The Perfect Itinerary for an Epic South Africa Road Trip

The Perfect Itinerary for an Epic South Africa Road Trip

When I was a kid, I HATED road trips.

I was that annoying child asking every five minutes: “Are we there yet?”

The boredom of hours on the road drove me nuts. I couldn’t read because I got motion sickness and there was only so much Tetris I could play on my Game Boy knock off.

Fast forward 20 years later, and I’m 50% less brat, and 100% more partial to sitting in a car for 6-8 hours.

I’ve conquered famous road trips in South Africa like the Garden Route, and Sani Pass, but there’s been one adventure that’s been on my South Africa bucket list FOREVER: Kruger National Park.

So I found three other friends with the same kind of dream who were down for an adventure from Cape Town to Kruger National Park.

(You can reverse this itinerary if you’re starting in Johannesburg)

Here’s my full South Africa road trip itinerary with a sprinkle of a few optional adventures!

What to Pack for a South Africa Road Trip

blyde river canyon

Before you start your South Africa road trip, there are a few essentials that you’ll want to make sure are in your car:

• Credit card to pay for tolls (or cash)
• Soy milk if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan
• Cellphone charger for the car
• A downloaded road trip playlist from Spotify

• Money to pay for entrance fees at national parks
• A spare wheel, spanner and jack
• Tyre repair spray for punctures

Read More: The Ultimate Road Trip Essentials Packing List (+ Free Checklist!)


driving in south africa

South Africa Road Trip Safety Tips

Fill Up As Much As Possible

I’ve heard so many stories from South Africans and tourists alike who waited until their tank was almost empty before looking for a petrol station. A lot of these stories end with people making it just in time, but there are the few that got stuck on the side of the road.

A good rule of thumb is never to let your petrol dip below half a tank.

While some roads will frequently have petrol stations, you’re also going to be on roads where you won’t see one for hours.

Choose the Right Car

If you can afford it, a high clearance vehicle is your best option for the Kruger National Park. The higher you are, the more likely you’ll be able to spot animals sleeping in the grass.

A 4WD will make it easier driving the roads in the Eastern Cape, but it’s not a necessity. The conditions have improved a lot over the last couple of years.

For this trip, we used my Toyota Etios Cross.

Travel & Car Insurance

World Nomads Travel Insurance is one of the best insurance options for travellers. It covers more than 150 adventure activities, let’s you donate to local communities, protects all your gear and will pay out for any unexpected trips to the hospital.

For car insurance, I recommend taking the tire & windshield option when you fetch your vehicle. You won’t always be driving on good roads, and Coffee Bay is notorious for its potholes.

Don’t Always Rely on Google Maps

For the most part, Google Maps will get you where you need to go. However, South Africa doesn’t have cellphone signal across the whole country.

I didn’t have any service inside the Kruger National Park. We had to rely on an old school physical map to get around.

Some hotels will also send you directions to follow. Save these to your phone so that you can access them offline.

While Google is accurate for the most part, occasionally it tries to take you down roads that are in horrible condition.

Avoid Driving at Night

It can be tempting to drive through the night, but it’s not the wisest decision. There are a lot of trucks and long distance buses on the main national roads that often drive at crazy speeds.

When you arrive in the Eastern Cape, you’re going to find a lot of cows, sheep, goats and horses sleeping on the roads at night.

You also won’t be able to see potholes as easily and getting a puncture at 1 AM is not fun for anyone.


Robberg nature reserve

South Africa Road Trip Itinerary

Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay (3 Days)

Distance: 520 km
Time: 6 hours

Get ready for multiple alarms, and plenty of coffee to get you ready for the start of your South Africa road trip. You’re going to need to leave Cape Town between 6:00 – 6:30 to avoid the traffic, especially if you’re travelling during the week.

If you want a more scenic drive, take the R44 from Strand instead of staying on the N2. You’ll drive past dramatic cliffs and sparkling blue water as you wind around Gordon’s Bay, Pringle Bay, and Betty’s Bay.

Stop at Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay and hang with the massive penguin colony that lives there!

