All countries have their special destinations. South Africa has a variety of places to spend an exotic holiday, but there are a few that don’t always come to mind first, yet they offer an unforgettable experience not found anywhere else in the world. The Rand’s foreign exchange rate currently benefits most nationalities and it’s an excellent opportunity for an affordable holiday in this beautiful country.
Let’s start with the Mpumalanga province, which lies on the eastern side of South Africa and borders Swaziland and Mozambique. This province has a number of places worth a visit, but the Kruger National park and the Blyde River Canyon are worth a closer look.
For game watchers Mpumalanga is a perfect option when visiting South Africa. You can either visit one of the many private game reserves for a customized experience (Londolozi and Singita are two examples), or you can visit the Kruger National Park to get a full dose of the Big Five and many other wild animals kept in this famous park. A world leader in advanced environmental management, the park spans almost two million hectares and is home to 147 mammal, 114 reptile, 34 amphibian, 49 fish, 507 bird and 336 tree species. Bushman rock paintings add a special twist as evidence of man’s interaction with this environment over many centuries.
The Kruger National Park has twelve main camps, four satellite camps, five Bushveld camps, two overnight hides, two Bush lodges and a camp site where you bring your own mobile home or tent. The camps and lodges offer accommodation that varies from basic but comfortable to world-class five-star level.
Leaving the Kruger Park and moving west, the Blyde River Canyon Reserve is home to the third largest canyon in the world – in fact 1,382 meters deep. Its lush subtropical foliage makes it the “greenest” canyon in the world. This reserve is home to all of South Africa’s five primates – vervet monkeys, chacma baboons, the somango monkey and nocturnal greater and lesser bushbabies.
The canyon is best experienced by completing the “Panorama Route” by car or bus tour, which includes special spots such as Graskop, God’s Window, Pilgrim’s Rest and the Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Pilgrim’s Rest obtained provincial heritage status due to its historical significance. Founded in 1873 when alluvial gold was first mined here, it has been preserved as a quaint “living museum” showcasing the town’s rich history.
For an adrenalin rush there is a choice of activities such as “extreme tubing” along class 2-3 rapids in the Blyde river, hiking, paintball or micro light and hot air balloon flights. A variety of lodges and resorts offer all levels of accommodation.
(Sources: Wikipedia; www.nature-reserve.co.za)
In the nearby Kwazulu-Natal province lies the Drakensberg Mountain, forming a natural border between Lesotho and Kwazulu-Natal. The Mountains are divided into five regions: Bergville and the Northern Drakensberg (famous for its natural Amphitheatre), East Griqualand, Himeville/Underberg/Southern Drakensberg, UMzimkhulu and Winterton (gateway to the Central Drakensberg).
Derived from the Dutch version of “dragon”, the Drakensberg Mountain is home to the world’s second-highest waterfall – the Tugela Falls – at 947 meters. Numerous caves contain the world’s largest collection of rock paintings – between 35,000 and 40,000 – by the San (Bushmen). For this reason the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park was declared a world-heritage site in December 2000.
Sani Pass provides one of very few road accesses to the mountain and this border post boasts the highest pub above sea level in Africa. For the more energetic there are numerous hiking trails on the upper and lower slopes of the mountain, providing glimpses of 290 species of birds and 48 species of mammals. For the more adventurous there is rock- or ice-climbing, abseiling, white water rafting and helicopter rides.
Accommodation throughout the Drakensberg Mountains ranges from accredited self-catering establishments and guest houses to four-star hotels and resorts. Brown and Rainbow Trout fishing is offered by many of these resorts and some also have other sports available such as skiing, golfing, bowling, squash and action cricket.
There are special events scheduled through the year in the area, such as family music festivals and mountain bike races. Historical places worth visiting include the Llandaff Oratory Chapel (thought to be the smallest church in the world), the Emmaus Mission Station founded in 1847 by Germany’s Berlin Mission Society, the Reichenau Mission founded in 1886 by German Bavarian Monks, the Matatiele Museum and various other archeological sites and war memorials. Dozens of rocks, pinnacles, buttresses, caves, pools and waterfalls – aptly named due to their shape or after some famous person – dot the mountainous landscape. Some of these are only visible and can only be reached on certain hiking routes.
Travelers to the Drakensberg regions should note that the climate varies from snow conditions in winter (mid-year) to very hot at the end of the year. Even in summer snow may fall on the mountains. Hiking and climbing routes are challenging and require registration before commencing on any of the routes. Common languages in these regions are Zulu, English, German and Afrikaans. Credit cards are widely accepted.
(Sources: Wikipedia; www.drakensberg.org.za; www.zulu.org.za)
Next we’re going south to the Western Cape province of South Africa. Along its southern coast can be found another world-class tourist destination – the 200 km Garden Route. Along this route there are twelve towns and many diverse experiences for holiday makers.
Charming Knysna is one of the jewels in this Garden Route crown, twice voted “Town of the Year”. Situated on the edge of a beautiful lagoon, it offers a variety of accommodation ranging from bed-and-breakfasts and lodges to luxurious five star hotels and mountain-top retreats. Each year the town celebrates festivals such as the Oyster Festival around June and the Pink Loerie Gay Festival around April.
