What to see
A short drive from Cape Town takes you into the undulating valleys and towering mountains of the Cape Winelands, South Africa’s main wine producing region. This area, which encompasses the small towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, can be easily visited on a day trip from Cape Town, but longer stays are recommended. The oldest European settlement in South Africa, Stellenbosch is a university town of oaklined avenues surrounded by vineyards, while the French Huguenot village of Franschhoek is considered the prettiest of the three towns, and is home to some of South Africa’s finest chefs. For those with a particular interest in wines, we recommend a tour with Pietman Retief. For gourmet travellers and recreational cooks, African Relish’s cooking courses, based in the charming town of Prince Albert, provide a fantastic opportunity to discover South Africa’s eclectic cuisine. If you plan your holiday between July and November, Hermanus is Africa’s top spot for whale-watching, either by boat or from the scenic cliffs. We recommend a stay at Grootbos Private Reserve to learn about the Cape’s unique fynbos plants and to spot the migrating southern right whale.
This compact coastal belt known as the Garden Route is a picturesque stretch of wide beaches, lakes and rivers, indigenous forests and impressive mountain passes, running from George to the Tsitsikamma National Park. It is particularly suited to self-drive holidays. The Garden Route is known for its small, owner run and managed guesthouses and farms (although larger hotels are also available), which give a real feel for the country and its culture, and enable guests to meet the locals. Oudtshoorn, known as the ‘feather capital,’ has a picturesque setting in the semi-desert region of the Little Karoo. Popular visits from Oudtshoorn include the dramatic Cango Caves and a local ostrich farm.
Continue east along the Garden Route to the small seaside town of Knysna, which overlooks a picturesque lagoon. Have dinner on a Paddle Cruiser or walk in the secluded Featherbed Nature Reserve. Plettenberg Bay offers miles of sweeping, unspoilt beaches and, closeby, the quaint hamlet of Storms River lies at the feet of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains. The area is characterised by vast expanses of Cape flora and gigantic trees, and is teeming with birdlife. For big animal viewing, a logical extension to the Garden Route is the Eastern Cape just a short drive from Port Elizabeth. It is also possible to fly from Port Elizabeth to the Kruger National Park, via Johannesburg. Both destinations offer excellent opportunities to view wildlife at close quarters, including the ‘Big Five’.
KwaZulu Natal forms South Africa’s east coast and is a diverse region of traditional towns and villages, mountain ranges, battlefields and safari parks. Durban is the most common entry point, a short flight from Johannesburg. From here, travel north to the Midlands Meander, a project started in 1983 by local craftspeople to market their products and now extending over 80 kms, with a huge variety of stalls. Continue to the Drakensberg Mountain range or travel east to the battlefields of Spioenkop, Blood River, Isandlwana and Rorke’ Drift. Here, local historians recount tales of conflict between the British, Boer and Zulu. From Durban fly to Richard’s Bay to explore the wilderness areas of Hluhluwe-Umfolozi and the Greater St Lucia Private Game Reserve. We recommend a stay at Phinda, which offers excellent wildlife viewing. Bordering KwaZulu Natal are Lesotho and Swaziland, two kingdoms of spectacular landscapes and a traditional way of life. A short drive north of Durban are the popular beach resorts of Ballito and Umhlanga Rocks.
Mpumalanga, with its canyons and waterfalls, contains some of South Africa’s most striking scenery, as well as the world famous KrugerNational Park, whose unfenced borders lead onto some of Africa’s premium private wildlife View great sights along the Panorama Route such as Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window and Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and discover the historic mining village of Pilgrim’s Rest. This dramatic landscape can also be viewed from a hot-air balloon and makes a spectacular hiking. For a longer stay in the area, we recommend Cybele Forest Lodge & Health Spa, a luxury boutique hotel in a breathtaking forest setting.
Featuring more than 300 game reserves and national parks, South Africa offers some fantastic safari experiences. The variety of accommodation available, from rustic safari tents to de luxe chalets, means that we can tailor a safari to your exact requirements and budget. Many of the lodges we use have specialist child-friendly safari programmes, as well as guest rooms especially designed for family groups.
Kruger National Park is South Africa’s flagship wildlife area, with 140 different mammal species, over 500 birds and a host of amphibian, reptile and plant species. With unfenced edges bordering some of Africa’s finest private wildlife reserves, including Sabi Sands, Timbavati and Manyeleti, Kruger offers some of the country’s greatest wildlife viewing, and sightings of the ‘Big Five’ - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo - are common.
An ideal place to begin or end a Garden Route itinerary, the Eastern Cape has some outstanding private game reserves and a striking coastline where great white shark and southern right whale can be seen. The region’s vast plains, reduced to marginal grazing land during the time of the settler farmers, now support a huge variety of wildlife, and Addo Elephant Park has the most concentrated elephant population in Africa. Just an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth and malaria-free, the reserves are ideal for family travel.
The 75,000 hectare Madikwe Game Reserve is just three hours’ drive from Johannesburg, situated on the South African border with Botswana. Created during Africa’s biggest wildlife relocation programme in 1991, the reserve is now home to 66 large mammal species, including the ‘Big Five’ and is one of the best places to see wild dog in South Africa. Madikwe is also malaria-free.
The Waterberg occupies 150,000 hectares just north of Johannesburg and has been described as South Africa’s best-kept secret. It is an area of soaring craggy mountains, sweeping grasslands and spectacular rock formations. Although there is not the same near-guarantee of Big Five sightings as in the Kruger Area, there is a huge diversity of wildlife and landscapes. A malaria-free destination, the Waterberg is ideal for families and travellers looking for a safari area with fewer visitors.