Inspired by an article in Wanderlust magazine about Kwazulu Natal, a less visited part of South Africa than the famous Kruger, we decided that it was about time we returned to Africa, a continent we hadn’t visited since our time in Sierra Leone 12 years ago.
We chose this time of year (late spring/early summer) to avoid the heat and crowds later on. We usually make up our itinerary as we go but even at seven weeks, this trip is shorter than our usual and there is just so much to see, we decided that a plan may help us to pack more in.
To avoid back tracking and because the flights were cheaper, we fly from London into Durban and, seven weeks later, back from Cape Town. It is our first time in the country and we are beyond excited!
The first thing that struck us as we began to plan this trip is the incredible diversity the country has to offer. We will be crossing a couple of mountain ranges, travelling through desert areas, coastal wetland, beaches as well as the dynamic urban centre of Durban and Cape Town. Cape Town especially looks to be an amazing city!
I will list some of the resources we used in planning this trip at the end of this post. Below is an outline of some of areas we will be visiting.
Below follows a brief summary of the areas we will be visiting.
On arrival we will be spending a few days in Durban no doubt sampling the seafood and Indian food which many people have recommended. Especially looking forward to our first tastes of the ” Bunny Chow” and “Biltong we have heard so much about.
After picking up our rental car we will drive along the Wild Coast to St Lucia to explore the vast wetlands of iSimangaliso National Park. Apparently it is not unusual to meet a few hippos wandering the Main Street of St Lucia! We also hope to spot a few crocodiles and whales before heading inland to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park for our first experience of a self drive safari.
We then head back down the coast to Underberg in the Southern Drakensberg Mountains, checking out some seafood restaurants when we stop overnight in Umhulanga.
The Drakensberg Mountains
Underberg is our starting point for one of the more famous drives in South Africa. Switching to a four wheel drive tour through the Sani Pass for a brief visit to the landlocked country of Lesotho. From there we continue north along the eastern border of Lesotho, staying in Giants Castle, Thendele and Golden Gate National Parks and the small artsy town of Clarens.
We follow the northern border along what we have been told is another of South Africa’s spectacular drives, the “Maloti Drakensberg route” along the entire northern border of Lesotho to the small town of Smithfield.
Leaving Kwazulu Natal and the Drakensberg mountains behind, our next stop is a few days in a farm-stay out in the countryside near Somerset East. We then continue our (almost) circumnavigation of Lesotho by heading south Addo Elephant National Park staying right in the park at the relatively new Nyathi Rest Camp. More self drive game viewing and a chance of seeing the “Big Five”.
Route 62 & The Garden Route
The Garden Route is one of the most famous drives in South Africa, if not the world. However, keen to get off the beaten track, we are limiting our time there, basing ourselves for three days by the seaside in Plettenberg Bay from where we will explore the area.
The next week or so will be spent driving the less visited inland Route 62. Starting in Oudtshoorn we will dive into the huge Cango Caves before driving north over the Swartberg Mountains via the Meringspoort Pass to Prince Albert, a small town situated between the southern edge of the Great Karoo and the foothills of the Swartberg mountains.
We will return through the Swartberg Mountains along the steep, rough, gravel roads of the Swartberg Pass to spend a few days in the Groenfontein Valley. We will continue along Route 62 to Barrydale with a stop at “Ronnies Sex Shop” which I have been assured is not actually a sex shop, but one of the country’s most well known pubs. We will likely end of our Route 62 adventure in Barrydale, but who knows?
The Winelands and Western Cape
After Route 62 our plans get a little hazy. We have 8/9 days before we need to arrive in Cape Town for our final week. Originally we planned to spend some time in the Winelands in Stellenbosch and Franshoek, perhaps then heading to the west coast, down the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Point before our final week in Cape Town. However a chance viewing of a great website detailing some very quirky places to stay within a couple of hours of Cape Town ( we love quirky!). We are therefore having a rethink and choose some “unusual ” places to stay ranging from farm stays, to silver Airstream trailers to huts in the mountains with no electricity.
The final week of our trip will be spent in Cape Town, the city that originally inspired this trip. However, given the advice the advice on travel forums such as TripAdvisor and Fodors, I am not sure that even a week is going to be enough. Usually we reserve the last week or two of our longer trips just to chill out.
On this trip we are moving around a lot more and staying for shorter periods in each place, than we would normally. There is so much to pack in, a return trip,I feel, is almost inevitable. We have chosen to stay small self catering and Bed and Breakfasts places and support the local economy. They seem to offer incredible quality and value for money and, of course the personal touch which is so important in seeking out what to do and where to go in each location.
We booked direct or via booking.com. National Park accommodations were booked online direct with San Parks and KZN Wildlife.
Eating and Drinking
Dining out can get both expensive and repetitive on a long trip. We are mixing eating out with cooking for ourselves. Most accommodation seems to have at least basic cooking facilities. On researched the restaurant scene in the country, we are REALLY looking forward to both the food and the incredible value. Home cooking is something we love to do on all our longer trips and it is no hardship to combine combine this with our love of food markets.
Every place we are staying seems to have its own “braii” or barbecue which is a national obsession, probably second only to that other meat loving nation, Argentina.
Resources we found helpful
As an active participant of both TripAdvisor and Fodors travel forums I am grateful for the assistance of fellow travellers there in the South Africa forums who have been very patient in answering my many questions.
Two of the National Park websites https://www.sanparks.org and http://www.kznwildlife.com/index.html were used for booking our stays in South Africa’s parks, self drive safaris etc. We also bought the “Wild Card” which provides access to all the parks for one year and saves us a lot of money on entrance fees https://www.wildcard.co.za
Finally, a chance reading of a magazine Carolyn read in the hairdressers is what inspired this trip in the first place. The online version is here: https://www.wanderlust.co.uk/content/best-of-south-africa-budget-kwazulu-natal-st-lucia-big-five-elephant-lion-hippo-whale/
We will be following up with posts on each of the places we are visiting, detailing what we get up to, where we eat sleep and drink. Please do follow along on our travels and, better still, sign up for regular updates as we go on our home page.