South Africa is one of the best country’s in the world for road trips – with nigh on 750 000 kilometres of road (the longest road network on the continent, and one of the ten longest road networks globally).
The country is probably best known for its Garden Route – a road trip that winds its way up the coast between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, passing some of the most incredible scenery, beaches and coastline in the world en route.
But there are other shorter, just as extraordinary, road trips around the country.
We’ve put together 6 weekend trips for you to choose from. Few of them are more than five hours’ drive but there is much to do and see en route.
These Road Trips give credence to the slogan: local is lekker.
Diarise These 6 Weekend Road Trips
Known as the ‘land of the silver mist’ for the consistent mist that envelops it, the Magoebaskloof is the mountainous forested area at the north-eastern tip of the Drakensberg mountains – a complete contradiction to everyone’s idea of Limpopo as a bushveld province.
Drive the pass after visiting Haenertsburg – the little village set on ‘the mountain’, or the Wolkberg, at the base of the Magoebaskloof pass.
The mists and high rainfall mean that the kloofs, vegetation and mountain are lush and green.
The turn off to the Wolkberg Wilderness is on the R71 (the same road as the pass); a gravel road that ascends the mountain.
Follow signs to Serala Forest Station. You may never return …
2: KAAPSCHEHOOP TO BARBERTON
(via Nelspruit and White River), Mpumalanga
The little village of Kaapschehoop lies just over half an hour’s drive south-west of Nelspruit up on a plateau close to the Blue Swallow Reserve (there to protect the few blue swallows still in existence).
Wild horses, quaint lantern-style lights, gravel roads and idiosyncratic road signs and shops make the village a must-visit. As is the gold rush town of Barberton.
It lies in the De Kaap valley below Kaapschehoop – its history, scenery, rock art, archaeological ruins and many outdoor pursuits easily a weekend’s worth of entertainment.
For further adventure, add White River to the itinerary, heading north out of Nelspruit for the trendy community of artists’ and alternative therapy studios, silk farm products, an orange winery, local delis and the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre.
3: HOWICK TO GIANT’S CASTLE
Howick’s reputation as the place for antiques and arts and crafts – a firm favourite on the Midlands Meander – is further enhanced by its association with the Mandela Capture Site and the many waterfalls in the area (including Howick Falls down which you can abseil).
The pretty town is a lovely space in which to while away a morning.
Head along the Midlands Meander on Route 103 via Michaelhouse (Spud’s School) to Nottingham Road, another village with equal doses of charm.
On route are so many must-sees that you will be forgiven if you forget your destination and spend most of your time on the meander.
But Giant’s Castle, the nature reserve named for the giant peak of the central Drakensberg, has over 25 different hikes across a 285 km trail network, and incredible views.
(via Route 26), Free State
Take the N6 from Bloemfontein into the Free State heartland to the characterful Smithfield village, particularly hospitable to travellers if you time your visit for one of their arts festivals (they’re also on the shortest non-Transkei route between Cape Town and Durban, if you need another excuse to visit).
If you can tear yourself away from Smithfield, more historical towns await along Route 26 (join at Wepener via the R701).
Yes, it’s the long way round, but the trip is worth it (provided the odd pot hole doesn’t bring dismay).
This route is all about the journey.
The third oldest town in the country, Swellendam recently re-declared itself a Republic in much the same way as it did in 1795, although this time without the aid of several rebellious burghers.
Now it has to do with a sense of pride in their ‘berries, birds and bontebok‘ and their bid not to ‘bow down under the yoke of commercialism and globalisation’.
To find out more, and to explore its history, visit the town (although you might want to watch out for speed traps as the N2 approaches town).
From Swellendam, take the N2 east and then left onto the R324, passing through the quaint village of Suurbraak (if you don’t overnight here, at least get out and explore), before reaching Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve where the forest walk is worth the journey.
6: PORT ELIZABETH TO HOGSBACK
Addo Elephant National Park is an easy hour and a half’s drive along Route 335 and, if you love elephants, one of the country’s biggest drawcards.
Now the third largest national park in the country, Addo sweeps from the Zuurberg Mountains all the way to the mouth of the Sundays River, home to over 600 elephant as well as lion, buffalo, black rhino, hyena, leopard and any number of antelope (don’t forget the flightless dung beetle).
Take the R342 and then either the N10 via Alicedale, or the N2 to Grahamstown.
If you can, time your trip for the Grahamstown annual arts festival to experience the full impact of the city of saints (called this for the many churches in the city).
Your final destination (Routes: 67, 63 and 345), Hogsback will feel as though you have stepped out of your story into another world where climbing roses, hedgerows, forests, artists and the occasional fairy are par for the course.