Wednesday, February 08, 2017

What to see and do in South Africa

Ideas for a first-time visit to South Africa

A blog reader recently asked me if I had any recommendations for a tourist visiting South Africa for the first time, so I thought I would do a blog post about the places I personally feel are worth visiting.  It seems to me that, in the minds of many tourists, South Africa is “safari and Cape Town” – that’s pretty sad actually, because South Africa has so much more to offer.

If I was arranging an itinerary for a friend coming to South Africa for the first time, assuming they had plenty of time and a fair amount of money to spend and that they were flying into Johannesburg, the itinerary would look something like this:

Johannesburg – I’d include a visit to the Apartheid museum, a tour of Soweto, and possibly Gold Reef City (if they had any interest in the gold rush). I’d perhaps suggest staying at Montecasino.  (To be honest, I haven’t spent much time in Jo’burg at all, every time I've been there I've been "passing through", so there could be amazing things to do there that I don’t know about.)

Kwa-Zulu Natal – (my home turf!)  I’d suggest a couple of nights in Durban.  
Things to do:  
a walk or cycle along the promenade, including a walk along the uShaka pier to the Moyo pier bar for stunning views, 
a visit to uShaka

*a ride up the Moses Mabhida sky car

*feast on one of Durban's famous bunny chows for lunch 

and maybe a dinner at a traditional Indian restaurant, to absorb some of the city’s amazing Indian heritage.  A Durban curry is such a special culinary treat!

*a visit to the Umhlanga area - good beaches,nice restaurants and the Gateway mall

*a trip into the Valley of 100 hills  - a ride on the Inchanga choo-choo is an option, or possibly a picnic in a very rural area there (Mqeku Picnic site) with a braai for lunch.

*A visit to the Nelson Mandela Capture site (depending on their level of interest in politics)

A night or two at St Lucia (including a cruise to see the hippos) 

and a night or two at Hluhluwe Game Reserve*(see note on planning a safari below)

A few days in the Drakensberg – my personal favourite is the Southern Berg, at Fairways in the Drakensberg Gardens resort, but there are loads of options in the Drakensberg.  

If visiting the Southern Berg, then a trip up Sani Pass into Lesotho is a fantastic way to spend a day and possibly a night.

Image: Sani Mountain Lodge

If time permits, I’d arrange a trip down the South Coast, with a beach day (or two)

and a visit to Lake Eland and Leopard Rock.  

Leopard Rock - awesome photo opp right there if you're very brave!

If the visitor was into mountain biking, Lake Eland offers some awesome rides (you need to arrange your own bike, but that's pretty easy to do)

Eastern/Western Cape
Garden Route
If time was plentiful, I’d suggest some time on the garden route en route to Cape Town.  Knysna is really lovely, even more so if you are a fan of oysters!  

Cape Town really has a lot going for it and a few days there is an absolute must.
I’d suggest taking a Hop-on Hop-off bus on Day 1, it gives a good overview of everything on offer.

Things to do:
The V&A waterfront – lovely shops and places to eat, lots to see and do.

Robben Island – a ferry ride to see where Nelson Mandela and many others were imprisoned during the Apartheid years.

Kirstenbosch gardens – if you can also catch Jeremy Loops live in concert there, well then you’ve hit the jackpot!

Clifton and Camp’s Bay (be warned, the sea  here is not as warm as the Indian Ocean on the KZN coast!)

Table Mountain – well obviously!

Chapman’s Peak drive – well worth a drive for the scenic views.

Hout Bay – good for seafood, vibey and there is a nice market on weekends.

Muizenberg beach – you have to get a photo of the cute beach houses.

Kalk Bay – picturesque fishing village with fascinating shops and good places to eat - the Brass Bell is lovely.

Simon’s Town – the home of the naval base and Just Nuisance

Just Nuisance

Boulders Beach – to see the penguin colony

If timed correctly, some whale watching in Hermanus

A day-trip (or more!) to the Winelands – so many wine routes and wineries to choose from!  Fairview is a particular favourite of mine – because you get both wine, cheese AND cute goats - but really it all depends what wines you enjoy drinking.  

There is loads to do in the winelands besides wine, so it’s worth spending at least a day or two.

The West Coast – the west coast is really special and a few days in that area would be time well-spent.

After the Cape, I would recommend flying back to Jo’burg and going to Sun City before leaving South Africa.  We love Sun City - there is lots to do there, but you can also kick back and relax, in a truly African atmosphere.  We’ve had some amazing vacations at Sun City and never tire of it.

And that would bring the trip to an end.  For me, the above itinerary would cover the “must see” places, although it by no means exhausts the options, there are so many stunning places that are worth a visit that I haven't covered here - Mpumalanga, Clarens in the Free State.... the list goes on....

*Regarding doing a safari – many people love the Kruger Park, I personally prefer the smaller parks – it all comes down to personal preference – I would strongly recommend doing some research and looking at your options before booking a safari.  If money wasn’t an issue, I would definitely choose a private game lodge, there are lots to choose from.  Have a look at this blog postthere is a cute back-story about a wedding dress – the lodge looks utterly amazing.

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