South Africa is blessed with spectacular scenery and natural landscapes - mountain peaks and passes, dense and ancient forests, miles of unspoiled coastline, rivers to sooth or thrill you, and rolling flower fields and grasslands of every hue. Places to inspire you, places to explore or to simply revel in the joyous gift of nature.
The Eastern Cape, South Africa, is a place of rugged beauty. Its pristine coastline, virgin bush and sub-tropical forests exist as though untouched by time. It’s the home of Africa’s Big Five and South African surfing, and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. It boasts many natural, historical and cultural attractions and activities.
Its natural diversity is second to none: the Eastern Cape incorporates parts of all 7 ecological zones that occur in South Africa and features all 3 of the country's biodiversity regions, which is further enhanced by its 820 kilometers of untamed, if not wild, coastline.
Visit Tsitsikamma and do the world's highest commercial bridge bungee jump or renowned Otter Trail; see the Sundays River Valley with the world-famous Greater Addo Elephant National Park and 120,000 hectare marine reserve; or stop over at the aptly named Wild Coast, birthplace of Nelson Mandela and home to the Nelson Mandela Museum.
Free State Geological Wonders
South Africa’s Free State province boasts some of the most impressive rock features in the world. It is most renowned for the mighty sandstone cliffs that tower above the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the hills at Vredefort that form part of a pre-historic meteorite impact crater.
Visitors can hike the hills, or abseil, horse ride and canoe the area around the Vredefort Dome, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
South of Vredefort, in the eastern Free State, are the geological wonders of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. This protected area is renowned for its impressive sandstone features, most notably The Sentinel buttress.
The Sentinel is the most northern point of the Drakensberg Mountains and an iconic symbol of this national park. The Sentinel hiking trail takes visitors 3,000m above the Drakensberg Amphitheatre, affording spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Gauteng is a dynamic province. Considered the commercial heart of the country, its energy and vibe are tangible from the moment you arrive. From historical and cultural attractions that speak of the country’s turbulent past to world-class cities that are distinctly African, Gauteng has much to offer visitors.
Anchored by the historical cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Gauteng provides plenty in the way of shopping and entertainment through its network of malls, casinos, flea markets and suburban stores.
Both cities house a number of museums, including the Hector Peterson Museum, Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, Museum of Military History, Pretoria Art Museum and Museum Africa.
Pretoria extends north into the Dinokeng tourism region, which is home to the quaint mining town of Cullinan with its diamond history, and vast savannahs that feature a number of game reserves.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is a place of great scenic beauty. From mountains and midlands to pristine beaches, its natural splendor combined with a rich culture and historical heritage, make the province hard to beat.
KwaZulu-Natal holds many wonders. Mountain scenery, rolling midlands, bush and beaches come together to offer a compelling and intriguing KwaZulu-Natal tourism experience. All this is underpinned by the legacy of the Zulus and the wars which played out here, completing the picture of KwaZulu-Natal's alluring tourist attractions.
These exquisite mountains are a World Heritage Site and a major leisure attraction, offering walks, hikes and adventure activities. They house the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park with its abundant biodiversity, including 300 bird species and 48 mammal species.
Limpopo’s Cultural Heritage
Limpopo’s cultural heritage has deep roots. Dating back to 1000 AD, it is full of stories of lost civilizations, African kings and queens, historical groups that left their mark in secretive caves and traditional cultures that still hold on to the myths and legends of their forefathers.
While paleontological evidence at Makapans Valley suggests the history of Limpopo dates back some 3 million years when hominids roamed the area, archaeological evidence uncovered around the province points to its founding cultures, the first people of Limpopo.
A dominant Limpopo culture is that of the Venda, which is steeped in myth and legend. Several sites around the province are sacred to the group, including Lake Fundudzi, the magical lake inhabited by the python god of fertility, and the Thathe Vondo forest, which is believed to be filled with spirits.
The Mpumalanga province is dominated by the Blyde River Canyon – the world's third-deepest gorge; the Sudwala Caves – the world's oldest; and the Kruger National Park – arguably the world's most famous wildlife sanctuary. Yet it is South Africa's second-smallest province.
Mpumalanga means 'the place where the sun rises', and while it may be among South Africa's smallest provinces, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in spectacular natural diversity.
Not only is Mpumalanga home to the world's most famous game park, the world's third-deepest canyon and the world's oldest cave system, the region is also dotted with numerous game reserves teeming with flora and fauna.
Four billion years ago Antarctica and Madagascar separated from Mpumalanga's Blyde River Canyon, leaving behind a spectacular and beautiful landscape, which rises towards the north-eastern mountains, ending in a massive escarpment that drops steeply to the lowveld below.
The region's twisting mountain passes, steep valleys, rivers and pristine forests have given rise to alluring natural phenomena, including the 3-million-year-old Sudwala Caves, Bourke's Luck Potholes, God's Window, Wonder View and the Three Rondavels.
The North West province is home to 2 premier game reserves housing the Big 5, the Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site, the Taung Heritage Site, The Lost City and Valley of the Waves playground, a variety of adventure-sport destinations and an underwater cave-diving experience.
For the most part, South Africa's North West province is a vast grassland dotted with trees and views that stretch to distant horizons. It contains 2 of the country's largest game reserves, the world's largest playground and a World Heritage Site.
The Magaliesberg mountain range occupies the province's north-east corner, while the mighty Vaal River creates a natural boundary to the south.
Its inland location and extensive grasslands provide the perfect setting for a number of malaria-free wildlife reserves. These include Madikwe, South Africa's fourth-largest game reserve, and the Pilanesberg National Park, both home to the Big 5 and many more southern African mammals and birds.
