Driving from Joburg to Cape Town down the N1 will take you about 14 hours in one stretch, but you may just die of boredom before you get there. Instead, head off on tangents, make a few pit stops and stay over at some of these cool spots - it's often when you go off the beaten track that you discover new and exciting places...
The name Bloemfontein means "Fountain of Flowers" and it certainly lives up to its name with its mass of flowers that flourish throughout the city. Kings Park in Bloemfontein has more than 4 000 rose bushes and hosts an annual rose festival, leading to the city's nickname, “City of Roses.” Pay a visit to Naval Hill where you can take a selfie with the impressive statue of Nelson Mandela and at the same time take in the amazing expanse of the city below.
Did you know? Bloemfontein's Sesotho name is Mangaung which means "Place of the Cheetahs"?
Eat here: Die Mystic Boer is a second home to most Bloemfonteiners, making this a great spot to mix with the locals. The menu includes pizzas, burritos and ribs.
Stay here: De Oude Kraal Country Estate & Spa is a fifth generation merino sheep farm just outside the town. You'll stay in the original family's farmhouse, restored to include all mod cons, of course. Owners Marie and Gerhard will welcome you warmly - Marie is famous for her traditional cooking with a French flair, while Gerhard revives weary travellers with personally selected wines from his cellar.
As you drive down the N1 with pancake-flat Karoo landscape in every direction, Coleskop Hill is the prominent beacon that indicates you've arrived in Colesberg. Despite its non-descript appearance, the town has a thriving tourism industry due to its perfect location on the Jozi-CT route. In recent years many B&Bs have popped up, most of them with restaurants and pubs on site. If you happen to have bikes with you, there are several fantastic mountain bike and 4x4 trails where you can blow off some of that travel steam.
Did you know? The area is renowned for producing high-quality racehorses and many stud farms, including one owned by renowned golfer, Gary Player.
Eat here: Bordeaux Restaurant on the Main Road is a great place to enjoy some traditional Karoo-style food. Genuine hospitality and delicious lamb dishes make this a popular spot in town.
Stay here: Kuilfontein Stable Cottages is a Karoo oasis. Set on a working farm that’s been in the Southey family since 1876, the accommodation is in converted racehorse stables. Hosts Penny & Leigh will ply you with pre-dinner drinks in the tiny pub before you proceed on to a farm fresh meal in the cosy dining room. Guests here are treated as friends, so it's no wonder they return again and again.
In the heart of the Great Karoo ("Place of Thirst") lies Graaff-Reinet, a town surrounded by the Camdeboo National Park. This bustling hub contains over 220 heritage sites - more than any other town in South Africa - with gorgeous examples of Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture. The locals are born storytellers and won't hesitate to regale you with legends from the area. You'll find some of the best stargazing in the country here - on clear nights you can even see other galaxies with the naked eye.
Don't miss: The Valley of Desolation is just 14kms outside town. With its sheer cliffs and precariously balanced columns of Dolerite rising 120 metres from the valley floor, it is the product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over 100 million years and is well worth an awe-inspiring visit.
Eat here: For light lunches and teas you can't beat Blue Magnolia Coffee Shop, located in a beautiful plant nursery. Sweet treats are made that much sweeter when you're surrounded by leafy greenery.
Stay here: The revamped Drostdy Hotel, first established in 1786, has become a destination hotel. Sumptuous suites,three swimming pools and a fabulous wine cellar make this THE place to stop over (and maybe even stay a while).
4. Beaufort West
In a world with an ever-growing need for space, the Great Karoo is the place to go for deafening silence and lungfuls of clean, fresh air. Beaufort West is home to some of the bluest skies in South Africa with beautiful year-round weather to boot. Around the town on the vast plains you can visit sites with bushman paintings, while undiscovered dinosaur bones are scattered deep underground.
Did you know? Professor Christiaan Barnard, the town’s most famous resident, performed the first successful human-to-human heart transplant. He is honoured in the local museum, which houses a replica of the original heart transplant theatre.
