It is now standard practice to be able to book a GPS with your rental car when on a self drive in South Africa. And most people have google maps on their phones which are great for directions.
In theory this should make obsolete one of the more mundane jobs of the tour operator booking your self-drive holiday: providing good quality directions to help you get from A to B. Or in the case of South Africa from Hotel A to Game Lodge B.
Not so fast….
In my (and our clients’) experience using the car rental GPS system, or even Google Maps, the directions should be treated with some caution. Especially in rural areas of South Africa. That’s why we no longer include GPS as standard on car rental. Though it is available on request at time of booking or when you collect your rental car.
GPS is certainly useful. But it should definitely be seen as an adjunct to your tour operator’s written directions in the itinerary and NOT a replacement…
The reason for this is that the GPS directions like to take the ”shortest” route. But in a country like South Africa, we have a range of roads. From highways to winding mountain passes, to gravel farm roads, to game reserve tracks. So the shortest route may not be the fastest or the easiest!
Another problem is that sometimes the GPS (and even Google maps) has got the location of a game lodge plain wrong. Either directing you to the booking office in the nearest town, rather than the lodge itself, or to somewhere else entirely.
This is not where you want to be (unless you’ve chosen it!)
Why is it that we like driving a nice car when we’re at home but when we go on holiday or vacation, we decide to opt for the cheapest possible rental car’? Into this, we try to cram a family of 4 with all their associated luggage and paraphernalia. We are happy with our decision for about 30 minutes until we get onto the highway and realise that the absolutely maximum speed that the car will go – now that it is laden with granny and grandpa, their ten bags and the kitchen sink – is 110km/ hour (67 miles/hour).
And that’s with your foot flat on the accelerator. Going downhill. Not fast.
Most of our self-drive routes are in pretty easy areas to drive. They are accessible to most people. But sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. If you’ve travelled quite a bit, you may be looking for something more adventurous, more off the beaten track? We’ve being offering self-drive safari tours in Namibia and South Africa for over 20 years. So we’ve planned plenty of more adventurous self drive routes for clients over the years. (We also have strong opinions on where and when you shouldn’t do a self drive safari, but I’ll get to that later.)
We offer some sample ‘adventurous’ tours on our website. These are not really out-there (there is no real point in doing a sample web tour for a target audience of about ten people). But they do visit remote areas and involve plenty of driving on gravel roads. Believe me, when you haven’t seen another car on the road for an hour, that feels pretty off the track!
This adventurous self-drive safari combines game-viewing at two contrasting game reserves. The rugged Mashatu Game Reserve and the beautiful Entabeni Game Reserve – along with scenic touring in the highlands of Tzaneen and the Blyde River Canyon. You also have the option of adding a safari in the magnificent Kruger. Its unusual in that you travel on tar roads for most of the trip. Yet you travel through some of the most remote and authentic parts of South Africa. You can also easily add a couple of days in the remote Soutpansberg region to explore authentic Venda culture and crafts. There are a number of Fair Trade lodges to stay at.
This self-drive safari holiday offers some of KwaZulu Natal’s highlights: excellent game-viewing; relaxing on the Indian Ocean beaches, touring the Natal Battlefields, and walking or scenic touring in the Drakensberg mountains. It’s an enjoyable mixture of discovery and gourmet delights amidst breathtaking scenery.
Now we start to get into more adventurous self drive options as we head into the Kalahari… Experience the contrast between cosmopolitan Cape Town and the Cape Winelands and the stark beauty of the Kalahari Desert and Augrabies Falls on this self drive safari.
Scenic Safari & Beach is a fairly easy self-drive safari but travels to some more remote areas of South Africa. It offers a winning combination of two different safari experiences plus scenic touring through the Blyde River Canyon and Swaziland and ends with 4 nights relaxation at a stunning beach lodge.
This three week adventurous self drive safari offers a great contrast between cosmopolitan Cape Town followed by some of the scenic highlights of the West Coast and then takes you up through Namaqualand and into Namibia, visiting the dunes of Sossusvlei, Damaraland and Etosha before ending in Windhoek. The driving is tougher as there are plenty of gravel roads.
This luxury Namibia self drive combines general touring with a superb safari experience, and is ideal for the first time visitor. Highlights include Etosha National Park, Damaraland, Swakopmund, the dunes of Sossusvlei and game-viewing in the Kalahari.
Other options for adventurous self drive safaris in Namibia and South Africa?
We are also happy to tailor-make a road trip to more remote areas. Its not very common so we dont show sample tours on our website but we can easily cost it up for you:
Driving along the Caprivi strip into northern Botswana (Kasane) or even Victoria Falls – This is a great trip but you will pay a hefty surcharge to drop the car in Kasane or Victoria Falls. Sorry, but the car rental companies set the rules
Exploring the northern Limpopo area around the Soutpansberg.
Driving from Namibia into Botswana to Maun – This is quite popular as you save a lot on flights but a couple of words of warning. You will still need to park your rental car in Maun and take a fly-in safari into the Delta. You cannot really get to where you want to go unless you are an experienced 4 x 4 driver. And have the right (expensive to rent) vehicle and are travelling in season
Driving through southern Mozambique perhaps combining it with the Kruger
Exploring the Northern Cape
Where we DON’T do self drive safari itineraries…
However we have no desire to try to find clients stranded in the Namibian desert with no food and water. So we don’t offer the following sometimes-asked for areas, simply because of the likelihood of getting stuck and the severity of the problem/delay if you do!
Most of Mozambique – the roads become very bad north of Imhabane. There are scenic northern routes from the Kruger National Park into Northern Mozambique which you can do in convoy as part of a guided 4 x 4 self drive trip with a group of fellow travellers. But as a standalone option, we don’t recommend it….
Self-drive safari into the Okavango Delta – again this is for experienced 4 x 4 drivers only, usually travelling in groups. Typically 3 or 4 South African couples might do this together. The roads are very sandy in the dry season and impassable and water-logged in summer. You need to know what you are doing!
Northern Kaokoveld in Namibia – many adventurous souls do drive up there in car rental vehicles but the roads are a mix of sand and a lot of rock and so it’s easy to wreck your rental car and then you could be stuck for many hours, even a day, as it’s so remote.
Zambia self drive safari – simply because we don’t know it for self-drive and frankly the distances between the game parks are too great (and the country too flat)to make it an attractive mode of travel.
Zimbabwe self drive safari – this is a tricky one as we used to do many self-drive trips into Zimbabwe many years ago. There is no real reason why this is not possible to do again except that there are a number of police road blocks which would be disconcerting and unnerving for most clients.
Check out our other blogs about self drive in Namibia and South Africa