Secret South Africa... a self-drive discovery

| September 28, 2017

When you think of a self-drive holiday in South Africa, the Garden Route probably springs to mind. So we sent our Africa expert James off for two weeks to explore areas that rarely see any tourists.

Drive to Paskufontein

On the road, Papkuilsfontein

I fly into Cape Town and drive north to Franschhoek to stock up on wine and cheese for the journey ahead. Franschhoek means French corner and, surrounded by beautiful green countryside and vineyards, that’s exactly how this 17th-century French settlement feels. The Saturday market is in full swing. Groups of older gentleman play pétanque and drink their Pinotage while the accordion band plays in the background. Very French.  



I enjoy the beautiful drive through the winding roads of the Cederberg mountains before arriving at Bushmans Kloof – Kloof means valley – a luxury retreat in the mountains. The surrounding reserve holds a wealth of wildlife and birds, along with a huge variety of plants and flora.

Bushmans Kloof - guided drive - antelope

Spotting an antelope on a guided drive, Bushmans Kloof

There are numerous hiking and mountain bike trails, guided drives and for relaxation, a lovely spa. Particularly fascinating are the numerous rock paintings dotted around the reserve that date back around 10,000 years.

Bushmans Kloof - rock paintings

Rock paintings, Bushmans Kloof

The next day’s journey leads through the spectacular Van Rhyns Pass that links Nieuwoudtville to Vanrhynsdorp. In the space of eight kilometres a semi-desert landscape transforms into a highland with trees and grasslands. I arrive in the old Dutch town of Nieuwoudtville that offers much more than just the abundant flora for which it’s famous, including numerous hiking routes and the world’s second largest quiver tree forest. I highly recommend the three kilometre stroll to the incredible gorge at Papkuilsfontein  where the Oorlogskloof and the Kleinkoebee river meet.


Papkuilsfontein gorge

After a couple of days I arrive at Naries Namakwa. Set on edge of the Spektakelberg mountain between Springbok and Kleinzee, this lovely hotel offers spectacular views. Sadly, the remarkable variety of flora and succulent species that is usually seen at this time of year relies on rain and the area is suffering from the worst drought in 113 years.

walks araound Naries in South Africa

View from a hiking trail, Spektakelberg

However, there are numerous hiking trails through the mountains and the hotel has fascinating food on offer. A particular favourite is the kudu potjiekos, a delicious South African stew made with deer, a large selection of vegetables and an even larger amount of wine. Replenishing the lost calories of the day is ever so satisfying.

Naries sunset South Africa

Sunset over the mountains and kudu potjiekos, Naries Namakwa

‘Enough north, I’m running out of country here’, I mutter to myself as the car swings and heads east: my destination is a small town called Kakamas. Landscape changes dramatically en route to drier, sandier and a deeper red in colour. I am entering desert. Firmly plugged into the satnav is Augrabies Falls National Park. Named by the original Khoikhoi settlers, Augrabies translates literally as ‘place of big noise’. No one can say for definite, but it could be because of the 60-metre waterfall which flows into the 16-kilometre-long gorge, echoing with every drop.

Augrabies waterfall

Augrabies waterfall, Augrabies Falls national park

There are numerous viewing platforms and walking trails around the park. I opt for the two-hour dassie trail, named after the small and furry guinea pig-like creatures patrolling the surrounding rocks.

A dassie or Rock hyrax at the Augrabies Falls National Park

 A rock hyrax or dassie, Augrabies Falls national park

After another day of exploring the area I am ready to set off again. Next on the list is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which straddles the border with Botswana and covers 38,000 square kilometres. The park has an abundance of wildlife including oryx, wildebeest and ostriches. I stay on South Africa’s side, which is called Kalahari Gemsbok National Park.

The park is dotted with small farms, most of them named after well-known Scottish landmarks. They were named by Roger Jackson, who was sent there for land surveying after world war one in an attempt to keep his wife Eileen from feeling homesick. 

Oryx at Kalahari National Park

Oryx and an ostrich, Kalahari Gemsbok national park

 As the sun sets silently over the red desert, the vast galaxy of stars glow above and the good people at Xaus Lodge hand out hot chocolate. I go to sleep as the shuffling of the jackals and other nocturnal life goes on late into the night.

!Xaus Lodge in South Africa

!Xaus Lodge, Kgalagadi Transfrontier park

The last day of the trip arrives and I am on my way to Upington for a quick stop at a vineyard to pick up a final couple of bottles of tipple before saying farewell to my trusty red steed and flying home.  What a journey it has been, discovering remarkable places in South Africa that are still wild and largely unvisited.

James was exploring Cox & Kings’ new self-drive tour: Northern to Western Cape. See more >

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