South Africa is packed with hidden gems and I do believe every South African should explore this incredibly beautiful country!
We have everything, truly we do. Snow-capped mountains, dry deserts, warm oceans and golden beaches, vineyards and forests and reserves teeming with the Big Five of Africa. Plus, private reserves with their botanical splendours on display and rivers and hidden communities just waiting to open their doors and hearts to us, their fellow South Africans.
Now is a great time to travel domestically because our top destinations are more crowd-free than ever before. So, get out there and explore while our borders remain closed! For help planning and booking an affordable local holiday chat to one of our South African travel experts.
We have everything in abundance, which means there is so much for us to see and there really is something for everyone in South Africa.
- To start with, 11 official languages
- 9 provinces filled with incredible cities and towns and vibrant people
- 20 national parks and countless private game parks and reserves
- 2 oceans (Indian and Atlantic), one warm and one cold and the diversity of life in and around those oceans
- 63 mountain ranges, spanning the alphabet, from the Amatola to the Zuurberge
- 59,308,690 people, including you and me. With so many people to meet and get to know, we had better start exploring right now!
The South African population is equivalent to 0.76% of the total world population – how incredible! What diversity. What an honour to have so many fantastic persons on our doorsteps waiting to be seen and heard and taken by the hand and shown our country – a land of contrasts and indescribable beauty.
Travelling in South Africa – my background
When I was a child, there were three of us, myself, an older brother and a younger sister. My brother and I always wanted to explore and we didn’t mind camping whereas my little sister was the princess that only ‘camped’ in 3-star hotels. My parents had travelled a lot when they were younger and we grew up hearing stories of other cultures and places. We all wanted to travel from a very young age, BUT my dad said we should not travel anywhere abroad until we had seen our own country–South Africa.
My dad has travelled South Africa extensively. To this day, if I need to go anywhere in SA I can call my dad and he will be able to tell me how to get there and usually with more than one route. My brother is like that too. He has the most amazing sense of direction and has explored so many unknown places and travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town on dusty farm roads that most people don’t know exist.
My first travel experience on my own was after I left school and it was out of the country. I explored, Israel, Turkey, Greece and Egypt, but when I came back three years later, I worked on a game farm in the Waterberg region of Limpopo. Here I met some of the most incredible people who all loved to see new places. We had different work areas and often a group of us were able to take time off work at the same time. We used to throw a dart at a map of South Africa and wherever that landed we went to explore. What joy!
How exciting when the dart landed on the Kruger National Park! We lived and worked on a small reserve ourselves, BUT to explore the GREATEST of the national parks–the WORLD famous Kruger….. what excitement!
We also landed up in little places like Riemvasmaak, which means ‘tied with straps’.
We did not even know where that was….. BUT imagine our absolute delight to see the rugged beauty of this town high up in the Northern Cape, near the Orange River and close to the Namibian border. Off we went expecting nothing, but much to our surprise there were hot springs and the close by Augrabies Falls National Park. A stark landscape of great beauty and a new memory for me to pull up and explore and share.
Explore South Africa now!
Come, people. Get up and get out there! Open your eyes to our local treasures. Open your hearts.
Put on your ‘takkies’. Get on the bus, train or plane. Get in your cars. Gather your families and friends or loved ones, and come and explore. You do not have to go far, start in your backyard, local park, town, city, province. From there branch out and see more and more. Throw those darts into unknown places and come and explore. How truly blessed are we with this land of splendour!
Western Cape travel experiences
I never grew up in the Cape and only moved here when I was in my late twenties, but the moment I arrived, this was home for me. The fynbos vegetation was and is so beautiful with gorgeous names, almost like a litany of strong, independent women. Strong because although fynbos can be delicate and feminine, it is never weak. Many of the plants are shrubs and the proteas, ericas and restios rub shoulders with geophytes, legumes and vygies.
Along our Garden Route, the fynbos abounds, but the fertile soil begs to be planted and the bright greens of wheat and lucerne and the golden yellow of the canola fields form a tapestry of colour in amongst the fynbos’ floral kingdom. Changing with the seasons from the silvery greys and greens to the pinks of ericas and proteas, you also have the bright splashes of orange when the aloes flower.
