We had slightly less than two weeks to drive all the way from Kruger National Park to Cape Town while aiming to check off the most insta-worthy spots along the way. Being a big fan of safaris and wildlife through National Geographic, spending three days at Kruger was my dream “Disneyland” trip. Read all about our three-day self-drive Kruger itinerary here. This post is a continuation of the Kruger self-drive and will probably give you an idea of what to expect during your road trip through this part of South Africa. Alternatively, you can also do the trip the other way round from Cape Town to Kruger. We chose to to slow down and wind down at the lovely Cape Town towards the end of the trip.
We chose a full size SUV as we were travelling in a group of four. Car rental was booked online with AVIS and collected at Johannesburg Airport. We decided on a Toyota Fortuner with about 35,000 kilometres mileage on it. The rental experience was however, not a particularly great one. This was due to the unethical up-sell of Avis Safe Drive that came with a WiFi device. It was sugar-coated as free and for our safety, furthermore AVIS also charged for a one-way drop off fee for the device! Long story short, the additional amount of about S$200 was refunded after an official complaint to the branch manger.
Despite what happened, I would say AVIS is still one of the more decent car rental companies in South Africa. My advice is to decline all add-ons at the counter and stick to whatever price and package that you have booked prior to your trip. Try reading through reviews of the different car rental companies in South Africa and you will get what I mean. You will really want to stick to one of the “better ones”.
I recommend to get a car with higher ground clearance as you will definitely need the extra height for a better view during Kruger self-drive or other private reserves. This is if you are self-driving, otherwise you can probably stick to a regular sedan or hatchback. It makes more sense to rent a smaller, more fuel-efficient car if you are traveling alone or as a couple.
We covered almost 4000KM with Johannesburg airport as the starting point. We planned a day trip through Swaziland which is a landlocked country within South Africa. It was a really nice experience and great opportunity to collect yet another stamp in our passports!
Day 1 – Swaziland
Start your day early by leaving through one of Kruger southern gates. We left via Malelane gate because it is nearest to the land crossing into Swaziland at Jeppes Reef. Take the MR1 into Mbabane which is the capital of Swaziland. After the border crossing, the drive is scenic which takes you to higher altitudes through the smaller villages. Soon after, you will realize that the road you are traveling on is also the main highway into the capital.
Lunch break in Mbabane where you can experience the life of the locals in the capital as compared to the villages outside the city. Swaziland is a good place to fuel up as the prices are cheaper here. Swaziland uses South African Rand so you do not need to worry about currency conversion.
If you have more time in your itinerary, spend the night in Swaziland and continue your drive to St Lucia early the next morning. Otherwise, you can head to St Lucia after lunch.
Day 2 – St Lucia
This is officially hippo county because there are “beware of hippos” signs all over. Hippos roam the streets at night. It is also the hub to iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which is previously known as Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park.
I suggest to take the boat cruise that goes around the St Lucia Estuary, where you can see hippos and crocodiles living in the same stretch of river. We went with Heritage Tours and Safari and really enjoyed our time on the river. The guide was experienced and able to educate us on the history and life of wildlife in St Lucia.
Depending on the timing of your cruise, have your lunch before setting off for Durban.
Day 3 – Durban
Durban is the third most populous city in South Africa after Johannesburg and Cape Town and the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is a nice coastal city with miles of coastlines for surfers and swimmers to experience the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
It is a great place to try the local South African cuisine or seafood since it is just next to the ocean. We had our dinner at Moyo Ushaka, recommended by our Airbnb host and it was one of the more memorable dinners we had.
Spend the night at Durban. We lived in an Airbnb penthouse with a gorgeous view over the harbour.
Day 4 – Mthatha, East London
Start your day earlier because there is significant distance (680KM) to cover in order to reach East London. Alternatively, you can spend the night at Port Edward or Port Shepstone to break up the trip.
*Tip this is where you can make a side trip to Lesotho, another landlocked country like Swaziland. We did not do it due to time constraint.
Mthatha street scene
Continue on the N2 from Durban and the route cut inland after Port Shepstone towards Mthatha. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first president was grew up in Mthatha. Ironically, the city is also one of the top ten most dangerous cities in South Africa. Another thing to note is that this part of the N2 is also the most dangerous highway in South Africa due to high traffic volumes, negligent driving and animals on the road.
