South Africa has been billed as 'a world in one country', and offers visitors myriad delights, from its spectacular landscapes and wildlife, to the cosmopolitan vibe of its cities and the fascinating history of its people.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, South Africa was regarded by much of the world as a pariah state where the ruling white minority passed a range of draconian laws to subdue the black majority. All this changed in 1994 with the release from prison of world-renowned freedom fighter and icon of the oppressed, Nelson Mandela. A new age of democracy was ushered in, and South Africa was revealed to the world in her true colours: a rainbow nation with a kaleidoscope of cultures and a host of attractions to enthral and entrance visitors.
More than a two decades later, tourists are flocking to sunny South Africa in droves, particularly to the Western Cape with its magnificent scenery, beautiful beaches, majestic mountains and verdant winelands. Johannesburg remains the commercial capital of the nation, and is also the gateway to the Kruger National Park and other major game reserves.
Comprising the southern tip of Africa and surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, South Africa offers a taste of the African experience while at the same time offering all the pleasures of a first-world holiday experience, with luxury hotels, wonderful food and pristine beaches. Travellers can have breakfast in a New York-style deli, lunch in an African shebeen, cocktails on a sunset cruise, and dinner in a world-class restaurant.
It is not just the dramatic landscapes and natural beauty that make South Africa magical. Historically, too, there is plenty to discover, from the old African kingdoms, to the pioneering spirit of the Dutch Voortrekkers and the settlement of the Eastern Cape frontier by the British colonialists, and of course the more recent history of the apartheid state and the liberation struggle.
With its winter sun, an easy overnight flight and little time difference, South Africa is particularly popular with European visitors, but it welcomes all travellers with open arms and truly has a whole world to offer them.
South Africa is a sightseer's paradise, with plenty to see and do no matter the traveller's interests, time frame, age, or inclination.
There is natural splendour in abundance, including the beautiful beaches and iconic Table Mountain of Cape Town, the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains, the Blyde River Canyon, the stunning scenery of the coastal Garden Route, the pristine coastline of the Transkei, and the sweeping vistas of the Highveld. Of course, the animals of South Africa, especially the Big Five, are a big draw for tourists and game safaris are a very popular diversion. The Kruger National Park is the country's most famous wildlife reserve and a must for many visitors.
South Africa has a complicated and dramatic history and the legacy of the pioneer wars, slavery, colonialism, the Boer War and Apartheid is still strongly felt. There is no shortage of interesting historical sightseeing, with sites like Robben Island - where Mandela was imprisoned - and the battlefields of the Boer War attracting many visitors. The country has many quaint historical towns, like Franschoek in the Cape Winelands, and Grahamstown in the 'frontier country' of the Eastern Cape. South Africa also has its share of museums and galleries, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is particularly noteworthy.
The country is easy to get around with competitive low-cost carriers, long distance buses, good value car hire and the best roads in Africa. Road tripping is a wonderful way to experience the hugely diverse landscapes and cultures of this vast country.
South Africa is one of the few global destinations that can offer the complete holiday experience, with a huge variety of world-class attractions and compelling experiences, and incredible value for money to boot.
For fun encounters with one of South Africa's oddest and most unique animals, the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch is a great bet. The ranch is a good family attraction, but having kids along is not necessary to enjoy the experience. Although it is possible to explore the ranch independently, most people choose to join one of the organised tours, which are conducted in English, Afrikaans, German, and French. Tours in other languages may be possible if organised in advance. Tours take about 40 minutes and include the museum, the leather factory, and encounters with the various ostriches and other animals on the farm. The highlight for many visitors is the chance to sit astride an ostrich for a photo opportunity with the iconic Table Mountain in the distance. Those wanting to feed the ostriches will be able to buy feed at the ranch. The restaurant serves up a variety of snacks and meals in a lovely Cape Dutch garden setting, while the shop sells all sorts of ostrich products. A playground and sand pit provide extra entertainment for kids. Children will also love the scratch patch, where they can select a variety of sparkly gemstones.
Cape Town's most popular tourist attraction is also its most famous physical feature. The flat-topped mountain stands as a sentinel over the city, and has been proclaimed a nature reserve, thereby protecting its diverse floral species. Some are unique to its slopes. The views of the city and coastline from the top of the mountain are quite spectacular in all directions. A Swiss-built rotating cable car carries visitors smoothly up the mountain and back. The mountaintop is equipped with a restaurant and small gift shop, as well as numerous pathways and vantage points. It is possible to climb the mountain via different routes, but inexperienced hikers should take care because Cape Town is prone to sudden weather changes. The walk up can take a few hours, depending on the route and level of fitness. Route maps can be bought at the cable-car station. It is always best to check the website or call the weatherline to see if the cable car is in operation. Hikers should travel in groups, as there have been reports of robberies on the trails.
Tickets for the cable car can be booked online via the official website. They are marginally cheaper online and allow travellers to skip the sometimes long queues at the ticket kiosk. Ascending Table Mountain is an absolute must for visitors to Cape Town.
South Africa's oldest surviving colonial building, the Castle of Good Hope was completed in 1679. It replaced an earlier mud and timber fort built by the first Dutch Governor, Jan van Riebeeck. Situated adjacent to a parking lot and bus station in Buitenkant Street, its walls mark the original boundary of the seashore where the waves washed up against the fortifications. Its outside aspect is somewhat foreboding, but inside are some interesting features and collections that have been restored, offering a good insight into the early days of the Cape, when the castle was the centre of social and economic life. The complex is a pentagonal fortification with a moat and five bastions, each named for one of the titles of the Prince of Orange. The entrance is a good example of 17th-century Dutch Classicism, and a bell, cast in 1679 by Claude Fremy in Amsterdam, still hangs from the original wood beams in the tower above the entrance.
The castle contains a Military Museum depicting the conflicts that arose during the Cape's early settlement, and also houses the William Fehr Collection of decorative arts, including paintings, furniture, and porcelain. Of interest are the dungeons, which bear carvings in the walls by prisoners incarcerated centuries ago. The castle was built for defence, not beauty, and it is a fortress not a palace. Those interested in the history of the Cape will find a visit fascinating.
The imposing South African Museum is dedicated to natural history and the human sciences, and contains a huge variety of fascinating exhibits. Among other things, visitors will encounter entire chunks of caves bearing rock art, and traditional arts and crafts from several African tribes. Astoundingly, the museum houses more than one and a half million specimens of scientific importance, including fossils that are almost 700 million years old. The vastness of the collection means that for every object on display, thousands more are kept in storage. The natural history exhibits are full of mounted mammals, dioramas of prehistoric reptiles, and a collection of whale skeletons, with haunting whale song echoing in the background. Established in 1825, the South African Museum is still very old-fashioned in some ways. Nevertheless, it is well worth a visit for its impressive collection. Alongside the museum is the Planetarium, which has a changing programme of thematic shows involving the southern constellations. Booking ahead is necessary for Planetarium shows.
These two attractions are based in the lovely Company Gardens of Cape Town, which are also worth exploring.
Situated near the main train station in the Central Business District, Greenmarket Square is the perfect spot to observe South Africa's diverse population in all its hues and voices. Once the scene of slave markets, it now accommodates one of the city's most vibrant flea markets, where clothing, jewellery, trinkets, and souvenirs are on sale most days. Tourists and business people rub shoulders in the many sidewalk cafés that surround the busy cobbled square. Visitors should be prepared to haggle for the best prices at the market, and should be aware that touts are prevalent. Rain doesn't generally deter vendors, with most covering their stalls with tarpaulins in bad weather. Stalls generally start clearing up for the day in the late afternoon, though seldom before 3pm. The market does not operate on Sundays. There are many other great attractions in the area, including several art galleries and museums. For instance, the Old Town House lies on the west side of Greenmarket Square. Dating from the mid -18th century, it is a wonderful example of Cape Dutch architecture and houses the Michaelis collection of Dutch and Flemish landscape paintings.
Founded in 1901 and situated on Wale Street, Cape Town's Victorian Gothic style Anglican Cathedral is historically significant for hosting the enthronement of South Africa's first black archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. The Cathedral is unique in that it became a political powerhouse in the struggle against Apartheid. Known as 'the people's cathedral', it began openly welcoming people of all races in the 1950s. This was a brave stand in the racially segregated society of the time. In subsequent years, the cathedral became the venue for many protest gatherings and vigils and, on occasion, the building was surrounded by police, water cannons, and barbed wire. Victims of forced removals were even accommodated in the cathedral at times. As far as architectural merit goes, the cathedral does feature some fine Gabriel Loire windows, including a magnificent Rose Window above the south transept. It is an imposing church, well integrated into the community and well cared for, and the profoundly inspirational legacy of Desmond Tutu is palpable.
The magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens lie just south of the city centre and cover a huge expanse of the rugged southwestern slopes of the Table Mountain Range. Kirstenbosch was bequeathed to the nation by mining magnate Cecil Rhodes in 1895, and today contains a nursery, a research unit, a botanical library and more than 22,000 plants. Numerous paths meander through the gardens, including a Braille route for the blind. Nature lovers should note that the walks are full of lush shrubs and fynbos, the Cape's indigenous floral heritage. The gardens are indeed a natural wonderland, where visitors will find lots of space for picnics. Several incredible hikes can be started from the gardens, including the formidable Skeleton Gorge, and Nursery Ravine, which wind steeply up the mountain and generally take between four and six hours. If these difficult hikes sound a little frightening, some far gentler and shorter trails wind through the gardens. Visitors will find a tea room, two restaurants, and a coffee bar on site.
In summertime, the delightful setting becomes the venue for Sunday evening open-air concerts, when picnickers relax on the lawns, sipping wine, and enjoying the sunset entertainment. There are also outdoor movie screenings in summer.
Cape Town has some truly gorgeous beaches, but the most glamorous are on the Atlantic Ocean, where the water is unbelievably cold. Even the locals tend to keep their swims short. The most popular choices include Camps Bay Beach. Locals and tourists pack its long, wide stretch of silver sand and enjoy the trendy bars and restaurants nearby. Another favourite is Clifton, where four beaches are situated beneath the exclusive houses and apartments set into the cliff. The beaches are named First, Second, Third and Fourth Beach. First Beach is the largest and most popular among families, while Second Beach is preferred by the hip crowd. Third and Fourth Beach are usually frequented by locals. The small suburb of Llandudno lies 15 minutes south of Camps Bay, and is home to one of the most scenic beaches in South Africa. It's popular for sundowners on the rocks or long days in the sun.
Despite its popularity, Llandudno is seldom too crowded. This is partly because there are no bars or restaurants there. The nearest is in Hout Bay, which is another 10 minutes south. Hout Bay's long beach is popular with families and walkers but is not as stunning as its neighbours. False Bay is also blessed with lovely beaches and these tend to be more family-friendly and less trendy. The most popular beach for beginner surfers in Cape Town is Muizenberg, which has plenty of surf schools. The Muizenberg and Fish Hoek beaches of False Bay are also wonderful for swimming, as the water in False Bay is much warmer than on the Atlantic side. For long walks and horse riding, the lovely Noordhoek beach is ideal.
To see Cape Town's penguin colony, tourists should visit the picturesque Boulders Beach in Simonstown, where the loveable birds suntan and swim. Sharks are a problem in Cape Town, particularly in False Bay, and many beaches have shark spotters on duty. Visitors should pay close attention to the flags on the beach, as they signal whether it is safe to swim. A siren will go off to warn swimmers in the water if a shark is spotted nearby.
Robben Island is seven miles (11km) from Cape Town, and is easily seen from the shore. For nearly 400 years, this tiny rocky island was utilised as a place of banishment, exile, isolation, and imprisonment for numerous categories of people ostracised by society, ranging from political protesters to lepers. During the years of Apartheid, Robben Island became synonymous with institutional brutality as numerous freedom fighters, including the island's most famous resident, Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned here for more than a quarter of a century. Robben Island is now a museum, symbolising the liberation and triumph of the human spirit. Regular island tours are conducted and last for around three and a half hours. The tours are guided by former prisoners and include a visit to the maximum-security prison on the island, where an estimated 3,000 freedom fighters were incarcerated between 1962 and 1991. The island is also interesting in other ways. For instance, it is a magnet for shipwrecks, with at least 68 recorded cases across its rocky coastline.
The boat trip across the bay can be really fun in itself, and some wonderful views of the city and Table Mountain are gained from the ferry ride and the island itself.
Until the 1960s, District Six was a vibrant district of Cape Town located close to the city centre and the harbour. The community was originally established as a mix of freed slaves, merchants, artisans and immigrants, and developed a unique multiracial character. In 1966, the government declared District Six a 'whites only' area under the Group Areas Act and over 60,000 residents were forcibly moved to the outlying Cape Flats, a barren area several kilometres away, while most of their homes were flattened by bulldozers. Communities and families were uprooted and torn apart, and this moving museum serves to safeguard the memories and the spirit that was District Six. The venue was originally established as a place where ex-residents could meet and support one another, but is now a fascinating little museum. It houses an impressive collection of old materials, including photographs and relics such as street signs, many of which were donated by former residents.
The museum also offers a guided tour of the area led by an ex-resident. It is a poignant way to learn about District Six as it used to be. These tours must be booked in advance via the official website listed below. It is also possible to wander into the museum off the street and take a self-guided tour.