Eat here: Enjoy a warm welcome from owner and chef Surretta at the aptly named Surretta's Bistro - a small, intimate bistro serving traditional meals like slow cooked Karoo lamb with red cabbage and spaetzle. Suretta creates spontaneous menus by preparing whatever inspires her on the day so it's always a surprise to see what's on offer each time.
Stay here: Just outside Beaufort West is Lemoenfontein Game Lodge, a farm-style lodge at the foot of the Nuweveld Mountains. After a long day of driving, you can relax on the wooden veranda and take in the sweeping Karoo views. Don't miss the sunrise game drive for sightings of some plains game such as eland, giraffe and mountain zebra.
5. Prince Albert
About 30 mins off the N1 between Beaufort West and Laingsburg lies the delightful small town of Prince Albert. Blessed with water from the Swartberg Mountains, the town is a little green oasis in the Karoo desert. Prince Albert is known for its sun-ripened fresh and dried figs and apricots, as well as its incredible olive products. There are four wine producing farms in the area and the delightful Gay's Guernsey Dairy that makes some of the best cheeses in the country.
Eat here: The food at Simply Saffron is world class - amazing flavours and aromas, and not to forget the beautiful presentation. There are also vegetarian options available. Expect a warm welcome from the owners.
Stay here: The self-catering cottages of Karoo View Cottages are located on the outskirts of the town and offer lovely views across to the Swartberg Mountains - especially stunning at sunset when they change colour before your eyes. Choose fresh ingredients in the garden for your evening meal, enjoy spectacular stargazing and explore the quaint country town of Prince Albert.
To reach Ladismith, you will have to negotiate a pass or a "poort" through the Klein Swartberg Mountains. The most well known of these is Seweweekspoort, a rugged 17km stretch of road that cuts through the mountain and was used by early farmers to access the Great Karoo. The scenery here is wild as the slopes of the mountain leave a narrow pass just broad enough for a stream to find passage, while precipices of naked rock tower like walls on both sides.
Urban legend: An impressive mountain peak called Towerkop (2198m) looms above the town. Local legend has it that a witch, flying overhead, struck the peak in anger with her wand because it obstructed her passage over the mountain. Her anger resulted in Towerkop's unique appearance: the peak is split in two.
Eat here: Lekker! is a stylish fine-dining restaurant located in a beautiful private garden. Superb cuisine and personal attention from the staff make this well worth a visit.
Stay here: Located on a sheep farm 8km outside the town, Ladismith Country House is a nature lover’s paradise with abundant bird life and fynbos covered veld. The Manor House's bedrooms open onto the large garden - the perfect view to wake up to each morning.
Robertson is the western gateway to Route 62. With rows of Victorian buildings, jacaranda-lined streets, rose boarded vineyards and brightly coloured columns of cannas and bougainvilleas lining the roads, the town is one of the most attractive in the Cape Winelands.
Must do: Enjoy a peaceful river boat cruise up the Breede River from Viljoensdrift Wine Estate. Enjoying a glass of their wine on board the flat-bottomed Uncle Ben 2. Booking is essential.
Eat here: Mo & Rose's Wine Bistro is located in a beautifully renovated old barn with views over the adjoining guesthouse's gardens. Enjoy a glass of wine or a meal in an unpretentious atmosphere, and afterwards stretch your legs with a stroll through the out-of-the-ordinary gardens.
Stay here: Excelsior Manor Guest House is a wine and citrus farm which has been in the De Wet family for five generations. Here you can really unwind from your drive by relaxing under the shade of the large trees or exploring the fragrant rose labyrinth. A stroll through the vineyards brings you to one of six wine tasting venues nearby. AND don't miss out on blending and bottling your own wine as a souvenir of your stay.
If you haven't managed to stop at all these on your way down, don't forget you can do this trip in reverse too. Drop our reservations team a line for more advice on where to head and where to stay on your journey.
Planning a trip between Johannesburg and the Eastern Cape? Check out our blog on places to see, stay and eat along that route: Take the back roads between Joburg and the Eastern Cape.