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South Africa’s top winter routes

Road-tripping in winter has its charms: fewer crowds, cheaper accommodation, belly-warming comfort food and cosy hideaways complete with roaring fireplaces. So grab those beanies, pack your car and plan to head along one of these amazing winter routes this chilly season.

Maloti Drakensberg route

Lesotho’s Maloti Mountains are home to Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest peak in Southern Africa, as well as being the canvas for some of the oldest San rock art paintings found at various sites throughout the area. The snow-capped peaks make for glorious scenery and when it’s not too cold, there are many hiking routes to choose from. For the fly-fishing enthusiasts, there’s the opportunity to indulge in some catch-and-release too in the waters of the Eastern Cape Highlands on the southern border of Lesotho.

Fast fact: The paint used for the rock art was made mainly from ground ochre mixed with water, blood or vegetable juices. The small particles bonded with the rock surface which explains why the drawings can still be seen today.

Remember: You’ll need your passport for this route.

Take a look at Portfolio’s selection of uKhahlamba Drakensberg, Drakensberg and Eastern Free State establishments.

Coastal route

Driving along the sea is rewarding come rain or shine. This route runs the length of the Eastern Cape Province and includes the beautiful Wild Coast (Transkei). This part of the country is known for its mild winter temperatures, secluded beaches and wildlife-rich reserves.

Enjoy hiking paths (like the Strandloper Trail beginning near Kei Mouth), horse trails, waterfalls and mountain biking along the coast as well as in the Amathole Mountains. In between, spend time pottering around the coastal towns of Coffee Bay, Cintsa, Port St Johns and Haga Haga, and if the weather cooperates, you can even look forward to a day at the beach.

Why not stop at:

  • The Hole in the Wall (south of Coffee Bay) and take a snap of the rocky archway landmark carved out of the sandstone millions of years ago by the waves.
  • The Jacaranda shipwreck near Qolora.

A unique quirk: Cows on the beaches. Even though there’s no grass or drinking water, herds of cattle enjoy coming down to the beach to sleep, relax and chew the cud. We think it’s pretty hilarious.

Choose from a range of Eastern Cape accommodation options here.

Rixile Culture to Kruger route

Rich in history and culture, Limpopo is a land of myths, legends, Baobab trees and marula fruit. The Rixile Culture to Kruger route meanders from Giyani to Phalaborwa, famously the only town with a gate into the Kruger National Park. It’s also known as the “town of two summers” thanks to its warm weather throughout the year.

Some of the best game viewing can be found in this region and luckily the winter is the ideal time to spot wildlife (due to the low grass and emptier waterholes). The mountain scenery is incredible and hikers, bikers and climbers especially are in for a treat.

We think you should visit:

  • The Makapans Caves near Mokopane for a glimpse into prehistoric times.
  • The Baleni Sawutini traditional salt panning site close to Giyani, and the royal kraal of the Va-Venda chiefs at the Dzimbanyeka Mountains and Old Ruins.

Why not try: The local delicacy of cooked or fried mopane (if you dare).

And stock up on: Dried mango and macadamia nuts – they’re super cheap here.

Find your Limpopo accommodation here.

Clarens route

If it’s a picturesque setting of farmland landscapes and the Maluti Mountains in the distance you’re after, this route is a must. Clarens is a charming little village just three hours from Johannesburg, one that attracts artists, nature lovers and those in search of solitude.

There are many cosy lodging options (such as Ashbrook Country Lodge) and their inviting log fireplaces are hard to turn down. Bird-watching, hiking, golfing and clay pigeon shooting are just a few of the many activities available.

Do yourself a favour and check out: The Golden Gate Highlands National Park with its unusual sandstone cliffs and abundant variety of wildlife. Keep those eyes peeled for the rare Bald Ibis or Bearded Vulture while you’re there.

Your perfect Clarens spot awaits – just click here to find it.

Elephant Coast route

Forming part of the coast of KwaZulu Natal, the Ellie Coast runs from St Lucia all the way up to Kosi Bay. Its diverse ecosystems, untamed wilderness and wealth of fauna and flora make it a special strip, with the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve and the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park being two stand outs that you don’t want to miss.

This part of the world is a fantastic choice for that winter beach getaway because you’ll rarely find the temperature dip below 17°C. Discover the protected reefs while snorkelling or take a game drive and encounter the Big Five.

You’ll want to visit:

  • The St Lucia Market where you’ll find a selection of fresh produce and curios.
  • Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre where you’ll learn more about South Africa’s endangered wild cat species.
  • Mziki Trail – a guided three-day hike covering 40km.

For a selection of Elephant Coast accommodation options, click here.

Sleeping in your car isn’t an option so contact one of our res team members to help you find the perfect places to rest your head along the way. So now all that’s left to do is decide which route to take.

You may be interested in reading: Take the back roads between Joburg and Eastern Cape