South Africa`s scenic and cultural diversity, coupled with its sheer size, makes it an ideal destination for touring holidays. The question facing visitors, first-timers in particular, is just what to include on the itinerary.
Those with three weeks to spare might like to consider following this "Classic Tour". For travellers with less time, it can be broken down into stages of one week at a time.
Even for those who are already familiar with South Africa, this route planner might provide holiday touring ideas.
The distances outlined can easily be accomplished in one day. Nobody, particularly youngsters, wants to spend long stretches in a car - so daily journeys of 400 km (250 miles) are an exception.
Take the opportunity to take in the sights en-route, look out for the �Suggested side-trip� ideas.
Many UK tour operators will tailor-make an itinerary to suit your wishes. This "Classic Tour" may give you some thoughts to help you outline your requirements. Alternatively tour operators� own itineraries might match sections of this tour.
Day One - Johannesburg
Johannesburg International Airport to city centre Johannesburg (N12, 25km).
Visit Gold Reef City, a re-creation of a turn-of-the-century mining town. There�s the chance to descend 220m underground into the old Crown Mine, which today still contains gold. Bars, restaurants and shops all reflect the old, pioneer town atmosphere - this is a good place to buy exquisite jewellery.
For a fascinating insight into the cultural history of South Africa pay a visit to the Africa Museum near the Market Theatre.
Suggested side-trips: A guided tour of Soweto - with its Mandela Museum as well as jazz clubs and bars known as shabeens. Visit the Lesedi Cultural Village to get a real impression of the diversity of African culture. It�s north of Lanseria airport on the R512. Just follow the signs.
Or drive to Pretoria (R21, 50km).
Take a city tour through the administrative capital of South Africa also known as "the Garden City" or "Jacaranda City". In October more than 60,000 purple-blossomed Jacaranda trees are in full bloom.
At the Voortrekker Monument the story of the �Great Trek� is depicted on a 93m marble frieze. There are breathtaking views of the city from the Union Building, the seat of Government. Other interesting sights include Paul Kruger House (home of the famous president of the former Republic of the Transvaal); Melrose House, the Victorian-styled villa where, in 1902, the Anglo-Boer War peace treaty was signed; the Transvaal Museum; and Pretoria Art Museum.
Day Two - Nelspruit/Sabie
From Johannesburg take the R22 to Waterval Boven, then on to the N4 to Nelspruit, just before Nelspruit is the R40 turning for White River. Before White River turn left onto the R537 for Sabie.
From Pretoria take the N4 to Nelspruit. Then follow directions above.
The drive on the N4 passes mainly through the grass-covered plains of the Highveld, until you arrive at Waterval Boven, where you begin the descent of the Great Escarpment. After only a few kilometres the opulent green Lowveld opens into the valley of the Eland and Crocodile Rivers. Nelspruit, the provincial capital of Mpumalanga, lies in the middle of a charming landscape. Here the Botanical Gardens are worth a visit before coming back out of town to head for Sabie.
Suggested side-trips: About 18km on the approach to Nelspruit (six km beyond Montrose) are the Sudwala Caves (14km from the N4), huge stalactite caves, of which only 600 m are open to the public. Nearby you find a Dinosaur-Park with life-size replicas of these prehistoric animals. If you do this excursion, from here you can take the R539/R37 for Sabie.
Day Three - Pilgrim�s Rest, Blyde River Canyon, Aventura Blydepoort
Sabie, MacMac Falls - (R532) Pilgrim�s Rest - (R533) Graskop - (R534) Pinnacle Rock - God�s Window - (R532) Berlin - Lisbon Falls - Bourke�s Luck Potholes - Blyde River Canyon - Hazeyview (210km)
The small city and holiday resort of Sabie is set against the impressive backdrop of the 2,284m high Mount Anderson. Here you will find the world�s biggest plantations of eucalyptus and pine trees. Some 11km from Sabie are the impressive MacMac-Falls.
A few kilometres further is Pilgrim�s Rest, a picturesque former mining village where gold was discovered in 1873. The last mine was closed in 1970 and the whole village has been proclaimed a national monument. Returning on the R533 after the little town of Graskop (10km) you reach the R534, which takes you along the rim of the Great Escarpment.
