Get set for an exhilarating journey through South Africa's most awe-inspiring landscapes, as Andrei Von Ketz, director at Drive South Africa Car Rental Company, takes us on a virtual road trip.
We first cover the Cape Town area, from the haunting echoes of Nelson Mandela's imprisonment at Robben Island to the vibrant Victoria & Albert Waterfront, home to the largest museum of contemporary African art. We visit the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood, and the District Six Museum, a stark reminder of apartheid's brutal past. This journey culminates at the Cape of Good Hope, the junction of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Then we focus on some of South Africa's best drives, including the renowned Garden Route and offbeat Route 62 through the Karoo region. Andrei, our steadfast guide, recounts his memorable family road trip during the COVID-19 pandemic. So tune in, get inspired, and gear up to hit the open road in South Africa!
Andrei Von Ketz, lives in South Africa and is director at Drive South Africa Car Rental Company, and loves to hit the road.
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, and has written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember (Kirkus Reviews star rating, and 'one of the top 100 Indie books of the year). She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.
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We'll be talking about Cape Town, but as South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries anywhere, with one of the best road systems, we'll also focus on traveling by car the best way to experience the rainbow nation. With a good vehicle, a great playlist and stimulating company, a South African excursion makes for a wonderful vacation. Our guest is Andrei Von Ketz, director at Drive South Africa Car Rental Company. Welcome, Andrei, to Places I Remember. Andrei has rounded up some of his favorite South African routes, beginning or ending in Cape Town. And before we talk about that great city, can you tell me why is South Africa especially suited for a driving trip?Andrei Von Ketz:
Yes, South Africa has, as you mentioned, a fantastic road network, really good quality highways connecting the major hubs. You can fly in to Cape Town in the South, put Johannesburg in the North. You can get between the main hubs relatively easily. And geographically actually is the gem of South Africa. We're at the tip of a continent, two oceans either side. On our east coast we've got these gigantic mountains, Zatara, and in the west it's kind of a semi-desert area neighboring on Namibia. So it's the diversity of our terrain, if I would have summed it up in a sentence, that makes our country quite special.Lea Lane:
I remember visiting there. I thought you have everything. Absolutely beautiful country. Well, what sort of vehicle do you recommend if you're going to take a road trip in South Africa?Andrei Von Ketz:
It really depends where you're going. But for the most part you can get around in a regular sedan or SUV if you need a little bit of extra luggage room or space to move with your traveling companions or family. And then there are a handful of national parks you go to or can go to that require four by four all-terrain vehicles. Even those parks where you get to go off-road and get to go a little bit rougher and tougher do have gravel and tar roads that you can see the wildlife, you can experience the majority of that park wonders still on the regular roads in a regular car. In fact there's plenty of people that have been out there on those little VW Beetle bugs and they go north to south Cape, to Cairo, but of course we're talking about South Africa today. So yeah, depends on where you want to go.Lea Lane:
Right, you do drive on the left side of the road. I would say so. People from the United States might want to note that, but you can get used to that.Andrei Von Ketz:
Road signs are all in English. English is the language spoken universally. There are many other tongues. In fact, South Africa, I think, has 11 official languages, but sort of the common denominator is English. So yeah, I don't think there's ever much of a problem of getting lost especially in today's technical world with Google Maps and whatnot. So those fears can be laid quite easily.Lea Lane:
What about food and accommodation along the way?Andrei Von Ketz:
Of course you can expect hotels, the big Marriotts, the Hilton, the brands that you're familiar with in the city centers. Airbnb has grown tremendously in the last five to 10 years here, so there's plenty of a to find along the way. Then, once you get into the parks, really the gems of South Africa's national heritage, we've got a combination offering that's very similar to the US national park system. I've traveled in Yellowstone and a few other parks in the US so it was quite nice to compare the similarities and differences. In fact, driving through Yellowstone if anyone can relate to that where you've got the bison right next to your vehicle if you go walking at the right time of year, you see the bears. We have very similar experiences here, very similar combination types from modest huts and camping we can pitch a tent in certain areas due to the lodges with dining TV as a day, all that kind of stuff. So it's relatable for people who have traveled and road trips in the USA.Lea Lane:
Do you suggest pre-booking? I would think so, during busy periods for sure, but in general, if you can.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yes, If you can spot where the South African school holidays are, then you must pre-book in the national parks. As soon as you're outside of those school holidays, availability opens up. Of course, last minute you may struggle here and there, but whether you can self-search the national parks themselves, they've got a great booking system on their website. A final, reliable operator that can help you, plan and guide you on your trip, point you in the right direction. These are the things we advise all of our guests that travel with us.Lea Lane:
Okay, so we put together a few of the most special drives in South Africa, beginning or ending in Cape Town. But let's start with a brief discussion of what not to miss in that great city, as you'll likely spend some time there before or after the road trip. I'll just mention a few of the obvious wonderful. There are so many wonderful things in Cape Town, but let's start with Table Mountain. It's known for its flat top, which resembles a tabletop. Do you know why it's flat like that?Andrei Von Ketz:
I hope I don't butcher the history of this, but it's a mountain which actually grew out, I think, three times the size it is today. Over time it actually has eroded down and there's a granite layer or harder sedimentary layer that resisted some of that erosion and created that flat top. And then, of course, all the rain and the wind and the weather that happens here at the Cape of Storms has weathered the ravines and the beautiful forests and streams that run off Table Mountain that I, as a trail runner, explore once, twice a week. So, it's an absolute treasure for anyone living here or visiting that loves the outdoors.Lea Lane:
Well, you can take an aerial tram to the top, which I did. It's misty in certain parts. It's very, very beautifully misty and you see everything the whole vista. It's a very good way to start, I think, to see the overview of Cape Town from Table Mountain. So that would be one thing I would recommend. How about Kirstenbosch Garden, which is at the foot of Table Mountain? Tell me about that.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yes, another one of our favorites, and as a family I've got two young girls we are constantly in Kirstenbosch doing small hikes, climbing the trees there, going on the nature trails and beyond -- a beautiful, secluded, well-maintained park. It's actually a real hub of natural biodiversity. The biodiversity institute's right there, the national biodiversity institute's there, and you can learn a lot about our biome, which has got hundreds of species that are nowhere else in the world.Lea Lane:
Yes, I think it has five of South Africa's six different biomes right there, so you get a good overview of the country. How about Robben Island?Andrei Von Ketz:
Yes, it's obviously a iconic location. What it represented to South Africa in many years gone by and what it represents to us now is still a big part of South African society. It's imperative that we remember and honor and understand our past so that we can make sure things are: A not to misrepresent it; and B, we learn from our mistakes. This is society, and Robben Island provides it insights to that, but it's something to be experienced, not just seen or read about.Lea Lane:
This is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. You take a tour from the Victoria and Albert waterfront. It's about three and a half hours. They take you over by boat and then by bus. You see the cell where he was imprisoned and it's very moving. Our guide had been imprisoned himself during apartheid and knew Mandela. It was memorable and it was moving and I highly recommend taking the three-hour tour. You won't forget it. I just want to mention the waterfront there. It's a wonderful area. It's been redeveloped. It has all kinds of galleries and shops. It also has the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which is the largest museum of contemporary art from Africa anywhere. I haven't visited it. Can you tell me a little about it?Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, it's, I think, only about three or four years old. It opened sort of just pre-COVID, constantly changing the galleries there or the exhibitions there. It's actually the latest addition to this waterfront that every three or four years they're rolling out and expanding and offering new interactive spaces. The waterfront is quite a special part of Cape Town. It's kind of where everyone interacts with each other, the tourists and locals alike. You'll find some places when you travel around the world, but if you go to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, I think you're mostly going to see tourists there, right? Not so much the Parisians. The waterfront is not that -- you get to mix, you get to blend, you get to see each other and see how. That's part of the charm and, of course, this is just one of the many jewels that the waterfront has.Lea Lane:
