Travel

Durban to Cape Town in 6 Days

posted by Dan Carter June 18, 2016 4 Comments

After completing Comrades, I decided to road-trip down the west coast of South Africa. I had heard about the tranquility of the Transkei and of the swell in Jeffreys Bay but nothing could prepare me for what was to come. I was totally blown away by the sheer diversity of this beautiful country each day that I was on the road. If you are planning a South African road trip, I can highly recommend this route. I was advised against it for many reasons, mainly because time wasn’t on my side (I had to be in Cape Town in 5 days) and driving into the night isn’t really an option. However, you can 100% do this coastal drive in 4 or 5 nights, though I would definitely say the longer take, the better! I’m already planning to come back and spend 3 weeks doing the same drive.

I’ll give you some information on where I stayed but there are so many options available, especially when you get down to the Garden Route where your limit is really only your budget.  I spent the next few days totally speechless but let’s start from the beginning…

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The route would take me 5 days, driving from Umhlanga, a beautiful little residential town just north of Durban and finishing in Cape Town. My first stop would be on the Wild Coast, where I drove 30km down a gravel track from Mthatha. This was a mega drive, taking a total of 7 hours without any stops. I would then head to Jeffrey’s Bay, the last long stretch before my final stop in Knysna, with a drive through to Cape Town early the following morning. If you are undecided between flying and driving, I can wholeheartedly suggest you drive, even (*especially) if you are travelling alone.

Umhlanga was great! I hadn’t planned to stay an extra night in Durban but I needed a pretty relaxed day while my legs were still recovering. I stayed the night at a B&B called Burnham B&B. It was perfect! Located just a couple of minutes drive from the town, it’s a really peaceful spot. The staff are such friendly, beautiful people and had a good laugh mimicking my attempts to walk post Comrades.

  • Umhlanga > Mdumbi (515km/approx. 7 hours of driving)

I left early in the morning, around 8am. Other than stopping for fuel outside Kokstad, I didn’t stop again until I entered Mthatha. If you’ve never been, it can really only be described as beautifully chaotic. Hundreds of taxis, no road markings and thousands of people walking in the street. Traffic lights are merely a spot of colour, not to be confused with actual traffic controls. I should also warn that the roads have changed since Apple’s ‘maps’ were made but after a few laps, side streets and dead-ends, I found my way out and began my journey towards the coast.

As I turned off the highway and headed towards the sea, the roads quickly worsened and turned to gravel. Potholes became more regular, as did the sudden *BANG* on the underneath of my little hire car (as I sheepishly turn up the music). I was absolutely loving it! I drove around 3 hours down these tracks but I was so focused on the road that time flew by. I stopped to let cattle cross and took another look around me. The Transkei is absolutely stunning. Totally natural, isolated and raw. It’s the closest to nature I’ve ever felt. There’s just something so primal and natural about the huts, the livestock and the fresh air. I continued to pass through the Xhosa villages with children walking home from school. Still now, I wonder if I should have stopped and given them a ride but I never did. They waved, I waved back and I drove on.

After several hours of driving, the coastline became closer and closer, the road began to come to an end and there it was, Swell Eco Lodge, an incredible collection of huts set on the rolling hills in Mdumbi. The neighbours smiled and greeted me as I approached the gate before I was met by the owner, Justin. He showed me to my incredible room, complete with a kitchen in the second hut and the most breathtaking view of the wild coast. I briefly lay on my bed, door open and just stared out to sea. “How flipping lucky am I right now?!”. It’s these times that I’ve grown to really savour. It’s times like this that remind me the path I have chosen is the right one. 

I boil the kettle and pour myself a cup of rooibos tea, admiring the sunset. All is calm. Not even a breath of air can break the sound of the waves brushing the shore. Dusk turned to darkness; I sat in wonder as I watched the sky illuminate from the trillions of stars. Never had I seen a sky so crisp and clear.

  • Mdumbi > Jeffreys Bay (625km/approx. 8 hours of driving)

I was really sad to be leaving the Transkei so soon but it was time to move on. I woke up early and once the sun had risen I went on my way, with a smile in my eyes that didn’t leave for the entire trip. The road to Jeffreys Bay was long but I made it in good time. Both Jeffreys Bay and Plettenberg were really great little towns that I would highly recommend visiting. They have their own vibe, such a contrast from anywhere I had ever been, even more so from the Transkei that I had just left. I’d recommend staying somewhere close to East London, such as Chintsa for a night, instead of driving all the way from the Wild Coast to Jeffrey’s bay as it’s quite a journey. In Jeffreys Bay I stayed at another B&B called Stone Olive. It was an idyllic little guesthouse and central in its location. I got very, very lucky yet again.

  • Jeffreys Bay > Knysna (193km/approx. 2 hours of driving)

For the final stop I found myself in Knysna, where I didn’t spend an awful lot of time as there was so much to see along the way. Tsitsikamma and in particular, Storms River are beautiful areas which you must explore if you get the chance. My night in Knysna was at Hideaway B&B, owned by the friendliest and most accommodating couple.

