The Best Road Trip Routes in South Africa

One of the finest things about South Africa is its abundance in diversity spanning fauna, flora, megafauna, architecture and humans.

Its countryside ranges from sprawling deserts and extensive savannah landscapes to snow-capped mountains, weathered cliffs and subtropical beaches.

So those of you who believe that life is about the journey, and not the destination, this is for you - a collection of 10 UNFORGETTABLE Road Trips and Routes to put on your bucket list. South Africa's magnificent landscapes will make memories that will last forever.

Hire a car with First Car Rental and see this country up close and personal. It's a treat to see the landscape evolve, and to see how, and where, other people live.

"Once a year, go someplace you've never been before." - Dalai Lama

First, a few first-hand travel tips:

  •  • BRING A REAL MAP. Always pack a road atlas. Even with GPS in your smartphone or car, having a paper map is insurance against getting lost, and paper doesn't lose power. And kids who can read get a kick out of studying the atlas. They might surprise you with a suggested itinerary change.
  •  • MAKE MORE ROOM. Space is at a premium on a road trip. If you own a minivan, pat yourself on the back. Otherwise, look for ways to optimize space inside the car.
  •  • ALLOW FOR SPONTANEITY. Although you'll need to literally map out your trip, keep in mind that part of the fun is being spontaneous, so build time for freedom into the route. If you're booking nightly lodging in advance, underestimate your daily mileage to allow for quests for seasonal produce stands or unscheduled stops at roadside attractions.
  •  • ADOPT AN ELECTRONICS STRATEGY. This is a personal choice, but if you're a kid in my car, you get unfettered access to - and this is key - pre-chosen videos. On the road, the kids' binges keep the trip fun for everyone. It's a window into their lives, and it can keep them off the video games.
  •  • LAY OFF THE DOUGHNUTS. Whether you're a parent or not, your road trip should include lots of accessible, wholesome snacks. Minimise the junk food. Your mood will stay brighter, and you'll feel better.
  •  • STOP FREQUENTLY. Siblings squabble. Drivers and co-pilots disagree. There's no fool proof method for diffusing road-trip tension, so try to not let it build up in the first place. If you've got kids, plan to stop every couple of hours at a playground, a restaurant with a play area or even a petrol station rest stop. Turn that rest stop into your personal jungle gym as well. In other words, burn energy. This works for passengers of all ages.
  •  • TAKE BREAKS. You don't have to spend every waking minute together. So, ditch your co-pilot for a solo jog or split up for an afternoon.
  •  • SPLURGE WISELY. Because you're saving money by not staying in expensive hotels, (and not putting extra mileage, and wear & tear on your own car), allow the occasional indulgence. For me, this is almost always food, so maybe enjoy an upscale bistro along your route.
  •  • MEET THE LOCALS. They're nice and better informed than Google.

Hitting the open road is a rite of passage. Remember to fuel up before that dash light comes on.

"A road trip is a way for the whole family to spend time together and annoy each other in interesting new places." - Tom Lichtenheld

1. Chapman's Peak Drive, Western Cape

Chapman's Peak Drive

Chapman's Peak Drive, a 9km route between Hout Bay and Noordhoek, is widely regarded as one of the most scenic stretches of road in the world.

Following a fatal rock fall at the end of 1999, Chapman's Peak Drive was officially closed indefinitely in 2000 for maintenance and reconstruction. The subsequent upgrading of Chapmans Peak Drive has gone on to win international acclaim as one of the most innovative road engineering projects.

Carved out of near-vertical cliff faces on the Cape Peninsula coastline, this beautiful coastal roadway with 114 bends, offers abundant viewpoints at which motorists can safely pull over and appreciate panoramic views across the Atlantic Ocean.

2. Long Tom Pass, Mpumalanga

ong Tom Pass

Named after a large cannon used during the Anglo-Boer war which fired a 38kg shell over 10km, Long Tom Pass between Lydenburg and Sabie in Mpumalanga is undoubtedly the province's most famous pass.

Originally, Long Tom Pass was forged by Voortekkers to transport goods between Lydenburg and Mozambique.

With a complex network of curves, including 10 hairpin bends, the pass covers just over 26km as it ascends up the Drakensberg escarpment.

At an elevation of 2150m above sea level, the route offers spectacular panoramic views and beautiful mountain vistas.

3. Lichens Pass, Free State

Lichens Pass

In the foothills of the Maluti Mountains travelling along the R712, Lichens Pass or Golden Gate Pass enthrals with its breath-taking scenery as is snakes around St. Pierre Mountain in Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

The pass, at an altitude of 1950m above seal level, features lovely banked corners, and magnificent views of the surrounding valleys, gorges and mountains.