There are breathtaking views of the Lowveld from the granite outcrop of Pinnacle Rock, and from God�s Window. Back on the R532 (18km) take a trip to the 150m high Berlin Falls, before reaching Bourke�s Luck Potholes (28km), named after the gold prospector Tom Bourke, who discovered them. They are part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, where the river has gouged out a canyon 20km long and up to 700 m deep, the third largest in the world. Take the R532 to Graskop, then the R533/R535 to the R40 and head south for Hazyview.
Day Four- Kruger National Park
Hazyview (R536) - Paul Kruger Gate (approx 43km) - Skukuza.
Head for the Paul Kruger gate of the Kruger National Park. Established in 1898 and open to the public since 1927, this is the country�s largest National Park and contains the world�s greatest variety of wildlife species. Information leaflets on all aspects of the park can be obtained at the gates of each camp. The maximum speed limit on tarred roads is 50km/h and on all other tracks is 40km/h, but to make the most of the game viewing opportunities it is best to drive slower - and remember, animals have the right of way. Overnight at Skukuza or one of the excellent private game reserves on the western border of the park.
Day Five-Kruger National Park
Start the day with an early morning game drive, but remember you are only allowed to stop in special areas designated on the map. Skukuza, is the largest camp, known as the "capital" of the Kruger National Park. The central location allows you to explore the park from all directions.
Day Six Kruger National Park-Badplaas
Kruger National Park - (R40/ 38) Barberton - Badplaas (220km).
Early birds still have the opportunity of a game drive and have breakfast before leaving the Kruger Park at the Numbi gate (58km). After eight km you reach the R538 which takes you to Nelspruit (51km). Here you take the N40 to Barberton (45km)
This charming Lowveld town became famous for the great gold rush of 1884. The finds were soon eclipsed by the new discoveries on the Witwatersrand. But a few mines are still operational. Old houses and a museum still bear witness to those heady times.
Drive via the 1,554 m high Nelshoogte Pass to Badplaas, a charming little town with healing, hot spas where the temperature of the waters reach 50�C. Overnight.
Day Seven Badplaas-Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park
Badplaas (R541) - Lochiel (N17) - Warburton - (R33) Amsterdam - (N2) Piet Retief - Pongola - Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park (approx 400km).
Today you drive through the south of Mpumalanga province to KwaZulu-Natal. The approach road to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park is a right-hand turnoff from the N2 as you reach Hluhluwe. From the park entrance it is around 15km to the Hilltop Lodge - situated on high ground, providing spectacular views of the lush green hills and, on clear days, even the distant Indian Ocean.
The park is the oldest South African wildlife reserve, established in 1895 to save the rhino from extinction. Once two separate parks, Hlhuluwe and Umfolozi were amalgamated and expanded in 1989 to now form one of South Africa�s largest game reserves. It has many good (although not tarred) roads (maximum speed 40km/h) offering views across the wooded hills and grasslands. The southern Umfolozi region is mostly dry and flat.
Sightings may include white rhino, elephant, zebra, giraffe and various antelope species such as nyala (rarely seen in Kruger) as well as more than 300 bird species.
Days Eight & Nine St Lucia Wetland Reserve
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park/ St Lucia Wetland/ Hlhluwe-Umfolozi Park.
Only an hour�s drive from the Park is the greater St.Lucia Wetland Reserve. Take a boat trip on Lake St Lucia, combining this with a visit to the Mkuzi Game Reserve, where game can be viewed from a hide.
Another worthwhile excursion is to cruise along the False Bay of Lake St Lucia - simply drive along the N2 a few kilometres to the north and then take the turn off to Charters Creek. Further on (approx 30km) and you�ll come to Dumazulu, a cultural village, demonstrating the cultural traditions and daily life of the Zulu people.
Suggested side-trip: The nearby Itala Game Reserve offers enthusiasts a rich game-viewing experience.
Day Ten Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park-Umhlanga Rocks/Durban
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park - Nyalazi Gate (R618) - Mtubatuba - (N2) - Umhlanga Rocks/Durban (approx 260km).
Driving south from Hilltop Lodge through the park you once again have the opportunity of viewing the wonderful landscape and wildlife. From the Nyalazi gate (37km) take the R618 in the direction of Mtubatuba (30km) and then the N2 to the south all the way through to Umhlanga Rocks (187km), an attractive, modern seaside-resort just north of Durban, with lots of good hotels. Overnight Umhlanga Rocks or Durban.
