My 14 day Baz Bus adventure
The Baz Bus is a hop-on hop-off bus service which runs a single route to/from Johannesburg to Cape Town, in South Africa. The bus offers several options for travelling around the eastern coastline; you can choose between different packages such as, travel passes (time based) or route passes (distance based).
In this post I’m going to tell you about how I used the fourteen day travel pass to do the whole route top to bottom. I stuffed a lot into my fortnight managing to make 9 stops!! As a general rule I stayed 2 nights at every stop, mostly due to the bus schedule. This worked better than expected having one full day in almost every place.
Starting point – Johannesburg
I am blessed enough to have visited South Africa on numerous occasions with my family roots being in Johannesburg. In 2016 my grandpa was celebrating his 80th birthday and the family decided to fly over together to celebrate with him. Though we spent a long weekend in Bela Bela, I also spent some time in Johannesburg staying with my uncle. So for me this wasn’t so much a tourist spot but a family spot. On my last night I stayed in a neat little backpackers in trendy downtown Joburg for a night to be able to catch the bus bright and early in the morning.
Stop 2 – Northern Drakensberg
What an awe inspiring place. Just beautiful. It is the only stop between Joburg and Durban but well worth spending the 2 nights here. There is only one backpackers, but it is fantastic! They have large grounds with nothing but country to see for miles, and the Drakensberg mountains sitting on the horizon like a postcard. Take the afternoon to walk the grounds (give it 2 hours to do the lot), take a dip in the pool and then settle on the balcony with a Savannah and watch the sunset.
Initially I made the stop in order to do some rock climbing in the Drakensburg but instead did a guided hike to Tugela Falls and the Amphitheatre. You walk. You scramble. You climb. You swim. The hostel offer the hike along with a day tour into Lesotho on an alternative basis. They are expensive by South African standards and if you have a car I would suggest doing a couple of hikes self guided instead. The hostel offers many other trips for groups, however the minimum number required is three/four people – this may scupper your plans if you are travelling alone so beware and make friends!
As with lots of places on this route it is rural and thus you do not have a town at your finger tips. If you want to self cater they have fantastic kitchens to do so but you will need to bring your food with you from Joburg. They offer food, though in the evenings this is a three course set menu with an above average SA price tag (though quite reasonable for tourists).
Stop 3 mandatory – Durban
Initially I was planning to stay one night, just an eat and sleep stop however once arrived I was persuaded to give the place a day! You’ll find plenty people on holiday, South Africans and foreigners alike, due to the vibrancy and variety this place has to offer. I will be writing a post dedicated to how I made the most of a 2 night stop in Durban – coming soon.
In summary…. Rooftop braai. Beautiful beach. Victoria Market. Bunny chow.
I found one day enough as I was eager to get onto more rural stops and I have visited Umhlanga (northern Durban) previously.
Stop 4 (shuttle) – Coffee Bay
Most regrettably I only had time to afford one stop in the Transkei. Either side of Coffee Bay are two places I am really disappointed to have missed out on; Umzumbe and Chintsa, alas I can’t see everything. Further to this the bus doesn’t run to the little stop points on the wild coast and you have to arrange a shuttle with the hostel. This is a pain and adds time/money to the trip. On average the shuttles cost around the R70 mark each way and takes a minimum an hour depending on the stop.
Our bus hit a very unlucky week. There were “protesters” who had taken control of the main highway and closed it off for traffic. Talking to the hostel workers I heard some horrible stories of tourist who had tried to use the road and had their hire car torched. Because of this we were forced to take a detour through the hills on the dirt roads. For the first hour the view was beautiful and it was very interesting going through the Xhosa villages. The next 2 hours bumping around was not so great.
I stayed in Coffee Shack – a very laidback hostel, if you understand me. They do the cheapest surf lessons I’ve ever heard of!! The only catch is there are only 2 sessions a day with four slots so you’d better book them in early to avoid disappointment. I was lucky and got the last slot for the morning on my full day. After our session the four of us had so much fun we managed to hustle another lesson at noon. I was hoping to give it another go (on a hard board!) in the morning but was too slow to get a slot. It is also a great spot to enjoy the beach and meet some local people. If I had another day I would have done the hike to the hole in the wall. For the more adventurous; you can do multi day hikes from here to places such as Buccaneers.
Again if you’d like to self cater you need to do your shopping in Durban (or your previous city stop) as there are no supermarkets in Coffee Bay and only a small petrol station at Mthatha. All hostels I know of in the area do set dinners for R70-80. If you have a free evening I’ve heard Sugerloaf backpackers do the best food!
