Best Road Trips in South Africa | Unforgettable Trip to South Africa

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Things to do in South Africa | The Best of South Africa

On the way back to Germany we wondered when we were last so surprised by a vacation. We flew to Johannesburg with completely different expectations to travel through the southernmost country in Africa for three weeks and then fly home again from Cape Town. So what was so different than expected?

Although we love the sea and metropolises, the coastal region, the Garden Route or Cape Town did not become our absolute highlights. 

It was the Kruger National Park, the Drakensberg, and all the many things that we did not see and could only guess on our journey through the inland. Reasons that will bring us back to this beautiful country one day.

Travel planning for South Africa

Last year the two of us traveled through Colombia. This time there were three of us on our way, we decided to rent a car the whole time and not book any domestic flights. 

So we would be freer and see more of the land. It wasn’t easy to find out what exactly we wanted to see. In the end, we decided on the route from Johannesburg to Cape Town with many small stops.

We picked up the car at the airport in Jo’burg and decided to leave the city directly. We had selected a mid-range car with a premium package (unlimited mileage, fully comprehensive and vehicle theft protection). The fact that all damage to tires, underbody, glass etc. is covered would pay off later. 

The pick-up at the airport was handled by the partner Bedvist and was well organized. To our relief, all three suitcases fit in the trunk of our Toyota Corolla. This was important because visible suitcases can increase the risk of break-ins.

Stage 1: Johannesburg, Panorama Route, Kruger National Park, Drakensberg

On day 1 we had to drive 300 kilometers before we arrived at our first accommodation “The Cowshed”. We quickly got used to left-hand traffic. We always wanted to be in the accommodations before dark, as we had read about fictitious accidents and related robberies on cars in the evening and at night. 

On the very first day, our plans were crossed by a violent storm. Roadside accidents, lightning, thunder and hail brought us and many other cars to a standstill.

In addition, we had chosen an idyllic but secluded accommodation for the first night, an old cow farm in the middle of nowhere. The owner was very worried and gave us a very warm welcome. 

We can really put the Cowshed as hearts! It was precisely this seclusion that put us in vacation mode and made us forget the stressful working weeks when we sat on the porch the next morning and had breakfast with Tandy, our housemaid.

Yes, there are still social differences in South Africa, which are often decided on the basis of skin color. Often on our way through South Africa, we noticed that the employees were dark-skinned while the boss was white. 

Even though much has changed for the better in recent decades: Centuries of oppression and the chapter of apartheid cannot be completely undone in a few years or decades.

Must Read – With the mountain bike through Namibia

The Panorama Route

On our first day after arriving in South Africa, the Panorama Route was on our program. One input into Google and numerous tips on the panorama route open up. The most famous viewpoints: God’s Window, Three Rondavels, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Blyde River Canyon, Lisbon Falls

In addition to these viewpoints, it is advisable to include Sabie in the navigation, because the way from Sabie via Graskop to the viewpoints is well worth seeing! Incidentally, we didn’t always feel like we were in South Africa in terms of landscape, but were sometimes reminiscent of the German coniferous forest or Canada.

The viewpoints were all impressive. The highlights were the canyon and the rondavels (which are in the canyon).   

After the impressive curves of the Panorama Route, we slept one night in Hoedspruit. Mayor Mana was a cozy place to stay with a pool and garden. So we sat at dinner and breakfast with a beautiful view of the veranda.

The Kruger National Park

Then it went to the first, big highlight: In the Kruger National Park. We had already covered 700 kilometers to this point – and a new car under us. Because the storm on day one had caused a rockfall in the window due to the hail. 

As I said, we were happy to have booked the premium package, because that way we could easily change the car after calling the next partner. From now on we drove a Corolla Etios.

In the Kruger – which camp and what costs?

We drove into the national park via the Phalaborwa Gate and had planned two nights in and around the Kruger: We wanted to spend the first night in the Kruger. We decided on the Olifants Camp. To be honest, booking this overnight stay was perhaps the most difficult undertaking of this trip. There is so much information about the park that at first we did not understand how the accommodations are organized and where the best place to stay is. Below is a little “How to Krüger”:

1. Overnight stay in the park via SANSPark

  • What is SANSPark? SANSPark is a government agency that manages 21 parks in South Africa. Many of the accommodations in the Kruger National Park are controlled by it
  • Different accommodation categories: We recommend one of the 12 “Main Rest Camps”. They all have electricity, shops and restaurants. In addition to the Main Rest Camps, there are also other overnight accommodations with upgrades or upgrades. SANS, for example, has “Bush Lodges” on offer that have no electricity and are probably something for real adventurers. An overview of the accommodation options is available here . There are also private providers, but we have not dealt with them.
  • Booking: You can only book after sending an email request. It is best to do this a while in advance. A booking is possible 11 months before the desired date.

2. Which camp is the right one?

We decided to spend the night at the Olifants Camp. We decided to do this because of the central location in the park. Note: the further north, the fewer people you will meet and the fewer animals. 

The south, however, is more densely populated by humans and animals. The Olifants Camp has a special location: It is on a mountain above a large river bed. A wonderful number of animals gather here.

In the Kruger National Park you should definitely take mosquito nets and, for example, power stripes with you to attach to the wall. 

Because although the area is one of the malaria areas, there is no precaution here. In the Olifants camp – if possible – book a bungalow with a river view; Otherwise you also have a beautiful view of the river from the terrace.

3. Timing: Which route through the Kruger?

From Phalaborwa Gate, we took the first left to get off the main road. We wanted to make a detour to the north and arrive at the camp in the east of the park in the evening. When planning the time, you should keep in mind that sometimes you only drive 20 km / h (the navigation system calculates about 40 km / h, which is permitted on the main road). It is also important to remember that if you discover animals you will stop for a while.

Tip: The S28 runs between the “Lower Sabie” camp and the “Crocodile Bridge” entrance. This street is a hot tip for spotting rhinos. There is also a watering hole just above the “Lower Sabie” camp, where the S28 ends. Here you can see a lot of hippos and crocodiles.

4. Drive alone or book a safari?

We refrained from booking a safari and are sure that this intensified our experience. Because we never knew when and where we would meet the next animal. And which one it would be. We will all never forget when we suddenly saw an elephant at a watering hole to our right.

We were so focused on the pachyderm that we didn’t even notice that a herd of six elephants was crossing the road right in front of us. You can buy a map at each entrance showing water holes and rivers. The investment is worth it!

What else did we see? The Big Five: about 150 elephants, one leopard, about eight lions, three rhinos and many buffalo. In addition, countless giraffes, antelopes, zebras, three cheetahs, about 20 crocodiles, many wildebeest and monkeys, two hyenas, many warthogs and various species of birds. We had really incredible experiences that can hardly be put into words.

In summary, the tips for self-exploration:

  1. Head for water holes and large rivers, as most of the animals are here.
  2. Deviate from the major roads and drive really slowly. We almost missed a cheetah and a leopard, which were lying on the edge of a small road and making themselves comfortable under a tree.
  3. Look where camps are when planning. Yes, you have to go to the toilet in the Kruger too.
  4. When planning your time, remember that you drive a maximum of 30 km / h and that you stand for half an hour in between when you watch animals.

5. The cost in the Kruger

Admission costs around 23 euros per person. The night cost us – the three of us in a bungalow – 35 € per person. In addition there was dinner and other catering. With 65 € you can get around a day in the Krüger in a very comfortable way, including fuel costs.

We spent the second night much more comfortably and treated ourselves to affordable luxury with the La Kruger Lifestyle Lodge . La Kruger is not in the park, but it is very close. 

The next entrance (“Crocodile Bridge”) is about 15 to 20 minutes away. More on this under the tips at the end of the article because it was one of the overnight highlights.

Opinions differ on how many days to stay in the Kruger. Some visitors stay a whole week and hardly see any animals. We would recommend planning at least two nights so that you have a full day and two open days.

From the Kruger to the Drakensberg

With all the experience and thousands of animal pictures in our luggage (a good camera with a lens is worth it, as well as binoculars), we set off towards the Drakensberg. Since the way was too far for a day tour, we made a stop in Standerton . 

Not a spectacular place, but we were enthusiastic about the trip there. We didn’t expect how green South Africa would be at this point. 

We drove over mountains and through curves on well-developed roads, on which a speed limit of 120 km / h usually applies. After every curve a new, breathtaking view emerged.

The Drakensberg was the next highlight for us after the Kruger. From a distance we could see the mountains through which we drove later. Green landscape as far as the eye could see. 

We stayed for two nights in the Drakenberge Mountain Retreat , which made the Drakensberg very special for us. Gerry and Anthony gave us a very warm welcome. We felt like we were at home on their farm.