As far as neighborhoods, I love Bo-Kapp, which is a neighborhood of very narrow cobble streets lined with colorful houses. I read that the colors were attributed to the fact that the houses had to be white when the slaves were living there many years ago. So when they got their freedom, they painted them these gorgeous neon colors. So for Instagrammers, this is one of the great places in the city and it represents freedom, because it's a beautiful example of what can come out of something that wasn't so good.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, 100%. And it's beautifully close to the city center where you could be at one of the premier restaurants and just in fact, there are many great restaurants in the Bo-Kaap. It's wonderfully close, it's a wonderfully rich experience to some wonderful Malay food, all different nationalities.Lea Lane:
It's a great, great area to walk in. One museum which I want to mention, because again it represents the past and coming forward, is District Six Museum. It was declared in 1966 a white area only and the community had to leave. 60,000 people were forcibly removed to an area called Cape Flats and their houses were destroyed. So there's a museum there now representing what happened, and I think that's very important to note, that there's a way to honor this the people who had to go through this and to think about the past. I think it's very moving to see that as well. What do you think?Andrei Von Ketz:
100%. I was there a couple of years ago and even as a T ownian sometimes you don't do all the touristy things in your own town, but of course, once I've been there it just opened your eyes a little bit wider. And displays, like street signs that people had taken with them when they left, when they were forced to be removed, they have brought back and you see these real, tangible artifacts and stories displayed there They're quite wonderfully.Lea Lane:
Well, let's end with a Cape of Good Hope. I know that's kind of a drive. We're sort of edging toward driving. It's so close that you could just take a tour from Cape Town. But tell me about the road that goes to the Cape of Good Hope. Is it a rocky headland on the Cape Peninsula? What do you see there?Andrei Von Ketz:
It's part of the massive sprawling national park that is the Cape Peninsula. It's, I think the peninsula itself is about 60 to 70 kilometers north to south. So if you're doing a round trip from the city center or from the waterfront, where many of the hotels are, you're driving a good without stopping, two hours to the Cape of Good Hope, the Cape Point, and two hours return, but of course you make a full day round trip of it. So you stop for lunch there. You can stop at multiple beaches. You get to visit the Penguin Colony on the False Bay side, Boulder's Beach exactly, and when you're at the Cape Point or into the Cape of Good Hope park, you get to the . Some people say it's the most southern tip of Africa, which is technically incorrect. It's the most southwest tip of Africa, but it is where the two great oceans meet.Lea Lane:
The Atlantic and the Indian.Andrei Von Ketz:
Correct. The Atlantic and Indian Ocea meet and you can swim on one side of the bay and feel the temperatures of I don't know what is it Fahrenheit, but let's call it 15 degrees centigrade. You swim the other side, it could be 12 degrees centigrade and you've just walked I don't know five, one or two, a mile or so from one side beach to the other beach and the temperatures are different because the currents are different, the sea life is different, it's got beautiful walking trails. It can be wild and rugged and stormy, but that's all the charm of it. And I think it was called the Cape of Storms too by all the sailors First navigated around Africa from Europe to try and make it to the East, and there are literally dozens or even hundreds of wrecks along that coastline. They're all from part of the story, and even the slaves and the people that became part of the Cape culture. That point is a part of that whole story.Lea Lane:
Yeah, wonderful thing to do when you're in Cape Town. So let's go a little further afield. Let's start on a nature drive called the Garden Route between Cape Town and Gebera. Tell us about when's the best time to go and what do we see?Andrei Von Ketz:
Sure, I'll tell you about best time, and this might sound like a fence sitting on it, but because of the climates along that coast it's in the Mediterranean band. All year round is the best time. It actually has statistically the lowest variance of temperature, rainfall and all of those things throughout the year, so it doesn't get terribly hot in summer and it doesn't get terribly cold in winter, so it really is a great all year round route. It's scattered with small villages and towns. It's beautiful green forests and ravines and rivers All the way from Cape Town to Gebera, to pronounce it a little bit more accurately.Lea Lane:
Thank you very much.Andrei Von Ketz:
