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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, colonialism, the Boer War and Apartheid is still strongly felt. There is no shortage of interesting historical sightseeing, with sites such as Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, and the battlefields of the Boer War attracting many visitors. The country has many quaint historical towns, such as 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.
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, and the mountaintop is equipped with a restaurant and small gift shop, as well as many 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.
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 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. Alongside the museum is the Planetarium, which has a changing programme of thematic shows involving the southern constellations. 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 cafes 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.
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 victims of forced removals were even accommodated here at times. As for architectural merit, the cathedral features some fine Gabriel Loire windows, including a magnificent Rose Window above the south transept.
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. In summertime, the delightful setting becomes the venue for Sunday evening open-air concerts.
Cape Town has some of the world's most beautiful beaches. The most glamorous are on the Atlantic Coast, where the scenery is dramatic, and the water is cold. Camps Bay is perhaps most famous, tourists flock to its long, wide stretch of white sand and enjoy the many bars and restaurants nearby. Another favourite is Clifton, where four beaches are situated beneath the exclusive houses and apartments set into the cliff. Further south is the pristine Llandudno beach. A little further afield is False Bay, on the Indian Ocean side of the peninsular, where the water is noticeably warmer. The most popular beach for learning to surf in Cape Town is Muizenberg. For long walks and horse riding, the huge expanse of Noordhoek beach is ideal.
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 many 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.
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.
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.
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 many boats and ships upon the waves.
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 cafes, and local heroes. One such hero was a dog called, 'Just Nuisance', who joined the British navy and become 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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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 such as snorkelling and the 'shark walk'. The Village Walk features the Dangerous Creatures exhibit, which includes spiders, snakes, frogs, scorpions, and other poisonous creatures. uShaka is also involved in marine animal rescue and rehabilitation.
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. Though this museum provides a fascinating and very personal look at the diverse and difficult cultural history of the region, it is ultimately an old-fashioned museum that doesn't have much to offer small kids or those who demand a state-of-the-art interactive museum experience.
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.
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.
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. BAT 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.
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 such as the Anaconda, roller coaster and Thunder Mountain River Rapids.
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.
The Johannesburg Zoo is a favourite place for locals to take a stroll. Its many 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 and visitors will appreciate the large collection of birdlife. The zoo is dedicated to conservation and rehabilitation and conducts some breeding programmes.
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-size 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.
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 that 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.
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, with 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.
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.
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 crisscrossed 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.
The beautiful town of Knysna is clustered around a vast tidal lagoon that opens to the sea through a narrow inlet guarded by two sandstone cliffs known as 'The Heads'. Arguably the most popular holiday hub of the Garden Route, Knysna draws more visitors than it can cope with, particularly during the peak summer holiday season. The town features some quaint Victorian houses, a modern commercial waterfront development, a lovely sandy beach at Leisure Isle on the east side of the lagoon, and some good shopping for local arts and crafts in the crowded town centre. There are some lovely scenic drives and walking trails through the remaining indigenous forests in the area, and sampling Knysna oysters and locally brewed Mitchell's beer while on holiday here is highly recommended.
The upmarket holiday town of Plettenberg Bay, about 380 miles (600km) from Cape Town and 125 miles (200km) from Port Elizabeth, was originally called Bahia Formosa (Beautiful Bay) by the early Portuguese explorers, and it is still possible to see why, despite explosive development of luxury homes, hotels and a thriving town centre. The town, familiarly known as 'Plett', is a favourite holiday destination for South Africans and foreigners alike, with its unspoilt golden beaches, year-round Mediterranean climate, dramatic rocky Robberg Peninsula, and vibrant nightlife. The bay is a nursery for the endangered Southern Right Whales, which arrive each winter and spring to calve.
St Francis Bay is a picturesque holiday village lying at the gateway to the Garden Route. One of South Africa's premier holiday destinations, it was first sighted in 1575 by a Portuguese sailor who named the area St Francis, after the Patron Saint of Sailors. The Kromme River borders the one side of St Francis Bay and is navigable for six miles (10km) upstream from the river mouth. The river and river mouth are popular with fishermen, boaters, canoeists, windsurfers, kite surfers and marine creatures, which shelter in its waters. Linked to the river is a magnificent marina lined with white, thatched homes, some of which offer bed and breakfast accommodation. A sunset cruise along the canal is a must.
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 colourfully painted houses, steep cobbled streets, mosques, minarets, and blend of Cape Dutch and Edwardian architecture also help make it culturally and historically interesting.
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.
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 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.
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. 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.
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. Today, the battlefield is dotted with memorials, and mounds of white stones that mark the British mass graves.
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. Though it's generally thought that the defenders' courage warranted recognition, the awards were also made to distract public opinion from the disastrous British defeat at Isandlwana.
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. Twenty-one thousand 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). The museum is considered one of the best Anglo-Boer War museums in the country.
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.
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.
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 dating from 500 BC to the 19th century. There are some great restaurants and tasting rooms at Groot Constantia.
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.
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'.
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. Adventure junkies come to Mossel Bay for a range of activities in the immediate vicinity, such as shark cage diving, sand boarding the longest sand dune in South Africa, and safaris with the Big Five among other things. Mossel Bay is also well known for its wide selection of restaurants and excellent seafood.