Although we are grateful to be safe from any road accidents but had our own little encounter where we almost became victims of a road toll scam in Mthatha (not once but twice within a span of ten minutes). The scam was fairly straight forward, a guy in a yellow vest came up to us at a traffic light when we entered the city. He explained that the road toll station was not working and we had to pay the fee at the petrol station. As we drove closer to the station, another guy in the same yellow vest gestured for us to drive in. Feeling uneasy about the whole situation, we decided not to drive into the petrol station as we felt that it could be a scam. We noticed that the previous guy only seemed to stop vehicles based on who was behind the wheel. It was pretty obvious we they were picking on foreigners so we did not want to take our chances and drove on quickly. We encountered a similar scam again when exiting the city, where another guy was gesturing for us to lower our window presumably to repeat the same story but this time, I just nodded my head and drove off (like a boss lol).
Spend the night at East London.
These coloured houses are a feature of the townships along the N2
Day 5 – Port Elizabeth, Knysna
Continue towards Storms River Bloukrans Bridge where it is the start of the Garden Route. You will pass by Port Elizabeth which is where most people fly into to start the Garden Route to Cape Town. Towns like Jeffreys Bay and Plettenberg Bay have lagoon-facing accommodations which have awesome views of the sea.
Stay the night at Knysna if you have a tight schedule if not you can spilt your days around the area.
Day 6 – Mossel Bay
As you continue towards Mossel Bay, the scenery starts to become more interesting since it is part of the Garden Route. Check out Map Of Africa View Point right before reaching Kaaimans River Railway Bridge which boasts an outstanding lookout of the coastline. Head inland towards Oudtshoorn to visit an ostrich farm. I recommend to purchase a meal together with the introduction farm ride. Within the compound, there are free roaming ostriches and emus. If you are lucky, you can also see the new chicks!
Spend the night at Mossel Bay.
Day 7 – Hermanus
From Mossel Bay, you can choose to take highway 2 straight to Hermanus or take the side trip to Cape Agulhas, the most southern tip of the Africa continent. We tasted delicious fish and chips from a beach shack there, the kind that you would want to spend the whole afternoon lazing in. If you do this, I recommend to head to De Kelders to stay the night so that you have time for a fantastic whale watching experience. Whales can be literally seen from the coast because they swim into the bay during certain periods of the year. If you are into shark cage diving, you can head to Gansbaai. It holds a dense population of great white sharks.
Spend the night at De Kelders or Hermanus.
Day 8 – 11 – Cape Town
I recommend to spend three to four days in Cape Town because there are simply so many things to do here! As you drive into Cape Town, don’t miss out on a classic winery tour at Stellenbosch. There are plenty of wineries so take your pick. We chose Ken Forrester due to the good reviews found online.
Ken Forrester Vineyard
Choose your hike to the top of Table Mountain or Lion’s Head. I chose the Lion’s Head hike because it’s equally breathtaking and you get views of table mountain. If you are up for the Table Mountain choice, I recommend to hike up and take the cable car down to give some comfort to your knees. Lion’s Head trail can be completed in half a day or so but also require a good amount of fitness to get to the top. There is also some scrambling and vertical ladders to climb along the trail.
Take a half-day trip to Cape Peninsula (including Cape of Good Hope) through Simon’s Town. Note that Cape of Good Hope is not the most southern part of Africa, but Cape Agulhas. Visit Boulder’s Beach to see the best wild African penguin colony. They are on the verge of extinction and can only be found in Southern Africa. I assure that this experience triumphs watching penguins in marine parks and zoos.
African Penguins at Boulder’s Beach
The trendy colouful houses are in Bo Kaap, a muslim settlement with a rich history. Walking around the neighbourhood you will tread along cobbled streets and be greeted with fun-looking houses. As you venture further out, there are plenty of nice restaurants and cafes for foodies and coffee-addicts.
This is our road trip experience, I hope it will help you guys in planning or purely a good source of reference. Have you got a good story to share? Feel free to give your comments below!