Reason To Road Trip South Africa
We are seriously spoilt for choice living in this incredible country of ours, but being the typical Capetonian (who never ventures too far into the unknown), a road trip around South Africa seemed a little daunting. With no real plan or any accommodation booked we set off on a road trip through possibly the most beautiful country in the world. I say this with confidence, because as of last year I never knew what this country had to offer and had always jumped at the opportunity to head overseas over and above any local vacay! I must admit, I was a little embarrassed that I had never visited the desolate but magical dry lands of the Great Karoo or the untamed roughness of the Wild Coast in the thirty years of living here – shocking I know!
I am not exaggerating when I say we literally had three days to prepare, which meant that we packed up the entire contents of our home and crammed it into our Polo. This was until NTT Stellenbosch heard that we were going to attempt the Sani Pass in a Vivo! They not only laughed and said we were mad, but then kindly sponsored us amateur roadies an Amarok for the trip. So with our hot new wheels and a playlist of the best Spotify road trip music we could find, we threw the dog in the car and left Cape Town for the Karoo.
We did contemplate tossing a mattress into the back of the bakkie, just in case we didn’t find accommodation for the night. I guess we were lucky because it was the middle of winter, so most spots had availability. We really made things difficult for ourselves when we threw a dog in the mix, so you’ll be happy to know that all accommodation listed below, except Balloch Cottages and Lazy Leopard are pet friendly!
Our first stop was the charming town of Prince Albert, where we found a beautiful guesthouse run by Mike and Tim, who are by far the cutest couple in the Karoo. The Prince Albert Garden Guest House is a cozy spot surrounded by a tranquil garden oasis, with comfortable spacious rooms that are well maintained and extremely clean. We spent our evening stargazing at the Karoo night sky from the private ‘moon deck’ and enjoyed our morning cuppa with 360-degree views of the Swartberg. So romanties!
The next morning we headed to Graaf-Reinet, grabbed a quick bite to eat before we made our way to Nieu-Bethesda, where we spent the night.
When we arrived the sun was setting, it was dark and eerie with no one in sight – it would be the perfect location for a horror film. We spent the night at RustPunt, which is a warm and cozy self-catering cottage overlooking a spacious garden with beautiful mountain views! We spent the evening feasting on Karoo lamb chops bought from the local butcher in Graaf-Reinet and a few bottles of red wine to keep us warm as temperatures dropped to -5 degrees!
Eastern Cape (Stutterheim & Barkley East)
From the dry Great Karoo desert to the lush forests of the Eastern Cape, we made our way down to an area called Stutterheim. Our accommodation at Shire Eco Lodge was one of our favourite spots on our trip, nestled in the Amatola Mountains on the edge of the indigenous Xholora forest. These uniquely built chalets are wooden carved masterpieces, which resemble the inside of a boat, with custom-made curved glass windows within an idyllic setting that overlooks an enchanted forest – it’s incredibly magical! The forest is perfect for hikes and exploring hidden waterfalls spotted around the mountains.
Along a wooden-raised path you will find an outdoor hot shower hidden in the trees. It was absolutely freezing and was moments away from bucketing down, but I just had to experience it even though my feet were about to fall off from the cold and the storm clouds were brewing overhead – I did it and got a picture to prove it:
We woke up bright and early, smashed a few pancakes and headed for Barkley East (another 5hr journey), passing Tiffindell ski resort so we knew we were getting closer to the snow! We finally made it to the Balloch farm, where we spent the evening in the very modest Balloch Cottages, This place is in the middle of nowhere, but situated on the most beautiful farm we have ever seen! It was pouring with rain as we arrived and was absolutely freezing. We had bought ingredients to make a stew, but we were so cold that we ended up making 2-minute noodles and jumping straight into bed. A combination of spooning, the electric blanket and cuddling our fluffy pooch got us through the night. When we woke up in the morning and peaked out of the window, the mountains were covered in snow – success!