Previously known as Port Elizabeth. It might be a more familiar term to some people who've traveled before. And on the eastern extent, as you get past Nizner, Plattenburg Bay, which are beautiful seaside lagoon type holiday destinations. To the east of that, as you head towards Port Elizabeth, we start encountering some of the game reserves and game lodges where you can see Big Five. You can see Africa's wildlife in the natural environment and the beauty of those parks is that it's outside of the malaria zone. So if anyone's traveling and worried about malaria and that type of thing which is a concern in East Africa and other parts of Southern Africa, it's a really nice family friendly route. I think last year, the year before, just as we came out of COVID, I took my family, we rented a motor home and we spent 10 days up and down the coast round trip. So you drive two or three hours, stay a night or two, drive another two or three hours, stay a night or two and then the one way route back from Port Elizabeth or Addo National Park, where we stayed, is sort of a 10 hour drive one way. So you break it up nicely in one direction and then you bomb the home off to it. Family had a great time. Lots of diversity, lots of exploring.Lea Lane:
That's terrific for families. Yes, now what about?Andrei Von Ketz:
Wine lovers route. You got Route 62, it's famous. It's considered the longest wine route in the world 850 kilometers between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, connecting the eastern West coast. There's so much to see and do besides drinking wonderful wine. I know if you want to stay close to Cape Town. I did go to some of the areas very close in. You know Stellenbosch and some of those which are absolutely wonderful. But you're taking us all the way through, seeing much more when we take a drive. So let's say Parle. What would you see in Parle? That's a famous wine town.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yes. So Parle, Stellenbosch, Franschuk are the three kind of top wine areas, all relatively close to each other and it's almost hard to say that Parle is here and Stellenbosch is there. They're actually all just a family that mingle and you can move from one and there's no hard line to say now I'm in Parle, now I'm in Stellenbosch, or now I'm in Franschuk. Parle does have some beautiful wine farms. I was actually camping in the Parle Mountains this weekend with the family. Beautiful, beautiful spot with rock pools and streams, excellent wine farms all around us.Lea Lane:
Very good.Andrei Von Ketz:
Towering mountains.Lea Lane:
I remember some interesting chocolate and all kinds of different specialties of different nationalities -- lovely meals as well in that area.Andrei Von Ketz:
Absolutely yeah, and some really top notch chefs and restaurants that have popped up over the years.Lea Lane:
Well, what I like about the long wine route, which could take you a couple of weeks if you really want to do it right. You have so many things. You have a desert oasis in Robertson. Tell us about that.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, so Robertson again is another deep valley with painting wine farms and orchards and fruits. Yeah, it's just such a fertile, beautiful part of the country. They have a I don't know of that oasis per se, but myself I haven't been there. I should say I can't really comment on it. But I know every year they've got a wonderful wine festival called Robertson Wine Festival. It's five or six days with the music and wine tastings and brandy tastings and good food and it's just a little bit further out of Cape Town. So you know you choose that destination when you've got a little bit more time on your calendar.Lea Lane:
Well, it's semi-arid. It isn't probably desert like you would think in the Sahara, but it has this feel to it, and it also has river rafting, which is a nice thing to do before you drink some wine. I think you'd better drink it after.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, on the Brita River there's some wonderful rapids and not sort of extreme rapids, but yes, river rafting is one of the many activities you can do.Lea Lane:
Very pleasant, and then you have hot springs a little further on in Montague Again, there's so many wonderful different things besides the wine. You have wonderful little towns. They're called Karoo Dorpes Is that the name for a small town? Is that how I pronounce?Andrei Von Ketz:
The area is called the Karoo, which is a semi-arid area, and a Dorpe is a town for like a little village, yeah, and the offer constant for a small village.Lea Lane:
There's a place in a town called Kalisdorp, called Ronnie's sex shop, and it's very well known. Why is that?Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, it kind of popped up, I don't know how many years ago. It's almost a place of legends, but you know it's perfectly positioned for a road trip lunchtime stop. Some people claim you must have a beer and a burger there.Lea Lane:
But it's not a sex shop.Andrei Von Ketz:
But when you walk inside it's just got. I'm not going to give too much of the fun away, but it's got lots of interesting regalia and paraphernalia on the walls for you to enjoy and chuckle at.Lea Lane:
