Often touted as the most beautiful city in the world, Cape Town's spectacular location combines with its cosmopolitan history to offer visitors a fascinating mix of culture and scenery. The first people to inhabit the Cape Peninsula were Stone Age tribes, followed by San hunter-gatherers and the KhoiKhoi who were closely related to their San predecessors.
The first Europeans arrived at the Cape in 1487 when Bartholomew Dias sailed around the edge of the continent and named it the "Cape of Good Hope".
Cape Town is located 40km from the Cape of Good Hope itself, and lies nestled in the lee of Table Mountain, possibly the most photographed landmark in South Africa.
The Mountain is 1000m high and is often blanketed in a "tablecloth" of wispy cloud, making the climb to the top an exciting way to spend a morning! Cable cars also run from part way up the mountainside for visitors wishing to take a more leisurely route to the summit.
The city and surrounds offer a huge variety of attractions in addition to Table Mountain. These include the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, located on the opposite side of the mountain to the main city centre and bequeathed to the nation in 1902 by Cecil Rhodes. The gardens are planted with mainly indigenous species and 9000 of South Africa's 22,000 native plant species are represented. The Cape of Good Hope nature reserve boasts an amazing variety of plant species including the country's national flower, the Protea. The unique fynbos flora found here constitutes the world's smallest unique floral kingdom. Visitors to Cape Town may also like to visit Robben Island, the isolated jail of Nelson Mandela for so many years.
Stellenbosch is only 20km from Cape Town and the surrounding area is often compared to southern France with its rolling, green hillsides and lush valleys. Many different wine producing estates can be found in the area, most offer wine tasting and some have cosy restaurants offering wonderful meals. The town of Stellenbosch itself has a very last century European feel to it with wide avenues lined with oak trees, a rambling university and many buildings in the Cape Dutch style.
Wine producing began in the region back in the 1670's with the arrival of 200 French Huguenots, and much beautifully crafted architecture can still be seen from this period
The nearby towns of Franschoek and Paarl are equally picturesque with steep, winding passes leading to nature reserves and secluded wine farms where visitors can sip a particularly good vintage whilst looking out across the surrounding valleys.
The St. Lucia area is one of Africa's premier eco-tourism destinations, and a haven for bird and animal life. It was recently renamed the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. As well as a mind-blowing range of natural systems, ranging from dune, swamp and coastal forests to rocky and sandy shores, coral reefs and submarine canyons, mangroves, savanna grassland, thickets, woodlands, and the largest protected wetland in southern Africa, it is a culturally fascinating area.
Much work has been done to ensure that these habitats are conserved and that the tourism activities undertaken here are sensitive.
Excellent marked hikes through woodland, grassland and across pristine beaches can be taken around St. Lucia, Cape Vidal and False Bay Park.
Snorkelling and diving at the restricted area of Cape Vidal are popular pastimes, as is fishing, whale watching and walking in the forest reserve there.
Boat trips on the estuary at St. Lucia also present wonderful scenery and beautiful sunsets. This shallow area of brackish water is teaming with fish and attracts a great many water birds in addition to crocodile and hippo. Sodwana Bay, one of the most popular diving sites in Southern Africa, is close by and also includes a great variety of habitat niches which are home to over 330 species of bird.
The St. Lucia and Maputaland Marine reserves cover the coastal strip and three nautical miles out to sea from Cape Vidal to Mozambique. This area encompasses several nesting sites of the rare leatherback and loggerhead turtles.
This section of beautiful coastline stretches along South Africa's southwest coast and covers indigenous forest, lagoons and sand dunes as well as some beautiful beaches.
The sleepy town of Mossel Bay is one of the first towns along the route and was first established after Bartholomeu Dias' visit in 1488. Trade between Europeans and the resident KhoiKhoi tribes was initiated and today the town's history is evident.
The areas of Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma are favourite stops along the Garden Route and are surrounded by the lush Outeniqua Mountains, indigenous forest, freshwater lakes and pristine beaches. Several walking trails exist in the area including the popular Otter Trail
Knysna lagoon is an excellent diving and snorkelling site where visitors may get the chance to see the unique Knysna Seahorse before enjoying a trip on the steam train or a meal at one of the many excellent seafood restaurants. Plettenberg Bay, further east along the route, is a bustling resort with lovely beaches and many activities on offer including canoeing, hiking, diving and mountain bike trails.
Traveling the full route offers guests a relaxing and varied holiday with a great many activities and natural features to enjoy along the way.
This basalt escarpment forms the border between Kwazulu Natal and the kingdom of Lesotho in South Africa. The name literally means "Dragon Mountains" which seems appropriately enigmatic for this often mist-swathed and lonely landscape of towering peaks and forested valleys. The Drakensberg are usually split into three specific areas; the Northern, Central and Southern Drakensberg. The whole area is scattered with tea shops, craft centres and plenty of beautiful places ideal for spending a relaxing afternoon.
