One of my very, very favourite childhood memories is of how my family and I used to explore the off-routes.
We'd pack the bakkie with the skottelbraai and brunch goodies, and head into one of the two amazing National Parks we were fortunate enough to live close to, either the Mountain Zebra or the Camdeboo National Park. We'd cook up a plain but most delicious feast, and lounge away the rest of the day under the trees in the camp.
It didn't happen too often, only over the Easter and Christmas holidays. But it changed the way I felt about nature.
We chose a different route and spot every time, and explored a new part of our district.
It's so easy to think that dream holidays need to be expensive and long. But actually, the most precious of memories can also be made by taking a simple, inexpensive one-day road trip to the neighbouring town.
Sure, if you live next to the Kruger National Park, your one-day road trip would be a little different than my childhood excursions (for starters, I wouldn't recommend braaiing in the veld...). But the same principle applies - get out there, explore your surroundings and get to know and love this incredible country we live in.
If you need a little nudge in the right direction, here are some of our favourite off-the-beaten-track bushwacker routes to consider...
The Karoo Highlands Route
Situated in the southern part of the Northern Cape, this route covers a small but very unique part of SA, including Niewoudtville, Calvinia, Williston, Sutherland, Fraserburg, Carnarvon, Loxton and Victoria West. This is sheep-farming country, and the landscapes are barren and flat - but it makes for some of the best Karoo Stargazing in the world.
Sutherland, especially, is the perfect winter weekend breakaway destination. While it may seem like a sleepy town at first glance, it offers all the iconic Karoo charm - friendly local people, icy nights and perhaps the best lamb in the country...
SEE: Snow, stars, serenity, Sutherland
From 26 to 28 August this year, the iconic Hantam Vleisfees will be taking place in the area, in Calvinia. The Hantam Meat Festival is a truly unique, proudly South African experience and a must for all who loved Karoo hospitality and, of course, the famous Karoo Lamb.
The Williston Winter Festival, touted as the most authentic cultural festival in the whole country, will also be taking place on the first Spring weekend, from 1 to 3 September this year. The festival celebrates the fascinating talents of the Northern Cape Karoo - including the world-famous dust-raising Nama Riel dance, performed by over 100 traditional 'riel dancers'.
Cape Whale Route along the southern coast
The Cape Whale Route is a splendid natural inheritance of South Africa and this superb route takes you along one of the most scenic drives on the planet.
The bush landscape you drive through on this route, is also one of the most unique in the world. The Cape Floral Kingdom may be the smallest of the six recognised floral kingdoms of the world, but the region boasts an extraordinarily high diversity and endemism, and is home to more than 9 000 vascular plant species, of which 69 percent are endemic. Much of this diversity is associated with the fynbos biome.
Driving through iconic whale-watching towns such as Betty’s Bay, Kleinmond, Hermanus, Pringle Bay, Stanford and Gansbaai, the route also offers some of the best land-based whale-watching opportunities, whilst also showing off the rugged coastline of the Cape. This is a great one-day family road trip.
The many magical Baviaans off-roads
Did you know that the Baviaanskloof is South Africa’s biggest wilderness area – from the Baviaans and Gamtoos Valley? This Mega Reserve is a world heritage site and is rich in biodiversity, including seven of South Africa’s eight Biomes.
As the largest protected site in the country, the Baviaans area offers 4x4 enthusiasts and nature lovers the perfect surroundings for adventure.
Families will especially enjoy this area, as one there are hikes varying in difficulty and range and splash pools are a plenty for cooling off. Even in winter, the cool rock pools are a welcomed resource for adrenaline pumping hikers and mountain bikers.
The great thing about the Baviaans is that you can make an epic day trip in the area, or spend an entire week retreating in this wilderness...
SEE: Adventure secrets of the Baviaans
Off-road outside Kruger
The wonder and abundance of the iconic Kruger Nation Park will never seize to satisfy. But some days - especially when the park is so busy that you cannot have a relaxed drive through it - you need to save your soul and head out.
If you're a local in the area, chances are you've got the off-season all to yourself. So in high season, you need somewhere else to escape.
Set aside at least one day of your Kruger adventure to do some Kruger off-roading. Make time to go exploring the incredible sights around the Park, like the old gold-mining town of Pilgrim's Rest and the routes to the Panorama waterfalls.
SEE: Off-Road Kruger: 3 Escapes just outside the park gates
The Kalahari Red Dune Route
Extending to the north of Upington in the Northern Cape, all the way to the Namibian border, this route is a traveller's dream. You can take the adventure highway here, and go dune boarding, camel riding, or birding with other eco-adventurers.
If you're after a more cultural-inspired road trip, the route also offers the opportunity to experience regional customs and folklore of the Khomani San - to sample the delicious cuisine, and meet the welcoming people of the Kalahari.
If you have time, cross over to the Namibian side - especially if you're a 4x4 motorbiker... From 12 to 18 September this year, the Desert Knights Motorbike Adventure will be taking place in the |Ais |Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park will host the iconic five-day ride through this rugged landscape. The cycle will include night time rides and an epic day of canoeing on the Orange River.
Karoo Food Routes
South Africa is perhaps one of the most diverse countries in the world when it comes to different cuisines. But perhaps my favourite part of SA to explore as a foodie would be the Cape Midland Karoo.
Food in the Karoo hasn’t changed much over the last few decades, but it has certainly become a very valuable and even fashionable commodity. And rightfully so.
Karoo lamb is and has always been free-range, hormone free and organic. The preserved jams and vegetables have also always been home-grown, and so too the majority of the food you’ll find on a plate from real Karoo kitchen.
A foodie-driven road trip to the Cape Midlands Karoo is the best thing you can do this winter.
You can even combine your foodie road trip with a snow hunting expedition, and trek around the Drakensberg Mountains in search of the snow.
West Coast Berg Route
The West Coast Way Berg Route starts in Velddrif and follows a course through Laaiplek, Port Owen, Dwarskersbos, Rocherpan Nature Reserve, Elands Bay, Aurora, Redelinghuys and Verlorenvlei, the Piekenierskloof Mountain Resort, Citrusdal, Eendekuil, Porterville, Piketberg, Wittewater and Goedverwacht – covering an area that stretches from the Berg River to the start of the Cederberg Mountains.
Because of the many coastal attractions in the West Coast, the inland rarely gets a mention as a prime travellers destination - but this is unfair. The area boasts some of the best spring flower viewing spots, as well as and a plethora of adventure activities for any active family.
The Berg route is also a perfect gateway to enhance the existing Cape to Namibia route by giving the opportunity to travellers to stop, explore and stay at towns on the Cape West Coast.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- Snow, stars, serenity, Sutherland
- Off-Road Kruger: 3 Escapes just outside the park gates
- Winter Escape: 3 Klein Karoo adventures