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South Africa Road Trip – 3 Week Itinerary – Cape Town to Johannesburg

South Africa Road Trip – 3 Week Itinerary – Cape Town to Johannesburg

If you’re searching for a vacation filled with variety, then a South Africa road trip is the perfect solution. Often referred to as ‘The World in One Country’ and ‘The Rainbow Nation’, South Africa is easily one of the most beautiful and diverse destinations on the whole planet. It’s famous for its rich culture, stunning landscapes, and unique attractions. From wildlife to wine, and mountains to museums, South Africa has it all.

South Africa is a huge country, so the easiest way to travel around and see as much as possible is to rent a car and hit the road. This 3 week road trip itinerary is jam-packed, and while we’ve covered the very best things to do in South Africa, you could easily spend a lot longer here if you have the time.

Road Trip South Africa

Before we dive in, it’s important to know this road trip isn’t for the faint-hearted. It covers around 2,500 miles (4,000 km) and the roads can be a bit dangerous, particularly while driving at night. Many of the roads are poorly maintained and you’ll have to contend with your fair share of potholes. People also walk on the roads a lot and very often in the busier areas are constantly crossing in front of you. Another issue is the cattle and other livestock grazing on the roadsides which occasionally decide to cross. Finally, there’s also the sad truth of South Africa’s darker side: a very high crime rate.

None of this is designed to put anyone off by the way, just as a word of advice. South Africa was one of our favorite road trips ever (and we’ve done quite a few!). It’s just important to keep your wits about you, lock your car doors, drive in daylight, don’t show your valuables, stay in safe, busy, well-lit areas at night etc.

For some great advice, check out this guest post on Nomadic Matt’s blog on staying safe in South Africa.

Without further ado, here’s our complete 3-week South African road trip itinerary from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

Day 1 – Arrival in Cape Town – Nature Day

Cape Town is situated at the southern tip of the African continent, and it’s the capital city of the Western Cape province. The city has a rich history dating back to the 17th century when it was established as a supply station by the Dutch East India Company.

Fun fact: South Africa has 3(!) Capital Cities: Pretoria, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein. None of which are the largest, that title goes to Johannesburg.

There’s so much to do in and around Cape Town, so you’ll need a few days and nights here to make the most of it. Feel free to switch around the activities and days depending on what time you land and how long you’d like to spend at each.

After you’ve picked up the rental car at the airport, it’s time to head towards the city.

Table Mountain

The highlight of the city has to be Table Mountain. If you like to get your walking boots on, then there’s no better way to experience the iconic mountain than hiking up. The weather was awful when we were there, so we opted for the Platteklip Gorge route, which is one of the easier ones, but was still a beautiful, and varied route. There’s also the India Venster trail, which offers incredible photo opportunities in finer weather. We hiked alone, but if you’d prefer, you can book a guided Platteklip Gorge hike with an experienced local.

We hiked one way and then got the cable car down. If you’re not into hiking, then you can get the cable car both ways and spend some time walking along the trails at the summit. Be sure to look out for the super cute rock hyraxes (or Dassies as they’re known here). You can also book a combination of Hop-on Hop-off buses, cable car tickets, and a walking tour here.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

On the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, you’ll find the country’s best botanical garden: Kirstenbosch. The garden spans around 1,300 acres and showcases a wide variety of indigenous South African plants. It is home to more than 7,000 species, many of which are rare or endangered.

One of the garden’s notable attractions is the ‘Boomslang’ canopy walkway, a curved wooden bridge where you can walk through the treetops, providing panoramic views of the garden and Table Mountain.

It’s a must-visit destination for nature and gardening enthusiasts, or anyone looking to experience the diverse flora of the region while enjoying breathtaking views of the city and landscape.

Driving distance: <50 miles (<80 km) – Airport to Cape Town plus activities.

Accommodation: 3 Nights at The Glen Boutique Hotel & Spa.

Day 2 – Cape Town – City and Culture Day

As well as its natural beauty, Cape Town is a city steeped in culture and history. One dark and infamous scar left on the country from the apartheid regime was located right off the shore here in Cape Town.

Robben Island

Around 4 miles west of the shore lies the small but significant Robben Island. The name Robben comes from the Afrikaans word for seal, due to the huge numbers that frequent its shores. But the island is better known as a place of political imprisonment.

Many prominent anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned on the island for their involvement in the struggle against apartheid. The most notable being Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 years incarcerated on Robben Island.

