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Just Tripping – Making The Most Of Your South African Road Trip

Road trip in South Africa

Taking a South African road trip should be on everyone’s bucket list. We have great weather, magnificent beaches, breathtaking mountains and abundant wildlife reserves. We also have a wide variety of accommodation options – from 5-star luxury in international chain hotels to budget friendly local B&Bs.

When you add these attractions to three award-winning international airports, numerous regional airports, and a (largely!) well-maintained road network spanning almost 750 000kms, it’s not hard to see why South Africa attracts over 10 million international tourists every year.

While many of these tourists choose to base their stay in one particular city or area, others opt to hire a car and hit the road! Exploring a country by road is definitely one of the best ways to really experience its true character and beauty. With the largest road network of any country on the continent, South Africa is the perfect place to discover from the comfort of your car.

Ramp Up Your Road Code

South Africa has a great road infrastructure, and driving conditions are usually really good. So if you have a bit of basic common driving sense, you’ll have no problems doing a self-drive holiday through our beautiful country. Knowledge, however, is power, so here’s a bit of road knowledge to give you a better idea of how to plan your routes.

South Africa has over 16 000kms of National roads. You’ll recogise these from the letter “N” and then a number – the N1 and N2, for example, from Cape Town, the N3 from Durban to Johannesburg and the N6 from East London to Bloemfontein.

We also have Metropolitan freeways, which are designated with an “M,” and Provincial Main Roads, identified with the letter “R,” such as the R21 from OR Tambo International Airport to Pretoria, and the R27 from Cape Town to Upington.

These major arterial roads are supplemented by a massive network of secondary roads, which can either be gravel or surfaced, and which are designated with a number. There are actually around 300 000kms of excellent “country” gravel roads that can easily be negotiated with a normal two-wheel-drive vehicle, and another 170 000kms of roads (surfaced and non-surfaced) in urban areas that are also in great driving condition.

Even most of the unclassified roads in rural areas are fine for two-wheel drive vehicles (except in very wet weather), although you will definitely encounter some bumps, lumps and potholes! There are actually only a few roads in the entire country that are exclusively four-wheel drive. Even most of those in the National Parks and other game reserves are fine for normal cars.

Helpful Hacks For A Happy Holiday

If you’re planning a South African road trip, we’re very excited for you!! We know you’re going to have a wonderful time and will fall in love with our beautiful country. There are a couple of things you might not know about driving in South Africa, so to help you prepare fully for your trip, here are a few helpful holiday hacks and hints:

Download Before You Hit The Road

In some of the more remote places in South Africa, data speeds are slow. In fact, you may not have 4G at all, or even a cellphone signal, for that matter. So, before you leave home, download to your smartphone any maps you might need for your holiday. And make sure your Maps app is as up to date as possible. Even in those areas where you have connectivity, road names may have changed.

Rules Are Cool

Yes, we know you’re on holiday. But a hefty fine for a traffic violation could put a dent in your spending money so it’s worth take a few minutes to brush up on local road rules and regs:

  • Carry your international and national driver’s licenses with you whenever you’re driving. You will definitely need both these documents in order to hire a car in the first place.
  • We drive on the left-hand side of the road in South Africa. On dual carriageways and highways, keep in the left-hand lane and use the right-hand lane for overtaking.
  • All speed limits are in kilometres – 120 kms/hr on major routes (although slower speeds are common in high accident zones or when passing through towns or villages), 100kms/hr on secondary roads, and 60kms/hr on urban roads.
  • It is compulsory to wear seatbelts in the front and back seats.
  • Talking on your phone while driving is illegal unless you have Bluetooth or a hands-free kit.
  • The maximum legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05%.
  • Four-way stops are common. The first vehicle to arrive should be the first to leave, but this is not always adhered to. Drive cautiously through these intersections.
  • At roundabouts, give way to the right. Again, exercise caution as driver’s don’t always observe this rule.

Learn The Lingo

No, don’t panic! There are 11 official languages in South Africa, but English is widely spoken and understood. There are, however, a few unique “South-Africanisms” you may encounter on our roads…

  • Robots – This is actually what we call traffic lights! So if someone tells you to “turn left at the robot,” don’t think he’s lost his mind!
  • Bakkie – the local word for a utility vehicle or pick up truck.
  • Minibus taxi – the 15-seater vehicles that make up the majority of South Africa’s public transport system.
  • Padkos – collective term for food and drink for your road trip.
  • Takkies – usually a term for sports shoes or trainers. However, it is sometimes used to describe vehicle tyres – “look at the takkies on that bakkie!”

Being Po-light

You might find that sometimes, motorists coming towards you flash their headlights. This most commonly means that you are approaching a speed trap so should slow down. It could also, however, mean there is another hazard coming your way. Perhaps a herd of cattle or goats crossing the road. This is actually quite common, especially in more rural areas.

Drivers often also flash their lights if they are coming up behind you at speed and want you to move over (to the left) to allow them to pass. Often, on single lane, long distance roads, motorists will temporarily move over onto the hard shoulder to allow the faster vehicle to pass. This is not the law, and is not even strictly allowed, but is a common practice. It should only ever be done, however, when the hard shoulder is clear for a long way. And of course, should never be attempted on a blind incline.

If a driver pulls over for you to pass, it’s customary to thank him by switching on your emergency indicators for a couple of flashes. He will then usually acknowledge your thanks with a quick flash of his headlights.

More Helpful Information

There are some very useful websites you can visit to find out more about road travel in South Africa, as well as some general safety hints and tips and other really handy info:


If you’re looking for a car hire company to start your South African road trip off in style, chat to SA Car Hire.  With over 20 years in the business, you can trust us to make your holiday in our beautiful country a truly memorable one.