Where to Stay in Plettenberg Bay

Urban Plett is a beautiful group of apartments right in the centre of town. You’ll be within walking distance of multiple restaurants and cafes, and only a quick 5-minute drive from the beach.

Each apartment comes with all the kitchen appliances you’ll need, complimentary tea and coffee, free WiFi, an adorable fireplace and a stunning en-suite bathroom.

If you don’t want to stay in the centre of town, book a stay at Wild Spirit Backpackers. Surrounded by indigenous forest, the property caters for conscious travellers who are interested in Green Living and Alternative Travel.

The backpackers is not on your usual accommodation sites, so you’ll need to book direct.

Things to Do in Plettenberg Bay

Sundowners at Emily Moon: Emily Moon is one of the best places in Plett to watch the sunset. The property is set on the banks of the Bitou River and has magnificent views of the river, wetlands and mountains. Plus, the on-site Simon’s Bar usually has specials on pizzas and cocktails!

Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary: Monkeyland is the world’s first free-roaming multi-species primate sanctuary. It’s home to lemurs, capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, gibbons and more! It’s also a proud supporter of the #HandsOffOurWildlife initiative.

Birds of Eden: Birds of Eden is a free flight sanctuary in The Crags, a short drive from Plett. It’s one of the best things to do in The Garden Route and is home to over 3,500 birds from over 220 species.

Hiking in Robberg Nature Reserve: One of my favourite things to do in Plett is hike Robberg Nature Reserve. Depending on how much time you have, you can do the 4 km loop (2-3 hours) or the full 9 km hike. Plan your visit to finish your hike during sunset! Entrance is R 50 or free if you have a Wild Card.

What to Eat in Plett

Emily Moon: Besides the pizzeria at Simon’s Bar, Emily Moon has a gorgeous downstairs restaurant that overlooks the river. The menu is hearty, delicious, and there are vegan-friendly dishes that will leave you feeling satiated!

Down to Earth: Down to Earth is the on-site natural/organic restaurant for Plett River Lodge. It’s situated on the waterfront and has a delicious menu that’s made from locally sourced ingredients.

Roost Café: Roost Café is an adorable café a few minutes outside of Plettenberg Bay on the N2. It’s located inside Old Nick Village which houses a handful of shops that sell all kinds of treasures. The coffee here is delicious, and café does offer almond milk as a dairy alternative. There isn’t anything strictly vegan on the menu, but it’s easy to enough to ask the kitchen to hold the cheese.

emily moon in plett

girl on beach in plett


tsitsikamma national park

Plettenberg to Storms River (2 Days)

Distance:
Time: 47 minutes

If you want to cut down on the number of days on your South Africa road trip itinerary, you can visit Tsitsikamma National Park as a pit stop en route to Morgans Bay.

For those that have the time, don’t miss out on exploring this part of the Garden Route!

It’s one of my favourite places in South Africa, and there’s a seemingly endless list of adventurous things to do. Keep in mind there is a toll fee of R 50 for this part of the N2. You’ll need to pay with cash or credit card, and there aren’t any ATMs near the toll.

Where to Stay in Storms River

One of my favourite places in Tsitsikamma is Tube ‘n Axe Boutique Backpackers. You can choose from shared deluxe dorms to eco-luxury tents and private rooms.

It’s glamping in the Garden Route at it’s best and you’ll only be 10-minutes from Tsitsikamma National Park.

Things to Do in Storms River

Tsitsikamma National Park: Tsitsikamma National Park is a treasure trove of adventurous activities. If you’re short on time, the best thing to do is hike towards the famous suspension bridges! Get here as soon as the park opens if you want to soak it all up before the crowds arrive. Entrance is R 60 for South Africans, R 235 for non-SADC nationals or free for Wild Card holders.

Hiking: Tsitsikamma National Park is also home to the start of one of the best hikes in South Africa – The Otter Trail. Day visitors are allowed to walk the first 6 KM to a beautiful waterfall.

Kayaking and Scuba Diving: For those looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can sign up for kayaking tours along Storm’s River Mouth. You can also go scuba diving or snorkelling in the marine protected area of the national park.

Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour: The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is a super chilled activity for the whole family. The ziplines will have you gliding past the lush indigenous forest, and there are a few lines that you can do without holding on the rope!