While you stop and breathe the splendour before you in, you can also lose your breath in another form entirely. The Garden Route has many incredible places where you can practise adrenalin sports or exercise your lungs in the open air. Choose from bungee jumping and canoeing, black water tubing and hang gliding, to name a few. There are canyons and waterfalls and beautiful beaches to explore. We have the Cango Caves with its dripstone caverns with magical names such as the ‘glass flower fantasy’, ‘Cango candle’ and the ‘the hanging shawl’, the last just screaming out for a horror to be written with that name.
The incredible mountain passes lead you to ostrich farms and forests, game reserves and marine parks, oyster festivals and weekend markets. There is an abundance of things to do and see in the Western Cape!
Northern Cape travel wonders
The Northern Cape is an area that not many people visit unless they are passing through on their way somewhere else. It is such a pity as this is a MUCH overlooked destination and is also home to the now-famous, Riemvasmaak of my memories. This area is rich in history and home to plenty of game areas that most people don’t explore. It hosts such a diversity of scenery and fauna and flora! I will list just a few below for you and you will see why this is one of my favourite South African destinations and well worth more than one visit.
Northern Cape highlights:
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park
- Goegap Nature Reserve, Namaqualand
- Augrabies Falls National Park
- Kimberley, Mokala and Magersfontein
- Tankwa Karoo National Park
- Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park
The Kgalagadi is a photographer’s dream with blues, golds and reds – royal colours. The colours of one of the largest wilderness areas in the world, 3.6 million hectares of vast skies and red sands and golden grasslands. Botswana and South Africa combined their Gemsbok parks together to create this massive expanse of rugged beauty. The area is known for its black-maned lion and sociable weavers with their giant nests.
The area has a variety of camps and chalets and is well worth the visit. To access some of those places you will need a 4×4, so if you are wanting an incredible break and a chance to test your driving skills, this is the place for you. This area is a birder’s paradise and there is an abundance of large mammals. Plus, the scarce vegetation makes it perfect for game viewing and those National Geographic shots.
Goegap Nature Reserve, Namaqualand
The Goegap Reserve is home to animals completely adapted to the semi-arid conditions here, so aardwolf, Hartman’s zebra and the honey badger abound. Once again, almost 100 different bird species flit to and fro across the cornflower blue skies. The Namaqualand is also home to the colourful wildflowers that appear every spring. The extreme temperatures and the variations in rainfall all determine which floral display will prevail so no matter how many times you go, every year will have different colours and displays to delight. The night skies are as magnificent as the daytime extravaganza and with the kokerboom succulents as a silhouette against the skies, those cameras will work overtime. There is nothing more beautiful than fields of flowers and here, it is not just fields of flowers, but entire deserts that have been transformed as far as the eye can see.
Augrabies Falls National Park
I had a friend who loved the bush and there was nothing he liked more than to explore new areas. He was at Augrabies Falls National Park for many years and I went to stay. I remember arriving there and being amazed that anything could live in the harsh landscape – almost completely bare except for kokerboom ‘trees’, euphorbias and silver-grey shrubs dotted here and there. Besides the incredible Augrabies Falls that has the Orange River cascade almost 150 metres into an 18-kilometre granite gorge, there is no water. The area is hot and dry and when it was suggested that I would like to join him on a night drive with some guests, I was appalled….. what would we see in 3 hours and I knew I would be so bored.
Well, did I have to eat my words, I was there for a week and went on a night drive every single evening. We saw baboon and leopard, porcupine and monkeys and so many chameleons and lizards! In the day the vervet monkeys and klipspringer were everywhere and the massive Verreaux’s Eagle that is so beautiful can almost always be seen near the falls. You wonder what they see as they catch the thermals and soar so high above this lunar landscape and what they must think as they see us scarper along in our 4×4’s or canoes on the river. What keen eyesight they must have and what magic we must miss with our human eyes.
Kimberley, Mokala and Magersfontein
Kimberly, the Diamond City, is another place that is well worth a visit. The largest man-made hole is here in Kimberley and the sheer size is impressive – man-made or not. A fascinating museum shows the early days in the 1870s when diamonds were discovered here. The mine museum is also here with around 50 houses styled as in the times of the diamond boom. There are houses and shops and a church all lining a cobbled street and so fascinating for children and adults alike. Make sure to take the walk through Belgravia which is the upmarket area of Kimberleys diamond fields. See the homes of Rhodes, Rudd and Oppenheimer, names that are so well-known, even today. See the collection of photographs of the tribes from the area and the almost forgotten rites that were performed.
