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YYou may be a sun-and-shore addict or prefer the hills and flatlands of the bush. South Africa has it all – glorious rivers, high mountains, bush and beautiful sandy shores - here are some ideas to whet your appetite for some local summer travel:
The rolling hills and endless coastline of KwaZulu-Natal
Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country opens with the line “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills,” and this conveys some of what you can experience in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands; rolling through the Valley of 1 000 Hills, a lush green vista that provides unspoilt nature, wildlife and wining and dining.
IIt’s a route you can enjoy on its own or while on the way to another KwaZulu-Natal destination such as Amanzimtoti, Margate, Umhlanga or the Drakensberg mountain range. The coastal region winds along the Indian Ocean and gives access to many beaches, perfect picnic spots and the annual Sardine Run, a scientific curiosity that sees millions of the fish churning up the waters and attracting other marine life.
The urban energy of Gauteng and the laid-back rural lifestyle of Pilanesberg
The joy of Gauteng and its surrounding areas is that there are times when the urban areas settle down, particularly when there’s the annual exodus to the coast during the festive season. Locals love the juxtaposition of the hustle and bustle of city life with nature just a short trip away.
Spas, resorts and country houses offer peace and quiet but with access to natural splendour. However, if you enjoy the city life, you could head out to Vilakazi Street, the Soweto street of the greats, named after Dr Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, a distinguished writer and educator who wrote the first poetry book published in Zulu. This is the only street in the world that can boast having had two Nobel Laureates as residents, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, the late Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. It’s the heart of this neighbourhood’s tourism experience.
AAnother gem to enjoy is the Magaliesberg Mountains, which are among the oldest mountains in the world - almost 100 times older than Everest. They stretch for 120km from Bronkhorstspruit Dam, east of Pretoria to Rustenburg in the west and separate the highveld grasslands to the south from the bushveld savannah in the north.
Popular family activities include hot-air ballooning, and prices range between R1 700 and R2 300 depending on your package. Revel in miles and miles of South African soil, as you float upwards in this majestic craft, enjoyed by daring adventurers and romantic connoisseurs.
The Cape of many personalities
One of the best ways to get a real sense of the countryside is to take a Cape Town road trip. Hiring a car is a fun way to take in the sights at your own pace, without the constraints of an organised tour. Whether you’re in the mood to try local wines, or perhaps head to the West Coast, or you’d rather explore the beauty of the Garden Route, each region has an abundance of things to see and do.
En route to the West Coast, heading into the Swartland, you will find the charming town of Riebeek Kasteel. This wine and olive growing region has all the quirky charm expected of a small town. There are many galleries, museums, cafes and shops to be found along Main Road, ranging from chocolate shops to French-style stores, soap shops and bakeries. There are also wine farms and a quagga breeding centre, the latter of which is found at Bartholomeus Klip. The people are friendly, the drive is scenic and not too long.
Flying is quick and easy but most of the magic of exploration lies on the ground. When you couple breathtaking scenery with a well maintained road network South Africa is an ideal road trip destination. While some distances between major centres can seem slightly daunting, with a little planning you can easily break the drives up by experiencing the warm, welcoming people in our smaller towns as well as our gorgeous landscapes.
Overnight accommodation is available everywhere, ranging from B&Bs to farm stays, guesthouses and hotels. The trick is to book accommodation in advance as you map out your route.
Underberg offers visitors a bustling farm-town welcome in the foothills of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg – a great base from which to explore this part of KwaZulu-Natal’s many outdoor attractions.
Rock climbers are spoilt for choice in South Africa – Western Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape are all provinces blessed with plentiful mountains and myriad climbing routes.
uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal has hikes and rambles to suit all fitness levels – but for the complete back-to-nature experience, spend a night camping out in a mountain cave.
Sani Pass between South Africa and Lesotho is one of the most spectacular routes through the Drakensberg, especially for adventurers with 4-wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles or mountain bikes.
South Africa’s grassland wildflowers, especially around the Drakensberg, put on a floral show to rival Namaqualand in spring, or Western Cape’s fynbos – and even better, it lasts through summer.
Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris offers memorable balloon rides over the Magaliesburg or a game-viewing safari package at selected game lodges.
The KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg houses many rare plants and birds, capturing a Victorian and Edwardian aesthetic in sights like the magnificent Plane Tree Avenue.