What to Eat in Storms River

There are only a handful of restaurants in Tsitsikamma, and the grocery store is expensive. I’d recommend buying some food before leaving Plett and making it at your accommodation.

If you feel like eating out, Axe ‘n Tube Backpackers does have an on-site restaurant. There’s also a super cute 1960’s dinner in Storms River that’s a six-minute walk from the backpackers.

tsitsikamma national park

tsitsikamma national park


morgan bay, south africa

Storms River to Morgan Bay (2 Days)

Distance: 556 km
Time: 5 hours 45 minutes

Morgan Bay is a peaceful seaside village situated on South Africa’s beautiful Wild Coast. It’s a popular holiday destination for locals in the December holidays and deserves a spot on any South Africa road trip itinerary.

Where to Stay in Morgan Bay

Morgan Bay has some stunning accommodation options for all budgets.

Neptunes Cove is luxury self-catering accommodation right on the beach in Kei Mouth. The apartments have sea views and come with all the essentials you’ll need.

In The Green Backpackers is an eco-friendly hotel that’s within walking distance of a mile-long beach and lagoon. It’s the best budget option with a double private room for R 400 and shared dorms for R 140 per person per night.

Things to Do in Morgan Bay

Morgan Bay Cliffs: The Morgan Bay cliffs are stunning and are a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise or set. We came here for sunset and astrophotography and got some incredible photographs. The adventurous can also sign up for abseiling or climbing tours down the 50-meter cliffs!

Double Mouth Nature Reserve: If you’re into camping, you’ll love Double Mouth Nature Reserve! It boasts one of the most scenic campsites in South Africa and is home to a 16th-century Portuguese shipwreck where people have found Carnelian Beads, Money Cowries and Ming Porcelain.

Crossing the Pont: Without a doubt, one of the best things to do near Morgan Bay is taking The Pont over the river. It’s not every day that you get to ferry your vehicle around for the low price of R 100!

What to Eat in Morgan Bay

For Morgan Bay and Kei Mouth, I highly recommend buying groceries or ready-to-heat meals before arriving in town if you want to save money. Alternatively, there are restaurants at some of the hotels in the area, but I didn’t find them to be that great.

morgan bay cliffs

milky way at morgan bay


coffee bay

Morgan Bay to Coffee Bay (3 Days)

Distance: 281 km
Time: 3 hours 44 minutes

Coffee Bay is one of the most Instagrammable destinations in South Africa. Traditional colourful Xhosa huts are sprinkled over the hills, and it’s a short drive away from the famous Hole-in-the-Wall that has an intriguing history and folklore.

While Coffee Bay’s roads have improved immensely over the years, there are plenty of potholes that can quickly fuck up your vibe.

Trust me. You don’t want to forget the spare wheel.

Coffee Bay mainly operates on cash and there are no ATMs in the town. Make sure you draw at least R500 – R 1000 to have enough money for food, drinks, tours and any other small expenses.

If you do get a puncture, ask your hotel for directions to “Magic Tyres”. The shop can fix your tyre for R70.

Where to Stay in Coffee Bay

When I spent a month backpacking South Africa, I spent three days at Coffee Shack Backpackers. It’s still one of the best budget accommodation options in the area and perfect for solo travellers that want to meet other people and soak up a lively atmosphere.

If you want something more low-key, stay at Coram Deo Cottages. The property has recently gone through a renovation and has three new modern apartments that have beautiful views of Coffee Bay.

Both options have delicious on-site restaurants, but if you want a change of scenery, go to Papazela’s Pizza. It has a deck that overlooks Coffee Bay and is the perfect spot for sundowners.

Things to Do in Coffee Bay

Hole in the Wall: You can sign up for a guided hike to Hole in the Wall from Coffee Shack Backpackers, or you can drive to the landmark. For your own safety, please park your car at the Hole in the Wall Hotel and walk the extra 10-minutes to the rock. Locals will come up to you and try “guide” you. There is no need for one, but if you would like one to keep people from harassing you, ask your hotel to put you in contact with a certified local guide.

