The Ultimate South Africa Travelguide for Female Solo Travellers: Part V - Drakensberg, St.Lucia, Eswatini, Krüger & Johannesburg
The Ultimate South Africa Guide for Female Solo Travelers: Part V - Drakensberg, St. Lucia, Eswatini, Krüger & Johannesburg
The last leg of your perfect South Africa Roadtrip, or the first one?
If you start in Johannesburg, this may be the start and the whole itinerary also works the other way around. So just click on my other guides down below to check out the route all the way to Cape Town!
Drakensberg, St. Lucia, Eswatini, Krüger & Johannesburg
There are many ways to explore this area, but if you want the real deal, this route will cover everything there is to see. The more time the better, but 1 to 2 weeks are the minimum you will need to cover the way from Durban via Drakensberg and St. Lucia to Johannesburg.
Backpackers are a bit less frequent here, especially around St. Lucia and Swaziland but there are still accommodations for all kind of budgets. You will find the fanciest safari lodges alongside homestays; WiFi works at the better guesthouses but is wonky in cheaper places or more remote areas. The roads are generally really good, just make sure you're staying on the main roads or only go off if you fancy an off-road adventure.
How to travel
The Baz-Bus won't run in this area. You can get to Drakensberg and there is a shuttle to St. Lucia, but generally not many backpackers without a car make it to this area. Which is a shame, but also gives you the opportunity to explore it with no crowds at all! The panorama route is an exception as many tour companies go here for day trips from Joburg, but especially Eswatini is empty and it spreads nicely in St. Lucia. As everywhere, don't drive at night as potholes and people on the road, or animals like Hippos!, can make it really dangerous. It’s mainly all tarmac outside of the national parks, where it can get muddy after a rainy day.
History / Nature / Culture
This itinerary takes you through so many different areas that it’s hard to just put one label on it. The Drakensberg is famous for its crazy beautiful mountains with the chance to head over to Lesotho, where you can explore a whole new country if you're up for that. St. Lucia is part of Zululand, the home of the Zulu tribe and you will once again find a different kind of culture. The special thing here are the hippos that roam around freely and can may even be seen in the garden of your guesthouse! If you drive to Krüger through Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, you will once again find yourself in another country with its own culture and history and a landscape that is diverse in hills and grassland. The very famous Krüger National Park is bigger than you probably think it is. It’s basically all flat and green with every animal you can think of, when it comes to Africa, living in it. Johannesburg has a bad reputation for its crimes, but a long and very interesting history regarding the Apartheid area and its status today.
The same safety rules as everywhere in South Africa apply. If you're driving be aware of the fog that can come up in the mountains and the fast weather changes. If you're hiking, make sure to check the forecast and sign in with the orders before every hike, they will stop you if you didn't do it or if a certain area is closed down. Down in St. Lucia you are not allowed to walk during the night or exit the car as Hippos are roaming the streets (yes, seriously!) and if you drive up the police, they are pretty corrupt so make sure to talk to your hosts beforehand how the situation is like at the moment. If you do a self-drive safari in Krüger, the rules are very clear to not leave your vehicle for obvious reasons and in Johannesburg be extra careful of your car and stay in crowded areas, leave your valuables in a safe place and don't go out alone after dark.
All the areas covered are listed here:
- Southern Drakensberg/ Underberg
- Northern Drakensberg
- St. Lucia
Everything you need to know about Durban in part III -> Durban
Underberg / Southern Drakensberg
If you drive up from the south, the first part of the epic Drakensberg mountain range will be the southern part which lies close to the border to Lesotho. Underberg is the biggest town in the region with loads of guesthouses and just a twenty-minute drive to Sanipass where you can go hiking. The town itself is a bit dodgy but has everything you need with shops and a gas station, restaurants and a lake nearby.
What to do
The main reason why you should visit the Drakensberg region is of course the beautiful mountain landscape and the best way to explore that is by hiking. Underberg is also the starting point to pass Sanipass and visit the world highest pub, make a day trip to a new country, Lesotho, or sleep in caves on multi-way hikes across the border. If that's not really your thing, you can always enjoy the epic view from the ground while sipping on a glass of wine.