Chapman's Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular coastal roads in South Africa and the world. It links the seaside community of Hout Bay to the Noordhoek Valley along the Atlantic Coast, and offers breath-taking views from along the narrow, winding road blasted into the cliffs. Started in 1915, the six-mile (9km) route took about seven years to complete and was built as a shorter, alternative route between Cape Town central and the South Peninsula. Many visitors use this scenic route to reach Cape Point Nature Reserve, situated at the tip of the Peninsula. But for many Capetonians, it simply comprises a breathtakingly beautiful commute to work. There are a number of gorgeous picnic sites and viewpoints along the route and it is very popular with cyclists. Chapman's Peak Drive is also the ideal vantage point for whale watching, the peak whale season being mid-August to mid-November. Hiking up Chapman's Peak and through Silvermine Nature Reserve and the Cape Peninsula National Park offers spectacular views over the South Peninsula.
With sheer cliffs below, soaring mountains above, and the ocean stretching to the horizon, this dramatic stretch of road is a must-see for tourists in Cape Town.
This working harbour, historical site, and shopping development has become one of Cape Town's most visited tourist attractions. The Waterfront offers everything from shopping malls and crafts markets, to live music and a variety of festivals throughout the year. It's also home to more than 70 eateries, ranging from pubs and fast food outlets to five star restaurants. Those who fall in love with the Waterfront will be glad to know that there are several luxury hotels in the area. What's more, travellers can stroll down to the harbour to gaze upon the numerous boats and ships upon the waves. Those who want to experience the thrill of sailing out of the harbour into the open ocean can choose from a variety of boat trips and harbour cruises. Helicopter charters leave from the waterfront as well. These include sunset booze cruises, whale-watching trips, and even a pirate galley that throws themed outings. The Two Oceans Aquarium is an impressive and celebrated institution and houses an impressive array of life from the oceans surrounding the Cape Coast.
The aquarium is a must for those travelling in Cape Town with kids, but adults will also find themselves entertained. The V & A Waterfront is situated in a beautiful and central location, all the while under the watchful guard of the iconic Table Mountain.
Simonstown is South Africa's principal naval base and lies about 25 miles (40km) from the city centre. The quaint suburb was built around a naval dockyard, and visitors will enjoy its well-preserved Victorian buildings, museums, sidewalk cafés, and local heroes. One such hero was a dog called 'Just Nuisance', who joined the British navy, becoming their mascot, when Simonstown was a British base. A statue of the beloved Great Dane can still be seen on the beachfront. A short distance from the town is Boulders Beach, famous for its protected colony of African Penguins. People watch the animals while on the beach as well as from viewing platforms. The penguins are remarkably tame, meaning visitors can get very close to take photographs, even though they shouldn't try to touch the animals. The loveable birds continue to swim and frolic beneath the waves, totally unperturbed. The beach is truly beautiful at Boulders, with turquoise water and, as the name suggests, picturesque rock formations. It's worth a visit in any season just to see the penguins, and kids will love it.
Port Elizabeth's most popular attraction consists of a complex on the beachfront that includes the Oceanarium, a museum, and a snake park. The Bayworld Oceanarium features an aquarium tank where visitors can watch a vast array of marine life through glass portholes as they glide by. This includes sharks, turtles, and rays. The penguins and seals are particularly entertaining while the snake park contains an impressive variety of indigenous reptiles in natural-looking enclosures. The PE Museum focuses on cultural and natural history with a wide variety of exhibits, from models of sailing ships and period costumes to giant replicas of dinosaurs that roamed the area in prehistoric times. It is the third-oldest museum in the country. Port Elizabeth has a lovely beachfront area, which is the main draw for visitors. But the city is generally just a stop-over point for tourists on their way to one of the nearby game reserves. If tourists are travelling through Port Elizabeth with kids and have a bit of time to spare, visiting Bayworld is a great option.
Port Elizabeth's architectural heritage can be traced by taking a walk around the city's central Market Square, which features several historic buildings. The centrepiece of the square is the aesthetically pleasing City Hall, dating from 1858 and topped with an attractive clock tower. Also in the square is a replica of the Diaz Cross that commemorates the first European to set foot in Algoa Bay in 1488, when Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz stopped over on his way east. Alongside the city hall is the Prester John Memorial, which is dedicated to the Portuguese explorers who landed in South Africa. On the northwest flank of the square is the city's public library. Built in 1835, it was originally used as a courthouse. The beautiful building is regarded as an excellent example of Victorian Gothic architecture and is interesting in that its façade was manufactured in England and shipped to Port Elizabeth to be recreated piece by piece. In front of the library stands a marble statue of Queen Victoria, which was unveiled in 1903.
Slightly downhill from the square, at the entrance to the harbour, stands the Campanile, containing one of the biggest carillons of bells (23) in the country. Visitors can climb 204 steps to enjoy the view from the top of this monument, which commemorates the landing of the 1820 settlers.
St George's Park has been a recreational centre for the city of Port Elizabeth for more than 150 years, boasting well-landscaped gardens covering 73 hectares. On site is the world famous Port Elizabeth Cricket Club, the second oldest cricket club in South Africa and the scene of many an exciting test match series, and the oldest bowling green in the country, established in 1884. The historic sporting venue was also the site of South Africa's first rugby test match. The love of cricket was brought to Port Elizabeth by British settlers and local myths tell of one of the settlers wading through the waters of Algoa Bay towards his new homeland with his cricket bat held safely above his head to keep it dry. The park also features the 1882 Edwardian Pearson Conservatory: a national monument filled with orchids, water lilies, and other exotic plants. Apart from being good for strolls and picnics, to say nothing of sporting events, the park hosts a vibrant arts and crafts fair every second Sunday of the month.
The other major park in Port Elizabeth is Settler's Park. It's set in the Baakens River valley, which boasts indigenous flora and fauna and offers a delightful stroll along the riverbank.
This historic square in the middle of Durban is the spot where the city originated as a tiny settlement of itinerant traders and hunters in the early 19th century. It is named for Henry Francis Flynn, one of the prominent inhabitants of the time. Around the square are some interesting sights, particularly the 1910 City Hall on the south side, which is an exact replica of the City Hall of Belfast, Ireland. On the first floor of the City Hall is the Natural Science Museum, which has an interesting insect section and an array of stuffed animals that delight children despite being somewhat old-fashioned. On the second floor is the renowned Durban Art Gallery. Parents may want to explore the art gallery as their kids enjoy the Natural History Museum. Various musical, song, and dance performances are held on the City Hall steps every Wednesday, at about 1pm. Alongside the City Hall is Durban's local history museum, which is housed in the Old Court House: the first public building ever erected in Durban (1866).
The Square is easily accessible by bus or taxi, and is a great place to take photos. Visitor should be careful with expensive cameras, though, and should watch their belongings, as the city centre is rife with pickpockets.
uShaka Marine World is the largest marine theme park in Africa. The park is tastefully themed with African imagery and has five zones offering entertainment, dining, shops, water slides, and access to uShaka Beach. Wet 'n Wild contains a number of water thrills, ranging from heart-stopping, adrenalin-pumping rides to lazy activities for the less adventurous. There is an aquarium with thousands of fish, reptiles, and aquatic mammals on display; a dolphinarium that performs regular musical shows; a penguin rookery; and underwater activities like snorkelling and the 'shark walk'. The Village Walk features the Dangerous Creatures exhibit, which includes spiders, snakes, frogs, scorpions, and other poisonous creatures. Rayz Kids World gives children a place to burn off energy with massive jungle gyms and climbing structures, while Moyo Restaurant is a wonderful option for adults. uShaka is in South Beach, so visitors can walk there along the beach, or take a bus or taxi. The area can be dangerous, but once inside, the park security is good and it's perfectly safe. Lockers can be rented to keep belongings safe.
The KwaMuhle Museum focuses on the history of race laws in KwaZulu-Natal, showing the experiences of local people through multimedia presentations. It is housed in a building that was once the Department of Native Affairs, from which the infamous labour system was administrated. KwaMuhle means 'place of the good one' in honour of a white man who ran the department, but did his best to fight the system from within. This museum provides a fascinating and very personal look at the diverse and difficult cultural history of the region. But it is ultimately an old-fashioned museum which doesn't have much to offer small kids or those who demand a state-of-the-art interactive museum experience. The content is fascinating, and deeply moving, but the exhibitions are simple and designed for those genuinely interested in the history and willing to read the text.
Guides are available but the museum is well laid-out for independent exploration. The KwaMuhle is near the centre of Durban, close to several bus and taxi routes, and is a worthwhile stop on the city's tourist circuit.
Construction of the Juma Masjid Mosque began in 1881, with renovations continuing until 1943. It is KwaZulu-Natal's first mosque, as well as one of the oldest and largest mosques in the Southern Hemisphere. Travellers will note that its golden-domed minarets dominate the central Indian district of downtown Durban, and that its muezzin can be heard from many parts of the city as it calls the faithful to prayer. Its architecture is a mix of classic Mughal Indian and colonial South African features, and there is space inside for up to 5,000 worshippers. Visitors are welcome on weekdays and Saturdays but the mosque is closed on Sundays. The building's flat roof is used as a prayer site during festivals but doubles as a playground for girls from the neighbouring school during the day. A bustling neighbourhood surrounds the mosque. Travellers should stop at one of the area's takeaway curry restaurants, where they should try 'bunny chow'. The dish features a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry, and it is widely associated with Durban.
The busy and exotic Victoria Street Market is another worthwhile diversion, as are the many small shops that sell fabric, saris, jewellery and more. The area is easily accessible by bus or taxi, but visitors should be wary of pickpockets and travel in groups.
Established in 1849, Durban's Botanical Gardens are the oldest surviving botanic garden on the African continent, and the city's oldest natural attraction. Located on Sydenham Hill Road (west of the Greyville Race Track), the gardens provide a relaxing spot to stroll among huge indigenous and exotic trees, and a stunning orchid house display. The gardens are also abuzz with birdlife and boast a lovely charity tea garden. Visitors can go for a picnic under the trees or by the pond, but should leave the sports equipment behind as frisbee and ball games are not allowed. The gardens are a popular spot for wedding photos on Saturdays, and once a month they host a Sunday afternoon concert that attracts thousands of Durbanites. Areas within the extensive grounds include a lake and reservoir, the Herb Garden, Palm Walk, Fern Dell, Amphitheatre, Japanese Garden, and much more. There are plenty of grassy areas for picnics and benches for taking a rest. The gardens are in a nice area of Durban to walk about in and are several bus routes go past. There is no entrance fee, but if visitors drive they are expected to tip the car guard about ZAR 5 for watching their vehicle.
The BAT Centre is a haven for artists and musicians. Located on the Victoria Embankment beside the Durban harbour, its name is an acronym for Bartle Arts Trust, the organisation that helped found the centre. BATs features a studio where traditional artists can work; a hall that hosts concerts, conventions and festivals; exhibition galleries; a music store and drum shop where handcrafted wooden drums are made; and a restaurant serving authentic African dishes from all over the continent. There are stunning views of the harbour from the restaurant deck, which hosts live jazz music on Sundays. Nearby is the Maritime Museum, which details the history of the harbour and houses a restored tugboat and other interesting exhibits. The area is well worth a visit for tourists and is popular with locals too. The BAT Centre is close to bus and taxi routes, and the area should be safe to stroll around during the day. Travellers visiting at night should take a taxi or drive.
Travellers should check what exhibitions and live shows are on before visiting the BAT Centre, as things can be rather sporadic.
This huge entertainment complex is essentially a theme park full of thrill rides, but was designed to recreate Victorian Johannesburg during the gold-rush era. Situated five miles (8km) south of the city centre via the M1 motorway, the park was built around the No.14 Crown mineshaft that began operations in 1887 and closed in 1971. During its production years, 1,400 tons of gold came out of the shaft. Visitors can now descend into the old mine shaft to experience life at the rock face, and watch gold being poured and minted. Gold Reef City also houses a number of museums, and offers performances by traditional gumboot dancers and the like. Youngsters particularly enjoy rides like the Anaconda roller coaster and Thunder Mountain River Rapids. The range of rides ensures that there is plenty for all age groups and a good mixture of the mellow and adrenalin-pumping. There are also plenty of restaurants, bars, a massive casino, and a Victorian hotel for those wanting to stay the night.
Gold Reef City is a must for families spending a bit of time in Johannesburg and is also located conveniently close to the Apartheid Museum, creating the ultimate touristic marriage of hard-hitting history and theme-park fun.
Located in the city centre, this complex of buildings has been upgraded and restored as part of the city fathers' urban renewal policy and includes several attractions. For instance, the Market Theatre and Museum Africa are housed in a Victorian building in Bree Street - originally Johannesburg's fresh produce market. The Museum of Africa is particularly worth a visit, as its exhibits tell the city's story from its beginnings to the present day. The display includes an interesting section about the Treason Trial of the 1950s, in which Nelson Mandela and other activists were accused of plotting against the state. The same building houses a photography museum and the Museum of South African Rock Art. At its eastern end is the Market Theatre, famed for being the venue for many protest theatre productions in the apartheid era. Also in the area is the South African Breweries Centre, which offers a tour detailing brewing history through some reconstructed gold-rush pubs and shebeens (township bars). Along Jeppe Street is the Oriental Plaza, the commercial centre for the Indian community.
Newtown is also renowned for its nightlife, with wonderful restaurants, jazz establishments, and clubs that stay open until the early hours.
The Johannesburg Zoo is a favourite place for locals to take a stroll. Its numerous enclosures house more than 320 species of animal, including polar bears that can be viewed underwater in their pool. Of course, the Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo) are all in residence, while other highlights include lemurs, gorillas, caracals, Siberian tigers, hippos, orangutans, brown bears, and cheetahs. The zoo's various monkeys are also very entertaining. Visitors will appreciate the large collection of birdlife, and parents will enjoy treating their kids to the farmyard section's activities. A tractor tram does circuits of the zoo for those who don't fancy walking. Travellers should check the official website below for details on feeding times. The penguins and seals are particularly active during feeds. The zoo is dedicated to conservation and rehabilitation and conducts some breeding programmes. It also hosts some interesting exhibits and events. The Museum of Military History on the zoo's eastern edge has some interesting exhibits like tanks, fighter aircraft, and submarines. Visitors will find many restaurants and food stalls for refreshments.