Today, the prison is a museum and popular tourist destination. The most incredible part being the guided tours by ex-prisoners. They tell of the harsh conditions faced by the prisoners, the systemic racism of the time, and the intellectual struggle against apartheid.

Tickets for the trips sell out, sometimes well in advance, so be sure to book before coming.

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

The V&A Waterfront is where you’ll get the boat to and from Robben Island, so it makes sense to spend time here when you return.

It’s a bustling area with shops, restaurants, entertainment, and beautiful harbor views. Keep your eyes peeled for the resident seals that sun themselves on some of the boardwalks and piers. You can also visit the Two Oceans Aquarium here.

If you have time to spare and are looking for more, the colorful streets of Bo-Kaap are close by. The area is known for its brightly painted houses and Malay heritage. There’s also the District Six Museum where you can learn more about apartheid.

Driving distance: <50 miles (<80 km) – Cape Town Activities.

Day 3 – Cape Peninsula

The Cape Peninsula is a narrow strip of land that extends southwards from the city of Cape Town into the Atlantic Ocean, and it forms the southwestern tip of the African continent. In fact, it’s the most southwestern point on the whole African continent. The Cape Peninsula is known for its stunning natural beauty and diverse landscapes, making it a popular destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.

Hout Bay

Hout Bay is just a short drive from the city and it’s famously home to a large colony of seals. The Cape fur seals live on the aptly named Seal Island, just off the shore.

There are regular boat trips to get up close and observe the seals. Or if you’d prefer to get even closer there are snorkeling trips where you can get in the water with these magnificent creatures!

Chapman’s Peak Drive

Hout Bay is a handy location for the next item on the list: Chapman’s Peak Drive. The drive is a scenic coastal road renowned for its breathtaking views. It’s widely considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

The road winds its way along the cliffs of Chapman’s Peak Mountain, offering stunning vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding landscape.

It’s worth noting that the drive is occasionally closed due to adverse weather conditions, rockfalls, or maintenance work, so it’s better to check beforehand.

Driving distance: <50 miles (<80 km) – Cape Peninsula Activities.

Day 4 – Cape Point

Since there’s too much to see on the Cape Peninsula in one day, we’ve split it over day 3 and 4. Today will be the southern end of the peninsula.

Boulders Beach

This was one of our favorite things to do near Cape Town, and one of the best in South Africa! Boulders Beach, just outside Simon’s Town is home to a colony of African penguins. This is one of the few places in the world where you can get up close to these charming birds in their natural habitat.

And if you’re a fan of cute, little animals then you’re in for another treat here: more rock hyraxes!

Tip: If you have time, and you’re not ‘sealed’ out, then there’s a chance to see some large, older males on the drive to Boulders Beach. They lie on the rocks and swim in the shallows and harbor near the Harbour House Kalk Bay restaurant.

Cape Point Nature Reserve

Cape Point Nature Reserve, located within Table Mountain National Park, is a breathtaking destination. It has rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and a rich variety of flora and fauna.

Some highlights include the Cape Point Lighthouse with incredible views, Cape of Good Hope, Diaz Beach, Buffels Bay, and Venus Pool.

Muizenberg Beach

Muizenberg Beach is a popular beach located on the False Bay coast. It’s a picturesque setting amongst huge mountains with a long sandy shoreline.

The beachfront has a cool, surfer vibe with vibrantly colored beach huts and many places that rent surfboards, paddleboards, and offer lessons.

Driving distance: 80 miles (130 km) – Cape Point.

Day 5 – Cape Town to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek

Today we’re heading for South Africa’s famed wine producing regions. Stellenbosch is perhaps the best-known region, but for a fun experience, Franschhoek takes the crown. That’s because it’s home to the wine tram!

Wine Tram

Franschhoek will ensure the white wine fans are happy, the area is famed for its French grapes, particularly Chardonnay and our favorite, Sauvignon Blanc. Many of the vineyards also produce great reds.

You can book a variety of different times, routes, and number of vineyards you want to visit. The earlier timeslots mean you can stop at more wineries. We did 3 stops on the orange line, but it’s completely up to you. It’s best to book the tram in advance since it does get fully booked.

There are too many vineyards to choose from, so to narrow it down we went to Babylonstoren, Vrede en Lust, and Plaisir. They were all fantastic, but Plaisir topped it for us. Sipping wines in what felt like the sitting room of a stately home, in front of a log fire, with giant renaissance style paintings and murals on the walls was simply glorious!

