POWER TALK WITH LERATO MBELE – BEST ROAD TRIP ROUTES IN SOUTH AFRICA AND TRAVEL TIPS
In Lerato Mbele’s words – “South Africa is considered one of the best road trip destinations in the world and it is not difficult to see why. From the sunny small towns of the Western Cape and dusty outback of the Northern Cape to the mystical boondocks of Mpumalanga, roads are the lifeline of the country.
Roads connect glittering cities with small towns that sizzle in the desert heat and sea-sprayed coastlines where salt hangs heavy in the air with fragrant pine forests and rocky mountains. These roads offer incredible chances to explore unknown towns and experience the soul of the country at your own pace with the windows down and your feet on the dashboard.”
This week I joined Lerato Mbele on Power 987 during her radio show, Power Talk under the segment WHEELS CORNER. We discussed the best road trip routes in South Africa, from scenic and famous Chapmans Peak Drive in the Western Cape all the way to the “Land of the Silver Mist”, the lush mountainous Magoebaskloof Pass in Limpopo. I also shared some helpful road travel tips to help make your festive travels safe and less stressful.
WHAT IS THE LONGEST ROUTE IN SOUTH AFRICA
The longest route in South Africa is the N2 at 2255km which connects Cape Town and Ermelo via Mossel Bay, George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), East London, Port Shepstone, Durban, and Richards Bay. The second longest route is the N1 at 1926km which connects Cape Town and Musina all the way to Beitbridge via Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.
HOW MANY NATIONAL ROADS DO WE HAVE IN SA?
Currently, there is a network of 17 national roads which connect the 9 provinces of South Africa:
- N1 which connects Cape Town and Musina all the way to Beitbridge via Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.
- N2 which connects Cape Town and Ermelo via Mossel Bay, George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), East London, Port Shepstone, Durban, and Richards Bay.
- N3 which connects Johannesburg/Pretoria and Durban.
- N4 which connects Lehurutshe and Nelspruit via Rustenburg.
- N5 which connects Winburg and Harrismith.
- N6 which connects Bloemfontein and East London.
- N7 which connects Cape Town and Namibia via Springbok.
- N8 which connects Kimberly to Maseru via Bloemfontein.
- N9 which connects George and Colesberg via Graaff-Reinet
- N10 which connects Upington and Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha).
- N11 which connects Ladysmith and Baltimore via Newcastle, Ermelo, Middleburg, Groblersdal, and Mokopane.
- N12 which connects Emalahleni or Johannesburg and the Garden Route via Kimberly.
- N14 which connects Springbok and Pretoria.
- N17 which connects Johannesburg and Ermelo (all the way to Eswatini).
- N18 which connects Mahikeng and Jan Kempdorp via Vryburg.
THE BEST ROUTES YOU SHOULD EXPERIENCE AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFETIME
1. LONG TOM PASS, MPUMALANGA (R37) R532
The legendary Long Tom Pass is a stretch of road which extends from Sabie to Lydenburg, up high over a mountain. It is one of the highest mountain passes in the area and throughout the year, it is covered in mist. All along the route, there are a wide variety of things to see and do like the Long Tom Toboggan, a steel monorail and a little car that runs on a track through a Natural Heritage Site in the Lowveld and above the ground to ensure that there is no damage to the environment. The Long Tom Toboggan is the longest toboggan on the African continent at 1.7 km long.
Long Tom Pass was named after a large cannon that was used during the Anglo-Boer war which fired a 38kg shell over 10km. 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.
2. MAGOEBASKLOOF PASS, LIMPOPO (BETWEEN HAENERTSBURG AND TZANEEN)
Right at the northeastern tip of the Drakensberg Mountain Range (in Limpopo) is where you will find Magoebaskloof Pass. This lush mountainous area is also known as the ‘Land of the Silver Mist’, named after the soft misty swathes that cloud the troughs and peaks of this incredible place.
Magoebaskloof Pass runs between the Limpopo towns of Haenertsburg and Tzaneen on the R71 and is considered one of the classic passes of the 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 playing ground for outdoor adventurers.
Situated away from Hanenertsburg, towards Tzaneen, the Debengeni Falls represent the untouched raw and natural beauty of the Limpopo province. A winding road leads you down the base of the Debengeni Falls, where the Ramadipha River tumbles over smooth rocks into cauldron-like pits. Their picnic site with large tables and braai facilities makes this place an ideal location for families who wish to spend some time outside surrounded by nature.
3. LICHENS PASS, FREE STATE (R712) (BLOEMFONTEIN – BETHLEHEM TO HARRISMITH JOINING THE N3) – GOLDEN GATE HIGHLANDS NATIONAL PARK
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 which you can also explore. At an altitude of 1950m above sea level, Golden Gate Pass features breathtaking curves, 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. A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship.
From lichens and fossils to Clarens sandstone, 50 species of grass and a Basotho Cultural Village.
4. “THE BREAKFAST RUN”, GAUTENG
This scenic drive from Johannesburg to Hartbeespoort Dam on the R512 offers curving roads that meander between bushveld, grassland and aloes during the winter season. Cradled in a valley between the Magaliesberg mountain range to the north and the Witwatersberg mountain range to the south. This circular route around Hartbeespoort Dam offers spectacular mountain vistas. The road hugs the water’s edge along the north shore and travels through a 57m long tunnel before crossing over the dam wall and under a distinct replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Harties Aerial Cableway is one of the fun and popular activities you can enjoy in the area. This is the longest mono cableway in South Africa. This takes you to the top of the ancient Magaliesberg mountains, a World Biosphere Reserve, from where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Hartbeespoort Dam, Magaliesberg, and the surrounding areas.
5. CLARENCE DRIVE (R44), WESTERN CAPE
Journeying between mountains and the ocean, with multiple curves and breathtaking ocean views, the 23km Clarence Drive is a scenic coastal drive between Rooi-Els and Gordons Bay. As part of the Whale Route, Clarence Drive (R44) 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 and False Bay, the highlights along the route include Stony Point Penguin Colony, Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. Be on the lookout for Dappat Se Gat, an absolutely breathtaking cave near the beach. The easiest way to get there is to stop at the designated location, walk down to the beach, and walk alongside the beach to your right.
6. CHAPMAN’S PEAK DRIVE, WESTERN CAPE
Chapman’s Peak Drive, a 15km route between Hout Bay and Noordhoek, is widely regarded as one of the most scenic stretches of road in the world and celebrated its 100th anniversary in May 2022. Carved out of near-vertical cliff faces on the Cape Peninsula coastline, this beautiful coastal roadway with 114 bends, offers abundant viewpoints and picnic spots where motorists can safely pull over and appreciate panoramic views across the Atlantic Ocean.
BEST ROAD TRIP TIPS
Click here for a detailed list as featured on my travel website.
- Service your vehicle before you travel and plan ahead
- Inspect your car
- Fill up your tank
- Have a good night sleep and pack a night before
- Avoid travelling during peak hours or peak days
- Get a driving partner
- Have enough cash with you
- Have fun on the road
- Take frequent breaks
- Check the weather for your destination
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