Adjective. Pronounced /ˈhɛktɪk/
1. Full of incessant or frantic activity.
2. (South African slang) Cool, rad, extreme, over the top.
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.
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: Make your own judgments about Johannesburg
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: Meet Arizona and Scotland’s beautiful bastard, Golden Gate Highlands National Park
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: Experience the extremes of The Drakensberg Mountains
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: Take it to the max with another day in The ‘Berg
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: Feel the heat, and the inequality, in Durban
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: Escape (un-)civilization on the way to the Wild Coast
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: Slow down on the Wild Coast
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: Come to a complete stop in Cintsa
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: Get your head into the clouds 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: Explore the African Wild West on the way to Nieu Bethesda
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: Karoo-se on through to Prince Albert
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: Embrace convention en route to Barrydale
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: Indulge in the wineries around 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: Finish off in style in Cape Town
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.
More Hectic Adventures
Whether or not you decide to follow the Hectic Route itinerary, you should definitely do a road trip if you’re coming to South Africa. Here are our South Africa road trip tips that will help you have an even better time than we did.
And for more South African adventures and tips, which we’re continuing to add to as we spend six months in Cape Town, head over to our South Africa page.
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