The N1 National Route runs from Beitbridge border post at Zimbabwe in the north, to Cape Town in the south - over a distance of approximately 1937 km. It is the most popular route for travellers between Johannesburg and Cape Town and forms the first section of the famed 'Cape to Cairo' road.
The N1 begins in central Cape Town at the northern end of Buitengracht Street outside the entrance to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The first section of the N1 is shared with the beginning of the N2; it is a four-lane elevated freeway that runs along a strip of land between the city centre and the Port of Cape Town. On the eastern edge of the city centre the two roads split, and the N1 turns east as Table Bay Boulevard, passing the Ysterplaat Air Force Base and Century City before the N7 intersects it on its own way out of the city towards Namibia. The N1 then heads through the suburbs of Goodwood and Bellville, where the R300 terminates at it, before heading towards Paarl. At Paarl, the freeway ends, and the N1 is tolled as it passes through the Huguenot Tunnel running underneath the Du Toitskloof Mountains; the tunnel was opened in the late 1980s to replace the old Du Toitskloof Pass running over the mountain. After emerging from the tunnel, the N1 winds through the Molenaar River Valley (which is a short freeway section) before emerging from the valley and heading towards Worcester. From Worcester, the route heads through the Hex River Valley and then enters the Karoo by acsending the Hex River Pass. From the top of the pass, the N1 passes Touws River and Matjiesfontein before passing through Laingsburg, then heads towards Beaufort West. The 200km section between Laingsburg and Beaufort West is notorious for claiming many lives in fatigue-related accidents; also, the N1 begins to turn towards the north-east along this stretch of road. Just before Beaufort West, the N12 from George meets the N1; the N12 shares the N1 route through Beaufort West and for the next 80km before leaving it at Three Sisters. The N12 later meets the N1 again in Johannesburg, and thus the N12 is seen as an alternative route to the N1, especially considering that later sections of the N1 are tolled while the N12 is toll-free.
The N1 briefly crosses into the Northern Cape at Three Sisters for a few kilometres before crossing back into the Western Cape, and remains in the Western Cape until just after its intersection with the R63, where it finally leaves the Western Cape behind.
The N1 has a short section in the Northern Cape; after it passes into this province, it passes through the town of Richmond before intersecting with the N10 at Hanover. The N1 then continues towards Colesberg, where the N9 terminates where it meets the N1. After Colesberg, the N1 crosses the Orange River and enters the Free State.
After the Orange River crossing, the N1 makes a direct line for Bloemfontein, heading in a more northerly direction. Just before reaching Bloemfontein, the N6 from East London terminates where it meets the N1. This intersection marks the beginning of the Bloemfontein Western Bypass, which is the first freeway section on the route since the Molenaar River Valley. The N8 intersects with the N1 bypass, heading east through the central parts of Bloemfontein and then to Maseru in Lesotho, and west towards Kimberley. The freeway ends a few kilometres north of Bloemfontein, although construction work is in progress to extend the freeway further north. From here, the N1 heads towards Winburg, with a toll located at Verkeerdevlei, halfway between Bloemfontein and Winburg. At Winburg, the N5 splits from the N1, which bypasses the north of Lesotho before its own termination at the N3 in Harrismith. The N1 however continues north, and passes through Ventersburg before reaching Kroonstad. There is a short freeway bypass of Kroonstad, before the N1 heads towards the Vaal River and Gauteng. Just before its passing into Gauteng at the Vaal River, the N1 becomes a freeway again, and features another toll plaza.
After crossing the Vaal River, the N1 continues towards Johannesburg, bypassing Vanderbijlpark and featuring another toll plaza at Grasmere. At the southern outskirts of Johannesburg, the N12 once again meets the N1, and shares its route for a few kilometers before splitting off to become the Southern Bypass portion of the Johannesburg Ring Road. The N1 then becomes the Western Bypass portion of the same ring road, and cuts a swath through Johannesburg's western suburbs before meeting the N3 (the Eastern Bypass portion of the Johannesburg Ring Road, later going to Durban) and Johannesburg's own M1 freeway (the Ben Schoeman Highway) at the Buccleuch Interchange. The N1 then heads towards Pretoria along the Ben Schoeman Highway; this section carries 300,000 vehicles per day and is purported to be the busiest stretch of road in South Africa. At Centurion, the N1 meets the N14 and leaves the Ben Schoeman Highway (which then becomes part of the N14) to become the Pretoria Eastern Bypass, intersecting with the R21 during this time. The N4 then joins the N1 from eMalahleni (Witbank) and follows the N1 a short distance before splitting to the west towards Rustenburg. From the interchange with the N4, the N1 is tolled for the remainder of its length, with various toll plazas located along it. The N1 heads to the north and passes into Limpopo province.
The N1 then passes near Bela Bela (Warmbaths) and Modimolle (Nylstroom). At the Modimolle exit, the freeway ends; the section of freeway between the Vaal River and Modimolle being the longest freeway in South Africa by route number at approximately 265 km (although due to the two changes of freeway in Gauteng, South Africa's longest continuous freeway is the N3 between Durban and Ladysmith, which is approximately 20 km shorter). The N1 then heads past Mokopane (Potgietersrus), where the N11 interects it (leaving the N17 and N18 as the only national roads that do not intersect with the N1), before heading to Polokwane (Pietersburg). There are plans to construct a bypass around Polokwane, though an unofficial bypass for heavy vehicles already exists. After Polokwane, the N1 heads north, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn before passing Makhado (Louis Trichardt). The N1 then winds through the Soutpansberg Mountains (containing two short tunnels) before heading to Musina (Messina). The route then makes a 16km line for the Zimbabwean border at the Limpopo River. After crossing into Zimbabwe, the route is no longer known as the N1. It passes through the border town of Beitbridge on the Zimbabwean side before splitting into two routes: the A6 to Bulawayo and the A4 to Harare.
In numerous places in South Africa, specifically near major cities, the old N1 route has been completely altered to accommodate new freeway standards. These old routes usually carry the designation of R101 and are often alternative routes to the newer, tolled highways. An example is the R101 over Du Toitskloof Pass where the new N1 highway bypasses the pass almost altogether by use of the Huguenot Tunnel. However, between Kroonstad and Parys the alternative route is the R721 (and then the R59 to the intersection with the N1). There are several alternatives between Johannesburg and Parys, the official is via the Golden Highway (R553), although the old N1, actually follows the designation of the R42 to Vereeniging, and the R82 then onto the M1 highway in Johannesburg.
The N1 is 1928 kilometers (1198 miles) long.
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