Situated in the Bojanala region of the North West Province, the 'Las Vegas of South Africa' is one of the largest entertainment centres for adults in the world. Visitors can look forward to casinos, golf courses, live shows, and the architectural wonder of the Lost City. The vast resort complex is one of South Africa's top attractions for gambling, entertainment, and opulence. Guests will find a luxurious palace at its centre, where frescoes, palm fronds, mosaics and elephant tusks complement the resort's life-sized model animals. Lakes, forests, and a tropical beach surround the Lost City. Along with a variety of water sports, guests can enjoy The Valley of the Waves, which is the most advanced waterpark in the country. Among other things, it has a wave machine capable of generating seven-foot (2m) waves. The waterpark's numerous slides and wonderful Lazy River are fabulous fun for the whole family. Buying a day pass for the Lost City waterpark allows visitors to explore the extensive grounds and access the casino.
There are a number of Sun International hotels on the property and the resort complex also borders on the Pilanesberg National Park. Home to the Big Five, it is a popular game-viewing destination.
Covering 393 acres (159 hectares) on the banks of the Crocodile River at Nelspruit, the Lowveld National Botanical Garden has the largest collection of cycads in the world and the biggest assortment of indigenous trees in South Africa. The garden has 600 plant and 245 bird species occurring naturally within its borders, but about 2,000 more plant species have been added to this collection. The gardens are traversed by two big rivers, the Crocodile and the Nels, which converge in the garden and form some spectacular waterfalls, which can be viewed from observation platforms. Highlights of the gardens include the aerial boardwalk and suspension bridge through the African Rain Forest section, and a lovely two-hour walking trail that meanders along the Crocodile River banks and passes three waterfalls. There is a restaurant, a tea garden, and a concert stage in the grounds. Approximately 70 percent of the gardens are accessible to wheelchairs.
Spending a few hours strolling and picnicking in the gardens is a great way to enjoy the natural bounty of the region, but visitors should note that ball games and pets are not allowed.
Had it not been for its picturesque setting, Pilgrim's Rest would probably be a ghost town. It is, however, a popular tourist destination, existing today for little other purpose than to entertain and inform visitors about its colourful heyday. It all began in 1873, when a Scottish miner, Alex 'Wheelbarrow' Patterson, discovered gold at Pilgrim's Creek. Before long, fortune seekers had flocked to the little valley, and the town of Pilgrim's Rest was born. Mining continued for decades, but started to dry up in the 1940s, the final mine closing in 1972. The entire town has now been declared a national monument and many of its corrugated iron buildings have been restored. These now exist as living museums, and some as souvenir shops. All development is carefully monitored to ensure the place remains authentic and loses none of its charm. There is an Information Centre on the Main Road where visitors can learn the history of the town before exploring it.
Pilgrim's Rest is part of the scenic Panorama Route, north of Nelspruit. Walking into the town is like stepping back in time and it has been used for a number of film shoots in South Africa. Additionally, there are some great pubs and restaurants if visitors feel peckish.
The spectacular vista of the Blyde River Canyon is part of the scenically breath-taking Panorama Route, where sheer cliffs drop into a bush-covered valley. It's worth covering the route as a self-drive trip from Nelspruit, or on a bus tour. Other sights on the route include a trio of green-clad peaks set in the canyon called the Three Rondavels, and the Bourke's Luck Potholes. The latter are huge holes in the mountainside formed by grinding sand. The Blyde River Canyon is the biggest green canyon in the world, and the third largest canyon on earth. Only the USA's Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia are bigger. The river itself offers some challenging white-water rafting, and one of the best ways to experience the canyon is to paddle the river. A five-day hiking trail winds along the canyon, through the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. It is one of the most rewarding walking trails in the country, if not the world. Visitors can also enjoy shorter walking trails, game safaris, horse-riding trails, mountain-biking trips, and abseiling.
All of these activities are offered by the nature reserve. Lastly, it's worth mentioning that there is a variety of accommodation in the reserve.
Tsitsikamma is a word of the indigenous Khoi-San people meaning 'place of many waters'. It accurately describes the beautiful 50-mile (80km) stretch of coastline that makes up the Tsitsikamma National Park. The park is Africa's oldest and largest marine reserve, and contains many attractions, including a giant Outeniqua yellowwood tree that is hundreds of years old. The region is criss-crossed by hiking trails, including the world-renowned Otter Trail (a five-day hike), which starts at Storm's River and runs along 25 miles (41km) of spectacular coastline to Nature's Valley. A number of private operators offer numerous adventure activities in the area, such as black-water rafting and abseiling, mountain bike tours and fishing trips. A particularly exciting diversion is to undertake a canopy tour of the forest, gliding across the treetops on steel cables strung between platforms. The most popular bases for exploring the area are Wilderness, Knysna, and the aforementioned Nature's Valley. All are charming coastal towns that offer comfortable campsites and luxury lodges. Tsitsikamma National Park serves as the highlight of South Africa's famous Garden Route.
The Bo-Kaap (old Malay Quarter) was declared an exclusive residential area for the Muslim Cape Malays under the apartheid era's Group Areas Act of 1950, forcing people of other religions and ethnicity to leave. The term 'Cape Malay' was originally used to describe the slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, and various African countries who were imported to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch during the 16th and 17th centuries (rather than just to describe Malaysian slaves). Today, the area is still closely associated with the Muslim community and has a distinct and vibrant character. The houses have been restored and colourfully painted. The steep cobbled streets, mosques, minarets, and blend of Cape Dutch and Edwardian architecture also contribute to making it one of the city's most interesting cultural and historical areas. The Bo-Kaap Museum on Wale Street documents the history of the Cape Malays and is worth a visit for those wanting a more in-depth understanding of the area.
There are also some fun and interesting walking tours available. The Bo-Kaap is a great favourite with photographers and its charm ensures that it is the frequent subject of Cape Town postcards.
Spier is one of South Africa's most famous and most popular wine estates. Internationally renowned as cultural resort, it offers luxurious accommodation, conference facilities, shopping, fine dining, and a variety of recreational activities, including golf, horse riding, picnics, and a cheetah park. Travellers can visit Eagle Encounters, where they can get up close to some amazing birds of prey. An outdoor amphitheatre traditionally presents a variety of music, theatre, and dance during the Spier Summer Arts Season, seeking to promote, showcase and develop emerging South African talent. Situated in the heart of the Stellenbosch winelands region, Spier also boasts world-class wines in what is the oldest working cellar in South Africa. If that is not enough, Spier claims to have one of the most extensive collections of contemporary art in the country as well. Together with its other facilities, this is one of the most unique developments in the wine world.
Spier makes a great base for those wanting to explore the region, with a number of other wonderful wine estates nearby. It is also extremely pleasant to just visit for some wine tasting or a picnic in the lovely grounds.
The historic Huguenot Monument was erected in 1945 and is a major tourist attraction in the Franschhoek Valley. It commemorates and honours the French Huguenots who arrived in South Africa in 1688 after fleeing brutal persecution in their home country. The nearby museum documents the history of the settlers, from their flight from France to their arrival and successful establishment of the Franschhoek wine region in the Cape of Good Hope. The little museum contains a variety of Bibles, documents, furniture, utensils, and artefacts, providing insight into the life of the Huguenots in the Cape. The memorial is graceful and the calm of the place is moving, considering the violent history of the fleeing Huguenots. The three high arches symbolise the Holy Trinity. The sun rising above them represents righteousness, and the cross represents the Huguenot's Christian faith. The central female figure personifies religious freedom, with a Bible in one hand and a broken chain in the other. For any visitor interested in the history of French settlement in South Africa, or in the history of the beautiful Franschoek Valley in general, a visit here will be rewarding.
The Afrikaans Language Museum pays tribute to a unique language that is little more than 300 years old. Created from the melting pot of languages in the Cape, Afrikaans developed from the need of Dutch settlers, French Huguenots, slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, and West Africa, and the local Khoi people to communicate. The struggle to gain recognition of Afrikaans as an official language was carried out from Paarl, and the museum commemorates the people that played an important role in the process. The institution also explores the language in its diversity. Conspicuously absent from the material is the integral role Afrikaans played as the language of the apartheid oppressors. The Language Monument on Paarl Mountain was erected in 1975 to honour the Afrikaans language and is the only language monument in the world. The contribution to Afrikaans from the Western world, as well as from Africa, are represented by the three linked columns and three rounded shapes respectively, while the 187 foot (57m) pillar symbolises the growth of the language. There are beautiful views from Paarl Mountain, where the monument is situated.
Following a long period of conflict and mistrust, including the treacherous murder of Piet Retief and his companions at the hands of the Zulu chief Dingaan, the Voortrekkers, led by Andries Pretorius, prepared for battle against the Zulu kingdom on the banks of the Ncome River on 16 December 1838. The 460 Voortrekkers formed an impenetrable laager, a defensive camp encircled with their ox-wagons, and fought the 15,000-strong impi attack until the Zulus finally retreated, leaving thousands dead and the river red with blood. The violent encounter became known as the Battle of Blood River. About 3,000 Zulu warriors are thought to have died in the battle but the Voortrekkers sustained only injuries. The Blood River/Ncome Heritage Site commemorates this significant battle with monuments and museums to both the Voortrekkers and the Zulus on both sides of the river. This gives the visitor a more complete perspective of events. On the east side is the Ncome Monument and Museum Complex, dedicated to the fallen Zulu warriors, while the Blood River Monument and Museum is located on the west bank and features a life-size replica of the Boer wagon laager. The Ncome Museum building was designed in the shape of buffalo horns, recalling the battle formation in which the Zulu army attacked. It is definitely advisable to visit both museums.
The battle at Isandlwana Hill on 22 January 1879 stunned the British Empire in what was to be the worst defeat in their imperial history. The news that an entire battalion of British troops had been wiped out by a 'native' army was unbelievable. Led by King Cetshwayo, the Zulu Kingdom had refused to submit to British rule and had been gaining strength. Consequently, it was perceived as a threat to British colonists. British troops were ordered to invade Zululand, but grossly underestimated the Zulu warriors. The surprise attack on the Isandlwana Hill British camp left hundreds dead. Isandlwana was the first major encounter of the Anglo-Zulu War. A force of about 20,000 Zulu warriors attacked a portion of the main British column, consisting of about 2,000 soldiers. British fatalities numbered about 1,300 and the Zulus sustained almost as many fatalities, but their far greater numbers gave them a decisive victory. The far superior weapons technology of the British should have enabled them to withstand the attack but they were very poorly deployed.
Today, the battlefield is dotted with memorials, and mounds of white stones that mark the British mass graves. The beauty of the place belies the horror it once witnessed.
Fought on the same day as the nearby battle at Isandlwana Hill, the Battle of Rorke's Drift is remembered as one of the most famous sieges of the Anglo-Zulu War. Survivors from Isandlwana fled to the Swedish mission station that was used as a British field hospital and storehouse, and sounded the alarm. Inside, the 139 men, many of them ill or wounded, barricaded themselves in and prepared for the onslaught of 4,000 Zulu warriors. The Battle Museum dramatically tells the tale of the 'Heroic Hundred' who desperately defended the station for 12 hours, until the Zulus finally retreated with a heavy loss of life. Seventeen British soldiers and about 500 Zulu attackers were killed in the siege. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders, not the most ever given at any battle in British history, as is often claimed, but a prestigious honour nonetheless, and the most ever awarded to one regiment in a single action.
It is generally thought that although the courage of the defenders warranted recognition, the awards were also made to distract public opinion from the disastrous British defeat at Isandlwana. Interestingly, just before the Zulus arrived, a number of defenders fled Rorke's Drift and those remaining were so angry at the desertion that they shot after their own men, killing a corporal.
During the South African War, Ladysmith was besieged for 118 days between 2 November 1899 and 28 February 1900. Thousands died, either during battle or from disease and the lack of food and water. 21,000 Boers advanced into Natal from all sides when war was declared between the Boer republics and Britain. After two notable battles, the Boer forces surrounded the garrison town of Ladysmith, where the British commander and his core force were deployed. The siege was eventually broken by the British when a relief force entered Ladysmith - a force which included a young Churchill. But as with many battles in the war, it was a more a voluntary dispersal than a defeat, with the Boers choosing to fight another day rather than face British reinforcements. One touching story from this tragic and protracted siege is the tale of how the Boers sent a single unexploded shell into Ladysmith on Christmas day. It contained a Christmas pudding and a note wishing the British troops compliments of the season.
The museum is considered one of the best Anglo-Boer War museums in the country. Its collection of artefacts, documents, firearms, and uniforms, as well as its series of excellent photographs tell a vivid story of battles between the Boer and British forces.
The N2 highway that connects Cape Town International Airport to the city is lined with townships, which consist of a mixture of shacks and solid buildings. During the days of apartheid, people of colour were not allowed to live in the white suburbs and were relocated to areas away from the city. These tours allow visitors to experience how the majority of Capetonians still live. Guides, often residents, take visitors around to meet the people, see community projects, have a drink in a shebeen (township pub) and shop for local crafts. Each township has its own colourful character, and despite their difficult living conditions, residents are generally friendly and hospitable. Townships were once no-go areas for many people but, today, visits are becoming popular among tourists to Cape Town. Visitors are advised not to visit the townships alone as crime is still rife and some areas are best avoided completely. There are many tour companies that offer wonderful trips, including transport to and from the township areas.
There is the possibility that these tours can become unpleasantly voyeuristic in the wrong hands. Tourists should remember that they are exploring real communities where people live and should treat the locals with respect.