We were lucky and got room no. “1” (best to ask when making a reservation). Here we had two window fronts across the mountains. The expanse, the sunsets and sunrises were just absolutely amazing. A bell rang every evening at 7 p.m. Then all the guests came together for dinner. A really special atmosphere.

Drakensberg: hike and enjoy

We went for a walk at the farm and drove to the amphitheater where we went on a day hike. You can do it on your own. You should definitely take enough food with you, because there is no way to buy food or drinks on the way. Sturdy shoes are also recommended.

After the northern Drakensberg enchanted us so much, we stayed one night in the southern Drakensberg near Underberg. However, we were rather disappointed here. 

We no longer had such a great view, the owners of the accommodation there were not half as friendly as Jerry and his family and so we spent the time relaxing on the sofa in the rain and cocoa and made plans for the coast, where it was the next day went there.

Stage 2: Coffee Bay, coast, Gaansbaai, and the wine region around Stellenbosch

Yes, admittedly: somehow the sea is part of it and we expected great moments from the coast of South Africa. We had heard from various travelers that Durban was not a place to visit. So we started our journey on the coast further west near Coffee Bay. We stayed for two days at the eco-friendly Swell Eco Lodge, which is a self-catering accommodation.

Two small residential units each share a separate, spacious kitchen in the middle. Before you arrive, remember that self-catering is on the agenda here – even if a shop has pizza or noodles ready and sometimes fresh fish or homemade bread to order.

We were totally won over by the lodge’s environmentally friendly way of life. “Cleaning” products are used in the same way as only care products that have not been tested on animals. The lodge also has its own compost and uses the upcycing process. 

For example, to make lamps. What is particularly nice: the poor area through which you drive on the way to the lodge is financially and materially supported by the owners.

You should plan a lot of time on the way to the lodge. The roads are not very well developed. The beach is only a few minutes’ walk from the lodge. Here we went on a day hike and met many local mothers with their children. They played on the beach, talked, or went fishing.

Underrated Grahamstown, Jeffreys Bay, Mossel Bay, Knysna and Wale in Gaansbaai

Afterwards we went to Grahamstown for a short stopover , which meant a quick detour away from the coast. We were very surprised by the university town! Even though we never felt unsafe inland: Here we were almost like in Europe and in the evenings we walked to the restaurant, which was about 20 minutes away.

Grahamstown is a visually beautiful city with historic buildings. If you need a stopover nearby anyway, choose Grahamstown. And have a coffee at Handmade Coffees  . 

We actually only saw the classic beaches briefly for sunbathing and walks: Jeffreys Bay for breakfast (at “Infood Jeffreys Bay”), Plettenberg Bay for a short break on the way to Knysna , a beautiful harbor town with great restaurants.

Our hotel Under Milkwood , consisting of wooden houses, was built into the slope and afforded a beautiful view of a bay. Even the Mossel Bay we have only visited briefly on his way to Gaansbaai.

Here another phenomenon presented itself to us:

Whale watching at Gansbaai

If you enter “whale watching” on Google, you end up in Hermanus . The site, about 20 km from Gaansbaai, is said to be one of the hotspots for whale watching. We were told that the whales had already moved away. But our animal luck from the Kruger also followed suit with the whales.

 Our dear landlady at the Bay Lodge  told us, standing on the balcony, with a view of the sea, that the whales were probably gone now.

And at that moment a whale jumped out of the sea right in front of us. No, this is not a bad movie scene, it actually happened. And that shouldn’t be the only whale we see. The next day we saw another six to eight whales: orcas and humpback whales.

The wine region

From Gaansbaai we drove to Stellenbosch , but did not take the direct route, but followed a recommendation and drove via Betty’s Bay , Villiersdorp and Franschhoek . And here we found another wonderful place to stay.

The Wedge View Country House and Spa  is a beautiful property with very good catering, spa facilities, a pool and simply a very high relaxation factor. The breakfast buffet in the garden was amazing and the atmosphere was simply familiar and friendly. That’s why we decided to take part in the “Braai” one evening.

Braai is a kind of grilling that was done very nicely and was therefore a nice experience. We also treated ourselves to a massage and enjoyed the surroundings in the vineyards. The price of the accommodation is still affordable (more under the tips below).

Winetasting in Boschendal

In the wine region, a trip to the Boschendal estate, one of the oldest wineries in South Africa, is worthwhile. Not only is their own wine made here, there is also their own bakery and meat – both available for sale on the estate. We bought some nice and tasty things in the shop.

