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Best Road Trips: South Africa
On an altruistically minded trip in South Africa, you can get the full complement of big wildlife, barreling surf, and sweeping terrain, along with a community-based, volunteer-friendly infrastructure.  
Text by Christopher Percy Collier   Map by Computer Terrain Mapping

Illustration: Map of South Africa

Coast to Coast  |  Costa Rica  |  Southwest  |  South Africa

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The African Relief Ride: 10 Days
Think humanitarian travel and you can't help but imagine a two-year Peace Corps stint, a thatch-roof hovel, and a lot of time slogging through rice paddies. No longer. On an altruistically minded trip in South Africa, you can get the full complement of big wildlife, barreling surf, and sweeping terrain, along with a community-based, volunteer-friendly infrastructure. Giving back is as easy as pulling over.

Driving Tips
Radio Silence:
South Africa's highways are thoroughly first world. One thing to look out for: The country's ban on phoning while driving is strongly enforced.

Rough Roads:

In Lesotho, only roads near the capital of Maseru are tarred, and then only vaguely. All-wheel-drive is absolutely essential.

Rental Info:

Offroad Africa's Trax 4x4 ($113 a day; www.offroadafrica.com) is the ultimate bush machine. The modified Toyota Hilux comes complete with a refrigerator, gas stove, camping gear, portable shower, and a two-person tent that pops off the side.


Day 1

Bike Through Townships
Spend a day shaking off the jet lag on the beaches and in the boutiques of Cape Town, Africa's so-called Mother City, then explore the other side of the tracks. On a bike trip with Adventure Without Limits Tours, travel through the township of Masiphumelela, a warren of tar-paper-and-aluminum shanties ($35; www.withoutlimits.co.za). You'll pedal out to preschools; you'll share tea in South African homes; and your dollars will support a program to supply secondhand bikes to local villagers. Stay in town, or better, at Imvubu lodge ($22; www.imvubu.co.za), which lies within Rodevlei Nature Reserve 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the city center and helps to fund local environmental education.
 
Day 2-3
Go on Safari
The Garden Route, basically highway N2 from Cape Town to Tsitsikamma Forest, is likely the most heralded drive in South Africa, stretching more than 370 miles (595 kilometers) along the coast. And at its heart is the Garden Route Game Lodge ($101; www.grgamelodge.co.za). Each morning at dawn, a small fleet of canopied, window-free Land Rovers sets out into the lodge's 4,000-acre (1,619-hectare) game preserve for gawks at lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos. In the afternoons, relax on the private balcony of your teak-furnished room (request a west-facing one for sunsets over the savanna) or visit the lodge's Cheetah Breeding Center.
 
Day 4
Hike Africa's AT
Bloukrans, which you'll find at about mile 400 (kilometer 644) of your trip, is at once the highest single-span arch bridge in the world and, conveniently, the site of the planet's tallest commercially-run bungee jump. Face Adrenalin will set you up with a 709-foot (216-meter) pendulum-style drop ($81; www.faceadrenalin.com). Jump by mid-morning and you should reach the Storms River Mouth rest camp of Tsitsikamma Forest and Coastal National Park by early afternoon. Sandwiched between roaring sea, towering cliffs, and lush forest, the park is one of the most scenic in the country. To see the best of it, tackle a section of the 26-mile (42-kilometer) Otter Trail (do as much as you like), then pack it in for the night at the park's log-cabin-style Ngubu Hut ($74; reservations@sanparks.org).
 
Day 5-6
Surf the Endless Summer
OK, so it was Cape St. Francis where the surfers from the classic film The Endless Summer found the "perfect wave." But nearby Jeffreys Bay, just outside the city of Port Elizabeth, actually has better breaks. Experts hit Supertubes (a legendary right-hander), Dunes, or Dungeons while beginners should head to Main Beach. Its rockless, sandy breaks are the main stage for students of Jeffreys Bay Surf School ($28 for a two-hour lesson; www.infojeffreysbay.com), a company that teaches visitors and kids from the local townships how to surf. Shack up at nearby Supertubes Guesthouse ($35; www.supertubesguesthouse.co.za), where the waves out your window attract some of the best surfers on the planet.
 
Day 7-8
Ascend Africa's Roof
At the town of Kokstad, head 100 miles (160 kilometers) north toward the Drakensberg Mountains and get ready for a different style of road travel. Sani Pass, dubbed the gateway to the "roof of Africa," is an unpaved masterwork of switchbacks, cliffs, and giant mountain views. At its apex, you cross into Lesotho, the only independent state in the world found entirely above 3,000 feet (914 meters). Check into a rondavel, a thatch-roof stone hut, at the Sani Top Chalet ($60; www.sanitopchalet.co.za), then rise early and make a portion of the eight-hour hike to 11,424-foot (3,482-meter) Thabana Ntlenyana. Finish off the day at the Chalet's pub, the highest in South Africa.
 
Day 9
Sleep in a Village
While roads in South Africa are generally in great condition, roads in Lesotho are a different story. Expect to slow your pace and train your sights on the Malealea Lodge in western Lesotho ($21; www.malealea.com), an inn that supports numerous community projects, ranging from environmentally responsible garbage disposal to the building of village paths. A highlight is the lodge's six-hour pony trek to see ancient Bushman paintings en route to the Botsoela Waterfall ($28). Later, as you bed down, your melodic nightcap comes in the form of village children singing you to sleep.
 
Day 10
Help Make a Home
You should descend back into South Africa and make it to JoBurg by evening, but before you do, stop in at the Voluntours office in the Gauteng province, about 260 miles (418 kilometers) from Malealea. The organization has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help build more than 1,500 homes. With a bit of planning, you can join a crew already at work on a project (required $500 contribution; www.voluntours.co.za). Pound nails, build concrete block walls, and spread gravel while working shoulder to shoulder with the future owner. Leave it better than you found it. Isn't that the golden rule of travel anyway?

Coast to Coast  |  Costa Rica  |  Southwest  |  South Africa

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