A guide to South Africa
A guide to South Africa
With so many things to do in South Africa, we’ve created the following guide to the destination – from Cape Town to the winelands and the Garden Route, from the Eastern Cape to the unforgettable Kruger national park, and glorious South African beaches.
Although Swaziland and Lesotho are separate countries to South Africa, these destinations are easily combined with a South African adventure.
Cosmopolitan yet relaxed, with a comfortable Mediterranean climate, Cape Town is the ideal gateway into Africa. Sandwiched between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, the city enjoys one of the world’s most spectacular locations.
Take a cable car to the summit of Table Mountain for superb views over Cape Town to the beaches beyond visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for three decades, or stroll along the attractive Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in the city’s old port area, full of vibrant restaurants, shops and cafes.
Cape Winelands & the Whale Route
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 encompasses the small towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl. Sample local wines, have lunch at a wine estate or arrange to have a picnic beside one of the area’s many streams and lakes. The oldest European settlement in South Africa, Stellenbosch is a university town of oak-lined 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.
Nearby Hermanus is the top spot for whale watching between July and November.
The Garden Route
This compact coastal belt, running from George to the Tsitsikamma National Park, is a picturesque stretch of wide beaches, lakes, rivers, indigenous forests and impressive mountain passes.
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 where you can take a tour or even ride an ostrich. 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 long stretches of sweeping, unspoilt, beaches and, close by, the quaint hamlet of Stormsriver 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.
The Eastern Cape
An ideal place to begin or end a Garden Route itinerary, the Eastern Cape has some excellent private wildlife reserves and a striking coastline where great white sharks and southern right whales may 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.
KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife Reserves
Originally two separate national parks, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi offers some superb wildlife viewing in truly diverse landscapes. Umfolozi, the southern sector of the park, was pioneering in its conservation of white rhinos in the 1960s and is thought to have saved them from extinction. Where Umfolozi is flat and dissected by huge rivers, Hluhluwe is hillier. The wildlife here is very diverse, with wild dogs, antelope, cheetahs and giraffes, as well as the Big Five.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is South Africa’s flagship wildlife area, with 140 different mammal species, more than 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 the country’s most concentrated wildlife viewing, and sightings of the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes – are common. Some of our favourite lodges are featured on page 43 and have been chosen for their attentive warm service, outstanding food and excellent guiding.
Swaziland & Lesotho
Bordering KwaZulu-Natal are Lesotho and Swaziland, two kingdoms with spectacular landscapes and a traditional way of life. Swaziland can be visited as a stand-alone destination or in combination with KwaZulu- Natal and the Kruger National Park. At the heart of the country is the Ezulwini valley, home to the Swazi royal family. Mkhaya Game Reserve is the flagship wildlife destination with an opportunity to see roan, tsessebe, sable antelope, black and white rhinos and elephants. There is also a very good arts and crafts industry with galleries selling wood carvings, candles, jewellery and woven rugs. In Lesotho we focus on Tsehlanyane National Park in the north and the Sani Pass in the south, where guided walks can be taken through dramatic scenery and local villages.
Beaches of South Africa
South Africa has some of the world’s finest beaches, with 27 awarded international Blue Flag status. The different coastlines vary hugely and the activities on offer are dependent largely on the ocean currents. South Africa is bordered in the east by the Indian Ocean (warm) and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean (cold). The two oceans meet at the Cape, with cold water to the west and warmer water to the east of this divide.
Cape Town & the West Coast
Glorious stretches of white sand and tantalisingly turquoise waters lap the shores from Cape Town along the west coast. Swimming is a challenge because of cold sea temperatures, but sunbathing and beach activities are popular between October and April, when beaches are busy well into the evening. Cape Town’s top beaches are Camps Bay, Noordhoek and the Clifton beaches.
Eastern Cape & the Wild Coast
Remote and undiscovered, this stretch of coastline is off the tourist trail and offers alternating sweeps of beach and precipitous cliffs.
Cape Point to Port Elizabeth
As you round Cape Point the water warms up by a few degrees and Hermanus’ Grotto beach is swimmable in the summer from November to April. Mossel Bay to Port Elizabeth is where South Africa’s beach culture really starts and waters here are temperate, but not tropical. Working westward along the Garden Route, there are gems every step of the way with swimming largely a summer pastime.
KwaZulu-Natal’s North Coast
This is where the good year-round beach options begin. The sea and weather are warm throughout the year and the beaches tend to be smaller and rocky. This is not called the Dolphin Coast for nothing – pods of dolphins are often seen in the clear waters.