A potpourri of diverse cultural backgrounds, created over three centuries, has shaped the most beautiful city of the country; Cape Town, perched between two oceans and Table Mountain, with a national park at its heart. Amongst the sites not to be missed are the Cape of Good Hope, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the historical city centre, the Malay Quarter, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (recent renovation of the old harbour), Robben Island and of course the many exquisite beaches which can be enjoyed during the summer months (November to April).
The Wine Route:
The historic towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek form the golden triangle of South African wines. The country’s most prestigious wineries and finest restaurants are concentrated in this region which stretches over hundreds of kilometres from majestic mountains, over hills, down valleys and over colourful patchworks of farmland. Cape Dutch style homes complete this idyllic picture. Wine amateurs will have the opportunity to savour excellent vintage wines from different grape varieties.
During early August and September, seemingly overnight, the dusty valleys of Namaqualand are transformed into a wonderland, carpeted with colourful wild flowers and perennial plants that stretch as far as the eye can see. Every turn in the road paints an unforgettable picture: valleys filled with Namaqualand daisies and other spring flowers that pulse with sheer energy and joy. Namaqualand is home to the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world and more than a 1 000 of its estimated 3 500 plant species are found nowhere else on earth. The West Coast National Park and the Namaqua National Park are world renowned.
The Overberg – also known as the Whale Coast, occupies the southernmost region of South Africa, with the Cape Winelands to the north and the Cape Garden Route and Klein Karoo to the east. The region is most famous for its unsurpassed whale watching which attracts thousands of visitors between July and November each year. View these majestic creatures in close proximity as they frolic in the bay of the seaside town of Hermanus or dive with a denizen of the deep… the fearsome great white shark, in close by Gansbaai.
- It’s in the Overberg that the two oceans, the Indian and Atlantic, meet. Cape Agulhas is the true tip of the African continent and the last land before the South Pole.
- The beautiful golden sand dunes of De Hoop nature reserve and the quaint fishing village, Arniston.
- The whale watching between June and November in Hermanus
- After Cape Town and Stellenbosch, Swellendam is the third oldest settlement in South Africa. Laying at the foot of the beautiful Langeberg Mountains this historical town is famous for its architecture.
- Before Greyton was established in 1854, the verdant plains and forested ravines of the area were home to the Khoikhoi tribe. Today it is a charming village steeped in history.
Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo
The town of Oudtshoorn is nestled between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains in the breathtaking semi-desert region of the “Little Karoo”. Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of the world. However, the world’s biggest bird is just one of the many attractions in this area of exceptional contrasts and striking beauty. Do not miss visiting the spectacular geological formations in the Cango Caves that spread out over four kilometres.
The Garden Route
It might as well be called the Natural Wonders Route: this beautiful region, which extends 300 kms from Mossel Bay to just beyond Plettenberg Bay, has an eco-destination like few others in the world, with miles upon miles of beautiful, white sandy beaches and a zillion things to do and explore. Majestic mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and forests make it a paradise for bird-lovers, nature lovers and hikers.
- Wilderness National Park, its beaches, lagoons and lakes
- Knysna, its forest and beautiful lagoon, protected by two impressive rocky headlands.
- The fashionable seaside resort, Plettenberg Bay with its white sandy beaches and warm, clear waters.
- Jeffrey’s Bay, the world renowned surf spot ,
- Nature’s Valley for its wild beach bordering the lagoon and protected coastal forest.
- Forest and Aquatic Reserve of Tsitsikamma and Storm’s River mouth
A few minutes from downtown, beaches unfold gracefully along Algoa Bay and provide lots of opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, surfing and diving.
Durban, a cosmopolitan Queen, is sometimes unfairly passed over for her ‘cooler’ Capetonian cousin. But this isn’t fair; there’s a lot more to fun-loving Durbs (as she’s affectionately known) than meets the eye. In preparation for the World Cup in 2010 the city had a major makeover, with a sleek new stadium and a revamped beachfront. Home to the largest concentration of people of Indian descent outside of India, Durban also boasts a distinctive Asian twang, with the marketplaces and streets of the Indian area teeming with the sights, sounds and scents of the subcontinent.
The Drakensberg mountain range forms the boundary between South Africa and Lesotho. It offers some of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes, in particular the unforgettable curve of the Amphitheatre in Royal Natal National Park. Other prominent peaks include Mont-aux-Sources, the Sentinel, and Devil’s Tooth. People have lived here for thousands of years – this is evidenced by the many San rock-art sites (visit Didima, Cathedral Peak and Injisuthi).
Evoking images of wild landscapes and tribal rhythms, this beautiful swathe of KwaZulu-Natal offers a different face of South Africa, where fine coastline, mist-clad hills and traditional settlements are in contrast to the ordered suburban developments around Durban. Dominated by the Zulu tribal group, the region offers fascinating historical and contemporary insights into one of the country’s most enigmatic and best-known cultures. The region is most visited for the spectacular Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and its many traditional Zulu villages.
Saint Lucia Wetland Park
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, stretches for 200 glorious kilometres, from the Mozambique border to the southern end of Lake St Lucia. With the Indian Ocean on one side, and a series of lakes on the other (including Lake St Lucia – Africa’s largest estuary), the 328,000- hectare park protects five distinct ecosystems, offering everything from offshore reefs and beaches, to lakes, wetlands, woodlands and coastal forests. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles nest along the park’s shores; whales and dolphins occur offshore and the park is occupied by numerous animals, including antelopes, hippos and zebras. The ocean beaches pull big crowds during the holiday season for their beach and water activities, from diving to fishing.
Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Game Reserve
The main attraction of the area is without doubt the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve. This low-risk malaria park is famous for rescuing the white rhino from the brink of extinction and its ongoing protection of both the white and black rhinoceros. Created in 1895, it’s oldest reserve in Africa! The park covers about 96 000 ha and game aside, contains an incredible diversity of fauna and flora.
Swaziland might be among the smallest countries on the continent and one of Africa’s remaining monarchies, but there’s more than novelty value on offer here. Friendly, easy-going Swaziland, makes a relaxing stopover on the trip between Mozambique and South Africa and it’s surprising how much there is to do here – royal ceremonies, excellent wildlife reserves, quality handcrafts and superb scenery should be more than enough reason to spend time here. The entrance fee to Swaziland: R50 per car.
Kruger National Park
Try to imagine a national park the size of Israel, with huge tracts of acacia, sycamore and bush willow interrupted by open savannah, rushing rivers and the occasional rocky bluff. Now fill it with lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos (the Big Five), plus cheetahs, giraffes, zebra, hippos and many species of smaller animals, and you’ll start to have some notion of what it’s like to visit Kruger National Park.
The park has an extensive network of sealed roads and comfortable camps, but if you prefer to keep it rough, there are also 4WD tracks, and mountain bike and hiking trails. Even when you stick to the tarmac, the sounds and scents of the bush are never more than a few metres away.
Additionally, as long as you avoid weekends and school holidays, or stick to areas north of Phalaborwa Gate and along gravel roads, it’s easy to travel for an hour or more without seeing another vehicle. Southern Kruger is the most popular section of the park, with the highest animal concentrations and the easiest access. Kruger is at its best in the far north, although animal concentrations are somewhat lower.
IMPORTANT: Entrance fees costs approximately R250 per day per person (children 125 rand per day). Opening hours are from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. between October and March, and 6:00 to 5:30 p.m. during the rest of the year. You will not be allowed to access your rest camp if you arrive after closing time! Remember to arrive at least 1:30 before the closing hours because you’ll still need to drive quite a way to your rest camp. Closing times also correspond to times beyond which it is no longer possible to drive in the park.
Unassuming Mpumalanga (Place of the Rising Sun) adheres to a quieter pace of life. This inland province, South Africa’s smallest, is where the plateaus of the highveld begin their spectacular tumble onto the lowveld plains at the dramatic Drakensberg Escarpment. Many travellers zip through on their way to Kruger National Park, but it’s well worth setting aside a few days to explore the historic towns, roaring waterfalls, panoramic mountains passes and some of the best hiking trails in South Africa.
Amongst the most beautiful sites, we recommend:
- Blyde River Canyon seen from breath-taking cliffs that line the 26 km long gorge
- The Waterfalls (Mac-Mac Falls, Berlin and Lisbon Falls)
- Long Tom Pass – discover its spectacular scenery between Sabie and Lydenburg
- The town of Pilgrim’s Rest, living museum of historic buildings depicting the gold rush era which began in 1870
South Africa’s administrative centre is a handsome city, with a number of gracious old houses in the city centre, large, leafy-green suburbs, and wide streets that are lined with a purple haze of jacarandas in October and November.
It’s more of an Afrikaner city than Jo’burg which is located 50kms away, and its bars and restaurants are less cosmopolitan – sedate Pretoria was once at the heart of the apartheid regime, and its very name a symbol of oppression. Today it’s home to a growing number of black civil servants and foreign embassy workers, who are infusing the city with a new sense of multiculturalism
- Voortrekker Monument, architectural colossus built in honor of the pioneers of the Great Trek.
- The magnificent Herbert Baker designed Union Buildings, seat of the parliament and government.
- The house of the founding father of the country, Paul Kruger.
Johannesburg is a flourishing, rapidly changing city and the vibrant heart of South Africa. Its centre is smartening up and new loft apartments and office developments are being constructed at a rapid pace. The cultural district of Newtown, with its theatres, restaurants, museums and jazz clubs, is livelier than ever. Other inner city suburbs continue to gentrify since the World Cup and now house the coolest clubs, bars and cultural spaces.
A thriving black middle class has risen up from the ashes of apartheid, both in the suburbs and in the famous township of Soweto. Jo’burg, or “Jozi” as the locals call it, is an incredibly friendly, unstuffy city and there’s a lot to see here, from sobering reminders of the country’s recent past at the Apartheid Museum to the progressive streets of Melville.
- The Apartheid Museum
- The original house of the former President Nelson Mandela in Soweto
- The famous Hector Pietersen Museum also in Soweto
Pilanesberg National Park
The 550-sq-km Pilanesberg National Park is South Africa’s most accessible big-game reserve. The malaria-free park is less than a three-hour drive from Jo’burg, and its two southern gates are both within about 10km of Sun City. Conceptualised as a back-to-nature weekend escape for nearby city dwellers at the end of the 1970s, Pilanesberg remains a haven where lions, buffalos and day-trippers still roam today. Although the park may appear developed in comparison with some South African wildernesses, don’t mistake it for a zoo. The animals roaming the extinct volcano crater are 100% wild.
Madikwe Game Reserve
South Africa’s fourth largest and yet most underappreciated wildlife reserve is closer to Jo’burg than the Kruger It offers Big Five wildlife viewing and dreamy lodging in a striking (and malaria-free) red-sand and thorn-bush environment.
Madikwe was formed in 1991 with a dual mandate to protect endangered wildlife and to use sustainable tourism initiatives to create permanent jobs for the indigenous people who were among the poorest and most remotely located residents. A massive translocation operation, called Operation Phoenix, brought more than 10,000 once-indigenous animals, whose numbers had been depleted due to hunting and farming, back into the area. The operation took over seven years to complete, with animals (including entire herds of elephants) being flown or driven in from various other reserves around Southern Africa. Around 20 years later, Madikwe can only be called a magnificent success.