Kimberley can be combined with a visit to Mokala Park which is only 70 kilometres away. This park boasts both black and white rhino, tsessebe and oryx, sable and caracal. There are also giraffes with their black tongues that curl around the Camelthorn branches, after which the park is named. Here you can also enjoy horseriding and hikes and mountain biking. A definite winner for the active family.
Another family outing, especially for the history buff, is the Magersfontein Battlefield and Museum. This was the scene of ‘Black Week’ during the Anglo Boer War where the Brits were defeated. There is a museum that houses uniforms and weapons as well as a monument nearby that honours the dead and affords views that go on forever over this final resting place of many of the brave soldiers.
Tankwa Karoo National Park
The Tankwa Karoo is on everyone’s lips nowadays as the home of Afrika Burn. The festival that attracts music and artists and sculptures pieces that are both fantastical and gorgeous. This area is also home to the Tankwa Karoo National where the haunting beauty of the rugged desert meets with the glittering night skies that appear closer than anywhere else on earth I am sure. This amazing park, surrounded by different mountain ranges, includes 29 mammal species and 124 bird so far and is continuously being updated. This incredible park has open space and tranquillity in abundance.
Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park
Right up in the north is the PEACE park, a park that combines the Ai-Ais of Namibia and the Richtersveld Park of South Africa. This park is a buffer zone established in 2003, between South Africa and Nambia. And, in 2007 the Sendelingsdrift tourist facilities were opened to enable tourists and locals to travel between Namibia and South Africa within the boundaries of the park. This incredible park boasts 360 different plant species per square kilometre, in a land that only receives 68mm of rain a year. The nomadic pastoralists, the Nama, still roam the region and their language and way of life are preserved within the park. The landscape is dotted with quiver trees and tall aloes. The quiver tree is known as the ‘half mens’ (which means ‘half-human’) by the local Nama and as the early morning mist curls and swirls around this barren landscape, you can almost see the ‘half mens’ appear and feed the belief that these are Nama ancestors longing for their homes.
Travel the KwaZulu-Natal gems
Completely opposite to the Northern Cape is KwaZulu-Natal on the East Coast of South Africa. This is truly a province of valleys and hills. It hosts the Drakensberg Mountain Range that rises up majestically and commands awe from all who gaze upon her.
The novel, Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton describes KwaZulu-Natal beautifully. I remember reading this book while still in school and the opening paragraph has stayed with me and I can picture so clearly the landscape of the area:
“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.”
How beautiful is that imagery? This area is so stunning and so filled with fabulous sights that you wish you spoke another language as your own just does not do justice to all that is before you.
KwaZulu-Natal reserves and parks to explore:
- Ukahlamba-Drakensberg Park
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park
- Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
- Sodwana Bay National Park
- Oribi Gorge & Midlands Meander
- Battlefields Route
This beautiful area is dominated by the Drakensberg, or ‘Dragons Mountain’ and this 200km range has rugged peaks of up to 3482 metres above sea level and drops into verdant valleys and mountain passes that take your breath away. This spectacular backdrop provides a veritable playground of things to do and see.
The mountain peaks themselves provide incredible imagery as you speak the names aloud…. Giant’s Castle, Cathedral Peak and Mount-Aux-Sources. There are also smaller peaks and foothills, waterfalls and rock pools, mountain streams and caves to explore.
There are San rock paintings in the caves within the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, almost 600 examples, which bring home how magical this region is. Just stepping into the shadows of the mountains brings rest and as your lungs expand and you start to unwind, you can begin to live once more, grounded afresh to the wonder of our world.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park & Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
I remember iSimangaliso and Hluhluwe so clearly. We came here first when I was a child of around 6 and I remember that my parents had somehow forgotten to bring along the suitcase that contained my sister and my clothing for the trip. I can completely understand this now as not only did we need to pack for a family of five, we also had to pack for the Labrador and Alsatian that came with us. They were traumatic travellers and had to be medicated for the journey so it was action stations before the 4 am start on the journey to the Drakensberg. So there we were. We had the clothes we were wearing and we each got one more bottom – I had a denim skirt with red binding on the pocket and a top, a t-shirt from Hluhluwe showing a hippo. That was my first time ever seeing a hippopotamus and it made a huge (excuse the pun) impression on me. The Hluhluwe is one of the oldest proclaimed reserves in South Africa and its 96000 km is applauded for their conservation efforts.
iSimangaliso is along the coastline and forests with Lake St Lucia in the middle sporting hippos and crocs, pelicans and flamingos.
