South Africa – a land of diversity and incredible natural beauty

by Lesley-Ann on March 20, 2011


Lion

South Africa is one of my favourite countries; I think it’s the diversity on offer in terms of things to do and see which sells it for me.  Whether you want to spot big game safari, discover pristine beaches, hike wild coastlines, savour a rich cultural heritage or just indulge in fine food and wine, South Africa has it all.  And this together with only a 2 hour time difference with the UK makes it the perfect location for a fantastic family travel experience.

Here are my five reasons to visit South Africa.

1. Cape Town

Nestling in the shadow of Table Mountain and overlooking the glorious blue Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town is an incredibly beautiful and vibrant city.  It has super stylish cafés, fantastic restaurants and a plethora of wonderful places to stay from boutique chic to grand old dames.  It’s also a place of rich culture from the days of the Dutch settlement (stroll around the brightly coloured houses of the Bo-Kaap area) to Apartheid (take a trip to Robben Island or an organised township tour, which was one of my highlights).  Then there’s Table Mountain itself.  Don’t do as I did and think that the panoramic ride up to the top (in a revolving capsule) is it.  The top is huge and littered with beautiful fauna and lots of lovely walks to explore.  For more dazzling views drive to Chapman’s Peak or maybe just chill out on the pristine beaches of Camps Bay and Llandudno.

tablemountain

2.  The Winelands

You can take an organised tour from Cape Town to the Winelands but, my strong recommendation is to spend a few days exploring this area which includes the attractive towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, Wellington and Worcester.  The area is totally idyllic with rugged purple mountains cradling acres of lush green immaculately tended vines dotted with perfectly formed white Cape-Dutch cottages.

Winelands

Stellenbosch, the region’s capital, has the largest number of estates but my favourite place is the village of Franschhoek.  With its French flavour mingling with the Huguenot heritage, Franschhoek is one of the prettiest towns and the regions gourmet hot spot.  As well as wonderful wine tasting at the local vineyards, there’s a quaint village centre with lots of arts and crafts shops, cafés and fabulous restaurants.  I highly recommend indulging in the delectable tasting menu at the world renowned Le Quartier Français (beats some of the top restaurants I’ve eaten at in the UK) or more low key dining at Bread and Wine, the vineyard restaurant at the nearby Môreson estate.

3.  Whale watching, shark diving and picking up a penguin (only literally!)

From Cape Town you can take a day trip down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.  En route, you really must visit the wonderful penguin colony at Boulders Beach where you can get up close and personal with the little creatures.

Hermanus and Walker Bay, both a short drive from Cape Town, are perhaps the best places in the world to spot Southern Right whales from the shore (June to December).  The hubby and I stayed in Hermanus where we were blessed with the prefect viewing spot to watch whales breach – the deck of the divine Birkenhead House.  From here we took a day trip to Gansbaai to cage dive with Great Whites which was an awesome experience (although the water was freezing in September).  For those who don’t want to take to the cage, you can get fantastic viewing opportunities from the boat.

Great White

4.  The open road

With an excellent network of highways, South Africa is an easy place to explore on your own.  The most popular road trip isfrom Cape Town to Port Elizabeth (or vice versa) taking in the Garden Route which runs from Mossel Bay to the mouth of Storms River.  This stretch of small towns, wineries, farms and sea villages offers spectacular beaches, dense forests, lagoons and lakes, as well as picturesque settlements.  It’s also a haven for the outdoorsy types with a plethora of activities on offer like paragliding, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, surfing, horse riding and diving.

Robberg_Beach1

My favourite places to visit along the Garden Route are the cosmopolitan town of Knysna, with its phantom forest and Elephant Park, and the pristine beaches of the oh! so stylish resort of Plettenburg.  From Plett (as it’s fondly referred to) it’s a short drive to The Tsitsikamma National Park with its fairyland of giant trees where you can take a treetop canopy tour, visit the deepest gorge in South Africa or plunge from the highest bungee jump in the world.

5.  Spectacular safari

The South African bush has some of the most amazing and luxurious game reserves in the whole of Africa and the famous Kruger National Park is probably the best place in the world to spot the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo).  It really does provide an authentic safari experience with superb game viewing opportunities and the biggest night skies filled with millions of stars.   Southern Kruger is the most popular section of the park, with the largest wildlife populations and easiest access.  But Kruger is at its wild, unspoilt best in the far north.

Leopard

Whether you’ve been on safari before or you’re new to the whole experience, everything about it will blow you away from tracking wildlife (in the company of any armed ranger of course) to discovering the fauna-rich landscape on a bush walk, savouring a G & T whilst watching the sun gown down over the bush or swapping stories of the day’s sightings with fellow guests around the camp fire.  For those with families, there are malaria free safari available although sadly not in Kruger.  The Madikwe Game Reserve is a favourite and is a three hour drive form Johannesburg.  The reserve also has some super child friendly lodges.

When to go

South Africa’s seasons are the reverse of the UK with Spring September – October, Summer November – March, Autumn April – May and Winter June – August.

There’s not really a bad time to go to South Africa but depending on what you would like to do, some seasons are better than others. The best time to:

  • Go on safari is June to September (dry season).
  • Visit Cape Town is November to March (summer).
  • Go rafting is December to February (rainy season).
  • Go whale watching is June to December.

Getting there

You can fly direct to Cape Town (12 ½ hours) or Johannesburg (11 hours) from London or from Manchester you could consider flying with Emirates via Dubai.  The flights are overnight and it’s around a 2 hours time difference with the UK.

Top tip

Most South Africans plan their holidays during the long school holiday from mid-December to the end of January (as well as it being the popular Christmas period for the UK) so hotels, tours, and lodges book up quickly during that time.

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