Getting Around South Africa

When we were making our original plans for our world trip, South Africa had made the short list for places we wanted to visit. In doing further research, we read that crossing the equator can add significant cost to the price of flights. As South Africa was our only destination south of the equator, we crossed it off in pencil.

So when our travel agent at Airtreks.com told us that it wouldn’t cost much more to include South Africa we made a quick decision to add it to our itinerary. Since we didn’t know much up front about travel destinations in South Africa, we booked ourselves to fly in and out of Johannesburg just because it seemed like a big, safe city to fly into. As we travelled for the first 10 weeks, we met a few travelers from South Africa who all recommended getting out of Johannesburg and spending time on the coast in either Cape Town or Durban. We figured that it wouldn’t be a problem to get to the coast during our two weeks in South Africa: we could easily see Jo’burg, head to Cape Town and Durban, and head back up to Jo’burg to fly out. We were wrong.

After spending 2.5 months getting around Asian countries with relative ease, we were a little surprised how much harder it was to do in South Africa. Prior to our arrival in South Africa, we did look into getting around by train. We had found it very easy to travel in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand via train and figured it would be the same in South Africa. When we looked at the train from Jo’burg to Cape Town, we found out it was not the cheapest ride – more a luxury train – and it was sold out. The trip also took 26 hours and when we only had 14 days in the country, spending 2 of them in the train, while the scenery would have been nice, was not the way we wanted to spend our time.

The Baz Bus is another option in South Africa and it is designed for budget travelers. You pay a flat rate for a period of time and can hop on and off the bus anywhere on the main tourist trail in South Africa. It’s great for travelers who are there for a long period of time as it will take a little longer to get from one place to another, but it wasn’t going to work for our schedule.

Surprisingly for us, even in Jo’burg, public transit was almost non-existent. There are mini-taxis that travel most of the city, but no busses or metro that connect with each other (though there is a metro that will get you to downtown Jo’burg and Pretoria, but it tends to service tourists more than locals because of the destinations). Whenever they try to bring public buses on the road, they are quickly damaged (burned, broken glass, etc.) by the mini-taxi drivers who don’t want to lose business. These mini-taxies are basically large vans that should carry about 12 passengers but often have double that or more. We have enjoyed taking different forms of travel on our trip, but the mini-taxi was one that we had zero interest in trying out.

We quickly realized that our best option to maximize our time in South Africa was to rent a vehicle to get around. We had also done some research into safaris in Africa and had learned that doing a self-drive safari on our own would be a much more affordable option, and South Africa’s Kruger National Park was probably one of the most organized and easy parks to drive through.

We spent the first day in Joburg relaxing at our guest house, Bob’s Bunkhouse, and doing research to figure out our plan for our two weeks in South Africa.

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So, we knew a vehicle rental was the way we were going, but then had to figure out if we rent just a regular car, a 4×4, or a camper van. We have done many road trips together including our 2 week honeymoon down to California and then back up the coastal highway, the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne in a camper van, and recently, a 6 week, 13,500 km trip all around Canada and the US before starting our world adventure. (One day we’ll have to blog about those adventures too).

After getting all the quotes and discussing things, we decided to go with the Wicked camper van. We bounced back and forth about the decision as our budget was a concern and South Africa was looking to be a more expensive country than we expected. In the end, because the camper van allowed us the opportunity to prepare our own meals and sleep in the van, thus saving the costs of restaurants and finding accommodations, we figured it was the better option for us. In addition, the cheaper rental cars in South Africa come with manual transmission. The automatic cars were about 2-3000 Rand more ($1 = about 7.75 Rand). The Wicked vans were all automatic, and that was one less thing to worry about as we already had to drive on the opposite side of the road. While Charlotte is an experienced standard driver, I would be doing most of the driving and had only driven standard a few times in my life, so I wasn’t really excited to start again in a foreign country for two weeks while also remembering to drive on the opposite side of the road.

Renting a campervan might not be the option of choice for many travelers. Though we are a little older than the stereotypical young, early-twenties, camper van driver, for our budget and travel style, it was the best option for us.

It might not turn out to be the most economical option but hopefully our savings in other areas will justify the costs. At least for us, we were happy to get a Wicked van that was painted moderately and not with some bold hippy statement or racy pictures that we have seen on other similar vehicles.

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Stay tuned for posts from our South Africa adventures!

2 comments to Getting Around South Africa

  • Jan

    Confused about the math. 2-3000 Rand more for automatic x $7.75 per Rand. Phew. I want to travel with you guys. $23000 to get the automatic? I hope it came with air conditioning. And can fly. And is submersible. And cooks your food. I am assuming the driver comes with it.

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