A Natural Wonder Road Trip (Second Leg)
We conclude our road trip of natural wonders, which began at Cape Point. South Africa is beautiful, and we map out our favourite destinations
Published: Thursday, February 22nd 2018
Our happiest moments in life may come when we set out in pursuit of one thing, and stumble upon something else instead. There’s something about the road trip that speaks to us, as human beings in search of identity. What we find, out there on the road, will forever change who we are.
There is almost a sense of legend surrounding it all. You’ve spent days putting together the right music, every song chosen carefully. You’ve stocked up on road trip snacks with the recklessness of a child. You’re travelling light – not just in your battered suitcase, but you’ve left your anger, stress, envy and hopelessness behind.
Years ago, one might have been driving along down a long, quiet road toward the distant mountains. Beside the road you could have seen a smashed cassette tape, with the tape stretched out forever, fluttering upon the breeze of every passing car.
John Steinbeck wrote; ‘People don’t take trips. Trips take people.’
What better way than to explore your own country? South Africa is beautiful, and has much to offer. We kicked off our road trip at the tip of the fiercely elemental Cape Peninsula and made our way up to the Cango Caves.
It’s time for the next leg of our journey.
Coordinates: 34°01′S 23°53′E
The Garden Route is one of the most visited areas in South Africa. Beginning in the idyllic coastal town of Mossel Bay, it stretches for 200km all the way along the coast to Plettenberg Bay. The attractions can not only be found along the shoreline, though. There are untamed areas to be discovered in Wilderness and the Tsitsikamma forest.
The Garden Route is home to many natural wonders, including the aforementioned forests. There are also majestic mountain passes, beautiful beaches, the Knysna Heads, the famous Otter Trail and a variety of activities for adrenaline junkies.
It is the Tsitsikamma forest, though, that offers the best of all worlds. Enjoy a canopy tour through the indigenous forest or take a zip line across a waterfall. Not enough madness? The world’s highest bridge bungee jump can be found at the Bloukrans Bridge.
The forest, and the magnificent Storm’s River Mouth in particular, offers a variety of rewarding hikes and walks. The Mouth Trail ends at the suspension bridge across the mouth, but continues with a steep climb. For the daring, it will test your limits. The lookout point on the plateau is worth every ache, scratch and bruise.
There is much to see between the Tsitsikamma and the Drakensberg. The next 1100km stretch of road takes us along the N2 highway, passing popular surfer location Jeffrey’s Bay, Port Elizabeth and the Addo Elephant National Park.
Our road trip then takes us north, passing through many small towns and sites, around the western border of Lesotho and finally, to the Royal Natal National Park. Here, we find the Tugela Falls and the Amphitheatre of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range.
Towering basalt peaks, buttresses, walls and steeples go on for more than 200km. Its peaks attract heavy snowfall, harsh winds and even electric storms. The most impressive sections conclude in KwaZulu-Natal, and are home to around 300 bird and 50 mammal species.
Yes, there are leopards.
As beautiful as it is deadly, the Drakensberg mountain range has much to offer. The Amphitheatre (28°46′0″S 28°54′0″E), for one, is a sight to behold. An absolute fortress, it is widely regarded as one of the most impressive cliff faces in the world, over 5km in length.
The world’s second tallest falls, the Tugela Falls, plunges over 948m from the Amphitheatre’s cliff face.
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Coordinates: 27°0′0″S 27°30′0″E
From the Drakensberg, you could travel down the N3 highway toward Durban, passing through the beautiful Natal Midland towns of Nottingham Road (with the most haunted hotel in South Africa), Howick (home to the Howick Falls), Hilton and finally Pietermaritzburg - the former residence of Mahatma Gandhi).
Our road trip, however, takes us further up into the Free State. The Vredefort Dome is one of the most awe-inspiring sights to behold, and the largest verified impact crater on Earth.
With a maximum diameter of 299km, the 2 billion-year old crater is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The asteroid that hit Vredefort is said to be one of the largest to ever strike the planet. Nothing like a huge hole in the world to make a person feel small. And if you feel the urge to take to drinking afterwards, Parys is the largest town nearby, and they sure do love a brandy and coke out there.
The Blyde River Canyon
Coordinates: 24°33′50″S 30°48′27″E
Keep both hands on your wallet as we make our way up through tall, dark and handsome Johannesburg and into Mpumalanga. En route to our next destination, the Blyde River Canyon, a short detour to Graskop is an absolute must for any traveller. Here you will find God’s Window, which, as the name suggests, offers up more scenic splendour than any mere mortal can handle. The view, census has it, is positively biblical.
Provided that you visit on the one day a year that it isn’t foggy.
In this area you will also find the Pinnacle Rock, which is a breathtaking natural marvel on its own, the culture-rich town of Pilgrim’s Rest and Bourke’s Luck Potholes. You’re in Mpumalanga now, a place of paradise. Nothing confirms this more than the main attraction.
The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world, and certainly, most probably, the most damn beautiful. In South Africa, it is the only true canyon, following the Blyde River as it travels toward the Drakensberg. A tour down the river is a must, surrounded by subtropical jungle and towering cliffs. The Three Rondavels summits are another popular attraction.
The spectacular Blyde River Canyon isn’t just an attraction, it’s theatre, and it attracts countless visitors each year as they make their way up to the Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park
A mere hour and 30 minutes’ drive will see you arrive at the final destination of our natural wonder road trip. The Kruger National Park, however, measures 60km wide and 350km long. You’ll have to make careful arrangements around your accommodation, as you could easily get lost here, in the wildest of the wild, get eaten by an ambush predator, and never seen again.
Accommodation in the park varies from the luxurious to the simple. You’ll need a car to get around, but to really experience the park for all that it is, a game drive with a professional ranger is the best way to do it.
The Kruger National Park teaches patience, as you search and lay in wait for the animals to appear. You want the Big 5, of course, and also to avoid being trampled by an elephant, so an expert guide is a necessity.
The wild goes about its business, as far as the eye can see. From sunrise to sunset, you get to take it all in, and at night, you may even hear the bellow of a nearby lion.
And now it’s time to turn around and go back home. To paraphrase George A Moore; a person travels the world over in search of what they need, and returns home to find it.