The Northern 'Berg stretches from Golden Gate Highlands National Park to the Royal Natal National Park and encompasses some of the most dramatic scenery in South Africa. The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is relatively small at 8000 hectares and encompasses the Amphitheatre, an 8km stretch of magnificent cliff face which is a climber’s paradise with breath-taking views from the ledges along the cliff edge.
The Mont aux sources mountain also rises here, at an altitude of over 15,000m, three rivers have their source here including the Orange which runs from here all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
The plentiful water supply combined with the variety of habitat niches has resulted in over 200 bird species making this Park their home, as well as many small mammal, amphibian and retile species.
The Central 'Berg includes Giant's Castle, a rugged and remote area which often seems deserted despite its popularity with visitors. Clear, cool water streams bubble down the mountainsides and an enjoyable walk up the wildflower strewn valley leads to some ancient San rock paintings, evidence of the area's first inhabitants. Giant's Castle is also home to over 60 mammal species in addition to the rare bearded vulture. Some of the Drakensberg's most challenging climbs are to be found within the Central 'Berg. These include Cathkin Peak, Monk's Cowl and Champagne Castle. Hikers will be rewarded by the spectacular views which seem to stretch forever, and by the occasional sighting of a klipspringer antelope or a mountain reedbuck.
The Southern 'Berg runs down to the Transkei and includes the steep and scenic Sani Pass which leads to Southern Lesotho. This area is less developed than the north and central regions, but is no less beautiful.
One of the designated "Homelands" during apartheid, the Transkei is an area of wild and rocky coastline south of Durban with warm waters, white sand beaches and sub-tropical vegetation.
The so-called 'Wild Coast' of the Transkei is notoriously dangerous for ships but wonderful for surfers! Around 40,000ha of indigenous forest still exists in the area, and although many of the animal species that once roamed have now disappeared, the birdlife is still varied and plentiful.
The town of Umtata is the main settlement in the area and was founded in 1871. The birthplace of Nelson Mandela, the village of Mvezo, is just a few kilometres from Umtata.
One of the most beautiful small towns in the Transkei is Port St. Johns, named after a ship which foundered on the shores many years ago. This small, relaxed town is dominated by dramatic cliffs towering above perfect beaches and is a wonderful place to spend a few days just enjoying the scenery. The nearby Silaka Nature Reserve is home to clawless otter and many species of bird and butterfly.
Kruger National Park was originally founded in 1898 by Paul Kruger, the then president of South Africa. It is now one of the largest wildlife parks in the world at just under 350km long and an average of 60km wide. Straddling the border with Mozambique, it covers an area the size of Wales (almost 2 million hectares).
The greatest variety of animals within any park in Africa exists within its boundaries, and visitors may hope to encounter lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino, cheetah, giraffe, many antelope, hippo and much, much more. In total there are thought to be 137 mammal species, around 500 bird species and more than 100 reptile species ranging from the "Big Five" to the lesser known and rarer, small mammals which are no less interesting
The area consists of a multitude of ecosystems, and Park authorities keep visitors well informed about the movements of the animals so there is a good chance that guests will see a wide variety of species. Due to the excellent infrastructure, Kruger can certainly not be described as a wilderness area, but it does have the advantage of offering visitors a safe and comfortable way to see some of Africa's best known wildlife species. In addition to driving around the Park, there are also some guided wilderness trails on offer which are run by professional, armed guides.
Many private reserves border the Kruger Park, the most famous include Mala Mala, Sabi Sabi and Londolozi within the Sabi Sand conservation area. These reserves offer visitors a luxurious alternative to the municipal camps inside the Park borders. The municipal rest camps are comfortable and well equipped with shops, restaurants, phones and fuel stations. Some have swimming pools.
The Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park is the only park under formal conservation in KwaZulu Natal where the Big Five occur. Established in 1895, this is the oldest game park in South Africa along with nearby St Lucia Reserve.
Game viewing is the principal attraction in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve. Viewing hides overlook pans and waterholes enabling one to observe the wildlife at close range.
Hluhluwe Umfolozi Reserve is characterised by hilly topography and the northern section of the game reserve is noted for its wide variety of both birdlife and wildlife. Apart from game viewing drives there are self-guided vehicle trails which provide information on both the management and natural history of the Hluhluwe Umfolozi game reserve. Guided walks can be especially rewarding in the early morning and late afternoon.
Destination:Indian Ocean Islands, South Africa
Destination:South Africa, Mozambique
Destination:Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana
Style:3-4*, Wildlife, Active
Destination:Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana
Destination:South Africa, Mozambique
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