10 Greatest Natural Wonders of South Africa
By: Neil Playdon
Exploring the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape of South Africa is an indulging affair. The sheer number of Wine Farms and Wine Estates on offer is a treat for any budding wine connoisseur. The Winelands are located in a beautiful setting with undulating hills and imposing mountains particularly around Franschhoek.
Photo By Mark Turner
Vineyards stretch across the land hugging the bottom of the hills creating a patchwork of neat parallel lines. The Franschhoek Mountains are not to be missed first thing in the morning as you will often see the clouds dripping over the mountain tops like a huge tablecloth. Many people of course visit the famous Wine Estates of Boschendal, Laborie, Spier and Simonsig to name just a few but it is well worth exploring some of the smaller and lesser well know wineries. There are some excellent restaurants in the Winelands serving some delicious food and places like Franschhoek have a number of the Top 50 restaurants in South Africa located there.
Photo By coda
Probably one of the most visited areas of South Africa after Cape Town the Garden Route stretches for 200km from Mossel Bay all the way up to Plettenberg Bay. There are two sides to the Garden Route – one is the well-developed coastal resort towns like Knysna, George and Plettenberg Bay while the other is the wilder areas such as Tsitsikamma and Wilderness and the famous Otter Trail which runs along the coast through the Tsitsikamma National Park. The main N2 road takes you through the Garden Route crossing bridges over rivers that flow down from the mountains to the north and passing through lush forests. To really see the Garden Route though you will need to take detours off the N2 and down towards the sea discovering places such as Nature’s Valley and Victoria Bay. This whole area is teeming with things to do such as the famous Bloukrans Bridge Bungee Jump which is the highest commercial jump in the world. At Tsitsikamma you can enjoy a Canopy Tour through the indigenous forest or take a zipline ride over waterfalls. Other popular things to do are horse-riding, abseiling, mountain biking and hiking.
If you are into walking or hiking then the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal are simply not to be missed. Stretching for 112 miles this impressive mountain range has become hugely popular with mountain climbers. The best time to visit is between May and September when the weather is dry and despite snow on the highest peaks the temperatures are still quite warm. Probably one of the most popular areas to visit in the area is the Royal Natal National Park which has over 80 miles of walking trails. The walks here are set against a stunning backdrop of the Amphitheatre created from an impressive rock wall that stretches across the skyline for about 4km. Other highlights include the famous Cathedral Peak where after hiking the 6km to reach the top you will be rewarded with some of the most stunning views of the Drakensberg.
Addo National Elephant Park
We have visited Addo National Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape a few times now and never tire of seeing these amazing creatures in such wonderful surroundings. There are over 500 elephants in a park that covers over 30,000 acres as well as lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard plus many others. The great thing about Addo National Elephant Park is that you can drive yourself around.
Photo By Sericea
You are provided with a map when you enter the park and they will also tell you where various animals have been spotted that day. There are a number of water holes in the park that are a great place to spot animals. The park also has a special braai (BBQ) area set aside with places to braai, sit and eat. All you need to do is bring along some charcoal and some food and drink. Just watch out for the monkeys while you are there as they are very cheeky and will steal your food!
The Whale Coast
South Africa has some of the best whale watching opportunities in the whole world and the great thing is you don’t even have to go out on a boat to do it! The coastline which stretches from near Kleinmond all the way up the Western Cape coast to the De Hoop Nature Reserve is known as the Whale Coast. From about July to October each year up to nine different whale species frequent the Indian Ocean waters off this coastline many to come and calve and then to rear their young. The most common type of whale you will see is the Southern Right Whale which is common to the Cape Town area. Hermanus has become world famous for visitors being able to stand on the cliff paths and watch these amazing creatures out to sea and even has its own annual Hermanus Whale Festival. However for perhaps a less crowded experience why not head to either the De Hoop Nature Reserve or De Kelders which are considered to provide even better places to watch the whales.
Namakwa (formally known as Namaqualand)
For something a little bit different why not travel out to the arid north-west corner of the Northern Cape of South Africa. From late July to November each year this normally arid region explodes into life with a sea of colourful flowers that can stretch for miles. This area of South Africa is best explored from the comforts of a 4x4 to fully appreciate the scenery. Springbok which is actually the capital of Namakwa is probably the most suitable place from which to base yourself as it has many of the amenities you require when on holiday. What is normally a sleepy part of South Africa truly comes to life with the large number of visitors that flock to the area during flower season. North of Springbok is the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park where with a 4x4 you can discover some of the most beautiful scenery to be found in Namakwa. The rugged terrain and wild flowers during the flower season attract many keen botanists.