We hired a guide for Hotel in the Wall because we were shooting astrophotography late at night and went here for sunrise. We wanted the added security because of all the gear we had on us.

Mapuzi Caves: Hire a guide and hike to Mapuzi Caves for a day full of cliff jumping! It’s only 2.5 km, so it’s a great option for those that only want a half-day hike.

If you decided to hire a guide for any activities, you’re going to need to haggle. The locals are used to getting away with charging the internationals high prices.

hole in the wall

girl in coffee bay


Optional Detour: Magwa Falls

Magwa Falls is an iconic waterfall in the Wild Coast. It lies in the middle of the 1 800 hectare Magwa tea plantation, South Africa’s last remaining tea estate and is a 50-minute drive from St. Port Johns.

The curtain of the waterfall falls 144 meters into the gorge below!

To get here, you can plan a day trip from Coffee Bay or stop here on your way to Durban. But if you don’t want to drive 4 hours to reach the waterfall, you can add a stop to Port St. Johns on your South Africa road trip itinerary.

Magwa is only a 1-hour drive from the seaside town. While in the area, you can explore the coastline between Lusikisiki and Msikaba and Mbotyi, which is full of waterfalls and nature reserves.

 

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treehouse in south africa

Photo by: Mantis and Moon

Coffee Bay to Uzumbe (1-2 Days)

Distance: 405 km
Time: 6 hours

Uzumbe is one of my favourite places on South Africa’s South Coast. It boasts a Blue Flag beach and is a must-visit if you’re a surfer or you want to learn.

Where to Stay in Uzumbe

Want to stay in a glass treehouse and spot vervet monkeys from your bed? Then pack your bags and check into Mantis and Moon Backpackers!

It’s a beautiful little oasis that’s completely hidden inside the coastal forest and is minutes from Uzumbe Beach. I think it’s one of the most romantic places in South Africa and is worth the pit stop en route to Durban.

There’s also an on-site yoga studio, restaurant and bar area.

Mantis and Moon is another backpackers that isn’t on your typical accommodation booking sites. You’ll need to book directly with the property if you want to stay here.

Things to Do in Uzumbe

Learn to Surf: Mantis and Moon has on-site professional surf instructors to help you ride your first wave. If you sign up, you get a free trip to the Maisch surf factory where you can order a custom board.

Oribi Gorge: Adventure junkies should not miss out on exploring Oribi Gorge! You can test your limits with the Wild Gorge Swing that reaches speeds of 120km/hours in 2.5 seconds! There’s also a zip-lining tour, abseiling, white river rafting and a suspension bridge over the gorge.

Lake Eland: Lake Eland is set inside Oribi Gorge and is the perfect trip to give you a taste of what to expect in Kruger National Park.


girl at durban lighthouse

Uzumbe to Durban (1 Day)

Distance: 102 km
Time: 1 hour

Use your day in Durban to relax and prepare for the long drive to Kruger National Park. Durban is one of my least favourite places in South Africa, but there are still a few things to check out if it’s your first time in the city.

Where to Stay in Durban

If you want to stay in the city, book a room at Curiocity Backpackers. I stayed here during my backpacking trip across South Africa and loved it. The hostel organises inner-city walking tours and culinary tours of Durban.

I also love the sense of community the hostel creates with their movie nights, yoga classes, and braai nights.

A good alternative to the inner city is Umhlanga. It’s an affluent area, and you’ll find more bougie hotels, resorts and apartments.

The Oyster Box is a popular luxury hotel, but there are tons of other excellent options like 27 on Chartwell, and aha Gateway Hotel that cost a fraction of the price.

Things to Do in Durban

The Golden Mile: Take in the day-to-day life of Durban by strolling along the famous Golden Mile. It stretches from Blue Lagoon South to Addington Beach and Durban Harbor.

Umhlanga Lighthouse: You can view the famous Umhlanga Lighthouse from the promenade or take in the view from the Lighthouse Bar inside The Oyster Box Hotel.

Whalebone Pier: Not too far from the Umhlanga Lighthouse is the Whalebone Pier. Come here for sunrise if you can!