If you love wide open spaces, wild flowers or Africa’s big cats, you’ll love South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. Among its many attractions, the Northern Cape is home to one of the world’s most important diamond mining towns, most impressive natural floral display, and famous black-manned lions.
Most of the Northern Cape Province lies south of the mighty Orange River and comprises desert and semi-desert landscapes. The province is characterized by vast arid plains with outcroppings of rocks, with the cold Atlantic Ocean forming its western boundary. Although slightly off the beaten track, there are many tourism highlights located in the Northern Cape. During August and September, the area of Namaqualand (also referred to as Namakwaland), is transformed into a brilliant carpet of wild flowers. This region is world-famous for its floral exuberance and photographic safaris to the area are very popular.
In the Western Cape you will discover world-class wines, wonderful whale watching, contrasting landscapes, ample adventure options, as well as the magic of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, which meet at Africa's most southerly point.
The Western Cape is home to the world's longest wine route, found along Route 62, a scenic tourist route that runs from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, 850 kilometers up the eastern coast. If you don't have time to complete the whole route, consider visiting the wine-growing areas of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Franschhoek, Ceres, Worcester, Bonnievale and Robertson.
The Garden Route, from Cape Town to Knysna, is gorgeous, passing through many a quirky town, complete with welcoming locals and fresh produce stalls. Stop in at Swellendam, a town where the jailer once doubled as the postmaster, to experience Cape Dutch architecture at its best.
A trip up the West Coast will take you through many a small town, mainly quiet fishing villages such as Langebaan and Paternoster. Be sure to take the time to enjoy the flora along the way - and stop in at Yzerfontein to experience a South African beach braai.
For serious peace and quiet, head north to the Karoo, one of the most arid regions in the country. This sparsely populated, semi-desert area offers open space, fresh air and historical architecture.
Kite-surfing along the West Coast, shark cage diving in Gansbaai, sea kayaking in Simon's Town, hiking along the Otter Trail, ostrich riding in Oudtshoorn, bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge in Nature's Valley, and scuba diving along the East Coast are sure to keep the most ardent adrenalin junkies entertained.
South Africa's Freedom Struggle
The South African freedom struggle always raised the issue of justice for every citizen of the country. From the mid-17th century to the late 20th century, when apartheid reigned in South Africa, the cause was for peace, love and humanity.
A fascinating aspect of their history is the South African freedom struggle. There are struggle heritage sites all over the country, including the Sol Plaatje Museum in Kimberley, the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, Constitution Hill in Johannesburg and the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance in Ginsberg outside King William's Town.
The South African freedom struggle began when the Khoi-khoi resisted the establishment of a refreshment station at Table Bay by the Dutch East India Company in 1652.
But until January 1912, when the forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC) was established, the battle against growing oppression was localized. And even then it would remain fairly passive until apartheid in South Africa was entrenched in law in 1948, which ushered in a period of repression infinitely worse than anything experienced before.
At the behest of young activists like Nelson Mandela, the ANC began to change its direction to a mass-based movement intent on liberation from apartheid in South Africa.
Growing resistance culminated in the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960, during which the police killed 69 protestors. In panic the government declared a state of emergency and banned the ANC and other liberation movements.
The ANC responded by going underground and establishing an armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), which was at the forefront of the South African apartheid struggle. The government, in turn, tightened its repressive measures, attempting to crush the movement and forcing those leaders who were not incarcerated on Robben Island, to flee overseas.
After regrouping, the ANC in exile, as well as internal underground structures, were able to bring such pressure to bear on the apartheid government that it unbanned all liberation movements in 1990, freed imprisoned leaders and entered negotiations, which culminated in the first democratic elections being held on April 27, 1994.
South African Natural Heritage Sites
The natural World Heritage Sites in South Africa have been shaped by forces we barely understand. But we can admire their wondrous handiwork – a vast estuarine system, a rich legacy of plant life, a gallery of sculpture man cannot imitate, and a natural disaster of a magnitude hard to conceptualize.
South Africa's four natural heritage sites each foreground the planet's natural elements - water, air, earth and fire - in some way.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park may feature a surprising range of habitats and ecosystems, but the overpowering theme here is water. Trailing up 280 km of KwaZulu-Natal coastline, it includes Africa's largest estuary at Lake St Lucia, a 60 km-long river mouth parallel to the coast yet separated by forested sand dunes. Drawn to this water world are hundreds of bird species and some interesting amphibians, while in the wild Indian Ocean waters off shore, the passing sea traffic includes whales and sharks.
Air or, more precisely wind, has been a force in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, shaping the spectacular mountain scenery. Carving breathtaking precipices and soaring peaks, the wind has left South Africa with a natural world heritage site not only for the eyes to marvel at, but to challenge the body with rock climbing, abseiling and hiking. In the winter, when snow dusts these wind-hewn monuments, the stunning visual effect is doubled.
In the Cape Floral Region, a South African natural heritage site that stretches from the Peninsula to the Eastern Cape, Mother Earth has given birth to a plant life so rich, it includes 3% of all the species found in the world. A good share can only be seen in this corner of the globe.
In the formation of the fourth Natural World Heritage Site in South Africa, the Vredefort Dome that traverses the Free State and North West border, fire played a key role. This vast crater was shaped billions of years ago, when a meteorite the size of Table Mountains slammed into the earth. As it passed through the earth's atmosphere it heated up enormously, crashing to earth as a blazing fireball.