South Africa’s size (over 170 countries are smaller than South Africa), you need to tailor your road trip to your interests. It all depends on how much time you have in the country, how long you want to spend in each place and how many hours you are comfortable driving each day.
For example, you could spend 3-weeks exploring the amazing Garden Route (a coastal road trip on the East Coast and one of the top road trips in the country) or you could drive from Cape Town up to Kruger National Park in the same amount of time and see more of South Africa and the lesser-visited yet equally beautiful Wild Coast.
Another thing to consider is the time of year you are visiting. In the spring, you can tackle the famous Namaqualand road trip (normally from Cape Town to Port Nolloth) to see the greatest wildflower show on earth.
In fact, the last South Africa road trip I took was a week-long adventure to Namaqualand to see the wildflowers for the first time. That was amazing as I had never seen the desert landscape erupt in so much colour before! It’s a bucket list trip and I’m so grateful I got to see it at the start of 2020.
Winter months are best for a road trip up the East Coast to see migrating whales in Hermanus or Sodwana Bay and St Lucia (a coastal section of iSimangaliso Wetlands Park) and also for going on safari in Kruger. There is little rain, making it easy to spot wildlife at the watering holes.
I would say that it’s easy to plan a 6-month road trip for South Africa or condense your itinerary if you only have 2-weeks. The more time you have, the more you can see and the more you can get off the beaten track and explore smaller towns, local cultures and niche attractions.
Top 5 Highlight of a South Africa Road Trip
There is so much to see and do on a South Africa road trip but for me the below 5 highlights will give you a fantastic mix of experiences that combine amazing wildlife, food and wine, natural wonders and driving scenery.
- Kruger National Park: one of the top national parks in the world and the best place to see the Big 5 – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo.
- Cape Winelands: a must for foodies and wine-lovers! Visit Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and the smaller wine towns along the epic Route 62.
- Blyde River Canyon: part of the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga. It’s one of the most beautiful places in South Africa. Come here for sunset!
- Hole-in-the-Wall: part of the Wild Coast, this attraction is steeped in local Xhosa folklore. You can drive here or hike from the nearby Coffee Bay.
- Tugela Falls: the highest waterfall in Africa. It takes 3-4 hours to hike and you can easily add this gem to your Drakensberg road trip.
Most Scenic Roads on a South Africa Road Trip
No matter which route you take and what destinations you plan to see along the way – there is a road trip in South Africa perfect for you! Luckily, this country is blessed with some amazing highways, roads and backroads. Here are some of the most scenic roads which you should keep in mind:
- Route 62 – a beautiful wine route in the Western Cape.
- Garden Route – a stunning coastal route with plenty to see and do!
- Biedouw Valley – during wildflower season it’s covered in daisies.
- Sani Pass – only attempt with a 4×4 and an experienced 4×4 driver to reach the highest pub in Africa!
- Panorama Route – a spectacular route in Mpumalanga that winds past some of the most impressive natural wonders in South Africa.
- If you’re driving from Johannesburg to Cape Town, take a detour to the Valley of Desolation off the N1 and spend a night in the historic town of Graaff-Reinet.
- All of the Drakensberg – our most impressive mountain range full of mountain passes, hikes, San rock art and a wine route.
Hiring a Car, Campervan or 4×4 for your Road Trip
Your choice of vehicle will depend on where you will be booking your accommodation. If you plan on camping or venturing further out, then a 4×4 is best because you will get everywhere without a problem. If you are not camping, a car is perfect for staying on well-trodden roads. Thrifty and Avis Budget Car Rental companies are always solid options.
What you Need to Know Before you Go
I recommend downloading the Tracks4Africa app. It’s a must for 4×4 drivers, but also for anyone road tripping around South Africa in general. The maps work without data or signal and show dirt roads which is handy!
Keep in mind that the toll gates only take cash or credit cards. You can’t use a debit/cheque card and there are no ATMs at the tolls. Another tip is to not drive at night. In rural parts of South Africa, animals have been known to sleep on the roads (goats, sheep, etc.) and you might hit one.
Potholes can be a problem too and you don’t want to get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere on your South Africa road trip. But apart from that, just enjoy the freedom of the open road, the amazing scenery and the friendly locals you will meet on the way. Thanks for reading!