This unforgettable 18-day road trip combines the best of eastern South Africa's wildlife, natural wonders, and cultural highlights. The adventure begins in the metropolis of Johannesburg, and from there you'll visit massive river canyons plus take self-drive safaris in Kruger and Hlane National Parks. Then you're off to protected wetlands for snorkeling and wildlife tours before finishing the trip hiking and horseback riding around the incredible Drakensberg Mountains.


  • Visit Blyde River Canyon and other natural wonders on a road trip
  • See exotic wildlife on self-guided safaris in national parks
  • Go snorkeling and take boat tours in iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Venture into the Drakensberg Mountains for outdoor adventures

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Johannesburg, Drive to Hazyview Hazyview
Day 2 Full-Day Panorama Route Scenic Drive Hazyview
Day 3 Drive to Kruger National Park, Self-Guided Safari Kruger National Park
Days 4-5 Kruger Self-Guided Safaris Kruger National Park
Day 6 Drive to Hlane National Park Hlane National Park
Days 7-8 Hlane Self-Guided Safaris, Optional Activities Hlane National Park
Day 9 Drive to St Lucia, Hippo Cruise St Lucia
Day 10 Full-Day iSimangaliso Safari & Snorkeling St Lucia
Day 11 Drive to Underberg, Optional Activities Underberg
Day 12 Sani Pass & Makhapung Village Underberg
Day 13 Underberg Free Day Underberg
Day 14 Drive to Cathedral Peak, Optional Activities Drakensberg
Days 15-16 Cathedral Peak Free Days Drakensberg
Day 17 Drive to Johannesburg, Optional Activities Johannesburg
Day 18 Depart Johannesburg  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Johannesburg, Drive to Hazyview

Welcome to South Africa
Welcome to Johannesburg! "Jo'burg" is the commercial and financial heart of South Africa, and it also boasts the largest urban center in the country. There's a lot of history, culture, and energy here—and outside the city even more wonders await. You won't waste a moment, because right when you arrive at the airport you'll pick up a rental car and head out on a road-trip adventure.
You'll be heading east for approximately 4.5 hours to Hazyview, located in the province of Mpumalanga. This small farm town is known for its subtropical fruit orchards and is also a great base for excursions to nearby nature reserves and Kruger National Park. Once here, you'll check in to your accommodation and have the remainder of the day free to relax and unwind after your journey.

Day 2: Full-Day Panorama Route Scenic Drive

The Three Rondavels, in Blyde River Canyon
Today is your first day exploring eastern South Africa, and there's no better place for it than Mpumalanga. This region is home to spectacular natural beauty, including the Blyde River Canyon. At 66,585 acres (26,946 ha), this is the third-largest canyon in the world. Its soaring cliffs rise as high as 2,625 feet (800 m), and much of it is blanketed in subtropical foliage. Besides its many impressive vistas, the canyon also offers breathtaking views of Three Rondavels: huge rock formations that resemble ancient stone beehive huts.
You'll see the Three Rondavels on this full-day drive along South Africa's famous Panorama Route, which stretches 99 miles (160 km) throughout Mpumalanga. During the tour, you'll visit highlights like the mining town of Pilgrim's Rest, and God's Window, an incredible viewpoint overlooking a 2,952-foot (900-m) ravine. You'll also see the rock pools known as Bourke's Luck Potholes, which marks the start of Blyde River Canyon.
En route back to Hazyview, stop at Graskop, a town perched atop one of Drakensberg's famous escarpments. Here, you'll take a gorge elevator down a cliff face into the mountain forest below. Once at the bottom, follow a wooden walkway and suspension bridges then continue along the trail through the forest. After this nature hike, you'll return to your car and drive back to Hazyview. 

Day 3: Drive to Kruger National Park, Self-Guided Safari

Time for a safari
Wake up early for the first of three days on self-guided safari drives through Kruger National Park. Spanning 7,576 square miles (19,623 sq km) across the northeast of the country, this is the largest national park in South Africa. Therefore, it has many entry gates to choose from, with the most popular located in the southwest of the park, near Hazyview. On entry, you'll pay your conservation fee and register your vehicle with the game wardens, then pick up a map of the park. 

From the gate, make your way to the camp booked for the duration of your stay in Kruger. Even the drive there is a mini-safari in itself, as you'll no doubt be treated to sightings of exotic wildlife along the way. Once you've checked in to your accommodation, you'll have the rest of the day free to relax and get settled. You can go wildlife spotting around the camp on foot, or head out on a game drive in your vehicle. Guided safari drives with a local park ranger need to be booked in advance.
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Days 4-5: Kruger Self-Guided Safaris

Cheetahs in Kruger National Park
Kruger is one of South Africa's most-visited tourist sites for good reason. This ruggedly beautiful savanna is home to 147 species of mammals including the Big Five safari animals: lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos. It's also a paradise for birders, as the 508 species here include various hawks, eagles, storks, and parrots. Over the next two days, you'll embark on safari game drives to spot as many of these exotic creatures as possible. Leave early to see the animals at their most active and enjoy picnic lunches under umbrella thorn trees. Then, when the day is done, return to camp in time for a sundowner.

Day 6: Drive to Hlane National Park

Rhinos are common sights in Hlane National Park 
After breakfast, leave Kruger and drive about four hours south to eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). Within this small landlocked country is today's destination: Hlane Royal National Park. The "royal" comes from the fact that this was once a private hunting ground for the king due to the large game herds in the park. Now it's a protected wildlife reserve open for self-drive safaris, which is how you'll spend the next couple of days. First, though, you'll cross the border, enter the park, and transfer to your camp. 

