4 Epic Road Trips in South Africa

South Africa road trip | Sleeping-OUTIn the same way that ‘slow food’ and organic produce is coming back into fashion, so is the concept of slow travel, which embraces the journey rather than focusing solely on the destination. While aeroplanes whisk you seamlessly from point A to point B, road travel puts you at eye-level with the landscape you’re travelling through and gives you time to ponder the scenery (as well as life death and the universe).
For that reason, we love road trips, and while these ideas are by no means exhaustive, they should put you on the right track. These 4 great itineraries take you through beautiful landscapes and interesting settlements and cover the trajectory in bite-sized chunks to maintain drivers’ sanity.

#1 The Cape Namibia Route

Cape Town > 125km > Langebaan > 108km > Elands Bay > 152km > Clanwilliam > 457km > Vioolsdrift > 197km > Fish River Canyon > 400km > Luderitz
If any road trip deserves the adjective ‘epic’, it’s this one. Travelling up the R27 it takes in the stark and windy beauty of the West Coast and Langebaan, and then at Velddrif it bumps along an isolated but beautiful stretch of coast until Elands Bay. It then veers inland towards Clanwilliam and the Cederberg before continuing up the N7 to Vioolsdrift and into Namibia. Crossing the border you head north towards the Fish River Canyon and then west across the country to the small colonial town of Luderitz on the coast.

West Coast National Park, South Africa road trip

The West Coast National Park, overlooking Langebaan Lagoon.

Don’t miss…

Langebaan: windsurfing on the lagoon, West Coast Fossil Park where you can see a real archaeological dig complete with fossil specimen from centuries ago, West Coast National Park with its views and flamingos
The gravel road between Velddrif and Elands Bay for lovely coastal views and a slower pace of travel.
Elands Bay: surfing, visit Verlorenvlei wetland to spot up to 300 bird species, and watch for whales as you stroll along the beach
Clanwilliam: bouldering at the famous Rocklands site, walk the Sevilla rock art trail
Vioosldrift: the border with Namibia, pull over for a couple of days to do a canoe trip down the Orange River
Fish River Canyon: largest canyon in Africa, and 2nd largest in the world, dip into the hot springs at Ai-Ais in the southern section of the canyon
Luderitz: check out the art nouveau and colonial architecture and birds like the endangered African penguin and crowned cormorants (Luderitz coast is classified by numerous international conservation bodies as an Important Bird Area)

#2 The Garden Route

Cape Town > 463km > Sedgefield > 25km > Knysna > 32km > Plettenberg Bay > 63km > Storms River > 165km > Jeffreys Bay > 147km > Addo
The Garden Route is a classic road trip if ever there was one. It simply follows the N2 highway along the coast, through the pretty towns, lush green landscapes and towered over by the Outeniqua Mountains for a large part of the trip. Before reaching the port city of Port Elizabeth, the route takes you towards the coast to Jeffreys Bay and then through PE inland towards the decidedly green region of Addo and the Addo Elephant National Park.

Bloukrans Bungee Jump, South African road trip

The Bloukrans Bridge, home of the highest bungee jump in the world.

Don’t miss…

Sedgefield: pass through on a Saturday and visit the iconic Wild Oats Farmers Market
Knysna: check out the Knysna Heads and take a boat across the bay to explore the island, get up close to the gentle giants at the Knysna Elephant Park and if you plan it right, you can also catch the Knysna Oyster Festival in June/July
Plettenberg Bay: enter the big aviary at Birds of Eden, chill on the safe beaches, while whale & dolphin watching
Storms River: do the Bloukrans Bungee (the highest bungee jump in the world), tube down the river and explore the snorkelling trail at the Tsitsikamma National Park
Jeffreys Bay: surf at the famous Supertubes
Addo: get up close & personal with Africa’s wildlife at the Addo Elephant National Park

#3 KwaZulu Natal Battlefields, the Drakensberg and the Midlands

Johannesburg > 300km > Newscastle > 165km > Estcourt > 73km > Howick > 103km > Durban
Head out of Johannesburg on the N3 and then join one of the smaller roads which takes you south east towards the green rolling hills of KwaZulu Natal and, specifically, Newcastle. From there continue south towards Estcourt where the towering Drakensberg Mountain will demand your attention. From Estcourt make sure you take a slight detour via the Karkloof Indigenous Forest before bumbling your way along the Midlands Meander to Howick. From Howick join the N3 again and follow it as far as Durban (and beyond if you like)…

Drakensberg Mountains, South African road trip

The Drakensberg Mountains outside Estcourt.

Don’t miss…

Newscastle: this town is right in the heart of the old battlefields area, where you can visit plenty of sites which were significant in the war between the British and the Zulus
Estcourt: the Drakensberg with its San rock art sites and excellent hiking, ziplining in the Karkloof indigenous forest
Howick: visit the Howick Falls and the shops, galleries and restaurants on the Midlands Meander
Durban: just outside of Durban is the Valley of 1000 Hills, a visual marvel of note

#4 Crossing the Interior

Johannesburg > 478km > Kimberley > 107km > Douglas > 425km > Graaff-Reinet > 334km > Prince Albert > 12km > Oudtshoorn > 237km > Montagu > 185km > Cape Town
Heading west out of Johannesburg, pick any number of freeways or back roads toward Kimberley, then duck south west through the arid landscape on the R357 to Douglas, which will appear as an oasis in the dry dusty semi-arid landscape of the Northern Cape. The route then heads southwards into the iconic Karoo towards Graaff-Reinet, a small but pretty town which is completely surrounded by the Camdeboo National Park.

Swartberg Pass, South African road trip

The Swartberg Pass between Prince Albert & Oudtshoorn.

The next stop is Prince Albert, and after a short but intense climb over the stunning Swartberg Pass, you’ll find yourself in Oudtshoorn, home of the KKNK (one of SA’s largest arts & culture festivals). It’s then time to push south along the popular Route 62 to Montagu, through the Breede River Valley, finally ending in Cape Town.

Don’t miss…

Kimberley: the Big Hole is an iconic attraction
Douglas: sundowners at the confluence of the Orange River & Vaal River, wine tasting at Douglas Wine Cellar
Graaff-Reinet: visit the intriguing rock formations in the Valley of Desolation within the Camdeboo National Park
Prince Albert: indulge in the foodie delights like cheeses, wine and olives, all produced in the area, travel over the Swartberg Pass to Oudtshoorn, which rises 1000 metres in 12km
Oudtshoorn: ride an ostrich and take a tour of the magnificent Cango Caves with their mesmerising stalactite and stalagmite rock formations, and further along Route 62, stop for a beer at Ronnies Sex Shop, an iconic pub
Montagu: sip wine on the Route 62 wine route, enjoy the bird life which includes black eagles and hike, mountain bike and climb to your heart’s content

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