The striking black and orange of the prominent sandstone cliffs of make this a remarkably awe-inspiring road to drive.

"I love road trips, I love driving, I love finding little towns. I just think it's the best way to travel." - Scarlett Johansson

4. Clarence Drive (R44), Western Cape

Clarence Drive

Journeying between mountains and the ocean, with 77 bends and corners, the almost 50km Clarence Drive is a superb scenic coastal drive between Rooi-Els and Gordons Bay.

As part of the "Whale Route", Clarence Drive provides numerous whale-watching spots - perfect for watching Southern Right Whales that visit the area between June and December each year.

Aside from the magnificent views of the Cape Peninsula, False Bay and Table Mountain, highlights along the route include Stony Point Penguin Colony, Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and Harold Porter Botanical Gardens.

5. "The Breakfast Run", Gauteng

Hartbeespoort Dam Breakfast Run

This scenic drive from Johannesburg to Hartbeespoort Dam on the R512 offers curving roads that meander between bushveld, grassland and aloes in flower during winter.

Cradled in a valley between the Magaliesberg mountain range to the north and the Witwatersberg mountain range to the south, the circular route around Hartbeespoort Dam offers spectacular mountain vistas.

The road hugs the water's edge along the north shore, and travels through a 57 m long tunnel before crossing over the dam wall and under a distinct replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

6. Sani Pass, KwaZulu-Natal

Sani Pass

One of the most famous hair-pinned roads in the world and the only road crossing the summit of the Drakensberg Mountain Range, the 27km Sani Pass road was built in the 1950s and remains a test of skill and courage - a challenging drive in 4x4 vehicles.

The mother of all South African mountain passes, it summits at 2876m (9436 ft) - at 10 000ft aeroplanes need to be pressurised.

The road, which connects KwaZulu-Natal to Lesotho (a passport is required), is a series of winding turns, hairpin bends, plummeting drops and awe-inspiring scenery, and the summit boasts the Highest Pub in Africa.

"Make sure you control the radio on a long road trip. You don't want to listen to some old-fashioned music the whole time." - Preston Shay

7. Panorama Route, Mpumalanga

Panorama Route

Centred around the Blyde River Canyon, the Panorama Route, as the name suggests, offers amazing panoramic views of mountains, canyons and valleys.

The R532 is the most popular section of the route; it weaves its way from Sabie in the south through the green Mpumalanga landscape to the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve in the north.

Highlights along the 90km drive include 6 waterfalls, namely Sabie Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Mac Mac Falls, Forest Falls, Lisbon Falls, and the Berlin Falls, plus these unique, visual-wonders and landscapes - God's Window, Bourke's Luck Potholes, the Blyde River Canyon and the Three Rondavels.

8. Magoebaskloof Pass, Limpopo

Magoebaskloof Mpumalanga

Magoebaskloof Pass runs between the Limpopo towns of Tzaneen and Haenertsburg on the R71 and is considered one of the classic passes of province. The series of twisting S-bends and hairpins, fringed by plantations, rapidly rise 558 metres over 6.5 kilometres.

Leading from the Highveld down the Drakensberg escarpment to the sub-tropical Lowveld, various picnic spots along the route offer wonderful views over the kloof and switchbacks winding through the thick foliage below.

With hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, white-water rafting and zip-slides, the surrounding area is a happy hunting ground for avid adventurers.

"If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet." - Rachel Wolchin

9. Naude's Nek, Eastern Cape

Naude's Nek Pass

Following an animal track over the escarpment in 1896, the intrepid Naude Brothers built a rough track which is now the renowned Naude's Nek Pass.

Connecting the Eastern Cape towns of Maclear and Rhodes, the gravel road zig-zags its way over the southern Drakensberg; summiting at about 2600m above sea level, the 33km route offers magnificent mountain scenery from start to finish, as well as spectacular views of the Bell River.

Due to the nature and conditions of the Naude's Neck road, the pass should only be conquered in a 4x4 vehicle.

10. Spektakel Pass, Northern Cape

Spektakel Pass

Nestled in the Namaqualand on the R355 connecting Springbok and Kleinsee, Spektakel Pass lives up to its name; not only does the 18km pass feature great corners, fast sweeps and steep gradients, it also offers spectacular scenery.

Constructed in 1896, this wonderful road cuts through the arid Northern Cape landscape which comes alive with colour when the spring wild flowers are in full bloom - annually between August and October.

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