Driving distance: 45 miles (75 km) – Cape Town to Franschhoek.

Accommodation: We stayed at Wedgeview Country House & Spa in Stellenbosch, but it does require a designated driver or taxis to get to Franschhoek.

Day 6 – Stellenbosch to Hermanus

We hope you didn’t overdo it at the vineyards yesterday, because this was one of our favorite days on the trip.

Betty’s Bay

On your way to Hermanus, Betty’s Bay is another chance for you to get up close to African penguins. When we went, there was torrential rain and high winds, but they were still all standing around, braving the elements (although they didn’t look too pleased!).

Whale Watching

Hermanus is one of the most special and incredible places on earth. We didn’t know until researching it that you can actually see giant baleen whales splashing around in the bay, right from the coast! This is one of the very few places on planet Earth where this is possible.

As incredible as it is to see whales from land, you can get much closer to the action with a whale watching boat tour. And even closer again, with a sea kayaking tour!

Unfortunately for us, we were here during bad storms and none of the trips were running. We think it’s pretty rare for that to be the case. So, here’s hoping you get a bit luckier with the weather.

Driving distance: 75 miles (120 km) – Stellenbosch to Hermanus.

Accommodation: For a truly unique stay, The Marine Hermanus has unrivaled sea view rooms, which allow you to watch whales swimming in the bay from your bedroom window! They also have a tidal pool down at the bottom of the cliffs and a lovely spa with great treatment prices.

Day 7 – Hermanus to Mossel Bay

Today we’re heading along the southern coast with some exciting stops.

Gaansbai

This coastal town is known for its shark cage diving experiences, particularly with Great Whites. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can arrange a shark cage dive here.

This was unfortunately another thing we couldn’t do due to the aftermath of the storms. The water was too choppy and so most of the water activities we had planned were cancelled.

Cape Agulhas

Cape Agulhas holds the unique honor of being the southernmost point of the African continent. It’s also where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans converge.

This remote spot is marked by a distinctive lighthouse, offering panoramic views of the turbulent meeting of the two oceans.

De Hoop Nature Reserve

If you get a later slot for the shark diving, you may not have time to fit this in. But with an earlier cage dive, it’s possible.

De Hoop is a haven of biodiversity and natural beauty. It’s renowned for its stunning landscapes, including white sand dunes, limestone cliffs, and diverse wildlife.

The reserve is a hotspot for birdwatchers. As well as the huge number of bird species, you can also find large mammals like elands and other antelopes, and even whales breaching off the coast.

Driving distance: 270 miles (435 km) – Hermanus to Mossel Bay with stops

Accommodation: One night at Betty’s Boutique Hotel which is centrally located, has a heated pool and a delicious a la carte breakfast included in the price.

Day 8 – Garden Route – Mossel Bay to Knysna

The Garden Route doesn’t seem to be a well-defined area or park, but this general area of southern South Africa. We’ll be spending the next few days taking this Garden Route.

Mossel Bay itself is a very picturesque coastline with bars and restaurants. It’s also a surf spot for some of the more experienced since the water breaks shallow near rocks. There’s a zipline here too, that goes over the cliffs and Indian ocean.

Victoria Bay

There are many beaches along the coast here, so you could spend all day stopping at them all. One of our favorites was Victoria Bay.

It’s another beach that’s popular with surfers. There’s a pier where you can watch people catching the waves.

Map of Africa

The Map of Africa is a very distinctive landmass which has an uncanny Africa shape. It looks even more remarkable in a photo somehow.

The viewpoint is up a winding road and then along a mud path with townships on either side. You may think you’ve taken a wrong turn on your way here, we certainly did!

There are also a few paragliding companies here that offer tandem flights for beginners.

Wilderness

Wilderness is a very cool town with a strong hippy vibe. We clocked quite a few surfer types walking around with long hair and bare feet here!

The bohemian vibe makes it a great stop for some food, particularly if you’re vegetarian or vegan. We ate at Ilali which had a lot of choice including vegan pizzas and curries.

There’s also a nice, quiet beach here, with great views of the surrounding mountains and an option to do kayaking.

Buffels Bay

Another nice beach along here is Buffels Bay. It’s a rocky point with a nice walk and some great views of the waves crashing on the coast.

Margaret’s Viewpoint

An incredible viewpoint overlooking the town of Knysna and the surrounding area.

