The Hectic Route: A Breathtaking Joburg to Cape Town Road Trip Itinerary


Adjective. Pronounced /ˈhɛktɪk/
1. Full of incessant or frantic activity.
2. (South African slang) Cool, rad, extreme, over the top.

South African deserted highway on our Cape to to Joburg road trip

Introducing the Hectic Route:
Joburg to Cape Town, With A LOT in Between

South Africa is overwhelming.

It may have earned its "Rainbow Nation" nickname for the variety of tribes, cultures, and races who call it home, but it applies just as well to the country's unbelievable diversity of landscapes, plants, animals, food, and drink.

There's just so much, too much, to see and experience.

And there's no better way to experience it than with a road trip.

Quite a few well-touristed routes, like the Garden Route, the Panorama Route, Route 62, the Midlands Meander, and the Cape Flower Route, exist but each limits you to a certain region—maybe one or two colors of the Rainbow, so to speak.

If you want to get a taste for the whole Rainbow Nation, you've got to think bigger.

Think broader.

Think wilder.

Think hectic.

The Hectic Route is a Johannesburg to Cape Town road trip itinerary that will take you through mountains, desert, ocean, wineries, forest and everything in between. It'll leave you breathless…

…in a good way.

Day 1: Johannesburg

Make your own judgments about the big city

36 hours in Johannesburg cover image

Johannesburg has a crappy reputation. Some claim it's well-deserved, others say it's unfair.

Form your own opinion.

Spend 24 hours in South Africa's biggest city to visit the markets (especially if you're there on the weekend), Uber around between the neighborhoods and check out the Apartheid Museum.

Day 2: Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Meet Arizona and Scotland’s beautiful bastard

Chris on the Wodehouse Trail

467km and 6.5hr Drive

The start of your Johannesburg to Cape Town road trip starts with a few hours of monotonous driving (unless, like us, you're not accustomed to driving on the left side of the highway!).

But as you approach Clarens, you'll realize how "hectic" (see: South African definition above) the rest of this trip is going to be.

Fuel up with a traditional Afrikaans meal there, then enter Golden Gate Highlands National Park, where you can hike along the Arizonan-desert-meets-Scottish highland landscape on the Wodehouse Trail (or just cruise slowly along the scenic drive in your car.)

Day 3: The Drakensberg

Experience the extremes of the Drakensberg Mountains

Antelope in the Drakensberg's Cathedral Peak

169km and 2.4hr Drive

The drive to the Drakensberg Mountains is a beautiful one with a big exclamation point at the end of it: Cathedral Peak. There you feel as if the sheer mountain faces are leaning over you.

Lean back into them!

Put your hiking shoes back on and head into the incomparable landscape of craggy mountains, crashing waterfalls, unexpected wildlife, and wacky weather (definitely bring a rain jacket).

Day 4: More Drakensberg

Take it to the max with another day in The 'Berg

hiking to Cathedral peak hotel

Driving-Free Day

One day is not enough to get your fill of The Drakensberg (and of the amazing food at the Cathedral Peak Hotel, if you're staying there), so let your rental car's engine rest while you push your body to the max with another unforgettable hike (or two) in the mountains.

Day 5: Durban

Feel the heat… and the inequality

Downtown Durban and Warwick Market

296km and 3.3hr Drive

Descend down to the Indian Ocean and South Africa's third-largest city, Durban.

Start off by doing a market tour to get up close and personal (though hopefully not as up close as we did) with the poor side of the city, before retreating back to the more comfortably wealthy side of this beachside metropolis to get a whirlwind tour of the deep inequality in South Africa.

Day 6: To the Wild Coast

Escape (un-)civilization

584km and 8.6hr Drive

Day 6 is the longest driving day in the whole Johannesburg to Cape Town road trip.

It's an escape from modern civilization too.

You start off on Durban's mega-highways, continue onto the mountainous countryside of the rural Transkei, through the chaotic city of Mthatha, then onto the potholed then gravel then just plain crappy roads where you'll finally stop at the rugged cliffs of the Wild Coast.

Day 7: The Wild Coast

Time to Slow Down

Posing along the coast

Driving-Free Day

Depending on your definition of "wild," the Wild Coast may or may not live up to its name, but no matter how you define it, you won't be able to argue with its beauty.

Meander along the coastline from Mbundi to Coffee Bay—watching out for the cliffs, cattle, goats, and waves—and soak it all in.