At the heart of the wine industry is the pretty town of Stellenbosch. Along with being the second oldest town in South Africa, it is regarded as the country's wine capital, with over 110 cellars in the area. The Stellenbosch vineyards were established by the Dutch governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. He arrived in 1679 and noted that the combination of rich soil and ideal climate were perfect for viticulture. In 1971 the first wine route in South Africa was opened, and today the Stellenbosch wine route is perhaps the best known and finest that the country has to offer. It produces award-winning wines from estates such as Morgenhof, Kanonkop, Warwick, and Zewenwacht. Spier Estate is renowned as a unique cultural resort that is famous for its Summer Arts Festival, and boasts the oldest working wine cellar in the country. Stellenbosch is also steeped in South African history and Afrikaans culture and was settled by the Dutch East India Company to produce food for passing ships.
Old oak trees line the streets where Cape Dutch architecture, museums, and national art collections are a reminder of the town's heritage. The town also boasts the world's only Afrikaans university. The premier educational institute has produced many great sporting heroes, including many Springbok rugby players.
Constantia is the origin of wine production in South Africa, and one of Cape Town's most exclusive suburbs. The Constantia wine route is the oldest yet smallest wine route in the Cape, consisting of just five wine farms that concentrate on producing a few wines of international quality and repute. The historic Cape Dutch homestead at Groot Constantia is one of the oldest wine estates in South Africa, home to the first governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, and the valley's most famous wine farm. The house itself is furnished with items from the period, while an adjacent wine museum exhibits drinking and storage vessels in glass, silver, copper, and stoneware dating from 500 BC to the 19th century. There are some great restaurants at Groot Constantia as well as tasting rooms. Visitors are welcome to wander around the beautiful estate. The other four wine estates that are generally known to constitute the Constantia wine route are Klein Constantia, Steenberg, Buitenverwachting and Constantia Uitsig, all of which include highly acclaimed restaurants.
Those who want to extend their route further can also explore Beau Constantia, Constantia Glen, Eagles' Nest and Silvermist Wine Estate. Meandering from one estate to another in Constantia is a glorious way to spend a day, complete with history, natural beauty, great food, and, of course, superb wine.
Fleeing religious persecution in France in the 1700s, more than 200 French Huguenots arrived in the Cape and were settled in the valley that soon became known as Franschhoek (French Corner), which is today situated in the heart of the Cape Winelands region. Many of the settlers were experienced wine producers and they soon recognised the potential of the region for wine and fruit production, establishing wine estates throughout the spectacular Franschhoek Valley in surroundings of magnificent scenery and towering mountains. Today the town is famous not only for its splendid wines and beautiful vistas, but also as the gourmet capital of South Africa, boasting the highest number of award-winning eateries in the country. Restaurants such as Le Quartier Français, La Petite Ferme, Haute Cabriere, and Boschendal are among those that are internationally acclaimed. The Huguenots also left behind a rich legacy of arts, architecture, and hospitality, which are still visible today. Franschhoek hosts a number of wonderful festivals, including a book fair, a big celebration for Bastille Day, and champagne and wine tasting festivals.
Paarl is built in the picturesque Berg River Valley, which lies at the foot of the second-largest granite outcrop in the world. It is the biggest town in the Cape Winelands and the third oldest European settlement in South Africa. Paarl features some of the most superb examples of Cape Dutch, Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco architecture in the country. Its rich history includes Drakenstein Prison, where Nelson Mandela spent his last years in captivity. The Language Monument overlooks the town from the slopes of the Paarl Mountain, and symbolises the birth of the Afrikaans language. Along with its historical background, Paarl is also known for its award-winning wines, particularly its reds, which can be sampled along one of the world's first 'Red Routes'. Paarl's wine route includes more than 40 cellars, among them Nederburg and KWV. Many of them also make a variety of delicious cheeses. Paarl Mountain, or Paarl Rock, looms above the town and is sometimes compared to Ayers Rock in Australia, although geologically they are very different. The rock is popular with climbers, but the routes are difficult and should not be attempted by the inexperienced. There are also many hikes and scenic drives in the verdant natural surroundings.
Mossel Bay is the largest city on the Garden Route and is situated roughly half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. It is renowned as the Adventure Capital of the Garden Route and enjoys an ideal climate, with an average of 320 days of sunshine per year and a moderate winter. Mossel Bay was discovered by Bartholomew Dias in 1488. He was the first European to land in South Africa. He was rounding the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, when a strong wind blew him off course, into the protected bay of St Blaize, now called Mossel Bay. Here he found fresh water and set up a stop-over point for trade ships that were sailing to the East. Many explorers and traders placed important letters in an old shoe under a huge Milkwood tree which is now more than 500 years old. Today, letters are still posted from the Old Post Office Tree.
Adventure junkies come to Mossel Bay for a range of activities in the immediate vicinity: shark cage diving; sand boarding the longest sand dune in South Africa; feeding, riding, and picnicking with elephants; safaris with the Big Five; exploring the predator park where visitors can view white lions and tigers; tandem skydiving; dolphin and whale-watching boat trips; scuba diving; abseiling; helicopter flights, and more.
Other more sedate attractions include the largest shell museum in South Africa; an indigenous botanical garden with a braille trail fragranced for the sight impaired; a life-sized replica of Bartholomew Dias' caravel style ship; St Blaize Lighthouse and cave; and several world-class golf courses.
Mossel Bay is also well known for its wide selection of restaurants and excellent seafood. Many different types of accommodation are on offer, from budget backpackers to five star hotels. There are eight sandy white beaches to relax on and enjoy the sunshine.
Set on the Touws River estuary, the beautiful town of Wilderness is fast developing into a plethora of luxury holiday homes. The Wilderness National Park surrounds the destination and tempts paddlers with about nine miles (15km) of inland waterways. Park wardens offer some wonderful canoe trips and hiking trails, and numerous accommodation facilities are available. If relaxation is the priority, visitors will find an idyllic coastline, where lovely rock pools are exposed at low tide and long swathes of sand invite sun-bathing. Swimmers should note that while the sea is pleasantly warm in summer, the coastline can receive some dangerous currents. Fortunately, lifeguards are almost always present on the main beach in season. Wilderness is a favourite stop on the Garden Route and is close to a number of other popular coastal towns and villages, such as Knysna and Nature's Valley. The city of George is also nearby if travellers wish to visit malls or go to the cinema.
The Cape sits at the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and over 3,000 sea animals from both oceans are showcased in the aquarium. They highlight the diversity of marine life found in the waters around Cape Town. The Two Oceans Aquarium is one of the city's top attractions and visitors of all ages will be interested in the variety of exhibits. They include the Predator Exhibit, which features large sharks and rays, and the mesmerising Kelp Forest Exhibit. Animals such as seals, penguins and turtles, and thousands of different fish are on display too. It is also possible embark on dives in specific tanks. Advanced booking is required, divers must present dive qualifications, and the privilege does carry an additional charge. The Shoreline Cafe at the Aquarium boasts lovely views of Table Mountain and the harbour, and has a children's play area, making it an ideal place to have refreshments. However, visitors are spoilt for choice because the aquarium is located at the famous V & A Waterfront, which is crammed full of great restaurants.
It is special to be able to stroll along the harbour after visiting the aquarium, and boat trips out into the open ocean can be arranged from there.
A historical beach-side suburb on the False Bay coast, Muizenberg is popular with families for its long beach, warm water (by Cape Town standards), beautiful views, and activities such as mini-golf and waterslides. The beach is famous for its row of colourful changing houses and is a photo favourite from the mountain road far above. Muizenberg beach has also long been the best place in Cape Town for beginner surfers to learn and enjoy the waves. Its break is far less daunting and competitive than Cape Town's other surf spots. Several popular surf schools have been established at Surfers Corner in Muizenberg, accompanied by a few fun cafés and restaurants. False Bay is also known for its Great White Shark population, but a shark watch service is in operation to give warning to bathers and surfers. Visitors should take note of the flag and siren system which is clearly explained on signposts.
A scenic walkway below the railway line links Muizenberg to the next seaside village of St James and its lovely tidal pool. The delightful fishing village of Kalk Bay is a few minutes' drive away, with its protected harbour and its main street lined with fascinating antique and art shops, as well as coffee shops, eateries and bars.
SABMiller started in South Africa and has expanded to become one of the world's largest and most popular brewers of beer. The World of Beer offers a fun, short tour, which summarises the history of the company, beer in general, and details the brewing process. The tour begins with a televised talk from Charles Glass, the brew master of the famous Castle Lager and the man responsible for laying the foundations of South African Breweries (SAB). The tour also covers ancient beer brewing in Mesopotamia and how it spread through Europe and Africa. Visitors get to learn about and sample traditional South African sorghum beer, and explore the evolution of brewing in South African culture. They will then visit the green houses where the raw ingredients are grown. The price includes one beer during the tour, a souvenir glass, two drink vouchers redeemable in the Tap Room, and bar snacks after the tour. Only those over 18 (the legal drinking age in South Africa) will be allowed to partake in the beer drinking.
However, all ages are welcome on tours and the visit should prove interesting even for non-beer drinkers. Visitors are welcome to stay in the pub and have a few drinks for as long as they desire after their tour.
Johannesburg is one of the most densely treed cities in the world and has a number of pleasant parks and gardens. Among them, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is undoubtedly the city's most superb green lung. Located in the west of Johannesburg, this urban oasis covers 741 acres (300ha), and offers lush gardens and scenic hiking trails. The botanical garden was founded in 1982, with the area used consistently for hiking and outdoor excursions since the 1800s. Locals consistently rate it the best place to explore nature in Gauteng. The gardens are a terrific place for birdwatchers and garden-enthusiasts interested in seeing a variety of fauna and flora. There are over 200 bird species as well as over 600 plant species in the gardens. The landscapes are a mixture of grassland and savanna, with some rocky outcrops and lots of little streams and kloofs. Parts of the garden are beautifully landscaped but swathes have been left as unspoilt wilderness.
After a walk or hike, it is common practice to enjoy a picnic on the lawns at the foot of the breath-taking Witpoortjie waterfall.
Melville is an old suburb known for its quirky, artistic atmosphere, eclectic little shops, pavement cafés, fun bars, restaurants, and clubs. This trendy suburb is a hive of activity on any given night of the week. It is the place to go out and carouse in Johannesburg for visitors who prefer a bohemian vibe to the preppy, upmarket nightlife that generally characterises the city. Seventh Street is the central zone from which all the character emanates and is a great place to start. Its collection of book and antique shops, cafés, and other interesting storefronts are well worth exploring. Partygoers barhop into the small hours, but tourists should refrain from walking around too much at night, and be aware of pickpockets.
Situated near Gold Reef City, the Apartheid Museum chronicles South Africa's tragic and shameful history of black oppression. On display are relics of the apartheid system, an abhorrent regime which denied non-whites basic freedoms and an equal life in the country. Visitors often describe the experience of the Apartheid Museum as harrowing. At the same time, the story of the struggle over adversity is inspirational and serves as an integral and important part of the new South African narrative and its reflections on history. To give some idea of the everyday realities of racial classification, visitors arbitrarily are classified as either 'white' or 'non-white' upon arrival and can only enter through their designated entrance. Due to graphic content, the museum does not allow children under the age of 11. Probably South Africa's most impressive and hard-hitting museum, a visit to the Apartheid Museum is a must for visitors to Johannesburg interested in the country's history. The museum often ranks as the number one tourist attraction in the city. Allow at least three hours if you want to explore thoroughly.
A guided tour of the National Heritage Site of Constitution Hill takes visitors on a journey through South Africa's turbulent past, but also illustrates its incredible transition into democracy. There a number of tours of Constitutional Hill. Tourists can visit the Number Four prison, a dark and terrible place where Mahatma Ghandi, Robert Sobukwe, and Nelson Mandela were all incarcerated, along with many other victims of the racial hierarchy. The Old Fort is also open to the public. Built in 1893, it was a prison for white men (including British prisoners of war) during the South African War, and one of Johannesburg's oldest buildings. Visitors may also be interested in the Women's Prison, a pretty Victorian building where political activists like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Albertina Sisulu endured terrible suffering, and infamous murderess Daisy de Melker was incarcerated. Lastly, tourists might want to visit the Constitutional Court. It is the institution responsible for ensuring that the human rights horrors that once characterised Constitution Hill will never occur again. Tours must be booked in advance via the official website listed below. Tours take about an hour and a half and are very informative. The Constitutional Court is open to the public. Exploring Constitution Hill provides an interesting overview of the prison system during apartheid and it is one of Johannesburg's most fascinating historical attractions.
Hector Pieterson became the iconic image of the 1976 Soweto Uprising in Apartheid South Africa, when a news photograph of the dying Hector being carried by a fellow student was published across the globe. He was just 12 years old when the police opened fire on school children who had gathered to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in township schools. The protest was intended to be peaceful but became a violent confrontation when police demanded that the students disperse; students threw stones and police fired bullets. News of the bloodshed ignited uprisings across the country in which 550 people were killed. Hector was one of the first to die on that tragic day. The museum fuses memorabilia with modern technology and cultural history and is located two blocks away from where Hector was killed. Hector's sister, Antoinette, who is seen in the famous photograph holding her hands out in panic, worked for many years as a tour guide at the museum. The 16th of June is a public holiday named National Youth Day in South Africa. It honours the youth who bravely stood up to the apartheid regime, and young people in general.