You can see the vast tidal estuary, where the Knysna River meets the Indian Ocean, numerous bridges, islands, and of course the town.

Knysna

Knysna is a beautiful, picturesque town overlooking the large estuary. It’s famous for its oysters and is home to one of the very few species of seahorse that live in brackish water.

It’s a great place for a boat trip, either on the lagoon, or further out for whale watching.

If you arrive in time, you could end the day with a luxury sunset cruise with barbecue and bubbly or a more budget cruise which includes local oysters.

Driving distance: 70 miles (115 km) – Mossel Bay to Knysna with stops

Accommodation: One night in Waterfront Lodge with a view of Knysna lagoon in the distance.

Day 9 – Garden Route – Knysna to Plettenberg

You could probably spend 2 or 3 days doing much more around this area, but here’s some of the best places and activities.

Whale Watching in Knysna

Knysna offers an unforgettable chance to see whales right up close. With a huge number of Bryde’s, southern right, and humpback whales around the coastal areas, there’s a very good chance to see a few on one of these trips.

There are also thriving populations of seals and dolphins, and occasionally a rare orca!

Did you know: On average, female humpbacks are larger than the males!

Robberg Nature Reserve

Robberg Nature Reserve was our favorite stop on the Garden Route. It did get quite busy, with large tour groups, which was a little annoying. But it’s large enough to get away from the crowds at times.

The highlight here is the seal viewing areas along the northern coast of the peninsula. There are signs directing you to a specific seal viewing point, but keep your eyes peeled as we saw dozens swimming along the coast.

Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg Bay is a stunning beach near to Robberg Nature Reserve.

There’s a large central beach and if you go to the northern end, there’s a lookout point where you may see whales, dolphins, and sharks. There’s also a small downtown area with loads of restaurants and cafes so it’s a good place to end the day.

Driving distance: 25 miles (40 km) – Knysna to Plettenberg Bay via the Garden Route

Accommodation: One night at the Ocean Watch Guest House overlooking the sea which includes a delicious breakfast.

Day 10 – Garden Route – Plettenberg to Tsitsikamma

Before heading off, you could head to the northern end of the beach again to see if you can spot any of the marine life.

Birds of Eden

The Birds of Eden is a popular sanctuary on the Garden route. Covering 5 acres, it is the world’s largest free flight aviary. A flee flight aviary – also known as a walk-in aviary or open-air aviary – is a large enclosure that is designed to provide a more natural and spacious habitat for the animals.

There are over 200 different bird species, both domestic and exotic. Some of the highlights include parrots, toucans, hornbills, and flamingos.

Bloukrans Bridge

Bloukrans Bridge is a gigantic arch bridge, spanning the deep canyon of the Bloukrans River. The river has a special significance since it’s the border between the Eastern and Western Capes. So, if you’ve reached the other side of the bridge: welcome to the Eastern Cape!

At 216m above the river, it’s the highest bridge on the whole of the African continent. To experience the true height of this bridge the braver among you might opt for a bungee jump! If the bungee isn’t for you, they also offer a Sky Walk, which runs along the underneath of the bridge. From here you are able to look over the edge, while strapped to a harness. This is certainly an experience not to miss.

The Big Tree

This is one of those parks that does what it says on the tin… yes, it’s home to an enormous tree.

There are nice walks through the forest including some boardwalk areas to reach the tree. You can choose from 3 different loops depending on the distance you want to walk.

Driving distance: 40 miles (65 km) –Plettenberg Bay to Tsitsikamma National Park via the Garden Route.

Accommodation: One night at the Misty Mountain Reserve near Tsitsikamma National Park, which includes a fantastic breakfast.

Day 11 – Garden Route – Tsitsikamma to Port Elizabeth

Start the day with an early breakfast, so you have plenty of time at Tsitsikamma National Park.

Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma is a stunning coastal reserve with a wide range of outdoor activities.

Some of the highlights include:

Storms River Mouth – The park’s main attraction, offering stunning views, a suspension bridge, and access to the Storms River.

Otter Trail – A huge hiking trail, known for its breathtaking coastal scenery. It can take days to complete the whole distance, but it’s worth doing a short walk along it.

Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour – A 2 hour thrilling zip-line adventure through the forest canopy.

Waterfall Tsitsikamma – A beautiful, cascading waterfall surrounded by forest near the coast. The waterfall is accessible by a short but difficult hike.

Jeffrey’s Bay

Jeffrey’s Bay, or it’s cooler moniker ‘J-Bay’, is a renowned surfing mecca in the Eastern Cape province.