Stop 5 mandatory – Port Elizabeth
This became a sleep stop. There is so much hype about the garden route I was focused on spending as much time there as I possibly could. We arrived after 11pm and the bus left the next morning at 6.30am. Mostly people I arrived with also left the next morning however PE is a big place and I’m sure there is much to do.
Stop 6 – The Crags
I dare say my favourite place. I am a country bunny – so once again this is a place surrounded by nature and no city to be seen! Just on the border of Natures Valley it is fantastic for walking and the whole place has a real laid back vibe. Wild Spirit backpackers has a few small walks leading from the property, including a freezing but very swimmable waterfall, a not so big big tree and a forest walk. This also links up to the end of the five day Otter Trail.
I can’t list all the things I loved about the place and would most definitely spend a few more than two nights there if possible. Took my full day as an opportunity to do a hike that leads through the forest down to a huge lagoon (swimming) and then onto a beach (no swimming) and a rather terrifying coastal route back into the forest and to the starting point. The coastal route is currently closed due to landslides however some of it is still passable for the brave in low tide.
Get up early and watch the beautiful sunrise over Natures Valley – from the dorm balcony with a cup of tea in hand if you’re like me. Grab a drum and join the Boma around the fire in the evening. As with all the beautiful places…bring your own food to self cater or pay R70/80 for their home grown and cooked meals.
Stop 7 – Wilderness
This was a last minute stop choice. By last minute I mean about 10 minutes before the bus turned up I changed my mind. You cannot ignore your fellow travellers when they are all saying the same thing “you have to visit Wilderness!”. And look at the panorama below – they weren’t wrong.I had a dilemma on how long to spend here due to the bus timetable but long story short I stuck to my two night rule. This worked out perfectly as there was plenty to keep one busy for the 2 days (and more)! The beach is serene. There are hikes and waterfalls – best thing to do is combine them and throw in a canoe for good measure. Make some friends and you can hire a canoe (2 people per boat) and paddle up the river, pull ashore, boardwalk to a waterfall for a picnic and some swimming. Reverse it all to get back and hitch a ride in a bakkie back into town for some grub.
The real gem of Wilderness itself is “the cave” and the abandoned railway which are unique to this place. From town you can walk along the railway for 20 minutes and go through the tunnel. There was a landside years ago which took out part of the line and instead of fixing the damage the railway went unused. Though you can walk the railway all the way to Victoria Beach do not. After the tunnel you can continue on over the bridge and then turn back. The area further on is notorious for muggings, even to groups. Do not listen to other travellers but the locals who will tell you to stay well clear. By the tunnel it is impossible to miss The Cave. Once a normal cave, since the railway closure it has become an interesting home for the homeless of the area. The cave is greatly decorated from shells to a sequined bikini. The residents love to show you around and you can give them a small donation for their time. If you visit Wilderness it is not to be missed!
Wilderness, though small, has a town centre with the usual buildings; post office, SPAR (food at last!), restaurants etc.
Stop 8 – George
Just one night here was cutting things very fine indeed! I was fast running out of days! Though there is not much going in George, just an average town, it is an accessible point to the Cango Caves and the ostrich farms of Oudshoorn. If I had more time I would have definitely gone straight through to Oudshoorn and made base there. If you are on the Baz bus it is possible to do the caves and a farm in the morning and get back in time for the afternoon bus. Most places will organise a type of tour/ride though the cost for transport is set so the more of you the cheaper. I didn’t have the flexibility of time so had to pay to do the trip alone however the caves are spectacular (especially do the adventure tour!) and ostriches are just plain hilarious. If I’d had the whole day I would have also made efforts to go to the Cango Wildlife Ranch and do the cheetah experience.
Final stop – Cape Town
We made good time on the bus and arrived an hour earlier than planned. I stayed centrally, right on Long Street – great for being in the action – not great for sleeping. Make your decision wisely. I had a rather windy wet week in Cape Town but check that out in my unmissable Top Ten Cape Town post
going live next week.
As with almost all holidays I could’ve done with another week or two to do the route justice however it was just enough time to get a glimpse of what wonderful things the coast of South Africa has to offer. Most people on the 14 day pass that I personally met were only doing a section of the available route such as the garden route (CT to PE) though a few of us were attempting the whole hog. It’s a perfect excuse to go back and go to all the places I skipped first time around!
Thanks for reading and the happiest of travels to you!