Sodwana Bay, Oribi Gorge & Midlands Meander
To the north is Sodwana Bay and this is still inside the iSimangaliso wetland. Sodwana is known for its deep-sea diving and coral reefs. Beautiful beaches are also shared with loggerhead turtles and leatherbacks that come out to nest in the summer months. There are diving and kayaking, sea turtle and ocean tours, shark information programmes and fishing, kite surfing or just soaking up the rays on the golden beaches and cooling off in the warm waters of picture-perfect Sodwana Bay.
As children, my gran had a house in Ramsgate with an incredible garden that had bamboo at the bottom that often attracted leguaan. More importantly, though – she was close to the sea – Shelly Beach and the lagoon where we used to spend summers with the paddle ski on the lagoon, being burnt nut brown and hair fairer than at the start of the holiday after its days being bleached by the salt. I remember Eskimo pies and granadilla ices and waffles at the Blue Lagoon Teahouse. I remember zooting up the hill at the end of the day utterly exhausted with sun and sand and fresh air and exercise. Rainy days meant shopping in Port Shepstone which had more shops and a bigger variety of things than Ramsgate. Only when I was much older did I realise that the Oribi Gorge was close by. A bird watchers paradise and a scenic picnic spot. There is also the wilder side with a gorge swing, abseiling, white water rafting, slides and hikes and adventure trails.
While the husband and children are gorging themselves on adrenalin pursuits there is also the Midlands Meander to explore. This is 80km of potters and artists and weavers that combined ideas and resources and created the route to highlight their trades. It started with just six studios and now there are 160 places to see and touch and eat and drink and play sleep and shop. There are weavers, potters, wood crafters, leather workers, artists, metalworkers, box makers, herb growers, cheese makers, beer brewers and so much more.
There is so much to see and take in and with the landscape the views no one will be bored, BUT if there is a need to see and do something else, there is the Midmar Dam with all its watersports.
Standing in this picturesque landscape it is very difficult to imagine that this was also the centre of clashes between the Brits and the Boers in the Anglo-Boer War. Take time out and explore the Battlefields Route that does not only pay homage to the fallen soldiers, it also highlights the bravery of the Voortrekkers as they covered this area in creaking ox-wagons and petticoats and bonnets. This was the area of the famed Zulu kings, who were some of the greatest rulers this country has ever seen. Come and relive history at Rorkes Drift and Isandlwana – famous battlefields and where the Zulu defeated the great British Army with nothing more than spears and shields. Stone fortresses and scattered graveyards are often all that remains of these devastating battles fought over this rich land, but it comes alive with the guides and experts that wish to share this knowledge with you.
This is an area with rich soils and verdant hills, some with sugar cane and others with lush grasses and wherever you look you see life and colour and proud people.
Experience South Africa – travel locally now!
There are so many places in South Africa that we get to explore. They are on our doorsteps and we are foolish to want to go anywhere without first seeing these magnificent places that rival any worldwide. My dad was so right. How truly blessed are we to be able to breathe in this air, whether it is the dry air from the Northern Cape with its hints of animal and bush, the fynbos scents, peppered with sea air from the Western Cape or the sweet, clean smell of the Drakensberg’s peaks in KwaZulu-Natal; they will fill our lungs with all that is good.
Let us experience all that South Africa has to offer firsthand. Let’s swim in her waters, climb her mountains and explore every area we have never seen before. Let us embrace every province and when people question us about our land, our eyes will shine and we will bubble up inside with enthusiasm and joy. We will overflow with all that we have seen and we will be drunk on the wonder of South Africa and wish for another long weekend and vacation so we can explore our own country some more.
Talk to us for help planning or booking your next South African adventure on a budget.