Road Tripping: National roads decoded

2013-12-03 10:20

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For many South Africans, December holiday means hitting the road, and for most this means at least a little stretch along one of the national routes.

If it’s a trip you take on a yearly basis, the route may have become second nature already, a sort of beeline to your destination. However, why don’t you take it a little slower this year and enjoy the roadside attractions on offer.

We’ve listed a few interesting things to see on your annual road trip along (or just a few km off) the N1, N2, N3 and N7.

Just a little note for those heading along the N1 or the N3: with e-tolls now alive and kicking, you're going to have to pay - whether you're from Gauteng or not. It's all a bit confusing at the moment, but maybe our e-tolls: Double or nothing? article can shed some light on things for you.  

Do you have any suggestions for interesting things to spot along South Africa’s roads? Tell us in the comment section below or send us your thoughts to


The N1 stretches all the way from Cape Town to the Beit Bridge border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is the main route between Cape Town and Johannesburg, which means it’s rather busy during the festive season, carrying Gautengers to their Western Cape holiday destinations and back again. It's also one of the roads now subject to the contentious e-tolls tariff. Take a look at the e-toll calculator here.

Much of the roadside landscape is characterized by typical Karoo koppies, Free State grasslands and a good deal of dorpies. Might not sound like much, but if you take it easy, you’re bound to make some interesting finds. Like the two listed below:

Boer war graveyard and wall of remembrance, Springfontein

Springfontein is situated 150km south-west of Bloemfontein and is so small that if you blink, you might just miss it. So, if you’re a history buff with special interest in the Anglo-Boer War, we suggest you keep your eyes peeled and make the turn-off into town in time to spend some time examining the Concentration Camp memorial as well as two cemeteries. The one is dedicated to unbaptised children who died during the war and the other to the graves of 700 Boer as well as British victims. Apart from this you can also visit De Bome, the house where Emily Hobhouse stayed during her visits to Springfontein.

Richmond’s book stores

The tiny Northern Cape village of Richmond is South Africa’s first and only official book town. What is a book town? You may ask… Well, according to the official definition it’s a small rural town or village in which second-hand or antiquarian book shops are concentrated. Boasting no less than 16 book shops, covering various fields of interest and academia, it’s no surprise that Richmond makes the cut.

Take a little detour of the N1 and into town and spend an hour or two browsing among the shelves. If you’re going to be passing through on a Sunday or a public holiday, it may, however, be a good idea to just call and check if the shops are open. Check out the Richmond Booktown website for contact details.


The N2 is the main highway along South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, running all the way from Cape Town to Ermelo in Mpumalanga via Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban.

It is also the main vein of the well-known and much-loved Garden Route, a particularly popular summer holiday breakaway spot. Snaking through a variety of coastal towns and cities, there really is a LOT to do and see during a road trip on the N2, more so than any of the other national roads in fact. However, if we had to highlight two attractions, we’d say the following: 

Bloukrans Bridge bungy, Nature’s Valley

Even if you’re no adrenaline junky, getting to see one of South Africa’s most famous landmarks with your own eyes is an awesome experience!  Bloukrans Bridge Bungy is the world's highest commercial bridge bungy at 216 metres above the Bloukrans River and makes for a rather spectacular view.

Should you be brave enough to take the leap, Face Adrenalin will provide you with an unforgettable experience. It will cost you R790, but you will get a certificate to proving your jump as well as an incredible story. Not quite THAT brave, but still keen for a bit of a rush? Opt for a bridge walk – it will take you along the exact same route as the jumpers go, only you won’t have to leave the bridge. That costs R100 a pop.
Check out the Face Adrenaline website for more details.

Beaver Creek Coffee Estate, Port Edward

More into coffee fixes than adrenaline rushes? The N2 has something special for you too! Located just off the national route near the KZN south coast town of Port Edward, you will find the spectacularly beautiful and mind-blowingly productive Beaver Creek Coffee Estate.

The family-run business started in 1984 with a humble orchard of four trees, but has since grown to 60 000. It is the southern-most coffee estate in the world and they pride themselves in their hands-on approach and personal touch. If you’re going to take the turn-off, be sure to make it in time to join one of the estate’s crop to cup walking tours. They take place at 12:00 every day, last 30 to 45 minutes and cost R40. Booking is essential, so give them a call on 039 3112 347 or email

Check out the Beaver Creek Coffee Estate website for more details. 


The N3 is the main route connecting Johannesburg and Durban, which means it gets particularly busy during December holidays, as ‘vaalies’ head to the KZN seaside, which is much closer than the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape. This is also part of the new e-tolls system. Take a look at the e-toll calculator here.

The road passes closely by a number of towns and cities, including Pietermaritzburg, Ladysmith, Heidelberg and Germiston.

While it’s hardly as entertaining as the N2, there are still a few interesting things to see and do. These are our top two suggestions:

Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, Heidelberg

Feel the need to stretch your legs? Why not take a short hike in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve just outside Heidelberg? Probably not a good idea if you’re a little short on time, however, if you have some to spare it’s bound to be a super relaxing, enjoyable experience. And if you’re not keen on the idea of a walk, you can always opt for a short self-drive. 

During your time there, you might even be lucky enough to spot a number of intriguing creatures, including zebra, steenbok and rooi hartebeest.

Admission fees are R20 for adults and R10 for children and pensioners. It is open Monday to Friday 07h15 to 16h00, weekends and public holidays 07h00 to 17h00.
For more information, call the reserve on 011 904 3930/3/7

Van Reenen’s Pass, between Ladysmith and Harrismith

Experience the scenic beauty of the Drakensburg from the comfort of your car seat when the N3 takes you along the Van Reenen’s Pass between Ladysmith and Harrismith.

The two-lane freeway rises from 1 105m above sea lever to 1 768m at the summit over a distance of 36.3 km, producing a climb of 663 vertical meters. At the very centre of the pass you will find the pass’s namesake town, Van Reenen. Be sure to stop off here and check out the smallest Roman Catholic church in the world.


The N7 is the main carriageway between Cape Town and Namibia, taking holidaymakers through the inland parts of the West Coast right into the Richtersveld region and the border town of Vioolsdrif.

This is probably one of the quieter routes during December holidays and also doesn’t have that much to see and do along the way. However, the arid scenery holds a charm of its own and makes for a great car seat musing backdrop.

However, if you do want to explore a little along the way, we suggest the following:

Rooibos teahouse, Clanwilliam

Rooibos Tea is one of South Africa’s proudest exports and this section of the N7 is the very heart of the healthy hot drink’s production.

Take a little detour of the N7 into the town of Clanwilliam and make your way to the Net Mar Rooibos Teahouse. Apart from having a wide selection of Rooibos-based tea blends to try, there’s also a museum introducing visitors to the fascinating history of South Africa’s favourite tea.

Check out the Net Mar website for more details

Take a donkey cart ride in Steinkopf/Kookfontein

With its vast open spaces and relatively quiet roads, the Northern Cape is still home to a healthy community of people who use donkey carts for transport.

Experience it for yourself while visiting the tiny hamlet of Steinkopf, also known as Kookfontein, about 45km north of Springbok.

According to the town’s tourism website, you have three options – either a 2-hour morning ride, a half day ride around town, or a full day ride to places of interest surrounding the town.

Check out the Experience Northern Cape website for more details

Read more on:    road trip  |  travel  |  holidays  |  travel south africa

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