KwaZulu-Natal (Drakensberg Mountains)
We made our way to the Underberg after a good 6 hour drive through some of the most picturesque little towns covered in snow, whilst taking on steep icy mountain passes that I don’t know how our car managed to tackle. It really didn’t feel like we were in South Africa anymore as we looked across a landscape covered in white powder as far as the eye could see. Our Chow Chow was in heaven – she wouldn’t get back in the car!
When we finally arrived at our AirBnB accommodation in Underberg we were a little disappointed so I’ve decided to recommend another spot that has great reviews! Berg House, is a self-catering accommodation set on the outskirts of the Drakensberg Mountains with breathtaking views. Cottages are fully equipped, open-plan and fully electrified with log fireplaces in each cottage. Meals (breakfast and dinner) are also an option, which is great after a long day of travelling when the last thing you want to do is prepare a meal.
The next day we set off super early for the Sani Pass – the treacherous 1332 m vertical climb to an altitude of 2876 m. We were told that the trip would take us around 2 hours to get to the top, due to traffic and its extremely steep, dangerous sections, but with my lunatic husband at the wheel we reached the summit in 40 minutes and arrived at the ‘Highest Pub In Africa’ just as they were opening their doors. The NTT Group were right – don’t even think of trying to attempt this pass without a 4×4, you’ll regret it! I had to close my eyes a few times and just hope for the best as we launched over massive boulders, riverbeds, frozen waterfalls and loose rocky terrain. Thank goodness for that pub at the top of the mountain – I needed that drink! As we made our way back down the pass we felt very proud that we had just conquered one of the items on our bucket list! Sani Pass, tick!
The Wild Coast:
Our Drive from the snowy Dakensberg to the sandy shores of the Wild Coast took around 5 hours, which was longer than expected. Although we did have to dodge wild life and wade through cattle just parked off in the middle of the road. The Wild Coast is still very much untouched; you’ll find the odd rondavel perched up on a hill, Xhosa women in traditional attire making their way home after work and a few Nguni cows that roam freely. It’s the perfect spot for surfers and nature lovers to just hang out and chill.
We stayed at the Swell Eco Lodge, traditional Xhosa rondavels close to the beach, which we absolutely loved! Interior is modern and clean with a communal kitchen, which we put to good use. We spent the day on the beach with a few beers while watching the sunset, until our pooch discovered a sheep and then it was downhill from there! You’re also close enough to Coffee Bay (renowned for the Hole in the Wall), a surfer’s paradise and a place to escape civilization – there is really nothing else to do but surf.
From one extreme to the next – our basic rondavel on a hill to a luxurious Tuscan five star guesthouse in Jeffrey’s Bay. Oh, and we also opted for the honeymoon suite – we felt it was well deserved after our 7 hour journey! Dio Dell’Amore Guesthouse is located on the shores of the Kabeljauws River Mouth in Jeffrey’s Bay and is beautifully decorated with a massive four-poster bed with big fluffy pillows and a duvet you could snuggle under for days.
We watched the sunrise from our bedroom and had a delicious breakfast in the dining area over-looking the pool and garden. Jeffrey’s Bay is the perfect surf spot for pros as well as a breeding ground for the great white – hence the fact that we decided against venturing into the water. We had a great meal at a local seafood restaurant along the beachfront and treated ourselves to a wetsuit and a few other Billabong accessories. I mean who could resist – it’s Jeffrey’s Bay!
Our last stop before we made our way home was Lazy Leopard in Knysna – a romantic secluded self-catering chalet nestled in the Knysna forest overlooking a sea of trees with the most magical view you’ve ever seen. It was the perfect way to end off an incredible road trip, especially when my partner in crime, Marisa, surprised me for an early birthday present! We spent the evening drinking copious amounts of red wine, eating like kings and reminiscing about our favourite soapie stars from ‘Bold And The Beautiful’ and ‘Days Of Our Lives’. Ha!
Our trip had sadly come to an end as we made the long trek back to Cape Town. Looking back, I can’t seem to think of a better way to explore SA and its charming rustic towns, beautiful landscapes and hidden gems, but to just get in a car and somme ry!
Photo credit: wellnessinthecity.co.za | blog.dormify.com | iamtravelgirl.com