Top 5 Self-Drive Winter Destinations in South Africa

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Monday, 2nd December 2013

When winter sets in, most of us choose to hibernate indoors with a good bottle of red wine, blankets and hours of movies. The thought of packing up the car, throwing caution to the wind and setting off on the road trip of a lifetime round some of Southern Africa’s most beautiful, off-the-beaten-track destinations isn’t quite as appealing as it is during the warmer summer months.

There’s something to be said though for travelling in winter: cheaper accommodation and winter specials, less crowded destinations and flickering log fires in cosy cabins with lashings of hot comfort food.

Here is my pick of top 5 winter self-drive destinations in South Africa:

1.Coastal Route

Renowned for its great beaches, malaria-free parks and reserves, wildlife and proud heritage and culture, the Eastern Cape offers tourists everything from extreme action sports to gentle flower trails, heritage museums, game reserves and parks. The Coastal Route covers the entire length of the Eastern Cape Province stretching across a number of districts, including the beautiful Wild Coast which is wonderful during the winter months when the temperatures are mild and the sparse scenery is at some of its most beautiful.

Travellers can enjoy some of the best winter hikes, horse trails, fly-fishing and mountain biking along the wild coast as well as in the Amathole Mountains, stretching from Stutterheim in the west to Adelaide in the east, amongst many other great attractions.

 2. Maloti Drakensberg Route

The breathtaking Maloti Mountains in the Kingdom of Lesotho feature the highest peak in Southern Africa (and the highest in Africa south of the Kilimanjaro) as well as some of the oldest rock paintings in Southern Africa, with some sites dating back 27,000 years. The art is sophisticated both in detail and depth of meaning, with animal images being a major symbolic element. It is found mainly in caves and on rock overhangs in the range.

Travellers on this route can enjoy beautiful hikes of the mountains when the peaks are not covered in snow and avid fly-fishermen can enjoy some top-class trout fishing in one of the country’s most pristine and unspoilt locations. Don’t forget to pack your passport!

3. Clarens Route

Situated just a comfortable three-hour journey from Johannesburg and nestled in the arms of the Maluti Mountain range, the charming little village of Clarens, nicknamed “The Jewel of the Free State”, overlooks fertile farmlands amidst stunning landscapes, with Lesotho, the mountain kingdom, visible in the distance. The nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park is named for its unusual sandstone cliffs which turn golden in the rays of the setting sun and is a must-see while in the area.

Not surprising, in view of the beauty of its surroundings, Clarens has become a haven of tranquillity for artists, solitude seekers and nature lovers both from South Africa and abroad. It offers various outdoor pursuits, such as birding, hiking trails, horse riding, 4×4 trails, trout and bass fishing, golf, tennis, squash, bowls and clay pigeon shooting.

Ok, it gets pretty cold but the days are mostly bathed in warm winter sunbeams and breathtaking views await your every turn. For the log cabin, crackling fire and woolly-blanket-lovers, this route is a must!

4. Elephant Coast Route

The warmer, temperate climate of the Kwa-Zulu Natal coastline is the perfect place to enjoy some winter sunshine and the Elephant Coast Route is our pick for this region.

The route stretches from St Lucia in the south to Kosi Bay in the north, across to the Lubombo Mountains in the west and includes the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. Although a relatively small area, not only is it home to the traditional Big Five, but also offers all that the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park has to offer, including whales, turtles, protected reefs and pristine, protected coastline. An area world-renowned for conservation, untamed wilderness and unparalleled diversity, the huge variety of habitats and eco-systems are linked and inter-connected, creating a place where visitors are truly spoilt for choice.

Winters are never cold and temperatures rarely drop below 17°C during the day. Warm jackets are advisable for game drives in the mornings or evenings though.

5. Rixile Culture to Kruger Route

Anyone who has ever travelled through Limpopo will know these few things: Its beauty is like that of nowhere else in South Africa, it’s warm almost all year round and you can buy truckloads of dried mango strips and macadamia nuts for an absolute bargain!

But the delicious local produce is not all that this lush province has to offer its visitors. Driving along the Rixile Culture to Kruger Route, travellers will pass through the towns of Phalaborwa and Giyani and realise that there is plenty to be enjoyed in these ancient lands.

Winter is one of the best times for game viewing in the nearby Kruger National Park when the grass is low and water holes are scarce, attracting wildlife in great numbers. With everything from star gazing evenings and wilderness hiking trails to river safaris on the Olifants River followed by a lekker traditional South African braai (barbeque) on the shore of the river afterwards, it doesn’t get much better than this.

By Claire Allison 9/7/2012

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