What’s better than a whole mountain cabin for yourself?! The Bergview log cabin is a short drive from central Underberg, fully emerged in nature with cattle as neighbours and a big garden to your own use. No matter if you're looking for a romantic getaway or for a place that can accommodate your whole family, there is enough space with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a spacious kitchen with a lounge area. There even is a playground outside for kids and you can make your own braii on the stunning wooden veranda. You'll also get a housekeeper who does the cleaning and makes sure everything is to your needs; she lives downstairs so whenever you have a question you really don't have to go far.
Rates start at 330 Rand per person with a minimum charge of 1980 Rand.
Moorcroft is a place like no other. The moment you take a turn into the beautiful alley driveway to the enormous mansion you can feel the love the owners put into this place. Every room is light and spacious with parking right in front, the restaurant serves amazing fresh food that is vegan and veggie friendly while the most breathtaking thing lies just outside your veranda. The property is so big you can go on a run - there even is a little lake and a natural swimming pool. Waking up with a view directly to Sanipass (and the road that leads there is just five minutes away) you never want to leave. If you feel like treating yourself, this is the place to go!
Rates start at 7000 Rand for a deluxe double room.
While the south is stunning, the north is the real reason why people visit the Drakensberg. It is simply called the berg and famous for its fast weather changes, hiking tracks for all levels with epic views over the valley and stone structures.
What to do
The Royal Natal National Park offers you multiple hiking tracks including the famous Amphitheatre. You have to pay the entrance fee which is used to preserve the delicate nature and sign in at the checkpoints for every hike which serves your own safety in case of an emergency. Due to the fast weather change, always talk to locals and check the forecast as some paths are closed when its rainy or foggy. But even if you're designated hike isn't possible on that day, there are others who are available in all conditions, just ask the staff.
In the middle of nowhere, close to the entry gate to the Royal Natal National Park you will find a backpackers - the only one in the whole region. The Amphitheatre Backpackers offers a variety of different rooms for all budgets and kinds of travellers. It marks the perfect starting point to explore the region and is very well equipped with a restaurant with great food, even though pretty small portions and expensive price, a bar, hot-tub, sauna, pool and a huge lounge area inside and outside. If you're on your own, you will definitely meet people here or maybe even some that crossed your path before as nearly all backpackers that go this far will stop here at one point. They also offer guided hikes (as you should never hike alone) for a reasonable price.
Rates start at 240 Rand for a dorm.
No, not the island in the Caribbean! A small village on the eastern south coast of South Africa with a very unique vibe, small restaurants, beautiful guesthouses, a national park, pristine beaches and the best thing: wild hippos! Around 240km from Durban, a mix between jungle and dunes with so much to do, that the chances for you to stay longer than you originally planned are pretty high. As the backpacker buses don't stop here, you mostly get a calmer, older audience here who enjoy this little paradise that offers everything you can wish for at one place. This is the place to wind down, slowly explore the nature and go with the flow.
What to do
There is so much to do in St. Lucia that you could spend weeks here, but as most of us only have a few days these are the things you definitely shouldn't miss out.
Beach walk and Hippo spotting
You can park your car just at the start of the boardwalk to the beach and follow it through the woods until you arrive at the dunes. Make sure you come here for sunset - you won't be disappointed and may see the most beautiful one you will ever come across! There is a restaurant on the way which is quite decent and has a few vegan options if you fancy dinner after the sundowner. The most important thing to do here actually just starts when you're done with dinner: take your car and just drive through the village for 15 minutes, don't walk as it’s not safe, and you will definitely spot wild hippos walking along the roads eaten the grass along the way! This is definitely a one in a lifetime experience! Where else can you just see wild hippos just a few inches from your car? They are enormous and can be dangerous, so please don't exit the car, keep your distance.ce and observe them from inside.
There are countless boat tours available. Make sure to ask your host which one they can recommend and who offers an animal friendly approach as some tend to get way too close to the animals. All of them start at the pier just next to the river that takes you into St. Lucia and you will see dozens of hippos in the water, maybe even babies, crocodiles and all kinds of birds. Even if you're not the tour person, this is totally worth it and you won't be disappointed.
Self-Drive Safari iSimangaliso-Wetland-Park
In the east lies the iSamngaliso Wetland Park which has the biggest lake in South Africa and the second highest forest dune in the world! You can spot all kind of deers, zebras, sometimes an elephant from afar and water buffalos in here. The hippos tend to be in the water, but these can be spotted in the village anyway. It’s a pretty straight drive that ends in Cape Vidal where you can go for a swim. But be careful of the monkeys as they are pretty reckless here and will try everything to steal your food.
