The Baz Bus: How to Get Around South Africa
For those planning a trip to South Africa to enjoy the excitement and mayhem that make a World Cup, it’s worth considering the Baz Bus for transport. Started in 1995 by Barry Zeidel as South Africa’s answer to a bus system primarily for backpackers, the Baz Bus connects travelers from around the world, takes them along a stunning route and deposits them at the doorstep of their choice of over backpacker hostels. Their 19 passenger semi-luxury buses provide you with all the comfort you need on your journey and a chance to make friends with a group heading your way.
Of the nine World Cup host cities , the Baz Bus services six of them, namely Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Nelspruit, Johannesburg and Pretoria. All six of these deserve a mention and all except Nelspruit and Pretoria are required stops on the Baz Bus route.
To hit all six cities the ideal option, depending on your time frame, would be a combination of the Hop-On Hop-Off tickets, Cape Town to Durban and the Durban to Johannesburg loop. If you decide to make the Cape Town – Durban section return you hit the full circuit and have the option of hitting Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town twice. The cost for this option is a combined total of around R4950 (approximately US $660 – depending on exchange rate). There is no time limit on these tickets and the only catch is to keep moving in the same direction. I did a similar route in 2005 and spent almost 5 months exploring my homeland and never having to worry about transport.
Cape Town to Port Elizabeth
Known as South Africa’s “Mother City”, Cape Town is a great starting point for your adventure on the Baz Bus. Culture and history are everywhere here, as you choose from hiking Table Mountain, walking in the footsteps of President Mandela on Robben Island, wine-tasting in the Cape, playing with penguins on Boulder Beach, or drinking and dining in the city center.
From Cape Town, the Baz Bus leaves seven days per week, picking you up from your hostel between 6.30am and 7.30am. Just be sure to have your ticket or confirmation number with you. Before Port Elizabeth, the next mandatory stop and World Cup city, here are a couple of locations worthy of your consideration along the Baz route:
Less than 2 hours from Cape Town, this is the place to be if you have the urge to get face to face with the infamous Great White Shark by partaking in a cage dive in Gaansbaai. A great place to stay in Hermanus (above) is Hermanus Backpackers, where you can also watch whales passing by in season, which can start as early as June.
Around 8 hours after leaving Cape Town you’ll reach George, the shuttle stop for Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world. A stark change in landscape from Cape Town, Oudtshoorn is home to the world’s largest ostrich population and visitors come to ride and eat ostrich and to explore the nearby Cango Caves, which can be toured with a guide. Stay at Backpackers Paradise and enjoy free ostrich egg breakfast and huge comfy beds.
12 hours into your journey you hit one of the only rain forests in South Africa. Whether you want to zip line through the Tsitsikamma forest or throw yourself off the highest bungee jump in the world at Bloukrans Bridge, this is a great spot for adrenaline junkies and nature lovers alike. For easy access to the area’s adventure activities, stay at Tube and Axe.
13 hours after departing from Cape Town, or just an hour east of Storms River, you pull into a surfers’ paradise. Jeffrey’ Bay is the place to be if you love the waves or you want to learn. It is is considered one of the top places in the world to surf, thanks to a break known as one of best right hand point breaks in the world. The best waves are found from May to September and the annual Billabong Pro ASP World Tour is held here during July. The perfect surfers’ retreat, Island Vibe Backpackers sits on a sand dune overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Port Elizabeth to Durban
With a number of stops along the way, it takes up to 15 hours to reach Port Elizabeth from Cape Town if you do it one stretch, Port Elizabeth is the first compulsory stop along the route. Also known as Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, or PE, is the 5th largest city and is a beautiful stop along the route if you have time to explore it. If not the Baz will pick you up at 6am the following day, but be sure to double check the schedule as from this point on it changes regularity and does not pick up every day of the week. In Port Elizabeth, stay close to the beach at the 99 Mile Lodge.
Before you get to Durban, the next big stop, here are a few suggestions for along the way. Remember though, from here on out the Baz service is not seven days a week, so be sure to check your schedule.
Less than 5 hours after leaving PE you reach East London, the shuttle stop for Hogsback. Rumored to be J.R.R. Tolkien’s (who was born in South Africa) inspiration for Hobbitville, it is known for its beautiful forests, waterfalls, and excellent trout fishing. Horseback riding, hiking and mountain climbing are popular activities and are offered at the enchanted Away with the Fairies.
5 hours on the bus from Port Elizabeth brings you to an amazing hostel and the small community of Cintsa in the Wild Coast. Come for surfing lessons, horseback riding, and the beautiful, windswept beaches (above). The most popular place to stay in the area is Buccaneers Backpackers which offers these activities and more, free social events with wine, and delicious nightly dinners.
Almost 8 hours into travel from Port Elizabeth, you pull into Mthatha, the shuttle pick up for an obscure and yet stunning location, Coffee Bay. Truly off the beaten path, there are no ATMS, grocery shops or banks here; the beauty of the sea cliffs and sandy beaches is what attracts visitors. Stay at Bomvu Backpackers and learn to make and play drums and discover the traditions of the Xhosa people.
