Roadtrip in South Africa in May
Author: Pieter De Pauw
click on the pictures below to enlarge
At the end of May, we traveled to South Africa for 3 amazing weeks. May is South Africa’s start of winter and temperatures are mild, only occasionally requiring a sweater or jacket in the mountains. Most of the time, the weather was dry and we just had some snow land inwards.
We rented a compact SUV car for approx 1000Eur for 22 days, strong enough for the mountains in the interior and spacious enough for the 2 of us and all our bags. In the end we drove 5000 km with the car, mostly on roads in good condition.
A good investment was the Wild Card, allowing access to all National Parks in South Africa, which you can buy the first national park you visit.
Day 1-3: Cape Town
Cloudy is probably the word that comes to mind when talking about Cape Town. Our hotel was located on the beach, which we hoped would give us a nice view over the Table Mountain, but in the end, we didn’t see the mountain at all during our entire visit.
The city with close to 4 million inhabitants and hosting the National Parliament of the country, is definitely worth a visit.
A very nice day trip is to Boulders Beach, where the endangered Jackass Penguin, living primarily on islands on the South African coast, can be seen on the mainland. This colony was established in the 1980s, most likely because of the reduction of predator numbers. Driving further southward to Cape of Good Hope, we had a nice view on the ocean, and spotted large troops of the famous –but endangered- Chacma Baboons in the middle of the road.
Day 4: Cape Town to Stellenbosch (65km)
The South African mild climate with hot dry summers and cool wet winters offers excellent wine growing conditions. A drive along the garden route towards Stellenbosch is a nice daytrip from Cape Town. The little towns on the route make you believe you set foot in France or Italy, with nice boardwalks and al fresco eating possibilities.
Day 5: Stellenbosch to Hermanus (95km)
Getting up at 6 , this day is all about our first safari. A sea safari that is, trying to spot a Great White Shark. The region around Gansbaai has one of the densest known populations of this infamous creature, and most shark research is done here. The male sharks are on average 4-5m long and weigh in the range of 1000kg while females are generally even a bit larger.
And lucky we were!! On the daytrip , we saw a couple of Dolphins, many Cape Fur Seals on the Geyser Rock and also a Great White Shark showing his scary jaws.
Day 6: Hermanus to Tsisikama (520km), and Day 7 & 8: Tsisikama
The Tsisikama National Park covers an 80 kilometers long stretch of coastline and offers nice walks in the indigenous forest. We took the Blue Duiker Trail over the cliffs and through the forest, crossing a stream below a delightful waterfall. We managed to see the Knysna Turaco along the trail.
Day 9: Tsisikama to Graaff Reinet (430km)
A day on the road, and occasionaly spotting some animals (or a skull of a dead one) along the road.
Day 10: Graaff Reinet to Bloemfontein (430km)
The Camdeboo National Park, close to Graaff Reinetm was our first ‘’real ‘’ park to spot wildlife. We did not go on an organized tour but drove around the park ourselves in our rental car. The park offers spectacular drives and many scenic walking trails overlooking the cliffs. Without much searching, we easily spotted ostrich, gemsbok, common duiker, vervet monkeys, springbok, blesbok, kudu,… from the comfort of our car.
Day 11: Bloemfontein to Clarens (280km)
Just before the setting sun, we arrived in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park where the grasses had turned into a golden-colored field and the landscape reminded us much of Monument Valley in the States. On our way to our hotel, we had to wait 15 mins to allow a large group of zebras to cross the road in front of our car. Amazing sight at sunset!
Day 12: Clarens to Southern Drakensberg (410km), and Day 13: Southern Drakensberg
Driving through some small villages bordering Lesotho, it seemed we went back in time 50 years at least. A crazy drive avoiding potholes and crossing sheep, we arrived in Underland, a good spot to start some hikes over the mountains and – at night- observe the bright Milky Way.
Day 14: Southern Drakensberg to St Lucia (440km), and Day 15 & 16: St Lucia
The Hluhluwe Reserve is probably an undiscovered gem: we seemed to be the only ones in this big park, and could take our time to see Rhino’s, Elephants in front of our car, Zebra’s, Hyena’s, Wildebeest, Warthog, Buffalo’s, Kudu’s, Nyala’s, and much more…
St Lucia and its wetlands was probably one of the highlights of our trip: a sunset boat cruise of a few hours in the estuary offered us close-up sights of playing hippos, hunting crocodiles, kingfisher, spoonbills, herons etc… The setting sun gave extra warmth to this unforgettable scene.
Day 17: St Lucia to White River (570km)
Before our long trip North, a quick stop at the sea shore made us spot some crabs and a crocodiles (luckily, we didn't swim there).
Day 18: White River to Manyeleti (Greater Kruger National Park) (300km), and Day 19 & 20: Manyeleti (Greater Kruger National Park)
We stayed in a private game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park. Sleeping in tents in a national park is a unique experience: you can hear the lions roar, branches and trees getting pulled down by elephants, elephants splashing around while taking a bath in a nearby pond, an abundant bird concert around sunrise,… . But also getting up at 6AM for the morning safari and taking an open air shower when temperatures are still below 10C.
During the safari’s (either by jeep, or by foot with an armed ranger) we could enjoy the richness of fauna and flora of this park. One morning, the rangers took us up close to a hippo that died after a fight with another hippo, an experience hard to forget. After the rangers made sure there were no hyenas or other dangerous animals nearby, we were allowed to get close to the carcass (and its incredible stench). Experiences like this made us as humans feel tiny and vulnerable.
Day 21: Manyeleti to Tzaneen (210km)
The last day of our trip took us to The Blyde River Canyon. This is a scenic canyon, on average 762m deep and thanks to its red sandstone very colorful. An easy trail leads around to top of the canyon and local women sell their crafts at the start of the trail, giving us a last chance to buy some souvenirs. The Bourke’s Luck Potholes are a stunning geological feature, formed by sustained kolks.
Day 22: Tzaneen to Johannesburg (410km)