Cape Town's most famous theme park, Ratanga Junction, is a must for all those up for a thrilling day out in the sun. Its rides and activities will keep even the most active of children occupied. The park features gift shops and a food hall for weary riders, or those just looking to rest their legs for a while. There are regular shows at the food court stage to entertain youngsters, including magicians, animal shows, and dancers. The Cobra is by far the most popular ride. The snake-like roller coaster flips occupants round 360 degrees in an array of dips, corkscrews and hard turns. Other favourites include Monkey Falls: a water-log ride that sees passengers drop down big waterfalls, and several smaller roller coasters. There are plenty of mellow rides designed for small children who aren't ready for the adrenalin-pumping stuff, but adults will be thrilled with the quality of rides they can enjoy.
Almost all of the rides are included in the entry cost money, with the exception of things like the Slingshot, which carry individual charges. Parents who are not interested in participating can get a non-rider ticket which costs substantially less.
There are plenty of snack kiosks dotted around the grounds. The queues can get frustratingly long so it is best to go on week days if possible. Visitors should note that Ratanga Junction only opens seasonally. They should check whether the theme park is open on the official website before visiting to avoid disappointment.
With a population of more than 3,000 birds and over 400 different species, the World of Birds is the largest bird park in Africa. Its one-hundred-plus walk-through aviaries allow visitors to encounter the birds in their natural environment. The park has other animals as well. Its mammals include foxes, monkeys, meerkats, racoons, guinea pigs, marmosets, mongooses and porcupines. Monkeys are one of the highlights. Visitors will find more than 30 of them in a large walk-through enclosure, where they can interact with the animals at certain times of day. There are also some reptiles such skinks, iguanas, terrapins and tortoises. World of Birds has a children's play area and a tearoom for parents to stop and take a break.
Designed by renowned South African architect, Sir Herbert Baker, the Union Buildings are located on Meintjieskop hill: a sentinel overlooking the city of Pretoria. They are the official seat of the country's government and houses the offices of the South African President and other government officials. The Union Buildings are a South African Monument and have seen such icons as former South African president, Nelson Mandela, inaugurated. The main semi-circular building is considered an architectural masterpiece and is an easily recognisable South African landmark. It is worth seeing and photographing for tourists in the area. With spectacular terraced gardens full of indigenous flora, the Union Buildings are not only historically important, but also rather beautiful. The spacious gardens are a popular venue for picnics and wedding photos and visitors are welcome every day.
However, the buildings themselves are never open to the public. There are various monuments to see in the gardens, including the South African Police Memorial and a monument to General Louis Botha, the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa.
Commonly known as the Pretoria Zoo, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa is often described as one of the leading zoos in the world. It is the largest zoo in South Africa and the only one with national status. Tickets include a visit to the zoo, an aquarium, and a reptile park. The Pretoria Zoo cares for more than 200 mammal species, more than 200 bird species, around 190 fish species, and more than 90 reptile species. The zoo is known for its large enclosures and animals which include cheetahs, chimps, lemurs, leopards, rhinos, hippos, elephants, red pandas, koala bears, lions, and tigers. Golf carts and children's pushcarts are available for rent and there is even a Zoo Choo-Choo Tractor Train for the kids to enjoy. The cable car, which runs up a hill and offers great views over the city, is one of the highlights. Visitors will also find a restaurant, a cafeteria with a wide variety of take-away options, a few snack kiosks, and numerous pretty picnic sites where they can relax in the shade. Some picnic sites even have barbeque facilities.
There are a variety of tour options at the zoo and those who want to take something away with them can try the curio shop for souvenirs.
A shrine for many of Pretoria's rugby fanatics, the Loftus Versfeld Stadium seats over 50,000 people and was one of the stadiums that hosted matches in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The land on which the stadium was built was first used for sporting events in 1903 and is named after Robert Owen Loftus Versfeld, who is attributed with establishing organised sport in Pretoria. Loftus Versfeld stadium is home to the Blue Bulls: the local rugby team. Passionately supported by Pretorians, the team has been very successful locally and internationally. The stadium has hosted numerous big sporting events, such as the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 1996 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Enthusiastic sports fans may want to add the stadium to their sightseeing itinerary, and rugby supporters travelling to Pretoria should try and take in a game at this famous South African venue. Those who are indifferent to rugby and sport in general may want to check for other events showing at this superb venue during their stay.
The former residence of Boer leader and President of the Republic of South Africa, Paul Kruger, is now the Kruger House Museum. Built in 1884, the house was the last one in which President Kruger would live before leaving South Africa to go into exile in Europe. Exhibitions in the museum detail Kruger's leading role in the South African War, formerly known as the Anglo-Boer War, against Britain. It also provides information regarding his presidency at a formative and tumultuous period in South African history, and his exile to Europe. Adjacent to Kruger House is the former Bantu Commissioner's Office. Erected in 1932, it was also used as the Native Pass Office. Kruger's government used the same site as police headquarters. The house contains some original furnishings from Kruger's residency and some other items from that historical period. Present too are many gifts that were presented to Kruger, such as the lion statues on the veranda, as well as other memorabilia. The museum mainly aims to recreate the living conditions of the time, but also gives some insight into the life of this South African character.
Although the museum may not be entertaining for all tourists, those interested in the historical period should find it worthwhile.
Featuring indigenous plants and flowers from all over South Africa, the Pretoria National Botanical Garden bridges the gap between scientific research and recreational garden pleasures. The garden is home to over 198 bird species, a few reptiles and even small mammals like the adorable duiker. A high quartzite outcrop divides the grounds into two sections: a colder, south-facing section, and a warmer, north-facing section, presenting slightly different natural moods. A paved nature trail provides access to the ridge, which boasts a wonderful diversity of indigenous flora and fauna. More than half of the total area is dedicated to landscaped garden, using almost exclusively South African vegetation, including 50 percent of the country's tree species. The garden includes several distinct biomes, with savanna and forest sections. A great place for a relaxing walk or picnic, the gardens also feature Mokha Restaurant, which overlooks a small wetland. No pets are allowed in the garden, except guide dogs. Picnics are encouraged, though no fires or braais (barbeques) are permitted anywhere in the grounds. Neither bicycles nor skateboards are allowed.
President Brand Street has been declared a national conservation area, and is home to a number of monuments and buildings of historical value. Nobody visiting Bloemfontein should pass up the opportunity to stroll down one of the city's most stately and historically important streets, encountering striking examples of 19th and 20th-century buildings along the way. The South African Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of South Africa are located on this street, as is the National Afrikaans Literature Museum. Travellers can view the original transcript of South Africa's former national anthem, Die Stem, at the Literature Museum. Travellers will find the equally interesting National Music Museum on President Brand Street too. Bloemfontein's City Hall is another of the street's important addresses. Completed in 1936, its cornerstone was laid by Prince George, Duke of Kent. The Old Presidency was built in 1861, on the spot that was once the British Major Henry Warden's farmhouse. The sandstone buildings give the area a distinct character and aesthetic, creating some great photographic opportunities.
From its distinguished setting in a Cape Dutch mansion, the Oliewenhuis Art Gallery is a must-see Bloemfontein attraction that features an expansive display of South African art. Designed in 1935 and completed in 1941, the Neo-Dutch mansion was built as the residence of the Governor General of the Union of South Africa, and once hosted King George VI and his family on their visit to Bloemfontein. The residence was opened as the city's art museum in 1989, after long-term petitioning by Bloemfontein's artistic community. Contemporary paintings and sculptures are exhibited here, as well as acclaimed masterpieces from days gone by. One of the most exciting and unique aspects of the museum is the remarkable exhibition space in the old underground reservoir. The gallery also has a café and outdoor sculpture park for visitors to enjoy. Kids will love the colourful Africa Carousel. It was created by multiple artists crafting each individual creature to integrate European and African mythology. Located on Grant's Hill and surrounded by miles of unspoilt nature, visitors can also enjoy exploring the walking trails that wind around the museum.
Opened by the Prince of Wales in 1925, King's Park boasts over 4,000 beautiful rose bushes. In fact, Bloemfontein literally means 'flower fountain' and is often referred to locally as the 'city of roses'. It is the city's largest and loveliest green space and a nice spot to unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. A colourful and fragrant park set on a lake and with grassy areas where children can expend some energy, the park is a good attraction for those travelling with kids. King's Park is also home to the Bloemfontein Zoo, established in 1906. There is a popular arts and crafts market at King's Park on the first Saturday of each month, where food stalls compete with paintings and sculptures as well as other crafts like jewellery and some wonderful bargains can be found. The market is open from about 7am to 1pm. Those looking for other outdoor areas in Bloemfontein should head to Naval Hill, which provides striking views over the city and borders the Franklin Game Reserve.
For something fun and educational, parents should take their kids to the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. Located just nine miles (15km) north of Durban, it offers visitors the chance to learn about the marine life found off the coast of Durban's Golden Mile. The Sharks Board maintains the coastlines shark safety gear. It also does research into sharks and runs a public education programme. There are almost daily presentations and shark dissections at the complex. Kids will love visiting the display hall to view the variety of lifelike replicas of sharks, fish and rays, including that of a 1966-pound (892kg) great white shark. The dissections can be disturbing for sensitive kids but they are fascinating and very educational. Indeed, some odd things have been discovered in the bellies of sharks. Visitors can join boat trips to view shark nets being serviced. On these trips, kids can see and learn about the dolphins, seabirds, and fish life that abound off Durban's coast. Boat trips must be booked in advance. The Sharks Board is near Gateway Mall and the Umhlanga Rocks city centre.
Located on Durban's beachfront, this knee-high miniature replica of Durban makes a great outing for families and kids of all ages. It features moving models of planes and trains, a circus complete with animals, a movable bridge which makes way for passing ships, several of Durban's landmark buildings, and a tug boat that makes its way around its very own miniature dock. All models and buildings have been created on a 1:24 scale. Mini Town was established more than 30 years ago and, although it is very well-maintained, it has retained a charming, old-fashioned appeal. There is a small restaurant kiosk where snacks and refreshments can be purchased. Mini Town is owned by the Quadriplegic Association of KwaZulu-Natal and is used as a method of raising funds for their organisation while providing employment for some of their members. It is therefore a worthwhile tourist attraction to support. It is located on a main bus line, and is within easy walking distance of Suncoast Casino and many popular beachfront hotels.
The Moses Mabhida Stadium was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and is one of South Africa's most picturesque stadiums. With its iconic 'arch of triumph', the waves of the Indian Ocean crashing in the background, and an amazing view of Durban's Beachfront, the stadium is an epic place to take in a sports game. However, it also offers some other attractions that will delight tourists. Adventurers will be able to enjoy the rush of the Big Swing, the world's only stadium swing and the largest swing of its kind in the world. After an adrenalin-pumping jump from the stadium's arch, 348 feet (106m) above the pitch, people will swing out over the pitch and 80,000 seats below. Think of it as an upright bungi jump. The Sky Car is perhaps the stadium's most notable attraction. It ferries up to 20 people to the stadium arch's highest point, from where they can enjoy incredible panoramic views of the city, while the Skywalk takes visitors up 550 steps of the arch and back down again.
There are also a bunch of shops and restaurants at the stadium and tours are available for those who want to explore. The various attractions at the stadium all have different costs and timetables. Check the official website listed below for details.
Tucked away near an industrial section of Durban North and the Umgeni River, the Umgeni River Bird Park houses an ever-growing bird population. Over 200 species of birds live as residents along the shady winding paths. The park is situated in a lush tropical garden in what used to be an old quarry site. It was opened in 1984 after extensive landscaping. The park's free-flight bird show, which runs from Tuesday to Sunday at 11am and 2pm, has been entertaining families and school groups for over a decade. It featuring vultures, owls, cranes, and other impressive fowl. The free-flight shows are also available on Mondays during South African school holidays. The birds included in the show change frequently and a visit to the park is hardly complete without seeing this performance. There is an undercover cafe in the heart of the park that offers refreshments and light meals. The park is accessible by bus, but the route is not in constant use.
Located just 75 miles (120km) from Cape Town, Langebaan languished for years in relative obscurity, remaining an excellent retirement destination and a popular place for local fishing enthusiasts to spend the weekend. However, in recent years, picturesque Langebaan has been getting the attention it deserves and has become a frequented West Coast tourist destination. It offers an incredible range of fun water sports and adventure activities, as well as top-class beach resort accommodation and a winning selection of restaurants and shops. The water in the Langebaan Lagoon is warm enough to swim in all year round. The most popular water-sport activities in Langebaan include sailing, kayaking, kitesurfing, waterskiing, and fishing, while the town's upmarket resorts also offer quintessential vacation amenities like golf courses, swimming pools, and tennis courts. Animal lovers should note that Langebaan is the ornithological capital of South Africa, boasting over 300 species of birds. Most of them can be viewed in the nearby West Coast National Park.
Exploring the national park is a must when in Langebaan, as this is the best place to experience the beautiful area's unspoilt and unusual landscapes.
Saldanha is a small, attractive town situated on the northern shore of Saldanha Bay. The deep natural harbour sustains the area's economy and provides countless water sport and fishing opportunities to visitors. Saldanha Bay's fishing industry is underpinned by the export of delicacies such as crayfish, mussels, and oysters. This fine selection of seafood naturally characterises the town's gastronomy. Visitors can look forward to a range of fun activities, including kite-surfing, waterskiing and deep-sea diving. The area is also immensely popular with game-fishing devotees, who man their rods and try to entice yellowtail, tuna, and snoek from the ocean depths. Accommodation in Saldanha is plentiful, catering to luxury resort clientele as well as backpackers. In season (June to November), Saldanha is one of South Africa's better whale-watching destinations, as schools of humpback and southern right whales gather off the Atlantic coast to calve. Like most of the West Coast, Saldanha is not a glitzy travel destination but is charming in its own right.