Augrabies Falls National Park
After visiting Namakwa why not then move further north to visit to the Augrabies Falls National Park where you can find the sixth largest waterfall in the world. The falls here are fed by the Gariep River which drops down via a series of cataracts culminating in the 300 foot drop that creates the Agrabies Falls. The Gariep River provides some excellent white water rafting opportunities both above and below the Augrabie Falls. The park here is located close to the border of Namibia and is probably best visited between the months of March through to October when the day time temperatures are bearable although the evenings can be quite chilly. You can view the waterfall best from the south side of the gorge and a particularly good time of day to visit is at sunset when you can see swallows and then bats flying around. Hiking is extremely popular in the area especially the 2-day Klipspringer Trail. There is a charge to enter the National Park and the gates are open from 0630am to 10pm daily.
Blyde River CanyonPhoto By Pablo Escovado
The spectacular Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga extends for some 26km and the depth of the canyon reaches up to 2,400 feet in some places. There are so many viewing spots it is impossible to list them all but some of the best places to view the canyon are from God’s Window where on a clear day you can see as far as Kruger and from the Three Rondavels where the canyon opens up and you can see the amazingly blue waters of the Blydespoort Dam way down below. You can learn all about the creation of this canyon, some 60 million years ago, at the Bourkes Luck Potholes visitor centre. The Bourkes Luck Potholes are the point where the Treur and Blyde rivers meet and where truly unusual rock shapes have formed from the swirling whirlpools creating a Swiss cheese type effect. There are a number of viewing spots here including World’s End and Lowveld Lookout which are easily reached from the R534 road.
Kruger National Park
PhotoBy Pablo Escovado
Kruger National Park is so big, measuring 60km wide by 350km long, that it actually stretches across Mpumalanga Province and Limpopo Province – 2 of the 9 provinces that make up South Africa. Kruger Park has an extensive network of roads that join the numerous camps dotted about. Accommodation in the park varies from the simple (and cheaper) self-catering accommodation to top of the range private game reserves. Hiring a car is essential to getting around but don’t worry you won’t be alone as the park attracts some 1.5million visitors every year. Of course the larger the park the easier it is for the animals to remain hidden from view so patience is a necessity here. The southern area of Kruger Park has the highest concentration of animals and with it most of the larger Kruger accommodation camps. The central Kruger Park region is a lot quieter with fewer camps and a lot less vehicles on the road and is more appealing to some visitors. You can still find all the Big 5 here although they are elusive especially the cheetah. The very northern section of the Kruger is very dry and quite remote. This area has very little water and hence the environment supports less animals.
The Cape Peninsula incorporates some of the most visited spots of South Africa including Table Mountain, The Cape of Good Hope, the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay & Clifton, Boulders Beach, Robben Island and False Bay.
Photo By * hiro008
From the top of Table Mountain you can see nearly all of these attractions in the distance. Make sure when you are staying in Cape Town to head to Table Mountain at the first sight of good weather. Planning Table Mountain into an itinerary can be a big mistake as you need to be flexible and go when the weather is good. Often the top of Table Mountain can be shrouded in what is known locally as the ‘tablecloth’ – low cloud that drips over the top of the mountain rendering sightseeing impossible. Remember to keep an eye for the Rock Dassies when you are up there. A walk around the V&A Waterfront is extremely popular with lots of bars and restaurants for you to sit at and do some people watching. From the V&A Waterfront you can catch the boat to Robben Island for a half day tour. It is essential to book your tickets for this well in advance as these trips are very popular. Trendy Camps Bay and Clifton are a short drive from Cape Town and has some excellent sandy beaches. At lunch time and in the evenings the main promenade is the place to be seen and the place to eat – booking ahead is essential. Take a drive along the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive which hugs the Atlantic Coast and provides some amazing views of the Twelve Apostles and a great driving experience. Continue on to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point but remember to hold on to your hats and sunglasses when you get to the top of the lighthouse as the winds here can be pretty strong. Finally don’t forget to pay a visit to see the wonderful penguins on Boulders Beach about 2km south of Simon’s Town.
About the blogger:
Neil Playdon is one of the co-founders of Where 2 Stay South Africa that aims to promote both accommodation and travel tips within South Africa. Living on the Sunshine Coast and with IT as his background, he embarked on a new journey of travel and exploration. Follow them on Facebook or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info