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  • Knysna > Cape Town (488km/approx. 5 hours of driving)

I left Knysna early in the morning to get to Cape Town in good time and was plagued with such a mixture of feelings. I was so excited to get back to town, to see friends and have some time to stop and reflect on the epic journey of the last couple of weeks and yet, I was sad. Sad that this incredible journey was coming to an end. Over such a short space of time I had seen so much variety in culture, landscape and even climate.

I arrived in Cape Town and went straight to my hotel, More Quarters, who were hosting me for the remainder of my trip. It’s located in one of my favourite parts of Cape Town, Tamboerskloof, where I would always recommend staying to get a true feel for the city. I think the pictures say more than words but I had the most amazing stay; The staff were incredible, nothing was too much trouble and the room was spectacular. I had the best week in Cape Town catching up with friends, hiking, exploring and I even managed a little run on the mountain because I couldn’t go home without, right?

This trip across South Africa was one of the greatest adventures I have had. There’s something in the vulnerability of driving through a country alone that keeps me coming back for more. People will tell you driving alone, nearly 2000km around the coast of South Africa is both crazy and stupid. Those who have done it will tell you that the experience will change your life. Choose wisely, think carefully and travel boldly.

Until next time!


If you have any questions about my trip, or you’re thinking about doing something similar, get in touch. I’d love to help!

A huge thank you to Grace for helping me with photos at More Quarters. She’s a super talented photographer from Cape Town and you can check out her beautiful Instagram feed here!

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4 Comments

Greg Vierra June 19, 2016 at 9:22 pm

Your well written and passionate description of your road trip was such a pleasure to read. Because of you, Nicole, Ben, and Karen, I have South Africa on my mind a lot. I’ve checked the cost to fly to Cape Town from San Francisco and it is affordable. I what I really need to know is what are the day-to-day costs of being in South Africa. Food, lodgings, etc. I live on a tight budget so these are critical concerns I’m forced to consider.

I smiled when I read your comments about the distances you were traveling. I’ve taken many road trips in the U.S. and I’m quite used to solo 10-hour plus driving legs. Though, I enjoy traveling with a companion(s) to share the adventure and to lower my out-of-pocket costs. I’m planning a road trip to the east side of California along Hwy 395 next fall. It’s a dramatically/photographically stunning drive. I’ll also drive to southern Utah and northern Arizona. There’s a wealth of canyon lands, slot canyons, former Southwest Indian rock dwellings, parks, hikes, and tons of one-of-a-kind, breath-taking, photographic opportunities. The beauty and spirituality of the American Southwest must be seen as there’s not enough words to adequately describe being in the Southwest U.S.

I’m just going to throw this out there … you’re welcome to join me on this adventure if it appeals to you. We’ve not met and there’s lots to consider. No worries if this doesn’t appeal. 🙂 Over the years, only a few of my European friends were comfortable with long distance drives. I love seeing new sights along each mile of a road trip.

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Natalie Ruiters September 26, 2016 at 6:45 am

Hey Dan, I stumbled upon your blog and experience…sounds amazing! Well written and enticing to make the commitment to take that journey:) haha

I really want to do the trip over 3 days…what you recon? I might be alone, as many think I have lost my mind…why no jump on a plane!

I would be driving alone from Cape Town. From the many discussions, the “worry” is from East London to Durban…said to not be safe…what are you thoughts. I did note, you would recommend it. Can you please elaborate a little more to clench it for me.

If I were to do it in 3 days…could you give ideas where to stop and stay over for the night.

Thanks Dan! Look forward to your response.

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Dan Carter September 29, 2016 at 1:58 pm

Hey Natalie,

Glad you enjoyed the blog! Ok… please don’t do it in 3 days!!! When I do it again I will take a week and I cannot recommend it enough. For me, the East London to Durban leg was the most incredible, beautiful and unique section of the entire drive and I wouldn’t dream of missing it out. I also was told it wasn’t safe – this is mainly because drivers are pretty reckless, especially at night. Just make sure you drive during the day, not in the dark and don’t attempt too longer drive in one day. Mthata to Durban would be better split up, it can take it’s toll if you are driving alone but it is doable. I would really recommend Swell Eco Lodge if you do go this way but PLEASE stay longer than one night. Also, it takes 2 hours on the dirt roads and you’ll need to use their directions as GPS doesn’t work. It is the BEST adventure and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Beautiful place, beautiful people.

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Chanel November 26, 2016 at 11:23 pm

I love this blog post and your photos are incredible!
Next Durban trip – you have to visit Lineage – their coffee is amazing!
This drive is a definite favourite of mine. I’m originally from Knysna and I live just outside Durban. My favourite half way point has to be Hogsback – it’s absolutely beautiful and so worth spending a day or two at.
Keep creating – your vlogs and photos are awesome.

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