The most famous surf spot being ‘Supertubes’, which has hosted international competitions, and is only suitable for advanced surfers. But it’s not just for the world’s best, there are many beaches with great waves for all levels.

J-Bay is a great place to have an evening meal before heading to Port Elizabeth for the night. We loved the giant portions of proper, home-cooked food in Nina’s. They do just about everything you can think of and have a huge choice of vegan and veggie options.

After food, Port Elizabeth is just an hour’s drive east. You may notice on Google Maps and road signs that Port Elizabeth is now known by its Xhosa name of Gqeberha. It doesn’t seem to have widely caught on yet as everyone still referred to it as Port Elizabeth.

Driving distance: 100 miles (160 km) – Tsitsikamma to Port Elizabeth via Jeffrey’s Bay

Accommodation: One night at Hallack Manor which includes a delicious breakfast with a lovely view of the garden. The hospitality is second to none!

Day 12 – Long Drive from Port Elizabeth to Underberg

Be prepared for a beast of a drive today, with very little to do. There aren’t really any stops on the way from Port Elizabeth to Underberg, but it has to be done. There’s a slightly longer route that goes via the Wild Coast, and a popular stop here is Coffee Bay. So that’s an option, but we took the more direct route.

If you really don’t like the thought of driving all that way, the other option is to fly to Durban.

With the hassle of getting to the airport early, returning the hire car and getting another one at Durban, we opted to drive.

Cape Recife

Before we set off, there’s one must-see area just outside of the city: Cape Recife. It’s a remote, sandy peninsula with amazing views and a nice lighthouse.

But the main attraction just a touch to the north is the SANCCOB Bird Sanctuary. It’s a rehabilitation center for penguins and other seabirds.

You can take a tour around to see these beautiful birds while your guide explains the work they do. We got lucky and arrived at feeding time for the permanent residents, so we watched them gorging down on fish. These penguins are incapable of surviving in the wild, so they can’t be released.

In another section they have birds with temporary injuries that just need time to recuperate. There are also orphans that need to be raised, since they couldn’t survive without their parents. They have set swimming times to repair their injuries and develop and maintain their muscles, which is also fun to watch.

We ended up adopting a penguin and we named her Wilma.

The Drive to Underberg

Although we didn’t stop anywhere (except for a Nando’s in Mthatha), we thoroughly enjoyed driving through the countryside with the company of a few podcasts.

This drive is more like the rural Africa we all picture, with small houses and rolling grasslands.

Driving distance: 480 miles (775 km) – A 10-hour drive from Port Elizabeth to Underberg

Accommodation: One night in the beautiful Sani Pass Manor Guest House which includes a great breakfast.

Day 13 – Lesotho and Durban

Bet you didn’t think you’d be crossing borders when you first thought about a South Africa road trip! But today we’ll be visiting Lesotho, the second of three countries on the trip (the other being Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland).

Sani Pass and Lesotho

We booked a private tour with Sani Pass Private Tours and can’t recommend them enough!

Greg is a fantastic guide with an encyclopedic knowledge of the area, its history, Lesotho, as well as the flora and fauna. And what’s more, he was great company!

Add in the fact that his wife Angie makes the best cookies and muffins ever and you’ve got yourself the perfect trip to Lesotho.

They run private tours, so it’s just you in the vehicle with Greg driving, which is much better than the big group trips that go.

Sani Pass

The drive to the top of the Drakensberg mountains is a long and winding gravel path known as the Sani Pass. A rugged road which gets steeper and narrower as you ascend. So, be prepared for the bumpy ride, often referred to as the ‘African massage’.

At some point along the path, you’ll get your passport stamped out of South Africa and into the no man’s land of the Sani Pass. Once at the top, you’ll then be stamped into Lesotho. Congratulations on visiting another country!

Traditional Village

Once into Lesotho, you’ll head through the barren mountaintops to a traditional Lesotho village. We entered the traditional circular mud hut, with a wood fire burning in the center. The homely smell of bread baking and wood burning filled the air.

The lady whose home we were in greeted us and offered us a seat around the edge of the room. Then Greg gave us a brief history of Lesotho, its culture, and how it came to be a recognized country.

We then got to try the amazing bread that is a staple of the area. Before leaving you can buy handmade wooden crafts and trinkets as a memento.

Africa’s Highest Pub

Next stop, the highest pub in all of Africa, sitting at an impressive 2,874m (9,429ft) above sea level. They have a pretty wide choice on the menu, and plenty of hot and cold drinks, including the only beer from Lesotho.

It’s a good idea to use the bathroom before leaving, because the way down Sani Pass is just as bumpy!

Durban

We arrived in Durban just in time for sunset, so we headed straight for Durban Beach. It was very busy at this time and felt safer than beaches in other cities in South Africa. Of course, you should still be careful of valuables etc. as crime is high in Durban in general.

The northern end, Blue Lagoon Beach, is a cool spot where the river runs into the sea.

If you’re looking for somewhere to go for an evening meal, there are large shopping areas in the area north of Durban called Umhlanga. You’ll find a host of restaurants in and around The Pearls Mall.

Driving distance: 130 miles (210 km) – From Underberg to Durban – plus another 50 miles (85 km) as a passenger on the Sani Pass.

Accommodation: One night in Goble Palms Guest House, which is an Edwardian style building in a beautiful jungle-like setting. They have a pool, excellent breakfast, and an honesty bar to enjoy a drink in the evening.

Day 14 – Durban to St. Lucia

The only thing we did in the city was the botanical garden, which is surprisingly free. And on our way north out of the city we also stopped in Umhlanga again to see the beach.

Durban Botanical Gardens

The Durban Botanical Gardens are home to many indigenous and exotic trees and flowers. Unfortunately, when we went, the indoor spaces like the orchid house and herbarium were closed for maintenance.

There is a large lake with a huge variety of bird species, and the sheer number of birds is incredible. Among the most notable were the ibis and pelicans, which were both nesting in the trees. Something neither of us had seen before.

Umhlanga Beach

Umhlanga is a popular beach right next to the downtown area. There’s a long sandy beach, some rocky areas, interesting piers, and a promenade leading to the red lighthouse.

St. Lucia – Hippo Boat Tour

The boat tour to see hippos up close was another highly memorable moment on the road trip.

There are regular departures from the Siyabonga Jetty. There’s a little visitor center next to it where we bought the tickets. The boat heads north up the river, and you’ll get many great photo opportunities of the hippos. There’s a chance you may see crocodiles as well, but if not, there’s a crocodile center nearby.

Driving distance: 150 miles (240 km) – Durban to St. Lucia.

Accommodation: A night at Leopard Corner Lodge with a pool and breakfast included.

Day 15 – St. Lucia to Eswatini

Today we’re heading to the third country on the trip, the kingdom of Eswatini. Eswatini was previously known as Swaziland and is the second smallest country on the continent of Africa.

It’s around a 5-hour drive from St. Lucia to Mbabane, the capital city of Eswatini. So, if you’re up and out early you do have time for a few things in St. Lucia first. If you’d prefer a lie in then feel free to skip these out.

Crocodile Centre

While the Crocodile Centre looks a little dated, it’s cheap and well worth a visit. There are many walkways where you can see the crocs up close. They have a surprising number of crocodile species, with information boards about each.

Estuary Boardwalk

The Estuary Boardwalk is a nice walk through the forest down to the sand dunes on the coast. The beach was quiet when we went and has great views.

There were many signs warning of crocodiles, hippos, and even leopards, but we didn’t come across anything more than a few bird species.

Arriving in Eswatini

When you get to the border with Eswatini, you will need to go through the South Africa border control, get your passports stamped, and potentially the car searched. Then a similar drill with the Eswatini border control.

Overall, it didn’t take us very long, maybe around 20-30 minutes.

Driving distance: 240 miles (390 km) – St. Lucia to Mbabane in Eswatini.

Accommodation: We stayed in SkyFly Bed & Breakfast in Manzini, which was cozy, and the staff were so friendly. We stayed there as it was getting late, but it meant an even earlier start. So, if you have time, it’s better to get to Mbabane. One of the higher rated hotels in Mbabane is the Hilton Garden Inn.

Day 16 – Eswatini to Kruger National Park

Next time we visit Eswatini, we plan to spend longer there. We weren’t aware of just how much there is to see and do there. Two things we’d add with extra time would be Hlane National Park and the Swazi Cultural Village.

Sibebe Rock

Sibebe Rock is the second largest rock in the world, only beaten by Australia’s Ayers Rock (or Uluru). You can do treks around the top and there are resorts with activities, but we just went to see the magnificent natural wonder from the road below.