Yeah, I read that it was a prank that the sign was put up where it was really just a pub. And they put the sign up and it sort of developed after years. But it was kind of fun so I really love that idea. You also have caves in the area and mountain passes. It's just a wonderful area to find the whole terrain of South Africa gain coming in from Cape Town. Is it about two weeks? Would cover the whole thing if you were taking your time.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, absolutely, and in a one way direction, taking the time to stop everywhere 10 or 12 days and it's basically, if you go to Garden T an which we spoke about earlier, that follows the coast from Cape Town eastwards and if you wanted to do the return journey, it's likely inland, just inland of the mountain range and through that more arid Karoo Dorphees and so forth. So you could attend 12 days in one direction and 10, 12 days coming on inland and you've done a beautiful week that really exposes you to all of sort of the southern parts of our country.Lea Lane:
That's beautiful. Well, we have to mention the coastline road trips. We mentioned the Cape of Good Hope, but I just want to talk about Chappie, (the Chappies) Chapman's Peak Drive, which I have been on and is magnificent, and also you have the other road, Clarens Drive. These are two drives that, if you want to see the magnificent mountains to the sea, this is what you would do; nine kilometers from downtown Cape Town. I think one of them is Absolutely so.Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, Chapman's Peak Drive connects Hougt Bay and Nurruk Beach, or the suburb of Nurruk with a beautiful long white beach. I don't know exactly what year it was built but it's, I think, over a hundred years old now. It's carved into a near cliff face, not quite a cliff face, but near cliff face. It's westward facing. So in the evenings, driving along Chapman's Peak Drive, you have glorious sunsets, the sun reflecting off the ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and then lighting up the sandstone rock cliff faces that just glow orange every evening.Lea Lane:
It's a magnificent and you can see whales. I saw whales when I was driving. You can see them out in the bay.Andrei Von Ketz:
And speaking of whales, Clarens Drive, the other one you mentioned earlier, is the road you take. It's just a little bit hugs the ocean a little bit more closely. It's not as high and sort of cliff-ish, but that's the road you take to get to Hermonus, about an hour and a half drive from Cape Town. All along that drive you do get to see whales and other sea life. And then when you get to Hermonus, it's known for being one of the world's largest breeding grounds of southern rights and other whale species. So what makes it so special is they actually come really close into the bay on these protruding rocks and walkways that you can walk along and look down at these mothers calving with their young. I assume you've been there, seen it.Lea Lane:
stopped at Sparks I remember a little coastal town called Sparks Bay where you had barbecue and you could watch the whales along that route as well. Absolutely yeah, it's just magical yeah.Andrei Von Ketz:
For any sea i nature, love it. It's a wonderful place to go, and a road to drive.Lea Lane:
Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So, Andre, would you please share one memory of one of your South African road trips?Andrei Von Ketz:
Yeah, it's kind of hard to pick one, but you know, it forced to. I would say the trip I took with my young family, wife and two daughters through COVID Just two, three years ago, it was after the immediate restrictions had been lifted but we still couldn't gather in large groups and all of those kinds of things. And that's when we said, right, let's hire this motorhome, let's all bundle into it, we'll create our own little tight family bubble, as we call it. You know, everyone spoke in those terms through that era and we went out there and after being kind of getting out there a lot less than we used to for six or nine months I think it was, we actually took the kids out of school a week early just so that we could be on the road when it was slightly less busy. We had campsites to ourself. We went to the National Parks and there was a third of the other vehicles and people you would normally expect. I don't know if this is absolutely true, but there's some people that say that during COVID, when there's few visitors to the National Parks, the animals actually sort of came out a bit more and they were enjoying the freedom from the vehicles and the people that were there to see them. So we kind of got out there because we needed to get out. We were feeling cooped in and we got to experience South Africa again, often not having done it for a while, and it was just to me that's a special memory. We haven't stopped pretty much since then. Oh, that's great.Lea Lane:
We just keep going. That's great. Well, thank you, Andre Von Ketz, for reminding us once again that the freedom of the open road and the ability to go off the beaten track can create a unique, unforgettable journey, especially in a great country like South Africa. Thank you very much.Andrei Von Ketz:
It's an absolute pleasure. Thanks, Léa.