With travel bans and rampant safety concerns still very much at play in the modern world, road trips are even more appealing than ever before and South Africa’s the best place to enjoy one.
This vast, diverse country was made for driving. The highways are good and roads less travelled make up for any state of disrepair with charming little towns and welcoming people.
Wherever you go in South Africa you’ll find something beautiful to admire and wide smiles that make every mile worthwhile.
There’s no shortage of official road trips in South Africa but if you want to get from Durban to Cape Town via the scenic route, this is our top route.
You can jet into Durban at King Shaka Airport and pick up your Avis car rental in Durban, or at the airport if you please. You can take as long as you like to make your way down to Cape Town, but we recommend at least five days or more.
You can expect to pay around the following for your car rentalin South Africa for a five-day trip including insurance:
- VW Polo R2 262
- Ford EcoSport R3 782
- Toyota Avanza R4865
- Audi A3 R4685
- BMW 3-Series R5 376
- 8 seat VW Transporter R8 788
So, you can choose car hire that delivers the luxury or economy mileage that suits your pocket.
You’ll find no shortage of big city attractions in sunny Durban. The city’s filled with enough shopping, cinemas, restaurants, and miles of golden beaches to get you off to a flying start. Don’t miss the chance to try a bunny chow while you’re in town, they’re lauded as the best in the country.
Pietermaritzburg’s lost much of its old-world charm but there are still plenty of colonial style buildings to admire if you want to take a slight detour off the highway. The Midlands Mall is a good place to stop off for a breather, a bite to eat and some great shopping on your way past.
You’ll probably end up wanting to stay a few more days in this part of the world, so plan to make this your first stop if possible. You’ll find abundant local bed and breakfasts that deliver old world charm in spades.
Take a right turn off the highway and spend the night near Howick so you can get to enjoy the Howick Falls, bustling craft markets, and dozens of quaint shops in town.
On your way further up country, make sure you head off the highway along the R103 to see the Nelson Mandela Capture site and enjoy some luxury shopping, great dining, and local wines at Piggly Wiggly.
You can join up with the highway again outside Nottingham Road.
A three-hour drive, including the towering, breath-taking, and daunting Van Reenen’s Pass takes you to the wonderful tourist town of Clarens.
Clarens is famed for its outstanding trout fishing, excellent accommodations, and thriving artistic community, it’s well worth spending a night in this neck of the woods, or at least a few hours lapping up the ambience.
Ladybrand’s a short hour and a half long hop away, passing the cherry capital of Ficksburg. This tiny town also has no shortage of quaint markets, gorgeous landscapes, and homely cafes to choose from if you feel like a break.
If you’ve had enough of South Africa’s artisan industries by now, you can stop off in Ladybrand instead where you’ll find history dished up in spades at numerous historic and cultural sites.
Richmond in the Northern Cape
The trip between Ladybrand and Richmond is a lengthy 5 hours long through the monotone Karoo, but you’ll pass South Africa’s largest dam along the way. Gariep Dam is worth getting your camera out for and is particularly gorgeous in the afternoon light.
The accompanying nature reserve is another worthy stopover point during your trip.
Richmond itself is a rare gem. It’s the only ‘book’ town in Africa and known as the Karoo’s literary jewel. Although Richmond keeps a low profile and is a little worse for wear, it boasts an abundance of South African historic memorabilia. Of course, you’ll find no shortage of books to admire and buy here too.
The Horse Museum is one of only two in the world dedicated to the saddle horse and boasts a vast collection of horse-related artifacts.
It’s not all about history here though, you’ll also find the Modern Art Project where you’ll discover contemporary artworks displayed in unusual venues.
If you’d like to spend more time exploring this unexpectedly interesting town, check into one of the guest houses, lodges, or the local hotel.
Onward to Cape Town
There’s a long 7-hour stretch between Richmond and Cape Town, with no shortage of places to stop for a break, or to overnight.
Along the way you’ll breeze past Three Sisters with its namesake sugarloaf hills jutting out of the dry land to Beaufort Wes, birthplace of Dr Chris Barnard the South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first heart transplant.The old Town Hall houses the Chris Barnard Museum which is worth a visit if you feel ready for a break in Beaufort Wes.
Matjiesfontein, the gem of the Karoo is next. This tiny town boasts South Africa’s shortest ‘city’ tour onboard a beefeater bus and is also home to the supposedly haunted, Lord Milner Hotel and a few museums.
Such are the charms of Matjiesfontein that both Rovos Rail and the Blue Train stop there.
After Matjiesfontein you’ll sail out of the desolate Karoo into the lush vineyards of the Cape winelands. Now the scenes change to ones of abundance with gurgling streams and pastoral scenes in abundance. One final landmark, the Huguenot Tunnel, heralds your imminent arrival in the Mother City, Cape Town. Here you can drop your car off at the airport or downtown. Failing that, add a few more days to your Avis car rental agreement and enjoy some time exploring the hundreds of things to see and do in one of the world’s favorite cities.