Getting around South Africa
Several airlines operate domestic routes with regular links between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, George, Nelspruit and Port Elizabeth and relatively frequent flights to several smaller towns and cities too. The main operators are South Africa Airways (www.flysaa.com), Comair (a division of British Airways) (www.ba.com), Mango (www.flymango.com), Kulula (www.kulula.com) and Airlink (www.flyairlink.com).
Internal air fares are not particularly cheap, and price wars have taken several airlines that attempted to introduce more affordable flights out of business. But since South Africa is a big country with long distances between its major tourist centres, it generally makes sense to fly.
Public transport at the airports is mostly inadequate, but the sparkly modern Gautrain (http://join.gautrain.co.za) from OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg is a quick and efficient way to reach the city centre, some useful points in the northern suburbs and Pretoria.
Cape Town airport has a cheap shuttle service called MyCiTi (www.myciti.org.za).
Flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town take 2 hours 15 minutes and from Johannesburg to Durban take 1 hour 10 minutes.
Roads between the major centres are generally well maintained and well signposted, so getting around by road isn’t a problem, except for some of the daunting distances. The Fifa 2010 World Cup saw a major investment in improving the road system, particularly around Johannesburg and Cape Town.
A controversial motorway tolling system electronically identifies number plates, so if you're renting a car, you usually need to pay the car hire company directly.
Petrol stations accept credit cards Car theft and hijacking is a problem, so it's advisable to keep doors locked and avoid picking up hitchhikers.
Roads and national highways link all the major areas. The only untarred roads are in rural areas and in some game reserves. Heavy rains and sometimes dodgy workmanship have left many urban roads riddled with serious potholes however. Road signs are in English.
Dozens of car hire firms are operating, including the major international players, and even the smaller airports have a rank of car hire desks. At peak periods it’s worth booking in advance. Drivers must be at least 18 years old, and most car hire companies only accept an unendorsed licence that has been valid for a minimum of one year.
Available in all towns, hotels and airports, generally with meters fitted, although some still operate without or prefer not to use them. They are not particularly cheap, and it’s often cheaper to haggle over the price in advance. Taxis do not cruise and must be ordered by phone or at a taxi rank.
Let’s be honest, South African motorists can be pretty careless, and many drive without a licence or insurance. That makes hiring a bike in the cities a dangerous idea. But it’s a great country for mountain biking, with plenty of guided tours available.
A couple of companies including Cape Bike Rentals (www.capebikerentals.com) rent out motorbikes in Cape Town, and Cape Town Cycle Hire (www.capetowncyclehire.co.za) rents out bikes and mountain bikes.
Coaches criss-cross the country between all major towns and cities and a web of tiny off-the-beaten-track towns too. Operators include Intercape (tel: +27 21 380 4400; www.intercape.co.za), Greyhound (tel: +27 11 611 8000; www.greyhound.co.za) and Translux (tel: +27 861 589 282; www.translux.co.za).
The Baz Bus (tel: +27 21 422 5202; www.bazbus.com) is aimed at backpackers and picks up from hostels en route. It runs along the coast between Cape Town and Durban, before heading to the Drakensberg Mountains and Johannesburg.
You can also buy coach tickets through Computicket (tel: +27 861 915 8000; www.computicket.co.za), which has online booking and kiosks in some shopping malls.
The legal driving age is 18 and driving licences must be carried at all times. The speed limit on highways is 120kph (75mph), 80-100kph (50-62mph) on national roads and 60kph (37mph) in urban areas. Driving is on the left, seatbelts must be worn, and it is illegal to use a mobile phone without a hands-free kit.
The AA (tel: tel: 0861 000 234, in South Africa only; www.aa.co.za). Yellow SOS telephones are available on major routes, but very sporadically.
Foreign licences are valid if they are in English with a photograph of the holder, but the AA recommends an International Driving Permit to prevent potential complications.
Public transport is generally dreadful. Although there are bus networks in all main towns, reliability is dubious. Routes for the minibus taxis used by local commuters are too confusing to even try to explain to a short-term visitor.
Cape Town buses are run by Golden Arrow (www.gabs.co.za) and in Johannesburg by Metrobus (www.mbus.co.za). Metrorail trains (www.metrorail.co.za) in larger cities used by commuters are generally not recommended to visitors due to the crime risk. The one bright spot is the MyCiTi bus network (www.myciti.org.za) in Cape Town.
Intercity services are run by Shosholoza Meyl (tel: + 27 860 008 888; www.shosholozameyl.co.za), with trains between Johannesburg, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Trains are frustratingly slow and the facilities including the dining car and trolley service are basic by European standards. Sleeper cars are available in tourist class, with shared showers. Economy class just buys you a reclining seat. Children under three travel free. Children aged three to nine pay half fare.
Cape Town’s Metrorail (tel: +27 21 449 6478; www.metrorail.co.za) runs a pleasant coastal route from Cape Town to Simon’s Town that passes through quaint Kalk Bay.
Luxury trains: Premier Classe (tel: +27 11 773 9247; www.premierclasse.co.za) runs between Johannesburg and Cape Town once a week, and is more comfortable than the regular train. The Blue Train (tel: +27 21 449 2672; www.bluetrain.co.za) and Rovos Rail (tel: +27 21 421 4020; www.rovos.com) offer luxurious cabins and gourmet food in elaborate dining cars and run between Cape Town and Pretoria via Johannesburg. Rovos also runs a service between Pretoria and Durban.
The Gautrain (tel: 0800 4288 7246, in South Africa only; http://join.gautrain.co.za) runs overground and underground connecting Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport.