Written by Lockie Kerr
Explore These Highlights for Your South African Odyssey
Cape Town is the perfect place to start your South African adventure, with an array of must-see attractions and experiences, as well as acting as the jumping-off point for an expansive selection of tours, from guided tours to self-drive adventures. We know the options can be overwhelming – so we’ve put this blog together to give you the lowdown on the key places for you to include on your dream itinerary.
Fondly referred to by locals as Mother City, and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities on earth, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to activities in Cape Town. The first port of call for many travellers is the V&A Waterfront – boasting five shopping districts, restaurants offering delicacies from every corner of the world, a world-class aquarium, the Cape Wheel and year-round festivals and events.
When wanderlust kicks in, Cape Town has you covered too – we guarantee that international icon Table Mountain will surpass your expectations, and the good news: you can pick between a scenic hike or a relaxed ride up via the Aerial Cableway. For something a little unexpected, take in the splendour of Cape Point Nature Reserve, with dramatic views of the False Bay and Atlantic coastlines, and the opportunity to observe baboons, Cape Mountain Zebras, buck and an incredible 250 species of birds who call this home.
Cape Town’s rich and diverse history is brought to life in an impressive list of museums, most notably perhaps at Robben Island. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, take a tour from the V&A Waterfront to learn how the history of this site predates its most famous inhabitant Nelson Mandela. For art buffs, the Cape Town scene has exploded in recent years and both established artists and newcomers alike have found an appreciative home here.
Once you’re ready to explore further afield, take an unforgettable road trip along The Whale Coast – a 300km coastal road from Cape Town to Gansbaai (aka Shark Town). The trip goes through the whale-watching capital, Hermanus. What’s more, this is the best place to spot the Marine Big 5: The South African fur seal, southern right whale, African penguin, great white shark and bottlenose dolphin.
To catch sight of the land-based Big 5, you don’t have to travel far. Several reserves and safari experience can be accessed in a couple hours from Cape Town, and the variety available is staggering. From self-drive, to horseback riding to guided luxury – there’s something for every taste and budget.
The Garden Route takes in a rich array of landscapes. Lose yourself in ancients forests, relax in spectacular lagoons and discover miles of dramatic coastline – and when you’re tired of that, dive into the legendary SA hospitality and indulge in some seriously great eats. The route runs for 124 miles through the Western Cape between Mossel Bay and Storms River, and is suitable for both road-trip first timers, and seasoned travellers. There’s also a number of offerings for both self-drive and guided tours. The sheer variety of stop-offs and choice of activities makes this the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure – so let’s dive into our highlights.
Plettenberg bay is synonymous for its stunning beaches, surfing spots and whale watching spots. Just to the south is Robberg Nature Reserve where you can enjoy watching the seals hang out while you take in the scenic trail to The Point.
Knysna is one of South Africa’s best known travel destinations, and for good reason. The picture-perfect town is tucked away on the banks of a lagoon, where you can happily while away a day exploring the craft shops and markets, and filling up on treats from the many cafes. Knysna is a great base for outdoor pursuits thanks to its close proximity to a natural wonderland of lakes, beaches and indigenous forests.
Tsitsikamma National Park, perched on the South Coast, is a famous stop on the The Garden Route National. Including a marine reserve, dramatic gorges and unique flora and fauna. If stunning hikes are your jam, The Mouth Trail crosses a suspension bridge over Storms River – the views have to be seen to be believed.
The Eastern Cape combines coast, culture and wildlife – what’s not to love? It also boasts some of the best beaches in South Africa – 800km of unspoilt and dramatic coastline with stunning ocean views justifies that weighty accolade. These beaches are significantly quieter than the those in Cape Town and Durban, meaning it’s a great place for a chilled retreat. We recommend Nahoon Beach and Port Alfred, where dolphins and whales can be spotted from shore. For surfers, Jeffreys Bay must not be missed – home to the Billabong Pro surf competition, and renowned for the finest surf on earth.
Culture vultures are in luck too – the Eastern Cape is host to Port Elizabeth, where the first British settlers landed in SA, the Donkin Heritage trail and the National Arts Festival – there really will be something to pique every interest.
This region features some of the country’s most accessible game viewing within malaria-free private game reserves. For a chance to spot the big five, include Mountain Zebra National Park, the famous Addo Elephant Park and the Eastern Cape Game Reserves in your trip. Mount Cambedoo, a 14,000-hectare reserve starring some of the most jaw-dropping vistas in the country. Originally a private agricultural farm, Mount Cambedoo has been transformed into a world-class game reserve, providing an environment for a dazzling array of wildlife to roam.
This coastal province is located in the north-east of South Africa and is home to the Zulu Kingdom. The area is famous for its beaches, mountains and savannahs – home to big game. Visitors can explore the Drakensberg mountains, Battlefields and Midlands as well as one of the greatest safaris in the country.
The province is usually accessed via Durban – SA’s third largest city and a true fusion of cultures. The Indian influence in Durban has extended to local dishes, to mouth-watering effect. When in Durban, don’t miss bunny chow – a hollowed half-loaf of bread filled with curry made using local spices.
The Drakensberg is a dramatic and scenic mountain range, and hosts all manner of adrenaline junkies and outdoors enthusiasts. Whether you’re looking for spectacular hiking trails, zip-lining, canoeing, horse-riding, white-water rafting or climbing – you’ll find it here. For those looking for a more relaxed pace, the area also lends itself to leisurely walks, bird watching and fishing.
This area offers so much – including a tantalising taste of local heritage and history, and a chance to absorb culture in a sustainable way, and comes highly recommended from us.
This dynamic, vibrant city combines fascinating history and culture, and that famous Jo-burg hospitality. Start your visit at UNESCO World Heritage Site The Cradle of Mankind – home to fossils of the earliest known life forms on Earth. Foodies are well catered for, from hipster hangouts, international delicacies, celebrations of African cuisine and more cocktail bars than you can shake a stick at.
To get to know the city even better, take a bike tour around Soweto to discover its history and head to the Apartheid Museum for an eye-opening view into South Africa’s past. Nelson Mandela National Museum gives great insight into his life and work, and is where he lived from ’46-’62. On Sundays, head to Market on Main in Maboneng – home to artists, boutiques, galleries and an amazing food scene.
Another must when you’re in Johannesburg is a safari trip. Take your pick from a number of excellent safari parks and game reserves near Johannesburg, most within a four-hour drive of the city.
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