5 things you should know when planning a South African road trip
It’s cheaper than you think
Okay, it may suck for South Africans that our president is a gangster who hangs out with Russian oligarchs and dodgy businessman and structures his cabinet decisions on what’s going to line his pocket, but guess what? Every time South African president Jacob Zuma makes a horrible decision, it gets cheaper for Westerners to do a South African road trip, as the rand plummets to the dollar. (When this blog post was written, the exchange rate was R14 for $1, or R16 for a Euro)
Here is a breakdown of average costs you can expect:
- Average 4×4 rental : about $600 for two weeks.
- Average sedan rental: about $350 for two weeks.
- Price per night for a self-catering 4-sleeper chalet in a national South African park: $130.
- Average meal in a middle class restaurant: $15 per person.
- Average price for a liter of fuel: $1. (roughly $4/gallon).
With all things in life, you get what you pay for. You can camp for less than $30 in a South African national park on a camping site that sleeps 4 people, or you can glam it up in the fanciest of safari lodges for about $300 to $500 dollars per person per night.
Just remember, in South Africa we drive on the ‘wrong’ (left) side of the road. This can get a bit tricky, especially when you are driving in the city and when driving from the airport in your rental car. Make sure you are prepared for this and remember your international driver’s license.
Visit www.sanparks.com to see South Africa’s national parks, their tariff fees and accommodation. Here are some suggested itineraries.
Choose the Western Cape if you’re looking for wine and culture
There are so many beautiful wine routes in the Western Cape and South African wine offers incredible value for the money. You can buy an amazing bottle of wine at one of our many wineries for under $10, which will rival any $30 – $40 Californian Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.
Every wine region has a different terroir and climate. The gabled Cape-Dutch Estates of Stellenbosch are known for their noble cultivars like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, while the cooler climates of the Overberg produce amazing Pinot Noirs, also known as the heartbreak grape.
The Klein Karoo, with its arid hot summers and cold winters is the ideal climate for incredible dessert wines—and an array of working farms offer guest accommodation and agritourism experiences for as little as R500 per cottage per night. You can also base yourself on one of the wine farms, I love Montpellier in the Western Town of Tulbagh, as it’s affordable, has great wine, a lovely restaurant and a laid-back atmosphere. A self-catering cottage on the wine farm will cost you as little as $64, which sleeps two people.
Visit the Kruger National Park for an affordable safari
The Kruger National Park is the darling of the South African game parks, here you can explore the African wilderness for a fraction of the cost of what an East African safari would cost you. You don’t need an SUV to explore the park as there is a wide network of tarred roads suitable for a normal sedan and the self-catering accommodation is quite affordable. (Budget around $70 for a self-catering cottage, which sleeps two people.)
The park has it’s pros and cons, it can get quite busy during the peak holiday season and South African school holidays (in South Africa it’s over July and December ) and it’s not a lot of fun to see a lion or leopard, surrounded by 10 cars or more. If you want to see the Big Five in two days, head to the Southern part of the park and base yourself at the Skukuza, Pretoriuskop or Onder-Sabie rest camps, where your chances of seeing predators such as lions and leopards are much better, but the crowds can be a bit of a nuisance.
If you’re a safari snob (like me) and birds, trees and biodiversity are more you’re thing, head to the more remote northern part and stay at either Pafuri Rest Camp or Punda Maria.
If you’re looking to splurge, I highly recommend the Pafuri Camp in the Makulele concession, which offers amazing Big Five walking safari’s (nothing beats seeing an elephant on foot) and luxury Meru-tent accommodation. Because it’s a private concession, only guests of the lodge are allowed in this area. Rates from $440 per person per night sharing, which includes four meals a day, two safari activities and tea and coffee.
For deserted beaches, explore the Transkei in the Eastern Cape
When you pronounce Transkei, it sounds like “Trance-Sky,” which is not a coincidence at all. Colorful huts dot the rolling green hills like M&M’s, while dappled Nguni cattle lounge on deserted beaches and a blue sky stretches for miles over the hills and azure Indian ocean. The scenes here verge on psychedelic: This is Big Sky country, Africa undiluted. The big mass tourism developers haven’t discovered the Transkei yet, so you’ll find no plastic holiday beach resorts or mega hotel developments here.
Accommodation here is usually a rustic community-run backpacker lodge where you can rent a room for less than $28 (R400) per night. I suggest flying into Durban, renting a car and continuing your South African road trip down the South Coast and into the Transkei. Stay at Mtentu Lodge near Coffee Bay the community run Bulungula lodge and Buccaneers in Cintsa. If you’re spending some time in Coffee Bay, a trip to The hole in the Wall is also a must-see experience, although the local touts can be a bit of a nuisance.
For a true wilderness South African road trip experience, head to the Kgalagadi National Park
Okay, I don’t expect you to pronounce the name correctly. Kg-la-ggga-dee. It sounds a bit like a cough and if you’ve got something stuck in your throat. The corrugated roads in this national park may loosen your teeth’s fillings and you’ve got several poisonous, spikey and mean critters slithering and crawling around the Kalahari Desert, where the Kgalagadi National Park is situated. If you’re willing to brave the road to this barren landscape, you’ll be rewarded many times over.
Big blac-maned lions skulk around your tent at night, roaring and claiming their territory, sending heeby-jeebies right into your little pinkie toe. A Kgalagadi sunset in winter is something to behold, dusty pyrotechnics produces a shimmering red ball of fire that eases itself behind the red dunes of the Kalahari desert. Crack open a cold beer, settle yourself next to the camp fire and listen to hyenas cackling in the distance and the barking geckos calling from the darkness.
Then morning comes, and when you unzip your tent, you are hit with the seductive scent of eau d’Africa, a mixture of red dust, dew, the pungent smell of khaki bush and promise of adventure. Be warned, it’s addictive. One whiff if this smell will make you return to this continent, again, and again, and again. For a bit of luxury, base yourself at the Kgalagadi lodge, or stay at one of the Dune cabins at the Kieliekrankie rest camp.
Carla Lewis is an award-winning South African road trip travel writer who has traveled extensively in Southern Africa. She’s happy to help with any itinerary questions or suggestions, tweet her at @misslewiswrites.