Vacationers visiting South Africa tend to make a beeline for one of three attractions: Cape Town, offering pristine beaches and spectacular peaks just an hour away from even more magnificent mountain winelands; the Garden Route, showing off a unique indigenous floral kingdom between the southern mountains and the sea; or the Kruger National Park in the far north-east, home to the Big Five and an array of wildlife.
However, not for nothing is South Africa sometimes called “a world in one country”: there are at so many different types of culture, terrain and climate found side-by-side on the southern tip of Africa. Here are five more parts of South Africa that offer outstanding vacation possibilities.
The Wild Coast
As the name suggests, this region of the east coast, washed by warm Indian Ocean currents, is a great place to get away from civilisation and succumb to the rhythms of nature; Port St Johns has an enviable reputation for being supremely laid-back. Here, mighty cliffs plunge straight into the sea, with villages nestled in the steep valleys cut by hundreds of rivers.
Dense subtropical vegetation houses a variety of animal and bird life, and the ocean attractions include fishing, surfing, paddle-boarding, windsurfing, snorkelling, scuba diving and canoeing. In the coastal forests, leisure companies offer all sorts of adventures, like fly fishing, mountain biking, canopy tours and zip-lining.
Farming sheep, ostriches and even wine, agricultural communities have wrestled a living from this tough semi-desert, found as you head inland from the south coast, for centuries.
Nowadays, its stark beauty, crystal-clear starlit nights and ice-cream sunsets lure all sorts of tourists: globetrotters, astronomy buffs, honeymooners, business burnouts looking for meditative retreats, wildlife fans visiting the national parks, and more.
Orange River and The Kalahari
Head into Northern Cape province, and the Karoo changes into true desert: the Kalahari, home to hardy species like the desert lion or the scimitar-horned oryx, aka gemsbok. The surprise is the Orange River.
Rising in the well-watered highlands to the east, just like the Nile this wonderful watercourse creates a ribbon of life running through the arid red sands. Visit the Augrabies Falls or nearby Upington, and enjoy nibbling on exotic fruit while you play Bingo for money from farms that bloom in the desert, irrigated by the river.
On the West Coast, where cold Atlantic fogs temper the desert, you’ll find Namaqualand, another arid part of South Africa. Visit between August and October, however, and you’ll see the desert come to life as the vibrant annual carpet of flowers blossoms.
Since they are close geographically, the Karoo, Kalahari and Namaqualand are three destinations that it makes sense to visit on one trip.
Whether you see them from Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal or Free State province, or even neighbouring state Lesotho, the Drakensberg mountains are among the most inspirational sights in South Africa.
Lodges and luxury hotels dotted along this mighty range cater to vacationers’ every need, and activities range from horse riding and fly fishing to abseiling, hang-gliding and all kinds of nature excursions. In winter, when snow caps all the peaks, skiing is even an option.