With diverse scenery, pristine coastlines, unconventional towns and wild landscapes which stretch as far as the eye can see, South Africa's roads are undoubtedly among the most beautiful in the world. Whether in the semi-desert region of the Karoo or traversing the rugged hills of the Wild Coast, adventurous travellers do not need to worry about going off the beaten track, as South Africa's road infrastructure is much better than those of neighbouring countries. Discover our pick of the best road trips in South Africa.
Garden Route, Western Cape
Approx. four days
First up on our list of the best road trips in South Africa is the iconic Garden Route - arguably the best-known of South Africa's tourist road trips: at over 120 miles, this portion of the N2 highway offers spectacular views running all the way from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the mouth of the Storms River on the western border of the Eastern Cape. Known for its varied and lush vegetation, the Garden Route also offers easy access to stunning beaches, forests and charming lakes and lagoons, as well as multiple outdoor activities.
The enchanting Knysna Forest is a popular spot for camping, hiking and mountain biking. It's also home to a population of wild and hard-to-spot elephants. Meanwhile, the nearby coastal town (also known as Knysna) is renowned for its annual oyster festival and chic boutique shops. Adventurous travellers should be sure to stop for a surf at Plettenberg Bay, or at Tsitsikamma to bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge, the highest bungee spot in the world.
The Waterberg Meander, Limpopo
Approx. five days
Although only a few hours' drive from buzzing Johannesburg, the Waterberg region is not one of South Africa's classic tourist routes, despite its beauty. And the lack of other tourists is what makes this one of the best road trips in South Africa. Hidden in Limpopo Province, known locally as the 'African Eden', the region is characterised by mountainous peaks, prehistoric sandstone formations, golden savannah plains, dense forests and plunging river valleys.
The Waterberg Meander is a 220-mile road that leads to the heart of the Waterberg biosphere, passing through some of its most spectacular scenery, including the Welgevonden Game Reserve and wonderful Marakele National Park. The road is also dotted with community projects, cultural and historical sites and fairy-tale views of the Waterberg.
The Waterberg region
The Wild Coast, Eastern Cape
Approx. seven days
The Wild Coast is aptly named, with its wild coastline running from the coastal town of East London in the south of the Eastern Cape to the Kwa-Zulu Natal border 220 miles north-east. Whether you drive through this area of rolling hills along its serrated coastline or turn off the N2 towards a gravel track to try a more in-land route, you get the feeling that little here has changed over the last century. The valleys along the road are dotted with rondavels, traditional African round huts with thatched roofs, and small fields of sheep. Known as Transkei during the Apartheid era, this region has a long history and gave rise to icons of the struggle against the racist regime such as Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko, whose actions and activism are documented in various small museums along the way. The Wild Coast also boasts some of South Africa's most idyllic and pristine beaches, ensuring its status as one of the best road trips in South Africa. In some places, for example in backpackers' paradises like Coffee Bay or Port St. Johns, cows topping up their tans on the beach actually outnumber human sunbathers.
Valentin Poitte et Magali Dauphin
Route 62, Western Cape
Approx. three days
Route 62 traverses the many charming vineyards of Cape Winelands, along dizzying roads and through the heart of Little Karoo, a wilderness bush area home to livestock farms and old-fashioned rural towns. Route 62 is considerably less popular and developed than its counterpart, the Garden Route, but has gained popularity among South African drivers for its untamed beauty, remoteness and lack of traffic. In other words, ideal road trip territory. The historic spa town of Montagu really deserves a stop to enjoy its beautiful colonial architecture and hot springs, while the artsy-boho town of Barrydale has plenty of good cafés to choose from. Karoo National Park is home to the most stunningly rugged desert scenery and spectacular starry nights, while the banks of the Breede River are ideal for camping and kayaking.
Cape Winelands vineyards
The Panorama Route, Mpumalanga
Approx. two days
Taking in the breathtakingly beautiful Blyde River Canyon and historic mining town of Graskop, the Panorama Highway is truly worth a visit from Mpumalanga, a major attraction in Kruger National Park. As the name suggests, this drive along South Africa's highest paved road offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, canyons and valleys. Eagles soar high in the sky and the sound of waterfalls punctuates the tranquil atmosphere. Fishing enthusiasts can try to catch an amberjack or carp in the quiet waters of the Ohrigstad Dam Nature Reserve, or walk through the misty native forest overlooking Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world. The history of this region is as rich as that of its minerals, which sparked a gold rush in 1873. Head to Pilgrim's Rest to find out more about this part of the area's history, an ancient mining town now transformed into a national museum where you even try your hand at panning for gold.
Berlin Falls - Mpumalanga