Days 7-8: Hlane Self-Guided Safaris, Optional Activities

Visit an Indigenous village

Over the next two days, wake up early to enjoy the abundant wildlife of Hlane, like lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos, and rhinos. Besides self-guided safaris, there are other activities you can book through the camp that include guided nature walks and mountain-biking excursions. There are also sunrise and sunset safaris as well as a visit to an Indigenous Swazi village for a cultural exchange.  

Day 9: Drive to St Lucia, Hippo Cruise

Hippos are permanent residents of St Lucia
In the morning, you'll depart Eswatini on a 4.5-hour drive to St Lucia, a settlement in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal. The town sits on an estuary at the southern end of the magnificent iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its diverse flora and fauna. After checking in to your hotel, you'll see its most famous residents on a hippo boat tour. Also making an appearance will be Nile crocodiles as well as birds like pelicans, storks, terns, and perhaps the African fish eagle. 

Day 10: Full-Day iSimangaliso Safari & Snorkeling

Explore iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Let someone else do the driving today as you enjoy the incredible nature and wildlife of this region. After breakfast, you'll meet a game ranger in an open-topped safari vehicle for a tour of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The excursion includes game viewing on the open grasslands en route to Cape Vidal, a bay on an unspoiled stretch of coastline. During the drive, you'll see various species that might include leopards, buffalo, rhinos, and kudus. Upon arrival at Cape Vidal, you'll trade your binoculars for a snorkel as you hit the water and explore this incredible dive site, which is home to Africa's southernmost tropical reefs. 

Day 11: Drive to Underberg, Optional Activities

Onward to the Drakensberg Mountains
In the morning, continue your exploration of KwaZulu-Natal with a 5.5-hour drive south via the coastal city of Durban to Underberg. Located in the stunning Mzimkulu River Valley, this town lies in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg Range. You'll be right in the mix of this beautiful mountain scenery, as the hotel in which you'll be staying sits on part of a 2,160-acre (860 ha) UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, upon arrival, feel free to kick back, relax, and enjoy the sweeping views of the surrounding basalt escarpments and green valleys. Or head out for a hike on one of the many scenic hiking trails.

Day 12: Sani Pass & Makhapung Village

Travel over the Sani Pass
The Sani Pass is a mountain pass that snakes through the Drakensberg between South Africa and the small, landlocked kingdom of Lesotho. The excursion you'll embark on today is both scenic and cultural, as not only will you travel over the pass, which rises as high as 9,436 ft (2,876 m), but you'll also visit Makhapung, a Basotho village deep in the highlands. It's a truly authentic experience, as mass tourism has yet to encroach on this tribal village, so residents have preserved their culture and traditions. 

It starts when your guide takes you on a ride over the top of the Sani Pass, where you'll enjoy great views over the escarpments. However, it doesn't stop there. After crossing the Sani Plateau, you'll head up the Black Mountain Pass, which reaches an altitude of 10,629 feet (3240 m). From here, you can see the nearby peak of Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest point in southern Africa (11,423 ft/3,482 m). Continue down into the Sehonghong Valley, passing highland Basotho villages, to Makhapung.

Upon arrival, you'll participate in a sustainable tourism project in which you'll witness ceremonial dances, hear traditional songs, and visit the resident healer. You'll also get to know the villagers over lunch. Afterward, say goodbye to your new friends and return to Underberg. 

Day 13: Underberg Free Day

Underberg - day at leisure
Go for a bike ride around Underberg
Today you'll have free to relax and enjoy some adventures. There's a wide range of activities on offer here including hikes, mountain bike excursions, horseback rides, fishing trips, zip line tours, archery lessons, and hitting the links at an 18-hole golf course. Or simply spend the day relaxing by the hotel pool and enjoy a spa treatment.

Day 14: Drive to Cathedral Peak, Optional Activities

The Cathedral Peak region

After breakfast, you'll drive north to the Upper Drakensberg and the lovely Cathedral Peak area. Also known as Mponjwana by local tribespeople, this 9,856-foot (3,004 m) mountain is nestled in a secluded valley and is surrounded by other, equally majestic peaks. After checking in to your hotel, you can spend the rest of the day relaxing or head out for a brisk walk on a nature trail. If you have the energy, you can try the three to four-hour hike to Cathedral Peak's summit.

Days 15-16: Cathedral Peak Free Days

Enjoy a mountain hike
The next two days are yours to enjoy however you see fit. Perhaps head out for a leisurely riverside stroll or a more strenuous hike up the mountain. You can also hop in the saddle for a horseback ride or zip along the backroads on an ATV. Maybe take a scenic flight to marvel at the sight of this grand mountain range from above. Another highlight is a drive out to Sentinel Point, where you can enjoy incredible views over the plateau.

Day 17: Drive to Johannesburg, Optional Activities

Welcome back to Johannesburg
Hit the road early for the five-hour ride to Johannesburg. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and drop off your rental car at the office or airport. Afterward, spend the rest of the day exploring Jo'burg on your own. If there's time, you can head to the outskirts of the city and tour the township of Soweto. Or, stay in town and visit the Apartheid Museum to learn how those segregated urban settlements came to be. Then, after dinner, maybe pop in at a historic nightclub to hear live jazz. 

Day 18: Depart Johannesburg

Sunset over Drakensberg
Alas, today is you must depart South Africa. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up at the hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Epic South Africa Road Trip: Mountains, Wetlands & Wildlife - 18 Days
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