Durban to Swaziland
Welcome to my home province of Kwazulu/Natal and the Rainbow City. Durban makes its appearance as the 2nd compulsory stop on the Baz route. There are so many things to do in this colorful city between your games. Explore the history and culture of the region, do some shopping or get in a few rounds of golf, or just enjoy the cities many kilometers of beautiful beaches. And of course, be sure to try bunny chow, a South African dish that originated here and consists of half loaf of bread with the inside removed and replaced with a curry and meat/veggie mix. In Durban, the Hippo Hide Lodge and Backpackers offers a truly African experience.
From here you can do the loop that either veers left through the Drakensburg or right through Swaziland. Here are some recommended stops along the route to through Swaziland.
6 hours and counting from Durban finds you in this small town where it is safer not to roam too far at night due to the locals… the local hippos that is, who are known to wander from the lake in search of an evening of grazing. St. Lucia is located in the Simangaliso Wetland Park (above), which is the country’s third largest protected area. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers activities like boat trips, fishing, game viewing, snorkelling, birdwatching, and more. Stay at Bib’s International Backpackers where every guest is given a tour of the town ending with drinks at the estuary watching the crocs and hippos.
Another hour east, Bushlands is home to the Imfolozi/Hluhluwe Game Park, a smaller version to the more known Kruger, but with a lot more water holes creating more animal concentrations. For an affordable safari options, check out Isinkwe Backpackers which offers safari tours, self-catering, lodge and dorm style accomodations in the African bush.
It takes almost 11 hours to reach the landlocked nation of Swaziland from Durban and it is a required stop on the route. You have the option to leave with the bus at 6am the next morning or spend a few days here, and in my opinion, if you already have the passport stamp you may as well explore. Be sure to check Baz Bus schedules and visa requirements before starting this leg. Sondzela Backpackers, located on a game reserve, offers dorm, camping, and lodge accommodations, plus hiking, walking and Jeep safaris, and horseback riding.
Leaving Swaziland you’ll head towards another World Cup host city, Nelspruit.
Nelspruit to Johannesburg
Nelspruit is about a 4hr bus ride from the mountains of Swaziland and is known as the gateway to one of the most renowned national parks in South Africa, the Kruger National Park. If you’re headed here, chances are you’ve come so that you can experience a safari in the park, and you’ll have no shortage of options for how to do it. You can go all out luxury, stay outside of the park at a moderate hotel, or stay in the park and save money by camping or self-catering with a do-it-yourself safari.
The very next stop is Johannesburg and Pretoria, 10 hours on the bus from Swaziland and 6 hours from Nelspruit. Again be sure to check Baz Bus departure days and times and be sure to book your shuttle for Pretoria.
Johannesburg and Pretoria
You may wonder why I decided to lump these two in the same section, besides the obvious that the Baz Bus drop off point for Pretoria is a shuttle pick up in Johannesburg, they are also barely a one hour drive apart and share many of the same attractions.
Pretoria is known as the Administrative Capital of South Africa. It is a beautiful city literally oozing history and monuments. In spring it turns into the Jacaranda City as the jacaranda trees lining the streets burst into purple blooms. Along with history, it is also the site of the Premier Diamond Mine where the Cullinan Diamond was found in 1905, the largest diamond ever found. It was cut into 105 smaller gems, with the “Star of Africa” (the largest uncut diamond in the world) now located in the British Royal Scepter. In Pretoria, the 1322 Backpackers International provides a home away from home.
Pretoria has history and diamonds, but Johannesburg is the city of gold and vibrates with a beat of its own making. Also known as Egoli (place of gold), this large industrious center has seen many flock to it in the hopes of fame and fortune. It also unfortunately has some the highest crime in the nation, so be sure to move in groups and never take risks in dark allies. Stay at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, South Africa’s first black owned hostel in the Soweto township (above), offering bike and walking tours that showcase life in the townships of South Africa.
So take a look at your game schedule, jump aboard the Baz and plan your ultimate South African experience.
A Quick Baz Bus re-cap:
- The Baz Bus is a hostel-to-hostel shuttle service that runs from Cape Town to Johannesburg via Durban and Swaziland and vice versa. It has been successfully transporting backpackers of all ages for over 15years now, and hits practically every hostel on it route.
- The bus runs year-round, but be sure to double-check your schedule, as certain legs only run on certain days.
- You can book your ticket online (www.bazbus.com) or call the Baz Bus hotline in South Africa: +27 (0) 21 439 2323
- Each 19/21 seater bus has a VCR/DVD system in it – so sit back and enjoy some classics on the Baz Bus Entertainment Theater!
- There is a R60 fuel levy added to all tours over R500 (US $66)
For short stays, check out the travel passes:
- 7 day pass – R1300 ( US $172 approx.)
- 14 day pass – R2300 (US $304 approx.)
- 21 day pass – R3100 (US $410 approx.)
These passes are valid for the set number of consecutive days from the day you start. You can take the bus in any direction with these passes, unlike the Hop-on Hop-off that require you to keep traveling in one direction.
For those with a little more time, try one of the Hop-On Hop-Off tours, giving you unlimited time for adventure. As long as you keep going in the same direction and don’t back track you can use one or a combination of these for the perfect route. Finally there are the options that provide you with a few extras and save time on planning:
- The Cape Peninsula Tour (day-long) – R540
- Flexi-Tours option 1 or 2 / basic or inclusive – vary from R6700 to R8800 (US $886 – $1170 approx.)