Jump Off the Moses Mabhida Stadium: The Big Swing at the Moses Mabhida Stadium holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest swing. You’ll freefall for 80 meters before swinging out into the heart of the stadium.

What to Eat in Durban

I haven’t gone to any restaurants in Durban. I usually grab a takeaway traditional Durban curry or bunny chow from one of the roadside shops.

You won’t regret stocking up with 10-20 samoosas for your road trip to Kruger National Park the next day.

durban

lighthouse in durban


rhino in kruger national park

Durban to Kruger National Park (5 Days)

Distance: 725 km
Time: 8 hours

Driving from Durban to Kruger National Park means you’re not going to make it to one of the gates before closing. So for your first night, you’ll need to stay at one of the lodges outside of Kruger.

There are plenty of options to choose from ranging from budget to five-star luxury.

However, I highly recommend staying inside Kruger for the rest of your time in the area. You’re going to have more time in the park, and the camps have something for everyone.

If you’re staying at the camps, you’re going to need to buy your own food at the shop in the camp. The shop sells everything from firewood to paper plates and a range of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat.

Where to Stay in Kruger National Park

We spent two nights at Pretoriouskop Camp, one night at Sakuza Camp and one night at Tamboti. We tried to get accommodation at Lower Sabie, but it was sold out.

In hindsight, we should have spent two nights at Tamboti to give us more time to spot the wild dogs that live in the area.

You need to book all your Kruger National Park accommodation through the SANParks website.

Things to Do in Kruger National Park

Self-drive Game Drives: It’s super easy to go on a self-drive game drive in Kruger National Park. However, you will need to buy a Kruger Park Map & Guide when you arrive as Google Maps won’t work. It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the key on the map so you can work out how long it will take you to drive to different sections of the park. Remember, there is a 40-50 km/h speed limit (yes, there are speed cameras!) and you’ll get a fine if you return to camp after the gates close.

Guided Game Drives: One of the best things you can do in Kruger National Park is to go on a guided game drive. The guides are knowledgable and can read the signs of the bush to help you spot things you would typically miss. I recommend going on the morning drives. They are the least popular, but you’ll be the first to see Big Cats or any kills as these drives leave before the gates to the park open.

Walking Safaris:  There is so much you don’t see from your car in Kruger! A walking safari lets you get up close and personal with the bush and spot the smaller animals. You’ll have a guide and a ranger with you at all times for safety.

Read More: Visiting Kruger National Park: Everything You Need to Know

lioness in kruger national park

giraffe in kruger


blyde river canyon

Kruger National Park to Graskop (2 Days)

Distance: 51 km
Time: 48 minutes

Graskop is home to one of the best road trips in South Africa – the Panorama Route! It’s the best place to base yourself so you can explore the area and see some of the most iconic attractions.

There are a few restaurants in the area, including the famous Harrie’s Pancakes. You can also grab what you need to cook at your accommodation from the local Spar.

Where to Stay in Graskop

Rustique is a beautiful guesthouse in Graskop that’s within walking distances of the shops and restaurants. There’s a communal kitchen area if you want to cook your own meals and breakfast is available on request.

Blyde River Canyon Forever Resort is the closest accommodation option to the famous Blyde River Canyon. There are also a few hiking trails that are only accessible within the resort, a pool and an on-site restaurant.

Things to Do in Graskop

Blyde River Canyon: Inside the Blyde River Canyon is the iconic Three Rondavels lookout point. The best time to visit is the hour before sunset. Entrance is R 30 per person.

Gods Window: God’s Window is a 900 m high viewpoint where you can see Mozambique on a clear day! Entrance is R 20 per person.

Lisbon Falls: Lisbon Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in South Africa. You can hike down to the base of the falls and spend the afternoon swimming in the small rock pools. Entrance is R 10 per person.

Read More: The Best of the Panorama Route South Africa: 2-Day Itinerary

lisbon falls

couple at Blyde River Canyon


johannesburg

Graskop to Johannesburg (1-2 Days)

Distance: 396 km
Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

Phew! After an incredible two days, you’ll end of your South Africa road trip in Johannesburg. You can drop off your rental car in the city and catch a flight home, or you can drive back to Cape Town.

