It’s tempting to travel from city to city by air in South Africa, especially when one of the longest flights is a mere two hours. Take my advice, avoid the sardine tins in the sky and discover the country by one of the many spectacular road trips available.
South Africa is a tiny country in comparison to some of the others (Australia) out there. It fits snugly into my new province of Manitoba. No matter where you are in the country, you can usually leave in the morning and dip your toes in the ocean by sun set.
The Nostalgic Road trip: Johannesburg to Durban
- Time: 6 hours to 7 hours
- Distance: 570 km
- Tolls: 7 (approx. $25 total)
Pretty much every child who grew up in Johannesburg has made the trip from the city to the beach for school holidays. They will fondly recall memories of the excitement of leaving the hazy city behind, stopping for burgers at Wimpy in Harrismith, oceans of cosmos banking the roads and the sweet smell of the sea after clearing the Marianhill toll.
This is a comfortable and easy road trip to take. Follow the N3 (and the signs for Durban) straight from Johannesburg to Durban. This road trip will give you a great glimpse of the South African landscape.
The relatively short distance provides ample opportunity to stop in some in at some scenic spots along the way like the Sterkfontein Caves Nature Reserve or the Howick Falls.
The Foodie’s Road Trip: Durban to the Mid-lands
- Time: 2 hour return trip to Howick. Add 3 to 5 hours for the Meander.
- Distance: 216 return trip to Howick. Add Km’s additional for the Meander.
- Tolls: 2 (approx. $2 total)
If you’re staying in Durban, it’ll be hard to drag yourself away from the miles of golden beach front. The Midland’s Meander is a collection of scenic routes about an hour outside of the city and well worth a day trip, especially if you like food.
Like everywhere in South Africa, the drive is famous for its beauty. It’s also very unique because you get the feel that you’re driving through the English countryside, especially if it’s a misty day.
Stop in the village of Howick and peer over the cliffs of Howick falls followed by shopping for bead work, wooden cravings and local art work. When you start get thirsty, pull into Rawdon’s Pub for one of their micro-brewery beers with cute names like Pickled Pig Porter or Tiddly Toad lager.
Of course, no visit to the Midlands would be complete with out a few hours at Piggly Wiggly Country Village. Along with some very sweet little stores, they also serve and sell delicious food. If someone else is driving, sample some of local wines from Meander Fine Wines or just sit outside in their lovely gardens and enjoy an ice cream.
Along with the many restaurants, cafes and pubs that dot the Midlands, don’t be afraid to try some of the local fare on the side of the road. Pick up bags of butter avocados or mangoes or boxes of sugary litchis.
Or, if you’re feeling brave, it’s worth risking your car on the farm road that leads steeply up to Swissland Cheese farm. The rolling lawns provide the perfect spot to enjoy one of their cheese plates while the goats happily mill around in the fields nearby.
The Life-Changing Road trip: Durban to Capetown via the Garden Route
- Time: (20 hours) Durban to Port Alfred (10) Port Alfred to (10)
- Distance: 1706km
- Tolls: Approx. 4 (approx. $10)
This two-day drive really deserves a blog post to itself, but I’ll try to be brief. If you only do one road trip on this list, do this one. Yes, it’s tough. Driving through the Eastern Cape can be harrowing and hair raising at times, even for a local.
But this drive takes you through some of the best of South Africa in only two days. I think this is fantastic considering how long it takes to cross countries like Canada or the USA.
If you plan your trip carefully and leave early, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy stop and take in the scenery.
There are few places in the world where you can watch the scenery change so dramatically in such a short distance: from the palm trees and sugar cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal, to the rolling green hills and mountainous sand dunes of the Eastern Cape, to the misty pine estates that border Plettenberg bay.
There are several small towns you can stop in for your first night, but I’d suggest Port Alfred because it’s pretty much smack in the middle.
Or, you can push on to Plettenberg Bay or Knysna and indulge in heaping plates of freshly shucked oysters and king prawns.
And, just when you’re about to give up at the end of the road trip, roll down your windows and drink in the fynbos scented air because you’ve almost reached your destination.
Reward yourself with a massive mojito on the waterfront at the Cape to Cuba restaurant congratulate yourself on completing the most beautiful drive in the world.
The Quick-and-Easy Scenic Road trip: Johannesburg to Sun City/The Pilansberg
- Time: 2 hours (leaving from Randburg)
- Distance: 156km
- Tolls: None
Most tourists blast through this route on their way to Sun City or the Pilansberg National Park. While those are both fantastic destinations, I recommend taking your time and enjoying the drive out.
If you’re staying in Sun City or at one of the lodges in and around the Pilansberg National Park, leave a day early and plan to arrive only the evening. You can thank me for this advice later.
Head North from Johannesburg via the R512, stopping for a quick visit to the Lion Park. Wind your way out of the city and stop for lunch approximately half way at one of the pubs sprinkled around Hartbeespoort dam.
Not many people realize that you don’t actually have travel all the way to the parks, hours and hours outside of Johannesburg, to get your animal fix.
The Best Kept Secret Road Trip: Johannesburg – Kruger – Blyde River Canyon
- Time: 6 to 9 hours
- Distance: 495 to 670km
- Tolls: Approx. 2 to 3 (approx. $6 to $9)
People come to South Africa and they head straight for the beaches or the wine estates or the game parks. In the case of the latter, they’re often shuttled off to Kruger with out so much as second glance at the passing scenery as they hurtle along the main high ways.
I’m all for a visit to the Kruger National Park (although I prefer the smaller, more private parks) but take your time getting there. Did you know South Africa has the third largest canyon in the world? Now’s your chance to see it. There’s a reason the Blyde River Canyon is also referred to as God’s Window.
Oh, and since you’ll most likely pass through the little town of Graspkop on your way to the canyon or the famous Bourke’s Luck Potholes, make sure you stop for pancakes at Harries Pancakes. Nothing I write will do those buttery crepes justice so I’m not going to try.
When you reach your destination game park, there will be plenty of driving to do too, just a bit different to what you’re used to. South Africa is an incredible country, and one of the best ways to see it is on the road.
Have you ever toured South Africa in your own vehicle? What are some of the best road trips you’ve taken?