The “The Werf” restaurant should be just as much a highlight as the rose garden or the opportunity to spend a day on the property’s meadows with a picnic basket and good wine. We decided on the wine tasting and tasted fantastic wines (for about 10 euros).

Stage 3: Cape Town and the surrounding area

Our final came with the trip to Cape Town. Cape Town is only a maximum of an hour away from Stellenbosch if you take the direct route.

On that day we unwound the tourist program a bit and drove via Muizenberg (colorful houses on the beach, hardly worth a stop) and Boulders Beach to the Cape of Good Hope.

You don’t necessarily have to go to Boulders Beach to see penguins, they can also be seen on other occasions – for example at the Cape of Good Hope . Visiting the cape is a must. Although you are of course not alone here, it is a very special piece of earth.

From the Cape we drove to Cape Town via Chapmans Peak Drive and stopped several times on the 5 km long drive.

There were so many beautiful views that we hardly wanted to get to our destination. What depressed our feeling in Cape Town was the fact that we could not move freely. Because no matter who we asked – everyone recommended that we only use a taxi or Uber from after work until late at night. “Even for 200 meters?” – “Even for 200 meters!”. That felt very limiting.

Table Mountain and Cape Town Walking Tour

Nevertheless, of course, we also experienced beautiful things in Cape Town and did a lot. On Tuesday we went to Table Mountain . We booked the tickets online beforehand and were able to save the waiting time at the counter. 

Because of the difference in altitude, it’s pretty fresh on the mountain. You should at least have a sweater or long pants with you. You can spend as much time as you like on Table Mountain, go on a long hike or simply take the gondola back down as you wish. We spent about two hours upstairs. By the way, you can also walk up or down the mountain.

Nevertheless, of course, we also experienced beautiful things in Cape Town and did a lot. On Tuesday we went to Table Mountain . We booked the tickets online beforehand and were able to save the waiting time at the counter. 

Because of the difference in altitude, it’s pretty fresh on the mountain. You should at least have a sweater or long pants with you. You can spend as much time as you like on Table Mountain, go on a long hike or simply take the gondola back down as you wish. We spent about two hours upstairs. By the way, you can also walk up or down the mountain.

Afterwards we drove through the city by bus. We also got a ticket for the sightseeing bus. So you not only see a lot of the city, but also get information about the respective area via audio. We decided to get off at the waterfront for a moment and to strengthen ourselves at the food market. It’s really nicely done and worth a trip. We even went to the market several times during the week.

The free walking tour is an absolute recommendation . There are different providers. The provider we decided on again has two tours. A “Historic Walk” and a tour of “Bo-Kaap”. We took the first tour and were totally lucky with our guide. She told us a lot about the development of South Africa during the apartheid period. When Mandela came to power she was just 20 years old, and so she shared her personal memories. You can find out how to book this 90-minute tour (free of charge) here .

Robben Island and District Six Museum

Because we wanted to know a little more about the latest historical developments, we drove to Robben Island – the former prison island on which Mandela was also imprisoned. We picked up the ticket at the waterfront. We read in various blogs that you have to book the tour months in advance. That was not the case with us. Attention: You need an ID to buy a ticket!

The boat to Robben Island then also departs from the waterfront and covers 12 km (take travel tablet!). Once there, we took a bus tour and then received a tour of the premises from a former prisoner. 

Of course it was very depressing, but also very interesting. We received further insights into the history of South Africa and especially of Cape Town in the District Six Museum . You should definitely book a guided tour here, because otherwise the museum and information there will appear totally unsorted.

In Cape Town we also just let our minds wander, slept a long time and lay in our accommodation and read. We slept in Green Point which is a highly recommended area. We felt very safe here and could go jogging by the sea in the morning. Our accommodation was the “ Antrim Villa ” with wooden floors, high ceilings, a very good breakfast and only a few rooms. There is also a pool, but we didn’t use it and it wasn’t particularly nice in the back yard.

One last tip: a cooking class at “Lekka Kombuis” in Bo-Kaap. The cooking class is led by Gamidah, who invites you to her home. So we really had the feeling of being the guest of a friend. We were the youngest of a total of ten participants. To our surprise, not only tourists but also locals took part.

Tips for Cape Town

  • Overnight in the Antrim Villa, the areas of Sea Point and Green Point are generally recommended
  • Day trip to the Cape of Good Hope, Muizenberg, Boulders Beach and a drive over Chapmans Peak Drive
  • Check the event pages to see which events are taking place while you are there
  • Restaurants : Haiku, Mama Africa
  • Bar : Secret Gin Bar