Distance: 623 kilometers
Time: 6 hours 30 minutes
The N1 traverses South Africa from Cape Town in the south to the Beit Bridge border post with Zimbabwe in the north. This makes it one of the most popular and well-used routes for driving to Cape Town from Gauteng, and it is certainly the most convenient and the fastest way of getting there, notwithstanding the constant, fast-moving traffic you will probably encounter. A less travelled, but nonetheless well-maintained, route is the N12 via Kimberley to Beaufort West where you join the N1 into Cape Town.
The 400-odd kilometres between Johannesburg and Bloemfontein may seem uninteresting, but there are some worthwhile side-trips. Some 30 minutes' south of Johannesburg International Airport are Gold Reef City with the adjacent Apartheid Museum and the township of Soweto. Stop off on the Vaal Meander to experience the arts and crafts, culture and cuisine of the border region between Gauteng and Free State .
From Gauteng you cross the Vaal River into the Free State and enter the Vredefort Dome area – of which Parys is the hub - created by a giant meteor impact some 2 000-million years ago. To your west lies Sasolburg and the Sasol chemical plant. Continue to Kroonstad and through the goldfields of the Free State , named for the golden wheat and sunflower fields and for the gold mined here. Visit the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve with abundant game and birds. A detour along the R34 takes you to Odendaalsrus, the oldest Free State goldfield, and its close neighbour Welkom.
At Winburg there is a juncture with the N5 that will take you east towards Ficksburg, bordering Lesotho, and to the fertile valley of Bethlehem, the village of Clarens – gateway to the dramatic Golden Gate Highlands National Park where sunsets are not to be missed – and the border post of Caledonspoort. Back on the N5 it continues to Harrismith, where the N3 south to Durban can be followed. ( See Route 9 )
Bloemfontein is the capital of the Free State and has a game reserve in the city centre. From here you either continue along the N1 to Cape Town or along the N6 to East London .
Along the N1 is the village of Edenburg and the hamlet of Springfontein, both farming areas offering a unique rural experience. Beyond is the largest (360km²) man-made dam in South Africa, Gariep Dam, where the R58 travels east to Venterstad with some notable race horse stud farms. The N1 enters the Northern Cape and Colesberg, some 200km from Bloemfontein, is a traditional overnight stop in the Karoo.
Suggested stop or stretch towns on the N1: Parys, Kroonstad, Winburg, Odendaalsrus & Welkom 65km off N1, Bloemfontein, Edenburg, Springfontein, Gariep Dam, Venterstad 75km off the N1 and Colesberg.
Suggested stop or stretch towns on the N5: Ficksburg, Bethlehem, Clarens and Caledonspoort.