Located just 70 miles (110km) north of Cape Town, the West Coast National Park showcases the very best of the region's natural beauty. The attraction stretches from the quaint seaside town of Yzerfontein to the turquoise-blue Langebaan Lagoon, and stands out among South Africa's celebrated national parks. It is most famous for its bird life, with thousands gracing the rocks on its golden beaches, and thousands more filling the park's salt marshes with their varied songs and warbles. However, the West Coast National Park is also home to some interesting wildlife, including eland, red hartebeest, and caracal. The Postberg section is an excellent place to view Namaqualand Daisies when the countryside becomes carpeted in bright wildflowers during August and September. Whether gazing at pretty flamingos or diving osprey, a visit to the West Coast National Park is a must for nature-lovers. It offers a convenient and thorough introduction to the West Coast's natural treasures, along with some stunningly beautiful and unspoilt beaches.
Paternoster is a quaint fishing village outside Cape Town. Its name comes from the prayers of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors who fell afoul of its rugged coastline. These days, many consider it the ideal West Coast beach-holiday destination. The first thing visitors will notice are the rows and rows of white-washed fisherman houses: a lovely, and incredibly photogenic, architectural quirk that will linger long in the memory. A holiday in Paternoster is probably best taken at a snail's pace. That is, visitors will enjoy taking long walks on the fine sandy beaches and observing the region's bird life. For active types, hiking trails, mountain biking, sea kayaking, diving, and spear-fishing excursions are available. The West Coast gets extremely hot but the freezing sea water will certainly cool visitors down. Finally, one of Paternoster's most abiding attractions is the quality and availability of fresh fish and seafood, especially crayfish.
Yzerfontein is about an hour outside Cape Town, and is the ideal getaway for those seeking a serene beach holiday. Along with its sunshine and mild winters, the tranquil seaside village is much loved for its Sixteen Mile Beach, which connects it to the Postberg conservancy area in the West Coast National Park. Travellers who venture to the park in August and September will see Namaqualand's wildflowers bloom in fabulous explosions of colour. Yzerfontein visitors can also enjoy fishing, hiking, skiing, mountain biking and whale watching. Only the brave are likely to swim in the region's very cold sea.
Darling is a fast growing tourist destination in South Africa. From the second visitors pull into this dusty station town, they'll understand exactly why. Located in a valley of golden hills in the Swartland region of South Africa's West Coast, Darling is a thoroughly charming spot with a local brewery and opportunities to go olive and wine tasting. Although Darling offers high-quality dining options, the town's main claim to fame is its most famous resident, satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys. He is perhaps better known by his alter-ego: Evita Bezuidenhout. Pieter-Dirk Uys has invested lots of time and energy in Darling, creating not only a popular cabaret venue (Evita se Perron), but also founding the Darling Trust: an organisation that promotes social upliftment through the arts. Visitors shouldn't miss the small museum and craft market, which, in addition to housing several hilarious satirical paintings, also displays some priceless correspondence between Evita and notable figures from South Africa's history, including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk, and PW Botha.
Agriculturally prosperous and blessed with plenty of sun, Darling is a must-see destination. It is a magical place where horse-carriages still canter past quaint Victorian cottages and the most stressful decision of the day is which restaurant or wine farm to try next. Darling is also home to an annual Wildflower Show (August to September), where the famous Namaqualand Daisies can be viewed in all their glory.
When the film version of JM Coetzee's celebrated novel Disgrace was made, the film-makers controversially opted to ditch the book's original Eastern Cape setting in favour of various locations in and around the Cederberg: a mountainous conservancy area about 190 miles (300km) north of Cape Town. Their reasoning for this was simply that the Cederberg is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled areas of South Africa and that foreign audiences deserved to see this often-overlooked natural wonderland in all its glory. No doubt aided by this exposure, the Cederberg has quickly grown into one of the leading ecotourism destinations in Southern Africa. It is the premium destination for those outdoor adventurers looking to get to grips with South Africa's unique and varied landscape. Although there are plenty of lovely towns in the greater region, including Ceres and Clanwilliam, the real draw card is staying within the Cederberg Wilderness Area, a massive conservancy administered by Cape Nature.
Their main campsite, Algeria, is a great place to stay, although there are plenty of privately-owned alternatives, such as Sanddrif, Driehoek, and Krom River, to choose from as well. Great activities in the Cederberg include hiking and rock climbing, and walking tours of caves where San rock art can be seen. The best time to visit the Cederberg is between November and April, when days are warm and there is not much rain around.
One of the most beautiful nooks of a decidedly beautiful country, Nature's Valley is an enchanting and relatively undiscovered holiday resort on the Garden Route. Located about 18 miles (29km) from Plettenberg Bay and surrounded by the Tsitsikamma National Forest, Nature's Valley is a gorgeously lush area of tall bearded trees, monkey ropes, and rich bird life. It also happens to sport one of the prettiest coastlines in the country. Featuring great weather all year round and a decided lack of non-essential infrastructure, Nature's Valley is the perfect place to go for tourists looking to relax and rejuvenate in peace and quiet. There are plenty of scenic walks and hiking trails for adventure enthusiasts. In fact, Nature's Valley marks the end of the Otter Trail, one of South Africa's most famous hikes. Canoeing down the river and swimming in the sheltered lagoon are also fun excursions. Accommodation in Nature's Valley comes in all shapes and sizes: from luxury villas which can be rented on a monthly basis, to the excellent Wild Spirit Lodge and Backpacker Hostel, which offers affordable lodging in a funky and eco-friendly environment.
Soweto's history goes back to 1903, when Kliptown was established as the first black settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg. An abbreviation for South-Western Township, Soweto has had a turbulent history and was at the centre of the Apartheid struggle in South Africa. The ANC and other organisations adopted the Freedom Charter in Kliptown in 1955, and the Soweto Uprising of 1976 was one of the pivotal events in the struggle. Soweto is home to several famous landmarks, including Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Diepkloof, Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Rockville, and the Freedom Towers. In Orlando, tourists can visit Vilikazi Street, which is the only street in the world to have been the home of two Nobel Peace Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). On the street, Mandela House has been restored to the state it was in when the former president lived there.
A number of historic museums are also popular attractions in Soweto, including the Hector Pieterson Museum, the Kliptown Open-Air Museum, and the Apartheid Museum. The Orlando Cooling Towers are a fun, popular attraction. Part of a decommissioned coal-fired power station, the towers have been brightly painted and offer rap jumping opportunities.
Tours of Soweto are a must for any first-time visitor to Johannesburg and South Africa, and a number of tour operators offer trips into Soweto. The most popular are the historical tours, stopping at museums and famous sites, and the nightlife tours, which include stops at local shebeens (township bars).
Soweto is also home to some excellent restaurants, ranging from five-star establishments to holes-in-the-wall, which serve local African cuisine. Although many tourists have concerns about whether it's safe to visit Soweto, most visits are completely trouble-free when organised by a reputable tour operator.
Durban's most popular attraction is the length of beach stretching across one end of the city centre. Known as the Golden Mile, the beach starts in the north at Blue Lagoon and eventually stops at uShaka Marine World in South Beach. There are various picnic and fishing hotspots, as well as the Suncoast Casino and Mini Town on North Beach. Along the way, they will travel past the skatepark, surfing museum, and restaurants in the Bay of Plenty. Dotted with elaborate kiddie pools and set against a backdrop of high-rise hotels and holiday flats, the Golden Mile is indeed the epicentre of Durban tourism. A wide, flat promenade runs nearly the entire way, dotted here and there with joggers, rickshaws and rollerbladers. The sandy beach is flat, and its gloriously warm waters are good both for surfing and swimming. The amphitheatre near North Beach hosts a large flea market on Sundays, offering everything from beaded jewellery and wood carvings to saris and DVDs.
During the day, the Golden Mile is a paradise for holidaymakers and beachgoers. However, it is not considered safe to walk on the promenade after dark. Visitors should keep watch of their belongings at all times and beware of pickpockets.
Coffee Bay is a small inlet in the heart of the Wild Coast. Situated near Mthatha and with only a post office, a grocery store and a few B&Bs and backpackers to its name, the destination largely appeals to students and the young at heart. Its nightlife consists of drumming circles and the occasional trance party. Coffee Bay has some of the best surfing in South Africa, though, along with swimming, spear fishing and scuba diving. Nature lovers who explore its unspoiled coastline may see whales, dolphins and the occasional Cape Clawless Otter. The area is a paradise for golfers, hikers and anyone interested in horseback riding, too. Travellers who enjoy peaceful strolls along beaches with only wildflowers and natural forests for company will also appreciate the Wild Coast. All visitors should definitely stop at the iconic Hole in the Wall: a site where the sea has carved a giant tunnel through a rock. Seafood fans can buy fresh catches from local fisherman.
The beautiful Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve is a great place to stay in the Transkei. Encompassing five distinct biomes and a tidal estuary along the Eastern Cape's Wild Coast, the private, luxury reserve provides access to diverse coastal landscapes and some magnificent beaches. The reserve is home to the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) and numerous other animals. However, the main attraction from a wildlife point of view is the presence of some extremely rare white lions. Inkwenkwezi is a Xhosa word meaning 'under the stars' and the reserve prides itself on good service and attention to detail as well as natural beauty. Visitors can interact with elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary, take guided game drives, hikes and quad bike tours, and enjoy canoeing and mountain biking activities. The reserve's Sunset Lapa is a dreamy spot to sip on cocktails while admiring the stunning view, and the Emthombeni Restaurant serves a variety of South African cuisine. The accommodation is of a high standard and the venue is extremely popular for weddings. Inkwenkwezi is a short drive northeast of the East London airport, making it an easily accessible destination in a region notorious for bad roads.
Port St Johns is a good travel base in the Transkei region and is the central tourism hub on the Wild Coast. The destination has lovely beaches, great surfing opportunities, fantastic fishing (deep sea and shore angling), and some fun and atmospheric backpackers lodges for budget travellers. A town of about 7,000 people, Port St Johns is situated at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River. The estuary is one of the main reasons why this stretch of coast is so picturesque. Sadly, it's also a contributing factor to the frequency of shark attacks on the town's beaches, making swimming and surfing a bit nerve-racking despite the idyllic conditions. The Umzimvubu River flows through an impressive sandstone gorge named the Gates of St John and visitors should make the effort to drive up to Mount Thesiger. Located just above the town, it offers stunning views of the estuary. Some of the backpackers and lodges offer the ride up for sundowners free of charge.
Dense, jungle-like vegetation dotted with scenic walking trails surround the town, which is endearingly laid back and sleepy. Visitors will find a Xhosa flavour and some basic shops and bohemian-style restaurants.
Afrikaans Phrase Book
|dankie||thank you||dun key|
|asseblief||please||ah suh bleef|
|my naam is||my name is||may nahm is|
|waar is||where is||vaar is|
|praat jy engels||do you speak english||praht yay eng uhls|
|ek verstaan nie||I don�t understand||ek ver stahn nee|
|ek makeer 'n dokter||I need a doctor||ek muk ear uh dork tor|
South Africa is a large country and has diverse climactic regions, so travellers should check the climate for the region they'll be visiting. In general the weather is sunny and hot in the summer months (November to February), and fairly mild during winter (June to August). The weather in autumn (March to May) and spring (September to October) is less predictable and more changeable.
The Cape has a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters, and hot, dry, sunny summers. The average temperatures in Cape Town in the summer range between 61°F (16°C) and 79°F (26°C), and in winter average between 47°F (8°C) and 64°F (18°C). Some snow does fall on the mountain ranges during the winter.
Gauteng and the northern regions have a subtropical highland climate with plenty of sunshine during hot summers, when thunderstorms regularly occur in the late afternoon and evening. Winters are dry and sunny with cold nights. Temperatures occasionally drop below freezing at night in the north. The average temperatures in Johannesburg (Gauteng) in the summer range between 58°F (15°C) and 78°F (25°C), and in winter range between 39°F (4°C) and 80°F (16°C).
The best time to visit South Africa differs hugely depending on region and desired activities but summer is the peak tourist season for coastal regions. Spring and autumn tend to be mild and pleasant seasons for travel.
Located in wine country and against the backdrop of the Constantiaberg Mountain, Constantia Uitsig has been a huge success story since day one. The menu is Italian-French, though Chef Clayton Bell continues to create food with broader influences than his original Provencale-Tuscan mix. Bookings are essential.
Miller's Thumb is Jane and Solly Solomon's refreshingly casual seafood establishment. Set in uptown Cape Town, it's ever-changing chalkboard menu offers customers a good chance of discovering something new, though it tends to include familiar options as well. Cajun and Creole dishes are the order of the day, as is Yaki Soba, an award-winning Japanese dish with cashes, chickens and prawns. Thankfully, it's a staple. There's generally a pasta dish or two, complemented by an array of interesting sauces and a selection of good wines.
Situated just behind Camps Bay's main strip, the Codfather offers a unique presentation of fine fish. There is no menu at this low-key restaurant. Patrons make their choice after a personal discourse with their waiter on the daily specials. It is then weighed, prepared to the highest standard, and served to their table. Staff are all first class and provide a service of the highest order. There is also a sushi bar. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.
Beluga is a stylish and sophisticated eatery located in the Foundry, a 100-year-old redbrick building that once housed one of the city's oldest metal works. It now has a modern interior design as well as an office centre, integrating into what has become Cape Town's film and modelling district. The restaurant offers the best of a wide range of cuisines. However, there are plenty of robust flavours, interesting ingredients, and generous portions. The cocktail bar serves great drinks, perfectly complemented by its famous sushi menu. Tables spill out onto an enclosed courtyard, serving light meals and coffees from early until late.
This restaurant takes up five floors, decorated with a combination of modern African designs. Traditionally attired staff serve locally inspired dishes, and live African music enhances the wonderful atmosphere even more. The varied menu has dishes from around the continent, such as fragrant North African stews, East African fish curries, and huge Mozambique prawns. The unusual African desserts, like sweet potato and chocolate pudding, are not to be missed. Booking is essential; the restaurant opens daily for lunch and dinner.