It’s also up to you if you want to explore the city or not. If you have the time, here are some of the best things to do in Johannesburg!

Where to Stay in Johannesburg

A lot of international travellers like staying in Maboneng. There’s also a Curiocity Backpackers here and plenty of AirBnBs.

If you want to stay somewhere a bit more trendy and you’re a foodie, book a hotel in Rosebank, Parkhurst or Morningside. There are tons of cute restaurants, bars and cafes in these areas!

Some of my favourites are Naked Coffee, Sin Tax and Saigon Suzy.

Things to Do in Johannesburg

Apartheid Museum: If it’s your first trip to South Africa, visit the Apartheid Museum to understand our past and the effect it’s had on our present and future.

Inner City Walking Tour: Curiocity Backpackers Joburg runs an inner-city walking tour that will take you to attractions like the Kwa Mai Mai Traditional Healers Market, the Collector’s Treasury (the largest second-hand bookstore in Africa) and Little Addis (Joburg’s Ethiopian Quarter).

Maboneng Precinct: Maboneng is a trendy, artsy district in the heart of Johannesburg. You’ll find everything from art galleries to rooftop bars and designer boutiques.

Good Luck Bar: Good Luck Bar is one of my favourite bars and live music venues in Johannesburg. If you want to spend an evening listening to some local music, you won’t regret having a drink or three here.

Read More: Where to Find Delicious Vegan Food in Johannesburg


You know what we both deserve right now? A fucking drink.

Congrats for making it to the end of this post. It’s been a long one, but hopefully, you feel prepared and inspired for your South Africa road trip!

If I’ve missed out any must-see spots on this itinerary, tune me in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

(I’ve got a full Garden Route itinerary coming out soon, so don’t @ me.)


Psst…Want more South Africa road trip inspiration? Check out these other posts:

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South Africa is one of the best road trip destinations in the world. From Kruger National Park to the famous Garden Route and everything in between, here's advice from a local on how to see some of South Africa's top attractions with a few lesser-known gems in between! South Africa Travel | South Africa Road Trip | South Africa Safari | South Africa Travel Tips | #southafrica #roadtrips #traveltips

South Africa is one of the best road trip destinations in the world. From Kruger National Park to the famous Garden Route and everything in between, here\'s advice from a local on how to see some of South Africa\'s top attractions with a few lesser-known gems in between! South Africa Travel | South Africa Road Trip | South Africa Safari | South Africa Travel Tips | #southafrica #roadtrips #traveltips
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10 Comments

  1. Sharon
    July 13, 2019 / 10:08 am

    Thanks so much for the info. Your pictures are stunning!

    • lauren
      Author
      July 16, 2019 / 9:25 am

      Thank you so much! I’m stoked you found my South Africa road trip itinerary helpful 🙂

  2. Vanessa Shields
    July 13, 2019 / 10:28 am

    What an awesome itinerary for South Africa! I’ve always wanted to visit and now I want to even more. Looks like such a beautiful country. ?

    • lauren
      Author
      July 16, 2019 / 9:25 am

      Thank you!! I hope you get to come explore South Africa soon 🙂

  3. July 13, 2019 / 3:34 pm

    Your photos are gorgeous! Wow what an amazing itinerary. I never thought to do South Africa as a road trip. Thanks for the new inspiration.

  4. Lana
    July 14, 2019 / 12:30 am

    What an amazing itinerary. I am all about water views, so all of the bays and waterfalls sounds perfect for me!

    • lauren
      Author
      July 16, 2019 / 9:25 am

      Yesss! I’m a sucker for a good waterfall!

  5. Ben Zweber
    July 14, 2019 / 3:49 am

    I’ve been itching to get to South Africa for so long now! This is a great route idea and your photos are gorgeous!

  6. Giovanna
    August 9, 2019 / 11:58 am

    I’ll be traveling to SA this December for 3 weeks from the states. This post was wonderful as many of the locations we’re visiting were also on this list. I’ll be traveling with someone from the country originially, however it’s nice to have some idea of where I’ll be prior to going!

    • lauren
      Author
      August 13, 2019 / 6:00 pm

      I hope you have an amazing road trip through South Africa!

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