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The ultimate South African road trip

Taking to the highway may be a deeply American tradition, but South Africa elevates it to a new high.

Stay a few hours for an easy walk to the suspension bridge and lookout, or a few days for a longer hike along the park’s excellent trail network, with rest huts to stay in along the way. 


The Owl House

The Owl House, located in the tiny, isolated village of Nieu-Bethesda, deep in the arid Karoo region, is out of the way but worth the trip. It was the home of Helen Martins, who decorated the grounds with hundreds of sculptures of owls and other creatures, mainly fabricated from cement and broken bottles, before killing herself in 1976 by drinking caustic soda when her eyesight began to fail. She is now a respected outsider artist, and as per her wishes, the house is a museum. It’s creepy but fascinating.

While in Nieu-Bethesda, go for a stroll around the village, which has a bohemian feel and is home to many artists. At the Sneeuberg Brewery and Two Goats Deli, you can buy locally brewed Karoo ale, as well as goats’ cheese and kudu salami. 

Address: River Street, Nieu-Bethesda. The village is located 34 miles from the town of Graaff-Reinet, which is good place to stay overnight and also worth exploring.

On your GPS, Nieu-Bethesda is at: S 31 52′ 0″ E 24 33′ 0″

Phone: +27 (0) 49 841 1733

Open: daily from 9am to 5pm

Advance booking required? No

Price: Entry fee of R25 ($3.25) per person

How much time to allow: At least an hour for the Owl House, and another hour or two for the village. Stay for lunch, or stay overnight for a truly relaxing break from urban life.

Franschhoek picnic

One of the highlights of a trip in South Africa is the superb, inexpensive South African wine (condolences to the designated driver). The winelands, which are mainly centered on the pretty towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, are not to be missed.

Franschhoek is my favorite, starting with the dramatic drive down the Franschhoek pass into the picturesque valley town lined with some of the country’s best restaurants (pricey for South Africa, but a bargain if you’re used to New York or London). Wineries throughout the valley offer tastings at little to no cost, but another way to enjoy the scenery, food and drink is to book a picnic.

Not all wineries offer picnics, so try Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards, which offers a picnic basket service from its rustic Country Kitchen restaurant.  You can eat while enjoying Mont Rochelle’s fabulous views of the valley. 

Address: Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek.

On your GPS, Mont Rochelle is at: S 33 54’52.1” E 019 6’21.9”

Phone: +27 (0) 21 876 2770

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Advance booking required? Advisable, especially on the weekends when Capetonians book up all the best places well in advance.

Price:  Ranging from R290 ($38) for a picnic basket for two to R450 ($59) for two, depending on whether you want rustic but refined country fare or gourmet items such as oysters and tiger prawns.

How much time to allow: A few hours for a leisurely lunch. You can also arrange a wine tasting at any time, or take a cellar tour at 11, 12:30 and 3pm (ask in advance).

Casual but classy dress is advised.


Kalk Bay fish and chips

The drive from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope is stunning. After the surfing hotspot of Muizenberg, the road hugs the coastline all the way to Africa’s most southwesterly point, taking you through tiny towns along the water. You will want to stop and visit the penguins at Boulders Beach in Simons Town, but the best place for lunch is the nearby fishing town of Kalk Bay.

Now full of cafes and antique shops, a remnant of its fishing past is Kalky’s, an extremely local fish and chips joint right on the water at Kalk Bay Harbour.  It's fresh and informal. Next to the restaurant you’ll walk past fishermen cleaning and selling their daily catch, and harbor seals popping up in the water hoping for a scrap.

Address: Kalk Bay Harbour

On your GPS, Kalky’s is at: -34.1319515 | 18.4436904

Phone:  + 27 (0) 21 788 1726

Website: none

Hours/days of opening: Daily from 10am to 8pm

Advance booking required? No

Price: R30 ($3.95) for basic fish and chips.  Beer and wine available.

How much time to allow:  Less than an hour – service is speedy

Special equipment, experience or dress: Extremely casual dress. Line up at the inside counter to order your meal and pay, and then pick a table.