Ngwenya Glass

The glass factory at Ngwenya makes beautiful glass pieces from kitchenware to statues and ornaments. What’s unique about this place is they only reuse 100% recycled glass instead of melting new glass.

You can take a non-guided tour around the upper walkway and watch the glass being remelted, pieces being blown, and finished.

Ngwenya Iron Mine

Ngwenya Iron Mine is believed to be the oldest mine in the world. Evidence suggests activity dating back at least 43,000 years, which is absolutely mind-blowing!

We had a guide from the entrance gate show us around and give us a history of the site. There is a small hike and some walkways taking you to the oldest parts of the mine.

Malolotja Canopy Tour

Unfortunately, this was another thing hampered by the weather for us. The higher altitude area had high-speed winds and torrential rain, not to mention it was covered in a low-lying cloud. This will be another thing we hope to return to do next time!

The whole place looks amazing! There is a small game drive down to the canopy location, followed by rope courses, zip lines, and suspension bridges.

Maguga Dam

The Maguga Dam and resulting reservoir is an impressive sight. You can stop on the descent down for the best view of it. We also got some amazing drone shots from the dam.

Make sure to take the eastern road to it rather than the MR1 as it’s much more impressive on that side. If you’re unsure head towards Maguga Dam Lodge on Google Maps.

Nsangwini Rock Art

Getting to the rock paintings at Nsangwini was no mean feat. Firstly, the locations on Google Maps are not accurate. Secondly, it involves driving 5 miles (8 km) along a very muddy, bumpy road.

To find the correct location you need to head around 5 miles (8 km) north of the Maguga dam along the main road. Here, you should see the signs for Nsangwini Rock Art pointing you to the right. For the exact location of the start of this side road, use the following GPS coordinates: –26.02375, 31.27502.

If it’s raining, we wouldn’t advise taking this road as it would probably be extremely difficult if not impossible without a 4×4 vehicle. Luckily for us, this area stayed dry while we were there. We managed okay in our small rental car, but wouldn’t be advisable if you’re not a confident driver.

After driving for 5 miles along here, you’ll come to a small “car park”. There you’ll meet your local guide who will take you to the rock art for a small fee. The hike to the paintings takes around 20-25 minutes each way.

The rock art found here dates back as long as 4,000 years ago! Hunter gatherer tribes would use ochre, the reddish soil common to the area, mixed with animal blood to make a paint which has lasted through the ages.

Once you’re back at the car, it’s time to leave Eswatini and head for Kruger National Park back in South Africa. The border crossing should be nice and simple, similar to the entry into Eswatini.

Driving distance: 120 miles (190 km) – Mbabane in Eswatini to Malelane outside Kruger NP.

Accommodation: 1 Night at Riverview Inn in Malelane, just outside the park. You can spot crocodiles in the river from a viewing platform, also elephants that come to drink most days.

Day 17 – Kruger National Park

This was, without a doubt, our number one day in the whole of the South Africa road trip! It’s not every day you get to self-drive through a safari and witness the largest and most incredible animals on the planet just yards away from you! If you do one single thing on this whole itinerary, we urge you to make it the Kruger National Park.

At 7,523 square miles, it is one of the largest game reserves in all of Africa, and it was established almost a century ago. Renowned for its incredible biodiversity, we managed to see all of the ‘Big Five’ here – that’s lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo. It’s also home to many other species including cheetahs, giraffes, wild dogs, hyenas, zebras, crocodiles, wildebeest, antelope, bucks, mongoose, and countless species of birds.

Driving distance: Varies wildly, but we did around 125 miles (200 km) – Game driving.

Accommodation: 1 Night at Nkuhlu Tented Camp inside Kruger National Park. Remember to take food with you because the camps inside the park are self-catering.

Day 18 – Kruger to Hoedspruit

Spend the morning exploring Kruger once again, you might find it’s quieter near the interior of the park for quite a while.

If you plan your route to exit through Orpen Gate, that will set you up for the next drive well. For directions on Google Maps search for “Orpen Rest Camp”.

Driving distance: Again, can vary, but we did around 125 miles (200 km) – Game drive, then driving to Hoedspruit.

Accommodation: 1 Night at Mawusi Bush Lodge in Hoedspruit, which is actually located in a private game reserve. We woke up in the morning to a menagerie of animals wandering through our back yard including duiker (a tiny antelope), mongoose, hornbills, and a warthog!