Suggested side-trip: If you make an early start there may be time to visit Shakaland, a replica Zulu village. Near Eshowe, turn off the N2 at Gingindlovu onto the R66 to Shakaland. You can stay the night in a typical Zulu bee-hive shaped hut, fitted out with all modern amenities.
Days Eleven & Twelve
Umhlanga Rocks - Durban
There�s time to relax on the wide, sandy beaches of Umhlanga Rocks. But a trip to Durban, only 18km to the south, is a must. South Africa�s holiday playground is known as �the place where the fun never sets�.
The Indian influence, in particular, is unique to this city. Wander round the frenetic Victoria Street Market with stalls selling a fascinating variety of spices, fruit, jewellery, wooden carvings and many other goods of the Orient and Africa. Durban is also the place to enjoy an authentic Indian meal.
More than 1,000 species of fish, including sharks, can be seen at the Sea World Aquarium while shows featuring dolphins and seals are the attraction at Sea World.
The Botanical Gardens are famous for their orchid house, in which over 3,000 different types of this flower are exhibited from all over the world. For something completely different, why not visit the sugar terminal on the harbour-front - one of the world�s largest.
There are several interesting museums as well as the African Arts and Culture Centre.
Suggested side-trips: A trip through the charming area known as "Valley of 1,000 Hills" inland from Durban is a scenic treat.
Day Fourteen Port St John�s - King William�s Town
Port St. John�s (R61) - Umtata (N2) - Butterworth - Komga (R63) - King William�s Town (365km)
From Port St. John�s you drive through the Xhosa hill settlements on a charming route (R61) to Umtata. Onwards in westerly direction on the N2, until you reach the Komga turnoff to the R63, which takes you into King William�s Town. This alluring little town used to be a missionary station.
Look in at the Kaffrarian Museum with its exhibits on cultural history plus a huge collection of dissected and stuffed animals and the Missionary Museum, which highlights the work of a South African missionary station. The Xhosa Gallery, housed in the former Post Office, illustrates the culture of the Xhosa people.
Day Fifteen King William�s Town Grahamstown Port Elizabeth
King William�s Town (N2) - Grahamstown - Port Elizabeth (255km)
Grahamstown, located at the centre of the so-called "Settlers� Country", was established as a British military post in 1812, playing a major role in the "Xhosa Frontier Wars". Today this quaint town is an important cultural centre with a university, many schools and more than 40 churches. The annual National Festival of Arts, the most important cultural event in South Africa, takes place here in July.
You can see an authentic Camera Obscura at the Observatory Museum, while the International Library of African Music, part of the university, has a very large collection of African music instruments (visits arranged by appointment).
Suggested side-trip: On leaving King William�s Town take the R63 to Alice. On the outskirts is Fort Hare, home of South Africa�s first university for the country�s black students. Formerly a British fort, this is where Nelson Mandela and many other of today�s black leaders studied. The university owns a fantastic collection of Modern African Art, exhibited in the "De Beers Gallery". Continue along the R63 to Fort Beaufort, then take the R67 to Grahamstown.
From Grahamstown the fastest route to Port Elizabeth follows the N2 (128km.). More interesting is the route that follows the Indian Ocean coastline, known as the "Sunshine Coast". Take the R67 to Port Alfred on the coast, then follow the R72 which passes beautiful beaches and resorts like Kenton on Sea. Return to the N2 at Ncanaha and head for Port Elizabeth.
Port Elizabeth, on Algoa Bay, was established in 1799 as a British garrison. Today this city is one of South Africa�s largest commercial and industrial centres with an important harbour and university. Thanks to broad, sandy beaches and warm water (21-25�C) throughout the year, this is also a popular seaside resort. The city retains strong British influences, with many interesting buildings and museums. Special attractions include the Port Elizabeth Museum, with its exhibits of nature and cultural history, the Snake Park and the Oceanarium, with aquatic shows featuring seals and dolphins.
In Port Elizabeth you have the possibility to end this journey, return your rented car, and fly back to Johannesburg.
Days Sixteen & Seventeen The Garden Route
Port Elizabeth (N2) - Tsitsikamma National Park - Plettenberg Bay - Knysna - Wilderness - George (approx 350km).
Today you embark on a journey along the famous Garden Route, loved by tourists and South Africans alike. An area of dense forests, unique flora, wide bays, rocky cliffs, numerous rivers, set against a dramatic mountain backdrop, it stretches from the mouth of the Storms River to Mossel Bay.
The Paul Sauer Bridge over the canyon (130m deep) of the Storms River is the first of several great bridges along this route. After 12km you encounter the approach road to the Tsitsikamma National Park, with its forest of 800-year-old Yellowood Trees towering to heights of 50m (about 150 feet). South Africa�s favourite hiking trail, the "Otter Trail", begins here.
The most popular resort along the Garden Route is Plettenberg Bay, with its white, wide sandy beaches. Sixteen kilometres behind the resort is the �Garden of Eden�, with its giant indigenous Yellowood, Stinkwood and Ironwood trees.
Next place on the itinerary, Knysna used to be a vital port for the region until the coming of the railways and today remains an important centre for furniture manufacturing.
Leaving Knysna you cross the Wilderness National Park with its lakes and sand dunes. Twice a day (except Sundays) there�s a chance to see the steam train, Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, crossing the much-photographed railway bridge over the Kaaimans River just outside the pretty holiday resort Wilderness. Overnight in George.
Day Eighteen George - Oudtshoorn
George (N2) - Mossel Bay (N2/R328) - Oudtshoorn (R62) - Calitzdorp (140km)
From George continue along the N2 to Mossel Bay. Here the Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias became the first European to set foot on South African soil in 1488, now the site of an interesting museum. Also here is the Old Post Office Tree, used by 16th century seamen as a "post box" for depositing and collecting mail as they passed through on outbound journeys to the east and return sailing to Europe.
Return along the N2 and take the R328 to South Africa�s �ostrich capital� Oudtshoorn. Visitors can take a guided tour of an ostrich farm, finding out how its feathers were once worth more than their weight in gold. Visit the fabulous Cango Caves, with their awe-inspiring stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Leave Oudtshoorn along the R62 to overnight in the cosy town of Calizdorp (R65, 50km).
Day Nineteen Swellendam-Hermanus
Calitzdorp (R62) - Ladismith - Barrydale (R324) - (N2) Swellendam (N2/R319) - Bredasdorp/Cape Agulhas/ Bredasdorp (R316/R326/R43) - Hermanus (approx 430km)
The R62 leads through a fantastic landscape, with splendid views of the impressive Swartberg mountains, which reach heights of over 2,000m, to the north. From Barrydale take the R324 over the spectacular Tradouw Pass to Swellendam, founded in 1747.
The Old Drostdy, an especially beautiful example of Cape-Dutch architecture, now houses a museum displaying fascinating memorabilia of the history of the city and its surroundings.
From Swellendam you can drive via Bredasdorp to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa. Return to Bredasdorp (R316), then head towards Caledon (R326) turning off 26km before the town, on the R326 for Stanfort then the R43 for Hermanus, the "whale-watching capital" of South Africa. This charming holiday resort and historic fishing harbour, is blessed with a good climate and offers a variety of sporting and leisure options. But whale-watching is still the most important activity - the town even has its own whale crier to let visitors know when these marine giants can be spotted off-shore.
Day Twenty Hermanus-Franschhoek-Stellenbosch-Cape Town
Hermanus (R43) - Botrivier (N2/R321) Elgin - Theewaterskloof Dam (R45) - Franschhoek - (R310) Stellenbosch (approx135km) on to Cape Town
After passing the Theewaterskloof Dam you enter the Franschhoek Pass, which provides spectacular views of the Franschhoek valley. Franschhoek - the name means "French Corner" - was founded by Huguenots, French Protestants who were forced to leave their country to escape Catholic persecution. They arrived in South Africa in 1688 and made a major contribution to wine production. The Huguenot Monument and the names of many wine estates nearby bear witness to these pioneers.
Most wine estates offer cellar tours and tastings, some have restaurants. Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch (approx 35km from Franschhoek) are key centres of the most important wine-producing region of South Africa.
Set aside time to explore these places. Stellenbosch, for instance, is South Africa�s second oldest town after Cape Town and a national monument. Dorp Straat boasts more Cape Dutch-style houses than anywhere else in South Africa. Old as it is, the town has a young atmosphere thanks to the 15,000 students who attend the local university. Have a look around the Dorp Museum, which re-creates the local way of life between the years 1710-1850.
Continue along the R310 and re-join the N2 for Cape Town.
Day Twenty One Cape Town
Cape Town - City Tour - Victoria and Alfred Waterfront-Table Mountain
Cape Town is best discovered on foot! South Africa�s "Mother City" was founded in 1652 as a ships� supply base by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch-East India Company. The city spreads out in front of Table Mountain, which rises more than 1,000m high, flanked by Devil�s Peak in the east and Lion�s Head and Signal Hill in the west.
