South Africa: Thinking outside the boks

South Africa: Thinking outside the boks

Picture credit: South Africa Tourism

South Africa is home to some superb self-drive routes, reports Katie McGonagle

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Beautiful cities, rolling countryside and impressive wildlife to boot – South Africa will keep many a holidaymaker happy with its diverse attractions. Sowhat better way to combine each of these elements than with a self-drive holiday?

The Garden Route’s captivating coastal scenery and historic towns make it the best-known option, but there are plenty of other driving routes around KwaZulu-Natal, the Winelands, the Eastern Cape and other regions of this vast and varied land.

“Self-drive tours in South Africa allow you the freedom and flexibility to discover the country at your own pace,” says Bashni Muthaya, Europe regional director at South African Tourism. “The country’s infrastructure is excellent, with well-signposted roads and driving on the left-hand side of the road, like the UK.

“When embarking on a self-drive tour, we always recommend being transferred to your hotel on arrival and having your car delivered.

“Most people do not feel up to navigating an unfamiliar city after a 12-hour flight.”


Why? Coastal beauty

Where? Between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth

What? The Garden Route is no horticultural highlight – visitors are far more likely to come across deserted sandy beaches, ancient forests and mountain passes on their travels. It’s a well-worn path for good reason – perfectly suited to first-timers and families, it has plenty of accommodation, though properties do get booked up during peak times.

The area offers all sorts of fun on land and water – it didn’t earn the nickname of South Africa’s playground for nothing – so suggest clients build in extra time to tee off at one of its many golf courses, go scuba diving and snorkelling in its beautiful waters, or indulge in a host of other activities.

The route is the best-selling South African self-drive for Hayes & Jarvis. James White, product executive for Southern Africa, says: “A classic self-drive journey, the Garden Route Highlights takes in some magnificent scenery along Route 62, the ostrich capital of the world Oudtshoorn, the Cango Caves, Knysna Elephant Sanctuary and the picturesque Tsitsikamma National Park. I definitely recommend adding a couple of nights in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth either side.”

Other worthy stops are Mossel Bay, where Europeans first set foot on South African soil; whale-watching haven Plettenberg Bay; and the adventurers’ capital, Storms River, which is also the gateway to the stunning scenery of Tsitsikamma park.

It would be hard to find an operator catering for holidays to South Africa that doesn’t offer the Garden Route, from the likes of Travel 2 and Virgin Holidays to Africa specialists such as Somak Holidays, but check what standard of accommodation and length of itinerary your clients want.

Book: Travel 2 offers a 10-day Cape Town, Garden Route and Safari tour from £1,329 for travel from August 11-September 30, including flights and economy car hire, based on two sharing, for bookings made before July 31.


Why? Scenery and sophistication

Where? Western Cape, northeast of Cape Town

What? This area does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s the wine-producing capital of South Africa and comes with undulating valleys and vineyards, craggy mountain peaks and charming towns that show their European heritage at every turn. That’s not surprising, since it developed in the 17th century as a stop-off for Dutch East India Company ships navigating the Cape of Good Hope, and went on to attract settlers from France, Germany and the Netherlands who stayed on to farm its fertile soil.

This route is an absolute must for anyone who prefers smaller, boutique properties or likes a spot of fine dining – it’s not just the vino that’s to die for, the food is strictly gourmet too.

Drivers can be in the Winelands within 30 minutes of leaving Cape Town. While day trips are perfectly possible, recommend clients take a bit longer to truly get under the skin of this relaxed region.

The triangle made up of university town Stellenbosch, French Huguenot-founded Franschhoek and the rocky outcrops of Paarl, is a good starting point, but those with more time will find much more to explore. Carry on towards Tulbagh for a majestic countryside retreat, or head south to the charming coastal town of Hermanus for unbeatable whale-watching.

Book: Signature from Thomas Cook offers a nine-day Cape & Winelands self-drive tour, departing and returning to Cape Town, from £1,199, which includes bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Hermanus and Camps Bay, plus Emirates flights from Gatwick, car hire and taxes (valid August 11-December 12).
0844 6926866


Why? Battlefield and beach

Where? Eastern South Africa, bordered by Lesotho to the west and Swaziland to the north

What? KwaZulu-Natal is the cultural heart of the country and often seen as the most African of South African regions. It features the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains, historic battlefields recalling the bloody Anglo-Boer and Zulu wars, wildlife-watching at its game reserves, and a chance to kick back by the beach along a 375-mile stretch of Indian Ocean coastline.

It tends to attract travellers who have seen South Africa’s more obvious highlights and want to return for a more authentic experience. Lucy Kublikowski, Africa travel consultant for Visions of Africa, says: “People are more adventurous now – especially returning visitors. They have done the Garden Route and are looking to explore the culture more deeply. Once they have seen the roads are well signposted and well-maintained they are confident about going further afield.”

Durban is the gateway to the region, and common stops include the spectacular mountain passes of the Drakensberg range, battlefields such as the site of the Second Boer War skirmish at Spioenkop or the Zulu conflict at Isandlwana, a chance to see the big five at Hluhluwe Game Reserve and beachfront stays at St Lucia.

Gold Medal adds a visit to coastal iSimangaliso Wetland Park on its seven-day route the Best of KwaZulu-Natal (from £1,649 from August-December); Visions of Africa’s Culture & Wildlife self-drive includes a stay at the Shakaland Cultural Village to learn about Zulu traditions, plus a cruise on Lake Jozini (from £1,675 for a 10-night tour); while Kuoni’s Bush, Beach & Battlefields self-drive tacks on a stay in a mountain lodge and recommends adding a few nights in the beach town of Salt Rock after its nine-night itinerary.

Book: Rainbow Tours has a two-week KwaZulu-Natal self-drive from £2,490 for travel by September 30, visiting Durban, Drakensberg, a trip across the border to Lesotho, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and St Lucia. The price includes flights to Johannesburg plus domestic connections to Durban, accommodation with breakfast, some dinners, a battlefields tour, and car hire.
020 7666 1250

South Africa

Picture credit: Isibindi Zulu Lodge - visions of Africa


Why? Big game and bigger views

Where? Northeast, accessible via Johannesburg or with domestic flights to Mpumalanga

What? Each drive featured so far has boasted its own brand of spectacular scenery and the Panorama Route is no exception – when scenic landmarks include places called God’s Window, Wonder View and the Pinnacle, you know you’re in for a treat.

The green-carpeted Blyde River Canyon, the third-largest in the world, is the most scenic spot, with natural phenomena such as Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Mac Mac Falls and the Three Rondavels offering one breathtaking view after another. There’s also a chance to visit the gold rush town of Pilgrim’s Rest and the Echo Caves near Ohrigstad.

Combine it with a visit to the brilliant Kruger National Park: at more than 7,500 sq miles of unfenced wilderness, this game reserve is one of the largest in Africa – approximately the same size as Wales.Cox & Kings offers a wide range of tailor-made itineraries, while Hayes & Jarvis has a Wildlife and Warriors escorted tour, which can also be offered as a self-drive, from Johannesburg along the Panorama Route to Kruger, before heading south into KwaZulu-Natal.

Book: A 10-night route from 2by2 Holidays starts at £1,795 with South African Airways flights from Heathrow, accommodation, car hire and a visit to an animal rehabilitation centre.
01582 766122


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