The N1 between Johannesburg and Cape Town is by far the fastest way to get from the Golden City to the Mother City if you’re travelling by car. However it is most certainly not known to be the most riveting road trip stretch in our beautiful South Africa and traversing the flat plains of the Free State and seemingly endless koppies of the Great Karoo can be a tedious way to start and end your annual family holiday.

So, to avoid that dreaded question, ‘Are we there yet?’ have a look at TravelGround’s recommendations for stops along the N1 that could just make the trip that much more of a jol.

Pont de Val 

Parys District

83 km outside of Johannesburg

Don’t do your padkos shopping in the busy city. Instead, stop at Pont de Val, a wine and lifestyle estate about an hour outside of Johannesburg, and buy all sorts of cured meats, quiches, preserves, wines and baked goods at their deli and patisserie. These can be enjoyed on site in picnic style or be taken off site for your trip. There is loads of space on the river banks where the kids can tire themselves out before getting back on the road. 

*Do visit their website for entry fees and opening times.

The Fat Butcher 

Ventersburg

237 km outside Johannesburg

This butcher across the street from Caltex has been a popular place for travellers to stretch their legs and buy quality meat, biltong and droëwors whilst getting the petrol topped up. The Fat Butcher’s pies always boast a bit more meat than expected and they have bubble tea and delicious, home-made ginger beer which you’ll need to quench your thirst on the long road ahead.

The Fat Butcher, Ventersburg
The Fat Butcher in Ventersburg is the perfect place for padkos and some holiday meat if you’ve got a proper cooler bag in the car. | Photo: Provided

Bloemfontein’s attractions 

398 km outside Johannesburg

Bloemfontein is brimming with sites that offer a proper break from the road. The National Botanical Garden is an affordable way for everyone to get their steps in. The well-maintained garden covers seventy hectares, is home to four hundred indigenous plant species and has a bird hide and a restaurant. Naval Hill is a perfect break from the flat, wide expanse you’d have been travelling through and offers a great view of the City of Roses and a larger-than-life statue of Nelson Mandela you and the kids can pose at. If you’re keen to stay a bit longer, a visit to the Naval Hill Planetarium will leave you starry-eyed. Lastly the Oliewenhuis Art Museum has expansive gardens the young ones can run around in and art exhibitions that will add a cultural kickstart to your holiday.

Want to overnight in Bloemfontein? Click here.

Naval Hill, Bloemfontein
Naval Hill in Bloemfontein is just one of many fun activities in the city. | Photo: Bigstock

Snobs Coffee Roastery 

Trompsburg

512 km outside of Johannesburg

You’ll be surprised (and relieved) to find great coffee to perk up your drive in the unassuming town of Trompsburg. Whether you’ve overnighted in Bloemfontein and want some mid-morning mocha magic or you intend to push through and need a pick me up, Snob’s Coffee Roastery’s quality blends offer invigorating aromas. They also have a small menu of lighter meals if you are feeling peckish and, if you really are a coffee snob, be sure to buy beans or ground coffee in your preferred blend so you can start every morning of your holiday with a perfect cup of joe. 

Want to overnight in Trompsburg? Click here.

Kuilfontein Farmstall

Springfontein

540 km outside of Johannesburg

If you have pets in the car, rather opt for a stop at Kuilfontein Farmstall where a good cappuccino and Karoo hospitality can be had. This farm stall has made a name for itself with its goodies, bric-a-brac, biltong and scrumptious meals. It boasts clean toilets and space for Fido to run around. Kuilfontein’s frozen pies are also a great addition to your cooler for those busy days at the beach where you don’t feel like cooking, but want a hearty meal. 

Want to overnight in Springfontein? Click here.

Kuilfontein Farm Stall, Springfontein
Kuilfontein Farm Stall just outside Springfontein is a great place for you and Fido to stretch your legs. | Photo: provided

Gariep Dam

584 km outside of Johannesburg

Turn off the N1 and wind your way along the banks of the Gariep Dam for a stunning photo opportunity with South Africa’s biggest dam in the background. If you’re super organised you might arrange a tour of the dam wall which sports thirteen kilometres of passages and halls by contacting the Department of Water*, otherwise you could just buy a cool drink and take in the view or even visit the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve ─ the Free State’s largest nature reserve. Be sure to keep an ear open for the call of the fish eagle!

*Note that the Gariep Dam is part of The Department of Water and might not be open to the public at all times.

Want to overnight in Gariep Dam? Click here.

Gariep dam
The Gariep Dam is South Africa’s largest dam. | Photo: Bigstock

Colesberg’s restaurants

628 km outside of Johannesburg

Being just about halfway, Colesberg is certainly the most popular stop between Jozi and Cape Town on the N1 and, as such, offers loads of overnight stays as well as restaurants to ensure you leave satisfied and ready for the final half of the trip. Two restaurants that come highly recommended are Inni Kraal and Die Plattelander and if, after your meal, you’re not ready to head to the car yet, spoil yourself with a walk around town ─ Colesberg boasts some really lovely Karoo architecture, especially the church in the middle of town.

Want to overnight in Colesberg? Click here.

Colesberg
Colesberg is about halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg and boasts beautiful Karoo architecture. | Photo: Bigstock

Trappieskop Mountain

Hanover

705 km from Cape Town

Some seventy kilometres further, if you’re longing to work up a small sweat to break the monotony of your trip, turn off at Hanover and head right through town to the end of Market Street where the footpath up Trappieskop Mountain (not a mountain at all) starts. We know you won’t be keen for a whole hike, but this short climb up the hill that once housed South Africa’s first observatory is a great way to get your steps in and offers a beautiful view of Hanover with its prickly pear trees and mixture of Art Deco and Karoo Victorian architecture. On the way out, be sure to drive through Darling and Queen Street which boasts some of the nicest buildings.

Want to overnight in Hanover? Click here.

Trappieskop Mountain, Hanover
Trappieskop Mountain in Hanover is, in fact, a hill, and a scenic one at that. | Photo: PH Parsons on Wikimedia Commons

Classic Books

Richmond

645 km from Cape Town

Make sure you get enough books to keep you entertained over the summer holidays by stopping at 32 Loop Street in Richmond. Classic Books deals in books of all genres and also trades online so that you can pre-purchase your summer reads and pick them up on your way past too! If you’re looking for a rare book, be sure to enquire beforehand and, while you’re in Loop Street, stop in at the fascinating Riding Horse Museum or the Karoo Padstal with its scrumptious treats.

Want to overnight in Richmond? Click here.

Loop Street in Richmond
Loop Street in Richmond boasts a well-known bookstore and the town’s museum. | Photo: Bigstock

Travalia Farm Store

Three Sisters

540 km from Cape Town

Travalia is a large, well-known and well-loved farm store and restaurant just off the N1 where a waffle and ice cream, a cup of coffee or their selection of packaged meat (especially Karoo lamb), baked goods, biltong, preserves and gifts might just make your day. Their clean bathrooms are an added bonus on the long trip, so let the fountain in front lure you to the parking lot and enjoy a deserved break.

Want to overnight in Three Sisters? Click here.  

Travalia Farm Stall, Three Sisters
The Travalia Farm Stall in Three Sisters is a popular stop a little way off the main road. | Photo: Bigstock

Spinwiel Antique Shop

Beaufort West

462 km from Cape Town

Though they’ve downscaled from a large museum space to a smaller antique store in recent years, the Spinwiel Antique Shop, just across the road from Beaufort West’s tourism office, is still worth the stop if you are a keen antique collector or just a lover of beautiful things.

Want to overnight in Beaufort West? Click here.  

Of floods and roosterkoek

Laingsburg

264 km from Cape Town

Local legend, Tannie Poppie, has garnered not only local but international admiration for her delicious roosterkoek which she sells from her stall across the road from the Shell Garage in Laingsburg. Her fire-roasted flatbreads have either cheese and jam or cheese and biltong. And, if you’re looking for an activity which is both educational and fascinating, make a stop at the Flood Museum where the catastrophic Laingsburg Flood of 1981, one of the biggest natural disasters in South African history, is commemorated. It’s well worth a visit!

Laingsburg Flood Museum
The Flood Museum in Laingsburg houses a fascinating curation of items related to the disastrous Laingsburg Flood of 1981. | Photo: Bigstock

A village frozen in time

Matjiesfontein

237 km from Cape Town

Step back in time by turning off at this single-street town where you can experience the flair and elegance of the Victorian era as it manifested in South Africa under British rule. Take in the splendour of the historical Lord Milner Hotel ─ admire the opulent foyer, visit the chapel and take a stroll in the gardens ─ and then head around the corner to The Car and Transport Museum, a must-see for car and train fanatics or even just those with a passing interest. Some more history is to be found at the museums across the road at the station. If you’re keen, grab a bite at the Laird’s Arms, a swanky, old-world pub offering proper pub lunches or, if it’s simply coffee and cake you’re after, take a seat at the Coffee House.

The Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein
The Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein is just one of the sites to see in this Victorian town. | Photo: Bigstock

A view of the Hex River Valley

Hex River Pass

141 km from Cape Town

Just as you ascend the Hex River Pass, just before the split in the mountain, there is a lookout point on the right-hand side of the road where photographers or anyone looking for a memory of the trip has to stop for a photo. The lookout point offers sweeping views of the Hex River Valley which has a completely different display each season as the vineyards turn colour and the Matroosberg Mountains at the back get covered in snow or rise proudly above the valley in their purple hues. 

A view of the Hex River Valley
A view of the Hex River Valley from the view point next to the road. | Photo: Bigstock

Veldskoen Padstal

De Doorns 

140 km from Cape Town

You’ll have to find your way past the shelves brimming with padkos and antiques to the restaurant at the back of the premises, but, if you succeed, you’ll be duly rewarded with a menu full of delicious, affordable choices and a tranquil garden setting at this bright padstal. Veldskoen is the final, fully-fledged farm stall on the N1 to Cape Town, so if you’ve missed some of the others, it’s your best chance for those last-minute goodies before heading through the tunnel into the Cape Winelands and off to the Mother City just 142 kilometres away. 

Veldskoen Farm stall, De Doorns
Veldskoen Farm Stall is a peaceful stop amongst bluegum trees just before reaching the Boland. | Photo: Bigstock

BONUS STOP: Spice Route

Paarl

56 km from Cape Town

Though there are many places to see and things to do in and around the Boland town of Paarl, Spice Route is the perfect way to welcome you to the Cape, offering everything that’s best about the Cape Winelands and surroundings. From a CBC (Cape Brewing Company) tasting facility, to delicious gourmet pizzas, artisanal chocolate and ice cream tastings, a décor shop and, of course, wine galore, Spice Route will overwhelm you with its variety.

Spice Route, Paarl
Spice Route offers fun for the entire family just a short stretch before reaching the Mother City. | Photo: Bigstock

There is really no need to rush this summer holiday. Be safe and take a turn off the N1 – you might just find that the journey can be as pleasant as the destination!

Welcome to the Cape! | Photo: Bigstock

Main image: Bigstock