Flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town is definitely easier and quicker than driving down. But with a family of four and last-minute flight prices almost the same as our tickets to Rome (yes, Rome in Italy), driving was a cheaper option – even with the current price of petrol. It also presented the opportunity to see more of our beautiful country along the way. We had done it twice before – with two small children – so we knew what to expect and what to look forward to.
In the Free State, a quick stop at Gariep Dam, the country’s largest reservoir, was a special treat for my trigger-happy fingers. It is stunning especially in the subdued late afternoon lighting. I made a mental note to stay over there someday. On the way out of there, one of the many traffic policemen lurking in the shadows decided to stop us on some weak pretext and attempt to solicit a bribe. He was baffled when we asked for the ticket instead – which he then decided not to give to us.
Richmond, in the Northern Cape, was an obligatory stop for the earnest bookworms in our car. It is Africa’s only book town and is known as the literary jewel of the Karoo. The small town may appear dilapidated and is not very well advertised but it boasts a treasure trove of South African historic memorabilia, and books of course. I was intrigued to find some ancient, yellowed copies of “Die Transvaler”, Brian Mitchell’s boxing shorts and a leather-bound collector’s copy of JK Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
We drove past Victoria West, with its charming 19-th century cottages and the Three Sisters, named after three prominent sugarloaf hills, heralding our arrival in the Western Cape. Our last stop for the day was Beaufort West – where Chris Barnard was born. This is where we slept over for the night.
Re-energised the next morning, we spotted Matjiesfontein – another jewel of the Karoo. Matjiesfontein is a small village with a huge history. It was a health resort for the rich and famous in the 1880’s and now features South Africa’s shortest tour – on an original London Beefeater Bus - some fascinating museums and the Lord Milner Hotel, which is said to be haunted. Both South Africa's luxury trains, the Rovos Rail and the Blue Train, make stops here.
We bid goodbye to the desolate Karoo and welcomed the green, red and gold vineyards of the fair Cape. Shimmering streams gurgled below towering mountains and baboons watched us from the side of the road. Signboards warned us not to purchase stolen grapes from roadside vendors as those very same vendors tried to sell their singular boxes of grapes to us. Then we were swallowed by the black abyss of the lengthy Huguenot tunnel and spit out on the other side, where we soon reached glorious Cape Town.
Our road trip had ended, to be repeated with a return leg a week later. There are several alternative routes, one of them being through Kimberley where you can see The Big Hole, one of the largest man-made holes in the world, and another through the picturesque Garden Route, one of the most beautiful regions in South Africa. Whichever route you choose, do yourself a favour – take a road trip and become better acquainted with your country.
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” — Alain de Botton
See more great road trips in South Africa.
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Things you must do in South Africa