SA swaps for iconic African destinations

While nothing quite compares to the real deal, South Africa’s diverse topography offers some great alternatives for those iconic African overlanding destinations. Swap cross-border spots for these local places to feed your appetite for adventure. By Melanie van Zyl

Here’s how to get an international taste (or test your gear in anticipation of those bigger trips abroad) without cracking out your passport. Travelling to these South African destinations won’t give you the border blues and you’ll still get plenty of thrills.

Botswana’s Okavango Delta – iSimangaliso Wetland Park


With its haw-hawing hippos, reed-clad lagoons, magnificent birdlife, elephant herds and special leopard sightings, you could easily mistake the Eastern Shores section of iSimangaliso in KwaZulu-Natal for the lush Okavango. Most holiday-goers rush through the gates with sights set on the glorious golden beaches of Cape Vidal, but did you know that a bush camp lies secreted in this park? Jut 10km from the bustling Cape Vidal resort, Bhangazi Bush Lodge sits peacefully on the western shores of Lake Bhangazi. While away the days on meandering game drives, stake out fresh-water pans and look for birds in the swamp forest (highlights included the pink-throated twinspot and Livingstone’s turaco). This ‘poor man’s Okavango’ is equally rich in fauna and flora.

Much like in the Okavango Delta, hippos patrol the waterways of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Picture by Melanie van Zyl

Travel Tip: Are you missing the Chobe River? Indulge the urge with a sunrise boat cruise safari from nearby St Lucia. For an arid take on Botswana that’ll push your 4X4 more, there’s always the Kgalagadi Park. Picture black-maned lions, busy meerkats and sandy tracks – you’ll even see Botswana on the far side of the dry Nossob riverbed.

Namibia’s Kaokoland – Richtersveld National Park

With its rocky plains, grassy prairies and endless horizons, Kaokoland is incomparable. However, those seeking out a rugged and remote adventure will surely find it when crisscrossing the Richtersveld National Park in the north-west of South Africa. Like much of Namibia, the desolate landscapes, craggy mountains and big skies of the Northern Cape should scratch that isolation itch.

The Richtersveld’s dry mountainscapes recall Namibia’s Kaokoland but you might see even fewer people.

Southern Mozambique – Sodwana Bay Backroads

The new tar highway from Kosi Bay to Maputo makes southern Mozambique even more accessible. But while the border remains closed, offroaders can swap Ponta do Ouro‘s patchwork of beach tracks for KwaZulu-Natal’s old coastal road. This road stretches from Sodwana Bay, passing Mabibi, Rocktail Bay and Black Rock. The Maputaland Coastal Forest back road consists of a single track and requires some sand-driving skills plus low tyre pressures. As a reward, intrepid travellers will enjoy pristine and peaceful beaches. Perhaps you’ll never go back to Ponta…

Travel tip: The road spits you out near Manguzi, but continue north, and you can enjoy the spoils of Kosi Bay River Mouth. Just be sure to swing past the main Kosi Bay Camp reception for the correct entry permit; otherwise you’ll have to walk to the lagoon from the gate.

Uganda’s forests – Soutpansberg to Magoebaskloof

While mountain gorillas are conspicuous in their absence, the forests of Limpopo still astonish. Seek instead the vulnerable Syke’s or Samango monkey swinging from the boughs, soaring hiking trails and the myriad magnificent bird species that hop between the branches. Tap together an unforgettable forest foray by linking the Woodbush Forest in Magoebaskloof with Medike Nature Reserve in the Soutpansberg and end with a mountain 4X4 adventure to Blouberg.

You won’t see gorillas like in Uganda, but the forests of Magoebaskloof are also highly atmospheric. Picture via Forestry South Africa

Lesotho – Sani Pass SA side

Sani Pass is simply splendid in summer once the hills turn green and waterfalls flush the mountainsides. Lucky for South Africans, the fun part sits in front of the Lesotho border. Why not mosey up to the top of the pass for the views and turn around so you don’t have to deal with the border hassle? Pack some padkos and remember your passport for clearing SA border control.

Even if you don’t go into Lesotho, it’s still a rollicking drive up to the top of Sani Pass. Picture by Michael Denne from Wikimedia

Coastal Tanzania – West Coast National Park

Ok, ok, I know the West Coast doesn’t have any dhows adorning the horizon, but the turquoise lagoon waters of Kraalbaai Lagoon and Langebaan still evoke the African East Coast.

Let the turquoise waters of West Coast National Park transport you to the Tanzanian coast. It doesn’t hurt that the water in Langebaan Lagoon is also warmer. Picture by Melanie van Zyl

Travel tip: Make an offroad adventure out of it by combining these languid lagoons with the coastal beach camps of Namaqua National Park (sure to summon memories of Namibia’s hardy shores further north).

Are there any other spots in South Africa that remind you of elsewhere on the continent? Let us know in the comments below.

Use our GPS maps to plan your overlanding trip, whether you intend to cross the border or to explore in South Africa. With the most comprehensive camping database in Afrika and more than 6,600 places to eat or drink, our GPS maps will get you where you want to be and help answer your needs.

Let us know about your experience