Exploring South Africa's hidden gemsFrom the rugged landscapes of the Drakensberg Mountains to the picturesque West Coast, South Africa offers a tapestry of experiences waiting to be explored.
The Drakensberg Mountains
The Drakensberg Mountains are a mesmerising natural wonderland that welcomes all adventurers and nature enthusiasts. This mountain range offers an array of awe-inspiring activities, from serene walks and challenging heights to abundant wildlife. The two picks for this region are:
Go on a Hike
The Drakensberg Mountains offer stunning walking and hiking trails for all experience levels, from easy strolls to multi-day treks. Each trail offers something special, like waterfalls, rivers, and breathtaking vistas, all just waiting to be explored.
The Northern and Central Drakensberg areas offer a wide range of experiences, with beautiful peaks, basalt towers, valleys and gulleys in these regions. The Amphitheatre in the Northern Drakensberg is home to Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world, and offers an arguably easier hike than other trails.
As the range extends to the south, the valleys create hiking trails from Cathedral Peak into the Central Drakensberg. Here, experienced hikers can take on the legendary Mafadi and Champagne Castle trails.
Drive Sani Pass
You’ll need a 4x4 for this one, but it’s worth it. The Sani Pass is often included in discussions about beautiful and iconic mountain passes across the world, and for good reason. This trail is nestled between South Africa and Lesotho and peers over the Drakensberg Mountain range, offering some truly spectacular scenery.
Driving the Sani Pass will take you on a challenging 8km route through a rough, rocky, gravel road that will challenge drivers and their 4x4s alike, all against a stunning and unique backdrop. Depending on the experience you’re after, you can drive the Sani Pass yourself, either with your own 4x4 or a rented one, or book a personal tour with professional guides.
The Lowveld is a lush region in Mpumalanga that offers a blend of natural wonders and exhilarating experiences. From adventurous activities like quad biking and taking on the 4x4 trails to game drives at the world-renowned Kruger National Park, this verdant landscape boasts activities for all travellers. Top picks for the Lowveld include:
Visit Blyde River Canyon
At 26km long and 800m deep, the scale of the Blyde River Canyon is sure to make any trip to this natural wonder unforgettable. One of the best ways to see the canyon is to take the 15km loop on the R534 around the lip of the canyon. You'll have the opportunity to experience the main viewpoints and attractions along the route, which include:
- Pinnacle Rock.
- God’s Window.
- Bourke’s Luck Potholes.
- Lowveld Viewpoint.
- Three Rondavels to Blydepoort Dam.
Explore the Sudwala Caves
The Sudwala Caves encompass an astonishing cave network spanning more than 30km, yet only a mere 600m are open for exploration. These caves not only hold the distinction of being the world's oldest known caves but also lie within Pre-Cambrian dolomite rocks, which are among Earth's second oldest sedimentary rocks. The caves are dominated by a circular chamber called the Amphitheatre that boasts a diameter of 70m and a height of 37m, and features several chambers studded with stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone formations.
Beyond hiking to the top of Table Mountain or Chapman's Peak, or visiting the beaches of Bakoven and Clifton, Cape Town offers a vast range of exciting recreational activities for all ages. For this beautiful region, the two top activities are:
Paragliding over Cape Town gives you a completely different perspective, offering unique views of the Atlantic Coastline, Table Mountain, Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Camps Bay, Robben Island, and so much more.
There are several different paragliding companies to choose from, all launching from either Signal Hill or Lions Head. All the pilots and instructors are fully accredited, meaning every experience will be safe and enjoyable.
Cape Town has two coastlines, each offering unique marine life, rich biodiversity, and spectacular landscapes, and one of the most unique ways to explore both of them is from a kayak. The False Bay coastline is best in the morning when the sun rises, while the Atlantic coastline is better later in the day. Some of the best places to go kayaking around Cape Town include:
- Hout Bay.
- False Bay.
- V&A Waterfront.
- Simons Town.
- Noordhoek Beach.
The West Coast is a treasure trove of unique activities and adventures for outdoor enthusiasts. The Cederberg Mountains and untouched beaches offer a unique blend of experiences for every member of the family. In addition to seeing the flowers in their full splendour during flower season, we also suggest these two activities in the Cederberg:
Hike the Cederberg
One of South Africa’s top hiking destinations, the Cederberg Mountain range is a rugged landscape rich in sandstone cliffs, rocky outcrops and formations, and fynbos. The Cederberg’s network of well-marked trails caters to all levels of hikers, from leisurely strolls to challenging treks, and even feature caves adorned with ancient San rock art, adding an enriching cultural dimension to your journey. Some of the most popular hikes around the Cederberg area include:
- Disa Pool Hike.
- Kromrivier Cave Hike.
- Maltese Cross Hike.
- Truitjieskraal Hike.
- Stadsaal Caves and Bushmen Paintings Hike.
Go Bouldering in Clanwilliam
Renowned for its exceptional sandstone boulders and diverse climbing opportunities, Clanwilliam draws rock climbers of all experience levels, from beginners seeking to hone their skills to seasoned climbers looking for a new challenge.
The bouldering season spans from May to August and promises sweeping views of the Cederberg's wild landscapes and vast valleys as a reward for your climbing efforts.
The Kalahari is a vast and enchanting semi-desert that stretches across the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. This landscape is characterised by its sweeping dunes and golden grasslands, and offers a unique blend of raw natural beauty and abundant wildlife, making it a great place for nature enthusiasts. If you’d prefer something different to a kayaking adventure on the Orange River or hiking the Dassie Trail, here are our top two recommendations:
Hike Through the Canyon and Swim in the Hot Springs at Riemvasmaak
Located close to the Namibian border, Riemvasmaak is a hidden oasis that offers an enchanting escape from the ordinary. Hike through the canyon and you’ll be surrounded by towering rock formations and stunning desert landscapes, while the hot springs offer the perfect opportunity to relax.
The soothing, mineral-rich waters are the result of volcanic eruptions that occurred aeons ago, and while the volcanoes are no longer active, their underground activity still keeps the springs warm all year round. The contrast of the cool canyon hike and the warm embrace of the hot springs make Riemvasmaak an unforgettable journey.
Visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park spans the border between South Africa and Botswana, and is the first formally declared trans-border conservation area in Africa. The park's striking red dunes and arid savannas create a surreal backdrop, especially during the magical golden hours of sunrise and sunset. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is also a world-class wildlife viewing destination, offering the opportunity to see the Big 5 up close like black-mane lions and leopards roaming alongside herds of springbok, eland, and wildebeest.