What Do I Need To Know About Driving on South African Roads?
Firstly, if you are coming from overseas, it’s important to know that we drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Secondly, don’t worry about our signboards. They are pretty well marked and are in English. However, there may be one or two signs along the way in very small towns that are in one of our 11 official languages, but generally, it shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate our roads, plus Google Maps is a thing.
We also use our hazards to say ‘Thank you’ to other drivers. For instance, if there is a slow car in front of you and they move to the left allowing you room to pass and overtake them, then you let your hazards flash 2 or 3 times to acknowledge them.
Generally, if you see a brown coloured sign, it indicates some form of tourism; a rest stop, accommodation, national park, monument etc.
What Are The Laws Around Renting A Car And Licences?
In order to drive and rent a car in South Africa, you will need a driver’s licence: You will need to obtain either an International drivers licence or have a national driver’s licence that has been authenticated in English. Also, if your driver’s licence doesn’t have a photograph on it, you might need to carry your ID or Passport with you. We’d say always double check with the rental company before you come.
What Type Of Car Do I Need?
So, here’s the thing…
You can quite happily conquer a South African road trip in a sedan… We did!
Some roads that we managed, definitely deserved a 4×4. (We are convinced that our little car is a beast!)
However, if you want to travel in a more relaxed manner, and want to see those hidden gems or more famous excursions, possibly consider a 4×4. There are a lot of dirt roads with bad potholes and, in our experience, those roads lead to some of the most spectacular places. Also, If you want to go on a game drive, having a 4×4 with higher ground clearance is better and gives you access to some roads that normal cars cannot travel.
There are also some accommodation gems like The Shack In Mostertshoek that is far better suited to 4×4 cars.
Toll Roads & Do I Need Cash?
Our roads are maintained by the South African National Roads Agency. That means that on certain highways or national roads, you will approach a toll gate along the way. You will have to pay a fee to continue onto the next stretch of road. We have always been able to pay with a credit card [Mastercard or Visa] but it never hurts to have some extra cash on hand just in case.
Also, if you are South African and have an E-Tag (or have rented a car), you can go right through the Shesha Lane without a problem. It is much faster as you can skip all the queues and don’t have to make a manual payment.
Look Out For Potholes
Our highways are generally well maintained, but if you want to go on a “full-on” South African road trip and travel from small town to small town, expect some potholes. Some bad potholes!
Luckily the dirt roads are often very quiet, so you can swerve, dodge and dance along the entire width of the road without too many issues. In fact, we weirdly found that everyone we passed on the dirt roads was super friendly and waved at us. It’s nice out there. You get to/have to go slow and admire the incredible vistas while making your way through the hidden gems of South Africa.
Fill Up With Petrol When You Can
South Africa has some long roads and you never know when you will find another petrol station. It is highly recommended to fill up when you can, even if you still have half a tank left. We left our petrol to chance once and we barely made it to the petrol station. We arrived at a lonely petrol pump in the middle of nowhere, red light flashing, doing no more than 10km/hr, no music, no air-con, hoping that the petrol pump was actually operational. Luckily for us, it was!
We recommend planning your petrol stops. Just add them into Google Maps along with your route.
What Else Should I Consider?
Plan Your Trip Ahead Of Time & Drive The Most Scenic Route
You want to see South Africa, and explore all of its hidden gems, but you also don’t have 7 months to roam about aimlessly. You need to have a general idea of what you want to do. South Africa is huge! If you know what you want to do beforehand you will save time and get to see more. Then you will also be able to drive the most scenic route, instead of just driving on the highway. It’s also important to know when certain attractions are open due to the changes in season, for example, the Namaqualand Flowers or Whale Watching in Hermanus and DeHoop which are very season-specific.
Download Your Route On Google Maps Before You Leave
Once you have a plan, create a saved route on Google Maps and take it offline. It’s better to have a back up in case the signal goes south, it’s not uncommon.
We had a couple stop us on the side of the road to ask if they were headed in the right direction because they didn’t have any signal and were worried that they were going the wrong way.
Rest Stops Along The Highways
We do have some really nice petrol stations that offer a mini shop, cafés, takeaways and nice restrooms.
There are also truck stops or what I like to call picnic spots along the national roads. Some are beautiful; offering benches and picnic tables under groups of trees or overlooking the scenic view, where you should stop to have a break and a snack.
Unfortunately, however, these do not offer restrooms and some stops continue to be used as a restroom, so pick your spot carefully and tread lightly.
Get A Wild Card!
South Africans, I cannot stress this enough! You need a wild card! It is so worth it. We paid R 1030 for the year for a couple’s card. This gives us one year’s unlimited access to 80+ National Parks, Reserves and Resorts around South Africa. You would normally end up paying around ±R70p.p for each visit and on this trip, we visited a lot!
There is also an option for international visitors, the “International All Parks Cluster”. I would recommend this if you are visiting for a while. Prices for foreigners are pretty high, so even though the cost of the wildcard is steep, visiting the parks individually would end up costing you more money.
If You Are Vegan, Bring Your Own Food, Snacks Or Plant- Based Milks With You
Unfortunately, this is something I haven’t been able to figure out yet on our travels. Many small towns, restaurants and coffee shops in South Africa do not offer any vegan options. I have gone places where a plate of meat is shoved in my face and that’s that. So, I recommend packing your own lunch in a container and bringing it with you. If you are looking for a coffee shop, try to find a Mugg and Bean. They have a few vegan options on the menu and we found quite a few of them scattered along our South African road trip.
Google The Towns As You Pass By, They Have Awesome History
If you want to include some interesting history on your journey Google small towns as you drive past them. We first did this to pass time when we were held up in a traffic “stop and go” (normally road works of some sort) in a small town in the Eastern Cape. The town was so small and dilapidated, but you could see that the buildings were from the 1800s. So we decided to Google it. We were so fascinated by what we learnt and how much history was attached to that little town! It became a thing after that to start Googling places as we went past.