A self-catering holiday home with three bedrooms and a swimming pool - perfect for families or friends on a getaway weekend. Beautifully decorated with a focus on little details, a spacious kitchen, living and dining room with a lounge outside to enjoy the green surroundings. The owners are really nice and will help you with everything you need!
Rates start at 1600 Rand
At the western end of the village Little Eden is another self catering lodge that offers multiple cottages with two bedrooms, kitchen, living room and a big garden that can cater your whole family or friends. Its a bit more casual than Pelican`s Nest but has everything you need with loads of space and the garden even has a braii for your own barbecue evening. The mosquitos here are crazy, so make sure to bring enough repellent.
Rates upon request
A beautiful lodge just next to Little Eden and a short drive away from the beach, multiple self-catering units, a spacious garden and a swimming pool overviewing the jungle that keeps the village from the ocean. Two bedrooms, a bathroom with a bathtub, a gorgeous kitchen and a dining / living room area that you have all for yourself. There even is a treehouse in the garden and a trampoline where you can watch baby monkeys playing in the morning! You can really feel St. Lucias special vibe here; the owners do their very best to make you happy and you get a map with all the attractions at check-in. If you fancy snorkelling, they also have some masks you can borrow!
Rates start at 950 Rand
If you prefer a guesthouse over a self-catering unit, St. Lucia Wetlands Guesthouse is the place to go! A stunning villa with the combination of white walls, dark wood and greenery all around offering spacious rooms with beautiful bathrooms right in the middle of the village. They serve breakfast every morning on a big buffet where you will find everything you need; vegan and veggie options are available. If you fancy a dip, there is a swimming pool and your car is washed every morning!
Rates start at 850 Rand
Formerly known as Swaziland, it borders South Africa in the east and lies in between SA and Mozambique. It is one of the smallest countries in Africa and if coming from the south, the best way to get to Krüger is through it. So why not add another country to your road trip? Make sure you mention that you're planning to border cross with your rental car when you pick it up, you can totally do it, but you need to inform them beforehand. The country itself is still developing and has one of the lowest life expectancies worldwide, the highest AIDS rate and a struggling economy. Nonetheless it is absolutely beautiful and absolutely worth visiting. It’s also way safer than South Africa and the currency is bound to the South African Rand (many places also accept Rand). Crossing from SA is rather easy: you show up at the border point, get your passport stamped, fill out a form for your vehicle, pay for it and done. But make sure you plan around an hour for the crossing each way.
What to do
The country offers multiple stunning hiking tracks, a tribal culture you can experience first-hand if you want to and a landscape rich in flora. Even if you don't have enough time to truly explore and just drive through with an overnight stop or two, it will impress you nonetheless.
One of the best places to stay all over Southern Africa! Even if you just come to Eswatini for this place, it’s absolutely worth it. Beautiful bungalows with a view over the mountains, fairy lights during the night and the restaurant caters incredible food served with great wine. If it’s warm enough, you can sit outside on the spacious veranda; they also have a pool and the breakfast buffet also has vegan options. Everyone here is incredibly friendly and it’s quite easy to find at the end of the road.
Rates start at 915 Rand
One of the biggest and most famous national parks in all of Africa - the Krüger National Park! Multiple entry points are there to choose from and you could probably spend days and weeks inside of the park. There is a lot to do around and inside: you can either stay in one of the official safari camps inside or choose one at the borders. The fauna here is extraordinary, and even outside of the park you will find wild animals like hyenas or zebras!
What to do
The main reason why you want the visit Greater Krüger Area, of course, are the safaris. You can spot the big five and have the unique choice between doing a guided tour or take your own car and do a self-drive safari! Yes, exactly, self-drive. As with all the national parks, you`re not allowed to exit the car as wild animals are roaming around, but you can drive through the whole park on your own. There are so many routes to choose from and a day is definitely not enough time; make sure you're there early and stay until the end as most animals are spotted during sunrise or sunset. Watch the clock as you have to be out by the time it closes. But don't go over the speed limits as elephants, giraffes, baboons or hyenas like to cross the road especially when it gets dark. Either stay inside the park (you can also stay at designated campsites if you're on a budget) or choose a camp outside of the gate. Most of them also offer guided safaris, so if you're opting for that, as it can be hard to spot everything by yourself, check with them what is available. The park is a must, no matter if it’s sunny or rainy; some animals can even be seen more often on a bad weather day, so don't quit your trip just because it is raining.