Knysna offers a plethora of activities and sights around the town. The Featherbed Nature Reserve is a pristine natural heritage site offering beautiful sea views. The Knysna Elephant Park is a rare opportunity to get close to this member of the “Big Five” family in a controlled, free-range environment.
The Knysna lagoon is ideal for outdoor activities such as boating, swimming, canoeing, bird-watching and fishing. Ferries providing on-board lunches and dinners cross the lagoon to the Featherbed Reserve and the Knysna Heads. Other activities include paragliding, abseiling, rock climbing and quad biking.
The Knysna Heads is a spot notorious for shipwrecks due to the strong currents. A walk to this rocky edge lets one appreciate the challenges facing any boat entering or leaving the lagoon on a stormy day. From here there are excellent views of the sea and the Featherbed Nature Reserve across the entrance.
Waterfront restaurants and shops can be found at the town’s edge as well as on two of the islands in the lagoon. Seafood abounds and a good selection of fish, mussel, crayfish and oyster dishes appear on almost every menu. Knysna has a history of beer brewing and the local brewery is still in operation.
If you happen to know someone living in the Pezula golf estate, or you’re lucky enough to afford renting a house on this prestigious mountain top, you can enjoy champion level golf in a very special environment with sea and lagoon views to die for. Alternatively you can consider checking into the five star Pezula Resort Hotel and Spa with its indoor heated and outdoor pools and wide range of spa treatments.
For something completely different one can visit the secluded Noetzie beach with its beachfront castles. Public access is by a steep footpath only and some residents can barely reach their castles by car. Once on the beach it’s a short walk to the Nutzie river mouth and breathtaking views of the handful of castles built into the mountain side.
Knysna has a good climate all year round, with less rain in June. The town can be reached by road (5 hours from Cape Town) or airport in nearby George (30 minutes).
(Sources: tourismcapetown.co.za; www.southafrica.net/za)
Moving inland from Knysna, near the town of Oudtshoorn there is another gem waiting for those interested in caves. The Cango Caves is the only show cave in Africa that offers a choice of heritage and adventure tours. Although the land was first owned in 1756 after the first Europeans landed in the Cape, the caves were only discovered by them in 1780. Scientific evidence shows that these caves have been known to man since the Stone Age. In 1938 the caves were proclaimed a Historical Monument.
First believed to be less than two kilometers long, the Cango Caves are now known to be almost five kilometers long – and all has not been discovered yet! Tours are available in English, German, French and Afrikaans, but you have to book in advance in the interest of safety, comfort and the ongoing conservation efforts. Adventure tours are more challenging. Some spots are narrow and low, so the tours are not recommended for those suffering from claustrophobia.
There is one peculiar engraving in these caves – it’s the only piece of cave art in South Africa to be found completely in the dark. How did the artist from that era accomplish this without a light source? The engraving shows an elephant superimposed on an eland – and yet you see only the elephant when you view the work from one side and only the eland when you view it from the other side. Another mystery is that many cave guides have committed suicide over the years and no-one can explain why.
Moving west into the Overberg region of the Western Cape, the Caledon Casino, Hotel and Spa is your chance to be spoiled with a luxurious stay in a spa hotel.
It is certain that original Khoi-Khoi and San inhabitants first found and enjoyed this hot spring. Dutch settlers discovered it at the end of the seventeenth century. In 1897 work started on a sanitarium and hotel with the aim of rivalling any English or Continental spa of that day. It became a haven for well-to-do Capetonians of the early twentieth century.
Whether it’s physical, mental or spiritual rejuvenation you’re after, the peaceful scenery of wheat fields and majestic mountains provides a perfect setting. If you fancy some playtime, gaming at the casino includes slot machines, progressive jackpots and table games. Slot machines include standard stepper reels and poker to sophisticated multi-bet games with exciting bonus features. Progressive jackpot offers stand-alone, hyperlink, themed and mystery progressives.
The spa offering includes contouring envelopment, mediheel promotions (advanced pedicures) and micro current treatments. Micro current treatments use ultrasonic exfoliation with patented micro current capabilities. Moisture level checks are done before and after treatments to measure their effects.
Mineral rich Khoisan pools are fed from a natural hot water source (65 degrees Celsius) at more than a million liters of water per day. The pools have five different temperatures for you to choose from and the mineral water contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphate, sodium, silica, bicarbonate and chloride with a ph. level of 7.2.
Facilities extend further to a rain spa, a floatation pool, a lap pool, a steam room, a sauna, Swiss showers and a Victorian bath house dating back to the 1800’s. The rain spa is a treatment that uses hot and cold water jets, steam and showers accompanied by rainforest scents and equatorial lighting. This spa includes a body exfoliation area, a foot spa and sleep areas where you can have a head massage.
Outdoor activities such as golf, horse riding, tree top zip lines, paintball and air-gun shooting are available at the resort. Horse riding trails cater for both beginners and more experienced riders.
The Caledon Hotel offers four star accommodation ranging from superior and deluxe rooms to luxury suites and dining options in the three restaurants vary from casual to fine dining. The Caledon Casino, Hotel and Spa is a member of the Heritage Environmental Rating Programme with a gold classification.
(Sources: www.thecaledoncasino.co.za; www.tsogosunhotels.com)
The few destinations described here represent a small fraction of what South Africa has to offer. This country is rich in geography, rich in history and rich in diverse culture. These are some of