Day 19 – Panorama Route – Hoedspruit to Graskop

Today’s drive is known as the Panorama Route, which has many stops along the way, finishing in the small town of Graskop. There are so many options for stops, but many are quite similar, so it’s up to you which of these you choose to do. Each one has a small fee, so it might be worth skipping some similar stops.

Blyde River Canyon

On the western side of the canyon, there’s a resort called ‘Blyde Canyon, A Forever Resort’.

Here, they have hiking trails and an upper and lower viewpoint of the lake and the famous geographical feature of the region: ‘The Three Rondavels’.

It was 100 Rand per person, so if you’re not too bothered about the hikes, there is a cheaper viewpoint further along the road.

Three Rondavels Viewpoint

This is the cheaper stop where you can see the Three Rondavels. If you did go to Blyde Canyon Resort, it might be worth missing.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes

A natural wonder, where centuries of swirling waters have carved intricate potholes and gorges in the rock, offering an interesting geological spectacle.

Berlin Falls

Berlin Falls is a slender waterfall that gracefully descends a sheer rock face amidst lush surroundings.

Lisbon Falls

Sorry, two waterfalls in a row! Lisbon Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall with powerful cascades in a more forested setting.

Wonder View

A high-elevation vantage point which provides a panoramic view of South Africa’s Lowveld and surrounding mountains.

God’s Window

A very similar view to Wonder View since it’s just along the same road. However, this is the more developed of the two stops. It features a huge set of steps to get to the highest viewpoint. There’s also a small rainforest at the top with wooden boardwalks.

The Pinnacle Rock

A 100ft freestanding rock that towers over the forested valley below. It’s like the first flight scene in Avatar (if there was only one pinnacle).

Graskop Gorge Lift Co

Graskop Gorge is accessed by a glass elevator ride down to the bottom with panoramic views over the forest. There’s loads of activities available like hiking, ziplining, guided tours, suspension bridge walk, as well as a restaurant and shop.

Mac Mac Falls

A 213ft (65m) cascading waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation. It played a significant role in South Africa’s gold rush during the 19th century.

Pilgrims Rest

An homage to the region’s gold rush in the late 1800s. You can explore the preserved buildings like the post office and some shops as they looked back then.

Driving distance: 95 miles (155 km) – The Panorama Route from Hoedspruit to Graskop with a lot of stops.

Accommodation: One night at Westlodge at Graskop B&B, a Victorian style house with a vibrant garden.

Day 20 – Graskop to Johannesburg

Johannesburg, or Joburg as it’s commonly called, is South Africa’s biggest city. It’s also one of the worst cities in the world in terms of crime, so make sure to be on your guard.

Long Tom Pass

Long Tom Pass in South Africa is a scenic mountain pass that winds through the Drakensberg Mountains.

The pass features steep ascents/descents and hairpin bends, and offers breathtaking views of the area.

Sudwala Caves

Sudwala Caves, located near Nelspruit, are a renowned geological wonder. These ancient caves are estimated to be over 240 million years old, making them some of the world’s oldest. They are famous for their intricate and stunning rock formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, which have formed over millennia.

The caves also house impressive fossil sites and evidence of early human visitors. You can explore these subterranean marvels with a guided tour.

Relax at a Spa

After the 4 to 5-hour drive, and the total mileage clocking 2,500, we thought the nicest way to end the trip is a luxury hotel stay with a spa.

There are many hotels in the nicer areas around the outskirts of Johannesburg with pools and spas. We stayed at the Saxon Hotel in Sandhurst.

Driving distance: 250 miles (400 km) – Last long drive from Graskop to Johannesburg.

Accommodation: As a treat for the end of the road trip we stayed at the super swanky Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa. It’s on the very high end in terms of price but the service and hospitality is the best in the world.

Day 21 – Johannesburg

Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to South Africa. It was one of the most memorable trips we’ve ever made, and we hope you feel the same. If you have time before your flight on the last day, the number one thing to do in Joburg is the Apartheid Museum.

Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum has a permanent exhibition, explaining South Africa’s dark history, and a Mandela exhibition, detailing the enigmatic leader’s life, imprisonment, and struggle for equality.

South Africa Road Trip Conclusion

We hope you found our South African road trip itinerary helpful. There are other ways to travel South Africa, but a road trip shows how much you can see in a short 3-week trip.

One thing’s for sure, it’ll leave you wanting to see more of this unique country. We hope to return one day to spend even longer on the southern part of what we covered here, mainly the Cape Peninsula, south coast, and Garden Route.

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