Go Your Own Way: The Top 5 Self-Drives in South Africa
Nothing beats a self-drive through South Africa. On a self-drive, you can go as slow or as fast as you want. You can stop whenever and wherever you need. It really is the most flexible and freeing way to explore the country at your own pace.
South African roads are well built, making driving easy and pleasant, but if you prefer to stick to the back-roads, there are plenty of dirt- and dust-based paths just waiting to be explored.
Make a pit-stop at a charming dorpie. Buy some koeksusters or biltong at the quaint little padstalls. A South African road trip will reward you with breathtaking scenery and interesting encounters with the friendly locals, who are always happy to offer you directions if you need.
If you are keen to beat the tourist crowds and go your own way through South Africa. Here are 5 top self-drive options you can try.
1.The Cape Peninsular
This is an ideal day trip option for those looking to explore Cape Point on their own. Start early and head out of Cape Town. Make your way down to the quaint fishing village of Hout Bay. Stop here to enjoy a boat ride out to Duiker Island to meet the local residents – a colony of seals.
Back out on the road, take in the views along the winding route of Chapman’s Peak or “Chappies” as it is called by the locals. Once you enter the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve head up on the Flying Dutchman Funicular to the lighthouse. Spend some time exploring and take pics of those breath-taking panoramic views.
On your way back to Cape Town, be sure to visit to Boulders Beach which is well-known for its African penguins. Dressed to the nines in their black and white “tuxedos”, these little critters really know how to draw a crowd! It should be time for lunch at this stage. You can stop at a local spot called Bertha’s in Simon’s Town and tuck into platters of vis en tjips.
Once you head back out on the road back up to Cape Town, you will pass through the quaint little fishing villages of Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and catch a glimpse of the surfers paradise- Muizenberg.
If you’re looking to do the Cape Winelands, the wine farms scattered around Franschhoek are a must. This is an easy self-drive option, with more time to relax, to take in the views that surround you and of course dabble in some delicious wine tasting.
As you head out from Cape Town, make a coffee pit-stop in the university town of Stellenbosch. Try the Blue Crane and Butterfly. With safety in mind, it’s best not to drink and drive so you might have to cheat a little on this route.
If the person, or group you are travelling with is also keen to sample South Africa’s finest, the best option here is to book a night in Franschhoek. Once you get there you can hop on the wine tram for the afternoon. You can choose which route, or line you would like to participate in according to the estates you would like to experience. This is a great day out where you can hop off and hop back on when you want. Then, the next day you can get back in your car and head out to further explore the Winelands, or make your way back to Cape Town if you prefer.
As the name of this self-drive option suggests, you will be driving along a route that will reward you will abundant whale sightings. It will take you through the Garden Route, but it needs to be done in the whale season between July and November when they are clearly visible from the shores and cliffs.
Southern Right whales are seen from June to November, while the migratory Humpback whales arrive with their calves early in November and stay until the end of February, then again during May and June. These gentle giants know how to put on a show, breaching, lob-tailing and flipper slapping for onlookers.
You can start in Cape Town and make your way to Port Elizabeth, or do it in reverse. With most of it being off the beaten track, it’s ultimately up to you how many days you want to take, where you want to dawdle, and where you’d prefer to stay overnight. A stop in Hermanus is a must. This fishing town is well-known for its “whale crier” who blows his kelp horn when a whale is spotted. Apart from whales, the views of the ocean, sand dunes, vlei (wetland) and fynbos, you will delight in the old Cape Dutch architecture with bottle-green window frames and white concrete chimneys as you drive.
An easy one-hour drive from Durban the Midlands Meander is a collection of arranged routes through the heart of the KwaZulu Natal Province. Heading out from the city, make a pit-stop at Chocolate Heaven in Nottingham road. This antique chocolatier shop will reward you with homemade fudge, caramel, Turkish delight and shortbread to snack on for the journey ahead.
The point of driving through the Midlands Meander is simply to meander. The routes are laden with art and crafts studios with an abundance of handcrafted goods and fine art pieces. The emphasis here is to take your time through the countryside stopping at places that peak your interest. If you would like to pick up more African inspired pieces, make a stop at Zulu Lulu Art House situated at the Piggly Wiggly near Lion’s River.
Once you have finished meandering you will have access to the KwaZulu-Natal battlefields, the Drakensberg and the game reserves up the Dolphin Coast. If you have a 4×4 you can go as far as Underberg home to one of the Drakensberg’s most famous mountain passes and 4×4 routes- Sani Pass.
5.The Kruger: Crocodile River Road S25
The Kruger National Park is great for guided game drives, but offers avid self-drivers the chance to forge their own adventures. Of course you will need to stick to the designated roads for your own safety, but there is plenty opportunities for birdwatching and animal sightings.
The S25 route is a 44-kilometre road that follows the southernmost border of the Kruger. This is an incredibly scenic road that loosely hugs the Crocodile River and boasts thick vegetation throughout the year. Remember, animals always have right of way in the Kruger. Due to the wealth of game, this is a popular route with visitors so it’s best to do it early or late in the day to avoid any traffic. Some of the wildlife that you can spot include lion, elephants, giraffe, waterbuck, warthog and kudu.