South Africa self drive travel guide
South Africa is accessible Africa, delivering iconic wildlife, traditional cultures and spellbinding scenery in a gentle, first time-friendly way. The well maintained roads (with English road signs), excellent infrastructure and at times European feel means this is one of the best self drive destinations in Africa. If you’re a UK resident, you’ll be pleased to hear they drive on the left, too.
While your windscreen gives you a window on South Africa, don’t panic that you’ll be a prisoner to your car. From wildlife safaris to wine tasting, self drive holidays here are about much more than time behind the wheel.
You won’t be able to see the whole country by car as typical self drive itineraries are just two weeks long –pick a region and stay there, or fly to reach other areas – but specialist bespoke tour operators will craft you a route to limit drive times and maximise experiences. Cape Town is cleverly combined with the Winelands and Garden Route, while the Zulu Battlefields, Drakensburg Mountains and Elephant Coast game reserves offer a wilder, more off-the-beaten-track eastern odyssey.
South Africa self drive holidays are...
packed with the perks of independent travel, but with the on-tap advice and support of an organised tour.
South Africa self drive holidays are not...
just about the drive-time views. Step out of your car, get culturally out of your comfort zone and meet local people to really get to know South Africa.
South Africa self drive holiday
map & highlights
Don’t underestimate South Africa’s size. You’ll need at least two weeks, three if you have them, to make the most of the Garden Route or KwaZulu-Natal. And if you want to combine either with safaris in Kruger National Park you’ll need to fly. Carefully chosen accommodations in KwaZulu-Natal work with local communities, education and enterprise projects while weaving colourful traditional Zulu culture into your holiday. While in Cape Town, where Apartheid legacies still endure, township tours with local residents in the Cape Flats introduce you to the people driving hope in the face of deep-rooted inequality.
While self drive options exist, most safaris will see you swap your hire car for a guided game drive. Safari options around Hluhluwe-iMfolozi in KwaZulu-Natal are plentiful, while the Garden Route boasts the excellent Addo Elephant Park as well as a few private game reserves. Choose your safari carefully in the latter – some less scrupulous reserves will offer ‘walking with lions’ experiences that fuel the canned hunting industry.
2. Cape Town
Table Mountain delights and the boutique-laden V&A Waterfront is wonderful, but dig deeper to really understand Cape Town. Head to colourful Bo Kaap for an insight into Cape Malay culture or visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, for a tour with an ex-inmate. A township tour with a local guide offers an insight into the enduring legacy of Apartheid and will support communities most in need.
3. Garden Route
The Garden Route winds through South Africa’s southern tip, lined with bountiful beaches, forests, thriving coastal towns and craggy coves. Outdoor adventure abounds here while wildlife watching or wine tasting offer gentle alternatives. Go whale watching in Hermanus, gobble up fresh oysters in Knysna or try sea kayaking off the perfect golden sands of Plettenberg Bay. All within a few short hours’ drive of each other.
KwaZulu-Natal is rugged and less visited than the western provinces, and self drive holidays take you to the Anglo-Zulu battlefields, the dramatic Drakensburg Mountains, world class game reserves and the pristine, protected Indian Ocean beaches of the Elephant Coast’s UNESCO-listed iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Stay in accommodations working collaboratively with Zulu communities and this colourful traditional culture will underpin, and light up, your trip.
The best of South Africa’s tasty tipple comes from the Franschoek Valley and around the grape-centred town of Stellenbosch, just 90 minute drive from Cape Town. Wine has been made here since the 17th century and its world-class vineyards welcome visitors for wine tours and tastings. Enjoy spectacular views of Table Mountain and an abundance of Cape Dutch architecture in Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s oldest colonial towns.
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South Africa driving distances
All times are rough guidelines, based on typical self drive itineraries in the Western Cape and through KwaZulu-Natal.
Cape Town to Cape Peninsula: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cape Town to the Winelands (Stellenbosch): 1 hour 30 minutes
Cape Town to Hermanus: 2 hours
Hermanus to Knysna: 4 hours 30 minutes
Knysna to Plettenberg Bay: 30 minutes
Plettenberg Bay to Port Elizabeth: 2 hours 30 minutes
Cape Town – Winelands – Garden Route
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