Kruger to Cape
- 2 Weeks
This trip combines wildlife watching with the Cape's scenery and culture.
Head directly east from Jo'burg's OR Tambo International Airport to Kruger National Park, where more than 20,000 growly members of the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) roam the bushveld. Staying in a bush camp or luxurious private reserve and going on self-drive safaris, guided drives and walks will keep you and your binoculars busy. From Kruger, head back to the bright lights of Jo'burg. Spend a night in the inner-city Maboneng precinct's art hotel or hostels, experiencing Afro-globalisation and meeting local hipsters in the galleries and bars.
Next, pick up a flight to Cape Town; alternatively, take a scenic overnight train ride in tourist class on Shosholoza Meyl's trans-Karoo service (or the Blue Train or Rovos Rail from Pretoria). Relax and enjoy one of the world's most beautiful cities, spending your days exploring the likes of Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and your nights dining in world-class restaurants and drinking in the 'Tavern of the Seven Seas'. The Mother City is surrounded by beaches and vineyards; have lunch in winemaking Stellenbosch and wander the refined Cape Dutch student town's lanes.
- 2½ Weeks
Beautiful scenery, excellent infrastructure and a platter of attractions make this the South Africa of the glossy brochures. The journey can be accomplished on public transport, but is perfect for a road trip in your own vehicle.
After a few days in Cape Town, fitting in historical and cultural sights such as the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, Zeitz MOCAA Museum and Irma Stern Museum alongside the scenic Cape Peninsula, bid a tearful farewell and head to the Winelands. Spend a night or two wine tasting in the vineyard-clad valleys of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. From Stellenbosch take Rte 44 for one of the world's most beautiful coastal drives, to Hermanus, where you can watch southern right whales (June to December). Overnight in the idyllic 19th-century village of Stanford, or stop for lunch in its gourmet restaurants, before making your way to Cape Agulhas, Africa's southernmost point.
Continuing the Winelands farming theme, head between the Overberg region's green hills and along the Cogmanskloof Pass in the Langeberg range to countrified Montagu. With its whitewashed cottages and rustic accommodation, the quaint town is a great base for rock climbing and the Robertson Wine Valley. Montagu is considered the beginning of the Little Karoo: take Rte 62 between rolling mountains dotted with farms and charming little towns such as port-making Calitzdorp. This is a lekker (tasty) area to slap some boerewors (farmer's sausage) on the braai (barbecue) at a farmstay.
At the far end of the Little Karoo, the Meiringspoort Pass crosses the Swartberg range from Oudtshoorn to the Great Karoo and Prince Albert. This pretty 18th-century village is green and fertile, with irrigation channels in the streets. The nearby N1 highway leads back to Cape Town; alternatively, backtrack south, possibly via the untarred Swartberg Pass, to the ever-popular Garden Route, where Wilderness' beaches and lagoons are relatively undeveloped. East along the Indian Ocean, old-growth forests rise into the mountains above the resort towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, both offering water sports and activities.
Shortly before the Eastern Cape border, descend a windy road to Nature's Valley, an aptly named beach village where happy hikers finishing the five-day Otter Trail hang their boots in a tree outside the pub. Shorter hikes also lead into the valleys of rainforest in the surrounding Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma Section).
- 3 Weeks
This eastern jaunt mixes awesome mountain scenery with Xhosa and Zulu culture, and rural calm with urban vibes, giving a good look at the classic South Africa.
After touching down at OR Tambo International Airport, linger a few days in the dynamic metropolis of Jo'burg, seeing how urban regeneration is transforming the inner city and creating hip enclaves of restaurants and bars. Go on a city walking tour or head out to South Africa's most famous township, Soweto. Visit a shebeen (unlicensed bar) and see the street where Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived.
Moving on from Jozi, cross the Free State and leave the N3 at Harrismith, to take scenic Rte 712 past Sterkfontein Dam to Clarens. The arty town, with its galleries and microbrewery, has surroundings worthy of an impressionist landscape. Next, stay in a chalet in the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park, with its hiking trails between sandstone outcrops in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains bordering Lesotho; routes range from one-hour strolls to the overnight Rhebok Hiking Trail.
Just outside the park, past Phuthaditjhaba, the day-long Sentinel Hiking Trail climbs the iconic Amphitheatre to the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment. Now, feeling suitably inspired by the Northern Drakensberg, spend a couple of days enjoying the spectacular day walks, such as Tugela Gorge, in Royal Natal National Park. Continuing across KwaZulu-Natal, declimatise from the Draks on the twee Midlands Meander, with its guesthouses and ceramic studios, before hitting Durban, a city of beaches and Indian cuisine that is slowly being revitalised by urban development.
Not far from the Eastern Cape border, Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is an oft-overlooked reserve with cliffs and forests above the Umzilkulwana River. From here, instead of taking the N2 to Mthatha, detour along the coast through Pondoland to Port St Johns – an appropriately laid-back introduction to the Wild Coast's pristine beaches and friendly Xhosa locals. Pastel rondavel huts dot the green hills overlooking the region's gravel roads, which lead to some stunning community-run backpackers around Coffee Bay.
The Wild Northwest
- 2½ Weeks
Some of South Africa's gnarliest terrain is found in the vast Northern Cape province, which this itinerary tours in conjunction with the Western Cape's wilder corners.
From Cape Town, head north to the mountainous Cederberg Wilderness Area, with its sandstone formations, lodges and campsites. Continue over the Pakhuis or Vanrhyns Pass to the sheep-farming Hantam Karoo outpost of Calvinia, before hitting the N7 through the Namakwa region, its rocky expanses carpeted with wildflowers in spring. Almost at the end of the region's arrow-straight roads, between the Atlantic and the middle of nowhere, is Port Nolloth. If you have a 4WD, continue to the surreal mountain desert of |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
Head east to Augrabies Falls National Park for hiking, rafting and canoeing, and catch the Orange River in a mellow mood on a sunset cruise in Upington. Continue boldly north through the Kalahari to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, one of the world's best places to spot big cats, and back to see more of the thirsty semidesert at Witsand Nature Reserve. The route back to Cape Town crosses the Great Karoo, with stops en route including the Karoo National Park and historic, perfectly preserved Matjiesfontein.
- 1 Week
With its combination of mountains, culture and wine, the Western Cape is a justly popular holiday destination. This itinerary suggests a few spots to escape the crowds alongside some old favourites.
From Cape Town, head north to the West Coast National Park, which offers an accessible, southern look at the spring wildflower bloom on the shores of Langebaan Lagoon. Overnight in the park's Duinepos chalets or in Paternoster, with art galleries and restaurants among its whitewashed cottages.
Veer inland to Tulbagh, where there are some superb wineries surrounded by mountain ranges. Further into the Winelands, Franschhoek distils the area's refined, European charm, with its French Huguenot heritage, vineyards and restaurants. Cross the Franschhoek Pass and hit the N2 through the Overberg region to the delightful village of Greyton, with its thatched cottages, restaurants, mountain views and neighbouring 18th-century Genadendal Mission Station. The 14km Boesmanskloof Trail leads hikers through the Riviersonderendberge range to McGregor, a New Age village in the Breede River Valley.
From Greyton, return to Cape Town via Hermanus, the world's best land-based whale-watching destination (June to December). Finish the journey on the stunning, coastal Rte 44, which winds around Cape Hangklip and skirts Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.