South Africa is a unique country where endless deserts alternate with picturesque mountain ranges and impenetrable jungles adjoin lively beaches. Millions of people visit South Africa to enjoy its beautiful scenery and the diversity and richness of the animal world. However, if you really want to make the most of this beautiful country, get off the beaten track and look around! To help you on your way, here are nine under-the-radar beauty spots to visit on your South African holiday…
Drakensberg Amphitheatre, KZN
The Drakensberg Mountains invite you to a wonderful world of rocks, mountain passes, and amazing natural landscapes. The mountains are spread over the provinces of Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, as well as the independent kingdom of Lesotho. The shape of the Drakensberg Mountains resembles the letter “C”, which creates a natural boundary between the subtropical coastal lowland and the arid plateau in the centre of the country.
One of the most stunning highlights of the Drakensberg Mountains is a 5-kilometre cliff face. Its highest summit, Mont-Aux-Source, reaches 3048 m above sea level. Because of its semi-circular shape, it is also called the Amphitheater. The most spectacular view of the Amphitheater opens up along the Tugela River. There are a few one-day hiking trails that will take you to the top of the mountain. Here you will be able to enjoy breathtaking views of the Drakensberg Mountains including Rhino Peak (3,051 m) and Mafadi (3,450 m), one of the highest mountains in South Africa.
De Hoop, Western Cape
De Hoop Nature Reserve is located three hours from Cape Town, not far from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of the African continent. It covers approximately 340 square kilometres – this is one of the largest nature reserves in South Africa. De Hoop is often called the Cape Flora Kingdom. Here you can see the most stunted vegetation in the entire African territory. The reserve also features vast areas of rare lowland fynbos.
De Hoop is a home for a large number of mammals. Approximately 90 species live here including mountain zebra, eland antelope, grey caracal, baboon, yellow mongoose, leopard, etc. 260 species of birds also inhabit the reserve. De Hoop is the only natural breeding colony of the endangered Cape Vulture.
Midlands Meander/Howick Falls, KZN
In the depths of KwaZulu-Natal, you will discover lush, green vastnesses dripping with various historic towns, lovely village hotels, and interesting places where folk crafts flourish. KwaZulu-Natal is a province where battles in the late 1800s and early 1900s took place when the Boers and the British fought against the Zulus. Midlands Meander in KwaZulu-Natal is a popular holiday destination. Here you can find the best restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and hotels. Be sure to visit the Capture Site, a place where Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962. Don’t forget to try fine dining at Hartford House, a famous restaurant (and guesthouse) or purchase handmade leather shoes at Groundcover.
Hole in the Wall, Coffee Bay
Coffee Bay is a small village on the Wild Coast. It is a place to enjoy wide deserted beaches, picturesque forests, the traditional houses of the Xhosa people, but the main attraction is the Hole in the Wall. The locals gave such a bizarre name to a unique phenomenon – a huge hole in the middle of a rock that grows right from the ocean abyss. The hole had been cut through by the ocean waves, tirelessly hitting the defenseless rock. Through the hole, you can admire a fantastic view of the ocean. The people of Xhosa call this place esiKhaleni, which means Place of the Thunder. When the tide is high, the waves whip through the hole creating hum that can be heard throughout the entire valley.
Riemvasmaak Hot springs – Northern Cape
Northern Cape is endless arid plains, desert mountain terrains, and the bottomless sky. This region is mostly comprised of deserts and semi-deserts but you are sure to find a lot of fascinating landscapes. One of the highlights of the Northern Cape is Riemvasmaak hot springs surrounded by 75,000 hectares of desert landscapes in the far north of the province. Located among the Orange and Molopo rivers, the springs occurred as the result of volcanic eruptions. They include two pools in a deep gorge enclosed by high granite rocks. Riemvasmaak is the perfect place to pamper yourself with a warm and refreshing natural bath while overlooking massive boulders, giant rocks, mountain ridges, and borderless desert.
Pondoland – Eastern Cape
The Pondoland region is spread out along the Indian Ocean shore in the Eastern Cape Province. This area boasts of numerous natural sights, but there is one landmark you cannot miss. Marine protected area Pondolend is one of the biggest marine parks in South Africa. Its length is an impressive 90 kilometres of coastline. This is a unique transition zone with elements of subtropical and moderately warm ecosystems. The park includes a wide range of marine and coastal habitats. Here you can see the cleanest estuaries in the country, as well as extensive rocky and sandy beaches.
Groot Winterhoek – Western Cape
These mountains, which are a part of the Cape Fold belt, lie in the middle of the Groot Winterhook mountain desert. The highest point reaches 2077 m. The Groot Winterhoek is surrounded by a nature reserve, which area is dotted with waterfalls, swimming holes, crystal-clear rivers, and magnificent rocky landscapes created by water and wind. In addition to the breathtaking views, the reserve is known for a huge variety of flora and fauna. It was originally created to protect mountain fynbos. This region is also famous for its rich history. Here you can see ancient rock carvings of the San and Khoi tribes as well as old farms founded in the late 19th century. The Groot Winterhoek offers various activities for outdoor enthusiasts – day and night hikes, swimming in mountain pools, and mountain biking.
Mountain Zebra National Park – Eastern Cape
The province Eastern Cape has three national parks in close proximity to each other. While thousands of tourists rush to the world-famous Addo Elephant National Park, you can discover a small but very interesting Mountain Zebra Park. This park, located near the city of Cradock, has been created to save the rarest Cape Mountain zebras from extinction. They used to inhabit the province in abundance but in the late 1930s, only 40 zebras remained. Today, their population reaches about 350 individuals. Other species that live here are antelopes, eland antelopes, African foxes, and more than 200 species of birds, including a rare blue crane.
Water’s Edge – Simon’s Town, Cape Town
Water’s Edge Beach is a treasure hidden in plain sight. It is located next to Boulders Beach, a popular tourist destination, but the majority of visitors don’t even know about its existence. Maybe because the main entrance resembles a garden gate and most people believe that this is a private beach. In fact, it is open to all comers. If you have children, they will definitely love to swim in natural rock pools filled with starfish. This is a perfect place to sunbathe, swim in the sea, and snorkel. Just keep in mind that there is no toilet and parking.