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 sunbathing. Swimmers should note that while the sea is pleasantly warm in summer, the coastline does receive some dangerous currents. Fortunately, lifeguards are almost always present on the main beach in season.
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. The aquarium is involved in a number of research and conservation programmes.
A historical beachside 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 cafes and restaurants.
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.
Melville is an old suburb known for its quirky, artistic atmosphere, eclectic little shops, pavement cafes, fun bars, restaurants, and clubs. This trendy suburb is a hive of activity on any given night of the week, and 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, cafes, 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 that denied people of colour 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.
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. 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, where political activists such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela endured terrible suffering, and infamous murderess Daisy de Melker was incarcerated.
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. The museum fuses memorabilia with modern technology and cultural history and is located two blocks away from where Hector was killed.
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. The park also serves as a conservation site.
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 house 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.
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. Among other things, the Zoo's Animal and Conservation Department provides high quality and modern facilities for the animal population, and protects their freedoms.
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.
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. 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.
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 such as 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and 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.
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 that 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.
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. Among other things, 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.
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, and 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 features vultures, owls, cranes, and other impressive fowl.
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.
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 can entice yellowtail, tuna, and snoek from the ocean depths. Accommodation in Saldanha is plentiful, catering to luxury resort clientele as well as backpackers.
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.
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 whitewashed 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, meaning 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 spearfishing excursions are available. The West Coast gets extremely hot but the freezing seawater will certainly cool visitors down.
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.
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.
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.
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. Today, 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. A number of historic museums are also popular attractions in Soweto, including the Hector Pieterson Museum, and the Apartheid Museum. 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.
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, it 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.
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. However, Coffee Bay has some of the best surfing in South Africa, along with swimming, spear fishing and scuba diving. 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.
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.
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, 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.
Situated in the heart of the Little Karoo and locally referred to as the Klein Karoo, Oudtshoorn is a lovely town that makes a popular stop on any holiday in the Western Cape of South Africa, especially along the scenic drive between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Surrounded by the majestic Swartberg Mountains, the landscape around Oudtshoorn is a patchwork of farms and forests that receives more than 300 days of sunshine each year. The area is part of the Cape Floral World Heritage Site, and the stunning displays of fynbos and other local flowers make for great vacation photos. Oudtshoorn is also the 'ostrich capital of the world', and several farms in the area offer tours and shows.
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 do not 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 61F (16C) and 79F (26C), and in winter average between 47F (8C) and 64F (18C). 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 58F (15C) and 78F (25C), and in winter range between 39F (4C) and 80F (16C).
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.
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 a 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 creme brulee or baked cheesecake. The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Something of a Cape Town institution, Cafe Mozart has been attracting locals and foreigners for over thirty years. Serving some of the best coffee in town, Cafe 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. Cafe Mozart is open Monday to Saturday for breakfast and lunch.
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.
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.
US nationals: United States nationals need a passport valid for at least 30 days beyond intended travel. A visa is required.
UK nationals: 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.
CA nationals: 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.
AU nationals: 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.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: 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. Extension of stay for an additional 90 days is possible if travellers apply at least 60 days prior to the expiry date of their visa, permit or visa exempt period. There are special requirements for travelling to South Africa with children under the age of 18, and different requirements for unaccompanied children entering the country. Travellers should consult the nearest South African high commission or embassy for details. It is highly recommended that travellers' passport have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
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. 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 major cities, but those travelling outside of these centres 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 cars; they are usually immigrants from neighbouring countries looking for work and will expect anything from ZAR 8 upwards on the driver's return, depending on how long the driver will have been away.
It is worthwhile noting that the South African authorities give high priority to the protection of tourists and that, although crime rates are high, popular tourist sites and the main hotel areas tend to be safe. Still, travellers should remember that 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. Doors should be locked when driving; 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 (mobile phones, money, expensive jewellery, cameras) on the streets. Credit card fraud is on the increase, meaning travellers should be vigilant and never allow their card out of their sight.
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 ZAR 5,000 per person.
South African Tourism, Johannesburg: 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 High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6272 7300.
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.
Australian High Commission, Pretoria: +27 12 423 6000.
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. They 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. Dolphins, seals, and whales frequent the waters of J-Bay, and surfers are often lucky enough to mingle with these sea creatures. Long stretches of picturesque sandy beach surround the town and are renowned for their shells and bright orange aloes. Rivers and nature reserves border the town on both sides.
Zululand is the ancestral home of the Zulu people and was the site of many bloody battles between the British, the Zulus and the Afrikaners during the 19th century. The area is best explored as a self-drive adventure, though 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 king Shaka Zulu's kingdom.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the largest and most exciting in a string of game parks and nature reserves in KwaZulu-Natal's far north. Still known to many by its former name, St Lucia Wetland Park, it is dominated by the fascinating St Lucia estuary and lake system, and 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. This is the only place in the world where hippos, crocodiles and sharks co-habit the same lagoon. The Wetland Park was declared South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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 teahouses 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.
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 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 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 that 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.
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.
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 such as lions or cheetahs in Tala, but the reserve is a great day trip for those who prefer not to head to the bigger parks such as 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.
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, including 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.
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.
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.
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