A ten-minute drive from the Orpen gate, the Timbavati Lodge welcomes you with huts or huge safari tents, great food and a bar / pool area that sometimes even gets a visit from zebras or a hyena! There are no dangerous animals on the property, but as its placed in the bush you can get visits from wildlife regularly. If you are looking for a game drive, they offer all kind of safaris - just hit them up for rates! Their new, huge tents are equipped with everything you need, including a bathroom, a desk and a veranda.
Rates start at 950 Rand per person.
Tomjachu Bush Retreat
If you're coming top South Africa, no matter what your plans are, this place is an absolute must and probably the most beautiful place you can stay anywhere near the Panorama Route. They have their own, huge game reserve with wild giraffes, zebras and smaller animals on the property that you can either explore by foot or with one of their guides. It’s such a unique, peaceful getaway in the middle of the bush with mountains and lakes, beautiful rooms and food that is absolutely extraordinary. Make sure to try their house wine, you won't be disappointed! The employees are absolute sweethearts that make you feel like you're at home and are there for you if you need any kind of help.
Rates start at 1370 Rand
What to do
Roadtrip! The Panorama Route is the perfect one- or two-day road trip along some of the most pristine landscapes in the country. It’s relatively safe, will blow your mind with its beauty and there are several different stops along the way. If you don't have your own car and come from Johannesburg, there are also tours that will take you on a day trip. There are several small villages around like Pilgrim`s Rest or Graskop where you can stay for a night or just go for lunch in between. There are several stops along the way, like the Three Rondavels, God`s Window and smaller attractions.
The main attraction is this huge canyon that inhabits leopards, hippos and all kind of wildlife. You can either enjoy it from above or take a boat tour in the river that flows through it!
Bourkes Luck Potholes
This place is named after Tom Bourke who found a bit of gold here and it’s a beautiful, a bit surreal landscape with potholes and a canyon that slowly goes into Blyde a bit further down.
If you made it this far, you have probably heard a lot about this city. It has a bad reputation but still many South Africans move here for work as there are the most jobs. There are some areas you should go around. But honestly the city has much more to offer than what they say. If you hang out in the right neighbourhoods, are precautious and open for anything, you may even like Joburg a bit. People say it’s dirty, but if you've ever been to Asia or other African countries you'll know that this is basically very clean.
What to do
There are several monuments and the famous bridge to visit. A township tour through Sowjeto is another thing you can do. So if you want to, you can easily spend a week there. But even if you only got one or two days, there is one thing you definitely shouldn't miss and that's the Apartheid Museum.
We all know about South Africa’s history, but it’s another story to see the place it all happened and how it affected the people first-hand. Joburg’s Apartheid Museum is one of the best you will ever visit: interactive activities, a well thought-through exhibition and a diverse representation of the Apartheid system and its effects on society. Even if you only got two hours, this is totally worth the trip!
Where you're staying will make the difference here, so make sure to choose wisely! There are a few well-known hostels with a big community and guided tours; these are probably the best places to really enjoy Joburg.
A huge, stunning hostel and bar in a modern, very edgy and hip neighbourhood with everything you're looking for. They got dorms and private rooms, a pool, a kitchen for your own use with a balcony and a public bar where you will always find new friends to hang with. The place actually has a really cool history: it is called the Hide Out Bar cause famous activists used this bar as a safe hiding place where they could talk in private and hide from the government; rumours say that even Nelson Mandela used to come here.
Rates start at 180 Rand per night for a dorm
Where to eat
A burger joint with a big menu with vegan and vegetarian options. They got two branches in town: one in Melville and one in Greenside. Both got a nice, dark and urban interior. The food is nice, not extraordinary, but the vegan cheeseburger tastes great while the wedges could have been a bit smaller and crispier.
This is the end of my South Africa series, for now! If you got any questions, feel free to leave a comment.
You can find the other parts here: