To really get around easily you need a car - it’s as simple as that. Shop around and book in advance, and it won’t break the bank.
Buy a good map of the city, plan your route before you set off, and keep these tips in mind:
– South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road and pass other traffic on the right.
– The maximum speed is a nippy 60km/h on urban roads, 100km/h on national roads and 120km/h on highways.
– Petrol is widely available. Attendants fill up the car and, if required, clean windows, check oil and water levels and pump tyres. Tip between R5 and R10.
– South Africans like to drive fast, hog the middle lane and don’t seem to mind being passed on all sides.
– Minibus taxis use their emergency lights to indicate that they are about to do something radical. Keep a healthy distance and avoid driving behind minibus-taxis in the left-hand lane.
– At traffic circles (roundabouts), the rule is that vehicles approaching from your right have right of way. Many Joburg drivers seem not to understand this, and treat a traffic circle as a four-way stop.
– Using hooters (horns) is a national pastime, so don’t be alarmed by the cacophony in congested areas.
– Traffic lights (known as 'robots) often don’t work; when you come across one of these, treat it as a four-way stop.
– Jaywalking is rampant, especially in the inner city, and it is not uncommon to see someone trying to cross a freeway.
A highly controversial e-toll system was introduced on Gauteng’s roads. There are 42 gantries on the N1, N3, N12 and R21 freeways which scan cars as they pass under and electronically register a toll charge for each vehicle. Day passes are available for visitors: prices start at R30 and costs depend on the class of vehicle. Day passes must be purchased before travelling. Ask your car rental service for advice on what kind of pass you will need.
A comedian once remarked that instead of quibbling over whether or not to call traffic lights ‘robots’, as we do in South Africa, we should simply call them ‘marketplaces’. He was spot on: at Joburg’s traffic lights you can buy anything from cell phone chargers to ballpoint pens while encountering some people who busk, juggle, wash car windows or beg. While most people whose workplaces are at the traffic lights ply an honest trade, don’t take any chances. Make sure all valuables, including handbags and cellphones, are not visible and are safely stowed in the boot of your car.
Driving across into Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique shouldn't present you with any difficulties, just check beforehand with your rental car company that you are insured outside of South Africa and that you have the relevant documents. For those heading off on long cross-continental journeys a visit to the AA Travel Experience is highly recommended to stock up on advice on routes, documentation and insurance.