Great choice on choosing to visit South Africa, especially during the cold northern hemisphere winter. Your dollar really stretches far when it comes to food and accommodation, and you’ll be blown away by the diversity of the country. Three weeks is a good period of time too, since it takes a while to get there, and there’s so much to see. Here’s the must-sees I wouldn’t miss:
You’ll be flying into Jo’burg, and don’t be put off by the bad stories. The city is the economic heartbeat of Africa, and worth sticking around for a few days. Ask your hotel to book you on a Soweto tour, a wonderful half or full day tour into the adjacent township. You’ll visit Nelson Mandela’s former house, a lively shebeen, learn something in the fascinating Apartheid Museum, and descend down a 220m deep gold mine in Gold Reef City (although your kids might have their eyes on the adjacent rollercoasters). Also worth exploring in Johannesburg is the Lion Park (your kids will always remember patting a lion cub), some of the more trendy neighborhoods like Meville, and for some resort glitz in the African bush, Sun City.
Now you’ll have a choice. If you want to spend a week on Safari affordably, drive north to the Kruger National Park. You can rent a self-catering bungalow, and spend days driving your car, spotting animals in this sprawling 2 million hectare game reserve. Rangers will take you out for night safaris, which shouldn’t be missed. Bear in mind malaria pills are recommended. Alternatively, you can head south, driving into the interior of the country (the roads are in great shape with frequent food stops for the kids) to the magnificent Drakensburg Mountains. Resorts like The Cavern are a launch pad to explore the scenic mountains of game parks of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Now you can continue on the highway to Durban, which is a vibrant beach city, or keep wild by heading to a luxury game reserve like Nambiti Hills. Boasting all the Big 5 animals, Nambiti is easier to explore than Kruger, is malaria free, but can be significantly pricier.
Continue south into the semi-arid Karoo. It’s a dry, different sort of landscape. Near a small town called Kirkwood, definitely stop to visit the Daniell Cheetah Breeding Project, which rehabilitates and re-introduces cheetah into the wild, while also rearing several tame big cats for movies and television. Patting a cheetah is priceless. Continue south into Addo Elephant National Park. If you want to see elephants in the wild, along with other wild animals, you’ve come to the right place.
By now, your safari fix might be satiated, so it’s onwards to the coast.
The Garden Route is the name of the scenic drive along the south coast, along beach towns and numerous attractions. In Mossel Bay, your husband may or may not get a kick out of cage swimming with Great White Sharks. Continue west to the forest town of Knysna (stop for a short hike to the impressive “Heads”) and the sweeping coastal beauty of Tsitsikamma National Park. The boardwalks are easy and make great short hikes to feel the spray of the Indian Ocean! You can break up your drive with stays in B&B’s or hotels in towns like Knysna, George or Wilderness. The busy Cango Caves and Cango Wildlife Park are worthwhile detours off the N2. Continue west towards Cape Town, through the local favourite Plettenburg Bay, perhaps exploring old growth African forest and the pristine lagoon in Nature’s Valley. From here you can continue to Cape Town, easily one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Many visitors find a hotel or vacation rental around Seapoint, Greenpoint or Clifton. Besides the wonderful beaches, don’t miss a visit up Table Mountain on the Cableway, the spectacular drive around Chapman’s Peak, the V&A Waterfront entertainment district, a picnic in Kistenbosch Botanical Gardens, and, if you’re interested, a visit across the bay to the Robben Island Museum. Day trips should also include Stellenbosch, South Africa’s wine country, and a visit to Cape Point, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some incredible walks, and views of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans crashing into each other. Cape Town will keep you busy, and give you time to relax as well.
Overall, I’d budget.
Most rental car agencies will let you rent in Johannesburg and drop off the car in Cape Town. I’d suggest flying back to Johannesburg for your return flight home. The above road-trip is just a suggestion – there are many other places in South Africa worth checking out. Do your research, don’t leave valuables in the car, and prepare for the trip of a lifetime. For more help, check out Vancouver-based Quivertree Family Expeditions, an agency that specializes in family-vacations to South Africa.
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After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.