Wombles Steakhouse serves steak to suit all tastes and appetites, complementing their cuts with fresh vegetables and a choice of potato dishes. Reminiscent of its 1980s predecessor in Harare, Zimbabwe, it is furnished with ornate, high-backed chairs and luxurious sofas set within a candle-lit décor. The efficient staff are incredibly attentive, working to make the patron's dining experience a memorable one. The establishment is open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner, with dinner also served on Saturdays. Reservations are recommended.
Royale is the gourmet burger joint of choice in Cape Town. It's not uncommon to see scruffy-jeaned skaters at one table and trendy executives at another. Patrons can choose beef, chicken, ostrich or veggie patties, and can chop and change toppings. Regarding sides, they can go for regular fries, sweet potato fries, potato wedges or delicious salads.
Aside from offerings like 'The Miss Piggy' and 'The Fat Bastard' (double everything), the restaurant serves a variety of pizzas and milkshakes. Royale also boasts an upstairs bar and live-music lounge known as the Waiting Room, and a third floor reserved for private functions and sundowners.
Regarded as one of Cape Town's most stylish dinner-dance venues, Pigalle is a vast, split-level restaurant divided into intimate dining areas, each boasting a view of the dance floor and band. The lavish furnishings, elegant tables, and background music create the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy sumptuous offerings from the set menus, or from the à la carte menu. Black mussels provide a delicious start to the dining experience. From there, patrons could move on to the ostrich fillet with mushroom and peppercorn sauce, the fillet medallions, or the Pigalle Platter (prawns and langoustines in lemon butter). Couples could round off their meals by sharing the crème brûlée or baked cheesecake. The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Something of a Cape Town institution, Café Mozart has been attracting locals and foreigners for over thirty years. Serving some of the best coffee in town, Café Mozart is a great breakfast stop, with tables spilling out onto a shaded pedestrianised walkway, where buskers amuse passers-by with some lively tunes. With superb fruit juices, a mouth-watering selection of sandwiches made on freshly baked bread, and an attractive daily menu created at the whim of chef and proprietor Tom Kelley, there is something for everyone. Tea lovers should sample the restaurant's variety of loose-leaf teas, all of which are served in elegant silver teapots and quirky crockery. Café Mozart is open Monday to Saturday for breakfast and lunch.
Found in one of Johannesburg's most affluent suburbs, Browns of Rivonia offers a truly upmarket, fine-dining experience. This establishment is set amongst vineyards in an old farmhouse, adding to its charm and intimate atmosphere. Outside seating is available on the veranda for those balmy summer evenings, and a neat dining area occupies the interior. The food is of the highest quality, especially the roast duck with a Drambuie and orange glaze. The restaurant offers a separate menu for functions and for Sunday lunches. Browns of Rivonia is closed for lunch on Saturdays and reservations are recommended.
With its prime location near the Cape Town Stadium, Tobago's restaurant in the Radisson Blu Hotel is a celebrated venue for visitors to enjoy a long luxurious lunch or dinner. Diners are offered a wonderful selection of meals from the restaurant's world-class menu, made from locally sourced, fresh ingredients. They can also choose from a buffet, which is best enjoyed in the stylish dining area or outside on the beautiful waterfront terrace. Tobago's is a good option for those seeking fine dining before or after a sport event or concert at the Cape Town Stadium.
Myoga is a trendy and upmarket Cape Town establishment that serves the finest in contemporary fusion cuisine. With a friendly and laidback atmosphere, its speciality dishes include the caramelised pear and walnut gorgonzola. Another favourite is the seared ostrich with mango and fynbos honey, a unique dish which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The kitchen itself is set in the middle of the restaurant, allowing patrons to see the staff's craft. Myoga is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Reservations are essential.
South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available and major international credit cards are widely accepted. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. All commercial banks will exchange foreign currency.
South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu, and Sotho. English is widely spoken.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round, three-pin plugs and round, two-pin plugs are standard.
United States nationals need a passport valid for at least 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days, with extensions possible.
British nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days if passport is endorsed British Citizen or British Overseas Territories Citizen. Those whose passports state British National (Overseas) may stay up to 30 days without a visa.
Canadian nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
Australian nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
United States nationals need a passport valid for at least 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days, with extensions possible.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for 30 days beyond intended travel. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Passports should be valid for at least 30 days beyond the period of intended stay. An onward or return ticket is required, as is evidence of sufficient funds. Note that visitors to South Africa must have at least one blank (unstamped) visa page in their passport, each time entry is sought; this page is in addition to the endorsement/amendment pages at the back of the passport. However, nationals of countries that require a visa before travelling to South Africa, must have two blank pages in their passport - one for issuing a visa prior to departure and one for stamping at the port of entry when entering South Africa.
Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources. The South African Immigration Authorities do not accept loose leaf temporary travel documents. Note that South Africa's immigration laws have changed dramatically over the last two years, and there may be some confusion as to the correct procedure.
Health regulations in South Africa require that travellers from areas infected by yellow fever must carry a vaccination certificate; otherwise no vaccinations are required. There is a malaria risk in the low-lying areas of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga (including the Kruger National Park), as well as northeastern KwaZulu-Natal, and precautions are advised when travelling to these areas, especially between October and May. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Tap water is generally safe in urban areas but sterilisation is advisable elsewhere, as there are periodic outbreaks of cholera in the poor communities of rural South Africa, particularly in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo provinces.
Medical facilities in South Africa are good in urban areas, but medical insurance is strongly advised as private hospitals expect cash up front and public hospitals are best avoided. Medication is readily available in urban areas, but those travelling outside of major cities for an extended period should bring a basic supply kit for emergency self-treatment.
Tips of at least 10 percent are expected for good service if a service charge is not included in the bill. Tipping for services rendered is widely anticipated by porters, taxi drivers and petrol attendants. Golf caddies should be tipped accordingly. 'Car guards' operate in the city centres and tourist spots and will offer to look after parked car; they are usually immigrants from neighbouring countries looking for work and will expect anything from R8 upwards on the driver's return, depending on how long the driver will have been away.
Safety is an issue and visitors to South Africa should be aware of the country's high crime rate. Violent crime tends to be concentrated in pockets throughout the country and travellers should do some research to find out which areas to avoid. For instance, Berea and Hillbrow in Johannesburg are high-risk areas, and township areas in general are dangerous for foreigners.
There is a risk of petty, opportunistic crime in all urban areas and armed robberies are fairly common in Johannesburg. Travellers should always be aware of these risks and exercise the necessary precautions. Carjackings and smash-and-grab robberies are common in major cities, and doors should be locked when driving and bags and valuables should be kept out of sight. Travellers should not walk alone at night in any area, and should be vigilant when using ATMs. They should not display signs of wealth (e.g. mobile phones, money, expensive jewellery, cameras) on the streets. Credit card fraud is on the increase and travellers should be vigilant and never allow their card out of their sight.
It is worthwhile noting that the South African authorities do give high priority to the protection of tourists. Although crime rates are high in South Africa, popular tourist sites and the main hotel areas tend to be safe and most visits are trouble-free.
South African culture and etiquette in urban areas is very Western. While standards of dress vary, beachwear should generally not to be worn off the beach, and nude sunbathing is only permissible in a few designated areas. Homosexuality is legal and accepted in urban areas without much fuss, but it is frowned on by some conservative South Africans and can be a problem in township areas. Although locals may complain loudly about the country and government, they will take offense if a foreigner is critical. Racism is a sensitive issue; however, interracial relationships are now common and widely accepted. South African racial terminology differs from what is acceptable in North America: the terms 'black' and 'white' are appropriate for those of African and Caucasian descent, respectively. 'Coloured' refers not to black Africans, but those of mixed African and European descent and is not considered an offensive term. South Africans are friendly and hospitable, and will often go out of their way to assist tourists who need help.
Business practices in South Africa are influenced by South Africa's range of ethnicities, languages and even geographical areas, but in general follow common patterns. When doing business in South Africa it is important to be culturally sensitive and as understanding of colleagues' historical context as possible. Most South Africans prefer to do business with contacts they've met before, but they are also warm and open to newcomers. Working to build and maintain business relationships is vitally important in the South African business environment. South Africans are renowned for their friendliness which generally supersedes business formality.
Most large corporations, as well as the banking and financial sector, still adopt relatively formal business practices, whereas other companies and work environments enjoy more relaxed and personable atmospheres. Clear management hierarchies and respect for senior executives and colleagues are of paramount importance. However, business exchanges and decision-making processes often take on an egalitarian aspect. As with most countries, punctuality is highly regarded. However, government officials are notorious for their tardiness when it comes to keeping time. Dress codes tend to be conservative, but not overly formal. Suits are the exception more than the rule, but dressing stylishly will always count in your favour. It is best to dress formally for initial meetings.
South Africans value hard work and respect those who succeed. However, they are mindful of other aspects of life such as healthy living, family and nurturing relationships - all of which add up to a well-balanced life. Generally South Africans are regarded as relaxed and informal with regards to introductions and the handling of business cards. Shaking hands is common for both men and women. The giving of gifts is uncommon and unnecessary. The official language of business in South Africa is English. Business hours tend to start at 8:30am or 9am and the day comes to a close at 5pm, or later in the major urban centres. Working over weekends tends to be quite rare in South Africa.
The international access code for South Africa is +27. Mobile phone networks are available across the country, and there are roaming agreements with most international mobile operators. Mobile service providers offer very cheap 'pay-as-you-go' SIM cards, which are a good option for visitors staying for some time. Wifi is easily available, especially in the larger cities.
Travellers to South Africa do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 20 cigars and 250g of tobacco; 2 litres wine and 1 litre spirits; perfume up to 50ml and 250ml eau de toilette; and other goods to the value of R5,000. All other goods brought in from abroad by South African residents must be declared on arrival. These will be subject to import duties. For goods to be re-imported, travellers must complete a DA65 or NEP-form that is issued on departure. Prohibited items include meat and dairy products, all medication except for personal consumption, flick knives, ammunition, explosives and pornography containing minors and bestiality.
South African Tourism, Johannesburg: +27 11 895 3000 or www.southafrica.net
South African Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 232 4400.
South African High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7451 7299.
South African High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 744 0330.
South African Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 661 5553.
United States Embassy, Pretoria: +27 12 431 4000.
British High Commission, Pretoria: +27 12 421 7500.
Canadian High Commission, Pretoria: +27 12 422 3000.
Irish Embassy, Pretoria: +27 12 452 1000.
New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria: +27 12 435 9000.
The Kruger National Park is South Africa's oldest, largest and best-known wildlife conservation area, home to a huge variety of wildlife and most famous for its 'Big Five' viewing opportunities. Visitors have an excellent chance of seeing lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino among the enormous variety of wildlife, including over 140 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, reptiles and amphibians. Situated on South Africa's northeastern border, Kruger is a primary destination for international tourists, and is visited by more than half a million local and international visitors every year who are attracted by the different safari options as well as the park's excellent range of visitor facilities and choice of accommodation, from luxurious game lodges to cottages and camping. Because of the park's popularity, it is advisable to book far ahead for both day visits and extended stays. Bookings can be made through the park's website.
Kruger is a year-round destination, but the game viewing is at its best in the winter months, between June and August. The park is more lush and the landscapes more beautiful in summer but it gets very hot and the animals are more difficult to spot. The Kruger Park is generally very safe and tourists should be in no danger if they abide by the rules and treat the animals with respect; these are, after all, wild animals in their natural environment and some of them can be dangerous if they feel threatened.
Most Cape Town visitors are keen to make the short, 40 mile (65km) daytrip from the city centre to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The land at first appears bleak, but visitors will soon discover a region rich in floral diversity. They will also stand atop the towering promontory at the most southerly point of the Cape Peninsula. Those who wish to venture to the most southerly point of Africa will have to journey further to Cape Agulhas. Visitors can reach the viewpoint and lighthouse via a funicular, and watch thundering waves crash at the base of the cliffs below. Bird lovers and botany enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the reserve itself. There are a number of beautiful walking trails, including the shipwreck trail, which takes visitors to a few of the 26 recorded shipwrecks around Cape Point. There are also some great beaches and dive sites. The restaurant at Cape Point has a terrace offering spectacular views.
Addo Elephant Park is the most popular game reserve in the Port Elizabeth area, and is a 45-minute drive from the city. The park is situated in the ruggedly beautiful Eastern Cape region, and offers an authentic safari experience. Addo was founded in 1931 to save the area's remaining 11 indigenous elephants, and has been a remarkable success since then. It is now the third largest game reserve in South Africa, and one of the most popular with tourists and locals. The elephants are drawn to watering holes at certain times and sightings are virtually guaranteed all year round. There are other animals in the park too, including lion, leopard, black rhino, buffalo, zebra, warthog, hyena, and several types of buck. Guided game drives are available or visitors can do a self-drive tour using the map issued at the entrance. The roads are in good condition.
A variety of accommodation is available and there is a restaurant and picnic site. Horse riding and walking safaris are also available. Addo is a great destination year-round but the best months for game viewing are April and May, when it is dry and warm.
The multi-award winning private game reserve of Shamwari lies less than an hour's drive from Port Elizabeth. It is responsible for re-introducing numerous species into the Eastern Cape plains, including all of the Big Five (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard, and buffalo). The reserve offers phenomenal luxury accommodation, but also hosts visitors on day trips from the city. Day tours include a visit to an art and culture village to sample Xhosa culture and traditionally brewed beer, and a trip to one of the Born Free centres for abused animals. There are two Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries in Shamwari, where visitors can learn about how wildlife is abused in captivity and can see some of the rescued animals. The Ian Player Rhino Awareness Centre opened in 2012, and is available to educate guests about the terrible epidemic of rhino poaching in South Africa. At the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, guests can usually meet whatever animals are currently being cared for.