Day 8: Cintsa

Come to a complete stop

Kim on deserted Cintsa beach

283km and 4.1hr Drive

Despite being the most accessible—and therefore most popular and developed—part of the Wild Coast, you won't have a hard time finding your own acre of beach in Cintsa.

There's not a lot more to do there anyway.

Relax. After one week on the Hectic Route, you'll have earned it.

(And if you don't think so, run up and down the sand dunes a couple of times, like Chris did.)

Day 9: Hogsback

Get your head into the clouds

Misty forest and gnome home in Hogsback

198km and 2.4hr Drive

High up in the mountains and often enshrouded in mist, lush Hogsback is the polar opposite of sand dune-y Cintsa.

It's a town that believes itself to be part of a fairy tale. And maybe it's true. There's nothing about the mystical scenery, the whimsical architecture, or the kooky characters you'll meat that'll lead you to believe otherwise.

Day 10: Nieu Bethesda

Explore the African Wild West

Karoo desert skull and mountain

414km and 6.1hr Drive

Be on the lookout for wildlife as you make your way back down from the mountains and into the desert.

The scenery and farms will remind you of a Western movie, except with zebras, ostriches, and antelope instead of buffalo.

Have lunch in Graaf-Reinet, view the Valley of Desolation, do a hike (if you feel like it), then drive to the delightful dead-end, middle-of-nowhere, no-ATM-nor-gas-station town of Nieu Bethesda.

Day 11: The Karoo

Karoo-se on through to Prince Albert

Karoo desert with sheep and windmill

423km and 4.7hr Drive

Even though you've got some ground to cover from Nieu Bethesda to Prince Albert, take your time.

Start off by spending the morning exploring quirky Nieu Bethesda's art galleries and architecture and enjoying a platter of homemade local cheeses, jams, and bread before getting into your car for some more desert driving through the Karoo,

Break up your trip with an elegant lunch in Sophie's Choice in Willowmore, then again with a short waterfall hike in the unbelievably scenic Meiringspoort Pass.

Once in Prince Albert, eat some more cheese at Gay's Guernsey, then walk up the relaxed main street of the town to build up an appetite for some homestyle Karoo cuisine.

Day 12: Barrydale

Embrace convention

Ostrich head close-up

290km and 5.9hr Drive

Day 12 is easily the most conventionally touristy day of the road trip. Embrace it.

Give yourself more time than you think to get to Oudtshoorn to enjoy the Swartberg Pass, which may even top Meiringspoort in terms of scenery.

On the other side of the pass, join the crowds by checking out the Cango Caves, touring an ostrich farm, eating the birds you just learned about, then stopping for a drink at Ronnie's Sex Shop on Route 62.

Finally, settle down in not-too-touristy-yet Barrydale for a drink and a dinner.

Day 13: Roberston

A Day of Indulgence

Wine tasting in Robertson

123km and 2.1hr Drive

Do a quick but rewarding morning waterfall hike in Barrydale, then prepare to spend the rest of the day indulging (especially if it's not your turn to drive).

Kick off the indulgence with a crazy milkshake from Diesel and Cream before sampling some liqueurs, tons of wine, and maybe even some craft beers on the route between Swellendam, Bonnievale, and Robertson. Finish the day off with a big meal, then sleep like a baby.

Day 14: Cape Town

Finish off in style

Empty street lined with flowering jacaranda trees

269km and 4.1hr Drive

Make it two waterfall hikes in a row by doing half of the famous Boesmanskloof Trail to Oakes Falls, then return to hoity-toity McGregor to get judged by the Cape Town escapees who've set up artsy businesses there.

Continuing on, you can choose to stop by one (or more) wineries and/or get your last taste of rural cuisine before ending your Johannesburg to Cape Town road trip, returning your rental car, and enjoying the Mother City's distinctly European style.

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5 thoughts on “The Hectic Route: A Breathtaking Joburg to Cape Town Road Trip Itinerary”

    • Thanks Michael. We're glad we could help bring back some fond memories for you. And though we tried our best to do it justice, I'm sure you agree nothing in our photos or description come close to seeing the Drakensberg in person!

  1. Loved reading this! I've done similar road trips many times. I also recommend Knysna and The Wilderness, or the whole Garden Route in general (even though it's only a small bit of what you've written here). Graaff-Reinet is so special — lots of adorable coffee shops and such there, not to mention the hiking nearby. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!


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