Turn off the main thoroughfare, Adderley Street, into Government Avenue. Here you will find the magnificent Botanical Gardens, (the original fruit and vegetable garden of the supply station), the Houses of Parliament and the De Tuynhouse, built in 1751 and now the residence of the State President. Nearby are the South African National Art Gallery and the South African Museum, with its archaeological collections, including fascinating exhibits illustrating the life of this region�s original inhabitants, the San (or Bushmen).
Also worth a visit is the Castle of Good Hope, built as a fort in 1666-1679. Never attacked, it originally served as a residence for the first governors of the Cape and is now a museum.
Not to be missed is the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a part of the old harbour, which has been converted into a lively and attractive tourist attraction, with shops, bars, restaurants, luxury hotels and street entertainers. Boat trips round the harbour or visiting the former prison island, Robben Island are offered.
But the highlight of a visit to Cape Town is to take the cable car up more than 3,000 ft to the top of Table Mountain. The breathtaking view of one of the world�s most beautiful cities is unforgettable.
If you have another day...
...add an excursion to the Cape Peninsula following South Africa�s most famous coastal road - Chapman Peak Drive. Just beyond Kommetjie, in the southernmost area of the peninsula, you arrive at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, home to zebra, baboon, ostrich and antelope species such as bontebok and eland. Don�t be put off by the area�s dry and desolate appearance, more than half the blossoming plants of the peninsula, especially fynbos, like the Protea, grow here.
Superb panoramic views of the Cape of Good Hope can be obtained at the viewing platform at Cape Point, which is reached by cable car. Sir Francis Drake described it as "the fairest cape in the whole circumference of the world". Also see the penguin colony at Boulder�s Bay, just before the Simon�s Town naval base. Further on you�ll drive though Fish Hoek and Muizenberg, with their wide, sandy beaches coming to the picturesque wine estate Groot Constantia, another elegant example of the Cape-Dutch architecture. In the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens you can gain overview on the tremendous variety of South African flora.
We hope you have found the "Classic Tour" useful in planning your holiday to South Africa. As you might have gathered by now, there�s no shortage of fabulous things to do and see in South Africa - and there are loads more we haven�t even mentioned.
For those with extra time to spare, or who may wish to round off their tour in KwaZulu-Natal, a trip to the southern part of South Africa�s Drakensberg Mountain range is strongly recommended. On day three of this trip, the route back to Johannesburg is outlined - alternatively you could return to Durban and rejoin the `Classic Tour�.
Day I Pietermaritzburg-Drakensberg Mountains
- Pietermaritzburg - Mooi River - Estcourt (R74) - Drakensberg (approx 310 km).
From Umhlanga Rocks/ Durban you head for Pietermaritzburg. The town was founded by Voortrekkers in 1838 but was taken over by the British in 1845, becoming the capital of Natal. Due to strong reminders of the British colonial period - red brick, Victorian style buildings, broad streets, parks and, not least, a statue of Queen Victoria - it is affectionately known as "the Last Outpost of the British Empire".
Set aside some time to peruse the paintings, prints, sculptures and ceramics in the "Tatham Art Gallery". The route continues on via Mooi River and Estcourt (N3) to the Drakensberg Mountains, the country�s highest range.
Day II Drakensberg
This area of great scenic beauty provides numerous opportunities for sporting activities, such as hiking, horse riding, swimming, golf and tennis. The uKhahlamba National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, with unique plant and animal life, is to the south. One of the most spectacular features is the natural amphitheatre, a massive crescent shaped wall of rock reaching a height of 1,800 m, flanked by 3,000 m high mountains.
It was the backdrop for the film "Zulu" starring Michael Caine. Another dramatic sight is the towering peak of Mont-aux-Sources (3,248 m above sea level.). For the keen hikers there is a superb trail through the Tugela Canyon, with its stunning waterfalls. Also of interest are examples of the rock art of the San (Bushmen), particularly in the Cathedral Peak area - where there are also great hiking opportunities.
Day III Drakensberg - Johannesburg
uKhahlamba National Park/ Cathedral Peak - (R74) Harrismith - N3 Warden - Villiers - Heidelberg - Johannesburg (approx 340 km/410 km).