Those lucky enough to stay in one of the luxury game lodges can enjoy game drives, game walks, spa treatments and gorgeous restaurants. Groups of between six and 10 people will be assigned a personal game ranger by the lodges and daily programmes will be designed to suit guests.
The historic settler town of Grahamstown lies 78 miles (125km) northeast of Port Elizabeth. Many visitors become acquainted with its 1820 Settlers' National Monument. Sitting atop Gunfire Hill, the arts and theatre complex is home to the town's internationally recognised Arts Festival. Grahamstown was founded in 1812 as a garrison to drive the Xhosa people eastwards across the Fish River frontier, giving rise to a century of frontier war. The town has retained an English colonial flavour, and is home to the renowned Rhodes University and some top private boarding schools. Visitors will find several museums, including the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology, where two stuffed specimens of the coelacanth are on display. The town also boasts the only Victorian camera obscura in the southern hemisphere. Grahamstown is a quaint and picturesque town with a rich history and a famously active student population, making it a wonderful travel base in the ruggedly beautiful 'frontier country' of the Eastern Cape.
The Arts Festival is the highlight of Grahamstown annual calendar, when the little town comes alive with the best theatre, music, and dance that South Africa has to offer. Sprawling craft markets take over the streets and fields as well.
Known colloquially as J-Bay, the surfing paradise of Jeffrey's Bay is a short drive west of Port Elizabeth. This determinedly laid-back seaside town is most famous for Supertubes, one of the best right-hand point breaks in the world. Many consider it South Africa's perfect wave. The town lives and breathes surfing and has several glorious surf spots that are gentler and more accommodating than the celebrated Supertubes. The waters of J-Bay are also frequented by dolphins, seals, and whales, and surfers are often lucky enough to mingle with these sea creatures. J-Bay has many surf stores, including factory outlets selling cheap, branded clothes, and surf gear. The long stretches of picturesque sandy beach surrounding the town and are renowned for their shells and bright orange aloes. Rivers and nature reserves border the town on both sides. The region has a wide range of accommodation, including luxury game farms just out of town and cheap backpackers for budget travellers. The town itself is not particularly attractive but the natural setting more than compensates.
Although J-Bay is a famously friendly place, surfers should note that localism can be a problem in the water. Visitors should be friendly and respectful with local surfers, and should abide by proper surfing etiquette.
Zululand is the ancestral home of the Zulu people. It is the site of many bloody battles between the British, the Zulus and the Afrikaners during the 19th century, and is best explored as a self-drive adventure. That said, many tours are available from Durban. Almost every town in this part of northern KwaZulu-Natal has a story to tell or an event to commemorate. Tourism offices throughout the region provide maps and guides to help visitors make the most of the culture, history, scenery and wildlife. The landscape varies from plains and rolling hills, to river valleys and lush forests, and it once encompassed the legendary Shake Zulu's kingdom. He clashed with the British and Afrikaners in many epic battles. Eshowe is the Zulu nation's centre. King Shake was born close to the small town, and it was the site of a 10-week siege during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Ladysmith and Dundee are other notable towns. The historic battles of Rourke's Drift, Blood River and Isandlwana took place near them.
Some of the battlefields include museums or memorials, while others are just open landscapes where visitors can stroll with guide books and engage their own imaginations.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the largest and most exciting in a string of game parks and nature reserves in KwaZulu-Natal's far north. Many still know it by its former name, St Lucia Wetland Park. Dominated by the fascinating St Lucia estuary and lake system, the park includes eight distinct ecosystems, which vary from dry thorn scrub to tropical forest. Some of the world's highest dunes border them. The park also encloses three major lake systems, beautiful beaches, tropical reefs, Africa's largest estuarine system, and most of South Africa's remaining swamp forests. Big-Five game viewing is on offer too. Visitors should note that this is the only place in the world where they will see hippos, crocodiles and sharks co-habiting the same lagoon. There are comfortable rest camps and some very picturesque campsites in the park. The Wetland Park was declared South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its natural beauty, unusual ecosystems, and the 700-year-old fishing traditions of local inhabitants.
As Nelson Mandela said, it must be the only place on earth where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world's biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world's oldest existing fish (the coelacanth) and the world's biggest marine mammal (the whale).
The popular Midlands Meander arts and crafts route winds through the Midlands, along the R103 road. It takes in a plethora of participating attractions dotted across the countryside, ranging from herb farms to antique shops. The Meander covers about 50 miles (80km) between the towns of Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River, and showcases the lovely Midlands landscapes as much as anything else. A really fun and artistic way to explore this beautiful region, the Midlands Meander is a must for those who enjoy quaint tea houses and creativity. The Meander includes adventure activities, historic landmarks, restaurants and eateries, conference and wedding facilities and the shops and studios of something like 150 talented local artists and craftsmen. For those less crafty and more active, horse riding, hiking, tubing, cycling, swimming, quad biking, and fishing can be enjoyed along the route. Northwest of Durban in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal is the Midmar Public Resort Nature Reserve, which offers accommodation, picnic sites and recreational opportunities around the huge Midmar Dam.
This impressive body of water is one of the well-known landmarks along the Midlands Meander, and attracts huge crowds once a year for the Midmar Mile. The event is one of the world's largest open water swims, and sees Midmar is overrun with swimmers. The race's festive atmosphere is also worth experiencing.
The jagged peaks of the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) tower over KwaZulu Natal's eastern border, providing a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in southern Africa and abounds with hiking trails, climbing routes, 4x4 trails, pony treks and adventure pursuits, all accessible from numerous resorts in the lower reaches. Some of the more popular resorts are Champagne Castle, Cathkin Peak, and Cathedral Peak, while Giant's Castle and its game reserve are famed for the more than 500 rock paintings left behind by the San people on cave walls. Eagles soar around the peaks in the Royal Natal National Park in the north, where the dramatic scenery includes the Amphitheatre, a five-mile long (8km) curved basalt wall. The region is largely untamed and criss-crossed by lengths of rugged dirt roads. The only road that breaches the mountain range and crosses the border to Lesotho is the hair-raising Sani Pass, which is topped by the highest pub in Africa.
Adventure activities available in this stunningly beautiful area include sheer rock or ice-climbing, abseiling, and white -water rafting. It is also possible to take helicopter rides to see the dramatic scenery from above.
The area known as Springbok Flats is part of the Great Rift Valley and lies on the national road north from Johannesburg. Bela-Bela town is located on the area's edge. Still commonly known as Warmbaths (the name officially changed in 2002), it is famous for its hot mineral springs. The springs yield about 20,000 litres of water every hour, all of which is enriched with sodium chloride, calcium carbonate, and other minerals. The town is a popular spa and holiday resort. The main resort, Warmbaths, has a large indoor pool with underwater jets, outdoor hot and cold swimming pools, jacuzzis, a wave pool, and several water slides. The resort also includes facilities for waterskiing, go-karting, quad biking, pedal boating, miniature golf, archery, tennis, squash, and volleyball, as well as several shops and restaurants. Accommodation is varied but the resort is open to day visitors as well, who can enter anytime between 7am and 5pm daily.
The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains a complex of dolomitic limestone caves, including the well-known Sterkfontein Caves, where the fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed Mrs. Ples) was found in 1947 by Dr Robert Broom and John Robinson. 'Mrs Ples' is estimated to be between 2.6 and 2.8 million years old and ranks high on the long list of australopithecine discoveries for which Sterkfontein is now famous. At present, only the Sterkfontein Caves and the Wonder Cave are open to the public. The Maropeng Visitor Centre is a stirring, world-class exhibition space, focusing on the development of humans and our ancestors and evolution over the past few million years. The museum has fun interactive exhibits which the whole family will enjoy. Visitors should note that the best option for fully appreciating the visit is buying the combination ticket for the caves and the museum. However, this ticket is only available before 1pm as the tour takes some time.
There are a number of restaurants at the centre, both upmarket and casual, and some picturesque picnic sites for those who prefer to bring their own food. There is a range of accommodation at the centre for those who want to spend a night or two.
Seal Island visitors can glimpse of these wonderful animals at play and at rest. Although several tiny islands off the coast are unofficially part of Seal Island, the most well-known is Duiker Island. Located a small distance out from Hout Bay, boats regularly leave the docks and take passengers outside the harbour and into the ocean. From here, they can enjoy sweeping views of Hout Bay, Noordhoek, Kommetjie, and the famous Chapman's Peak. The boat stops just below the Hout Bay Sentinal, where hundreds of Cape fur seals bask on the small island in the sun. The sight is magical, if a bit pungent. Many of the boat tours use glass-bottomed vessels that allow sightings of the seals zipping about beneath the water. The charming naval harbour of Simon's Town has a colony too, with tours also leaving its shores. The great white sharks that frequent the False Bay region often lurk hungrily around the islands. Sightings of these awesome apex predators are possible, albeit rare. There are excursions that specialise in spotting the act of breaching, whereby the sharks propel themselves out of the water on catching their prey.
Located just a 45-minute drive inland from Durban, Tala Private Game Reserve is a relaxed wildlife sanctuary where visitors can view zebra, hippo, rhino, giraffe, kudu, antelope, and other wildlife. The park is home to more than 350 bird species and is a delight for bird-watchers. Surrounded on all sides by farmland, visitors won't find predators like lions or cheetahs in Tala, but the reserve is a great day trip for those who prefer not to head to the bigger parks like Umfolozi or Kruger. Game drives and bush walks are available with experienced guides and should be booked in advance. The restaurant is excellent, offering buffet-style meals with African flair, and the various luxury accommodations are perfect for romantic getaways. It's also a popular venue for weddings and conferences. Tala allows self-drive safaris, which don't have to be booked in advance. Visitors can also opt to be taken on a two-hour trip with a knowledgeable guide, either by 4x4, on horseback, or on foot.
The open grassland and wetland of the park are ideal for game viewing and good for photography. Tala is a year-round travel destination, but winter is generally the best season for game viewing as the animals are easier to spot when the landscape is less lush.
Locals and international tourists alike travel south of Cape Town to Hermanus. The charming seaside town is about a two-hour drive outside the Mother City, and is known for its whale watching, as Southern Right Whales migrate through the area to nearby Walker Bay. Visitors are almost guaranteed a sighting of these gentle giants from the steep cliffs of Hermanus between September and October, and the Two Oceans Whale Festival draws big crowds over this period. There are also opportunities to view other wildlife, including dolphins, seals, penguins, and Great White Sharks. The town itself offers many other activities. These include browsing shops and restaurants in the quaint downtown area to venturing further afield to wine farms and beaches and neighbouring towns like Stanford, Gansbaai, and Caledon. Active pursuits include horseback riding, quad biking, hiking, sandboarding, mountain biking, kayaking, and zip lining. Strolling along the cliff walk in Hermanus is a must for visitors, even if there are no whales in the bay. Book fanatics should seek out the wonderful second-hand book store in Hermanus called Hemingways.
Tourists looking to take an adventure to a legitimately weird and wonderful South African town should head to the interior of the Eastern Cape and check out Nieu-Bethesda. Located about 32 miles (50km) from Graaff Reinet in the Karoo Heartland, Nieu-Bethesda is a tiny, sleepy place that seems to exist in blissful ignorance of modern life. Devoid of banks, paved roads, and even streetlights, Nieu-Bethesda nonetheless still boasts several excellent and one-of-a-kind tourist attractions. The pick of these is the Owl House: a bizarre and unsettling sculpture garden created by reclusive artist Helen Martins. She was a frustrated visionary who suffered under the apartheid system and who took her own life in 1976. The Owl House is cluttered with cement and wire sculptures of a religious nature, painstakingly decorated with crushed glass, and gives a fascinating insight into a tortured and singular artistic personality. Other sights in Nieu-Bethesda include a great archaeological museum and tour, where visitors are shown fossils that date back 160 million years. Present too is the Kompasberg, the Eastern Cape's highest peak and a wonderful place to hike on agathosma-scented slopes.
Finally, all visitors to Nieu-Bethesda are strongly encouraged to have lunch at the Two Goats Deli, a family-run establishment that specialises in home-made goat's cheese and home-brewed beer.
Richards Bay is one of South Africa's biggest ports. Situated on the 12 square mile (30 sq km) lagoon of the Mhlatuze River, it began as a makeshift harbour during the South African War of 1879 and is named after its founder, Sir Frederick Richards. The specialised ships that call are a must-see for maritime buffs. The town is a bustling business centre that features every modern facility and offers plenty of recreational facilities for visitors. Tourism in Richards Bay is thriving and it's fast becoming a popular north coast holiday destination. Visitors will find spectacular scenery, pristine golden beaches and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Tourists can also enjoy plenty of adventurous activities such as fishing, kite-surfing, yachting, and kayaking. Humpback dolphins and whales are frequent visitors to the waters around Richards Bay and can be viewed from a specially erected viewing point at Alkantstrand Beach. While the town itself is fairly sleepy, Richards Bay is an entry point to the beautiful and diverse Zululand. Additionally, a multitude of game reserves are within an hour or two's drive of the town. Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park is always a big hit with nature lovers, as it features the Big Five (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, and rhinos) as well as cheetahs, wild dogs, and nyala.
Lake Mzingazi is Richards Bay's primary water supply, and a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can view crocodiles and hippos as well as over 350 species of birds.
The surrounds of Richard's Bay have vast expanses of untouched and unspoilt indigenous vegetation, as well as natural lakes and marshes. This makes it one of the most picturesque tourist destinations in the country.