The four corners of South Africa
The original gateway to the country and now its signature city, Cape Town encapsulates much of what South Africa is all about. The dramatic natural beauty of Table Mountain overlooks a vibrant and varied mix of cultures with a lust for life and fun. Just offshore stands Robben Island, a silent reminder of a more racially segregated past.
Spreading northeast are the Western Cape winelands, the oldest wine-producing region outside Europe. There are numerous wine routes to help you explore the dramatic mountains, fertile valleys and picturesque Cape-Dutch villages. Thanks to the Mediterranean climate and some excellent terroir, the Western Cape is a gourmet paradise in every respect. Don’t miss the annual Stellenbosch wine festival.
On the southern coast is one of the world’s legendary road trips: the 125 mile Garden Route from Mossel Bay to Storms River. The alternative route to the Eastern Cape is the inland Route 62, the longest wine route in the world.
Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal
The Eastern Cape is often bypassed en route to KwaZulu-Natal. Therein lies its charm. Here you can still find traditional Xhosa villages as well as 620 miles of untouched, temperate coastline. In the northwest, explore the desolate beauty of the semi-desert Karoo.
Along the northern border is the Great Escarpment, the natural frontier that separates the interior from the coastal plain. Take the Maloti Drakensberg Route along the border with Lesotho for spectacular mountain scenery and some fascinating ancient rock art.
Heading northeast into KwaZulu-Natal, you’ll find a subtropical climate that’s always warm and pleasant. Packed with wildlife, beaches and a very African vibe, it’s a popular destination among South Africans. The region’s major city, the irrepressible Durban, is the only real rival to Cape Town. The Durban International Film Festival takes place in the summer and showcases international films and documentaries. Travel north to the Elephant Coast for more unspoilt shores, teeming wildlife and traditional Zulu culture.
The country’s largest province, covering more than one third of its land mass, is a desert and semi-desert region. Arid, austere and well off the beaten track, it can also surprise with its dramatic beauty, varied wildlife and seasonal flashes of colour.
One of many nature reserves in the Northern Cape, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the world’s truly unspoilt ecosystems. The park gives sanctuary to many different species, including the rare black-maned lion of the Kalahari. You can also experience brilliant night skies and the endless silence of the desert.
The provincial capital, Kimberley, is famous for its diamonds. It also sparkles in the history stakes with its living museum of mining. A more poignant monument to the diamond industry is the famous ‘Big Hole’, the world’s largest hand-dug chasm.
Covering much of the northeast, the ‘veld’ (Afrikaans for ‘field’) is a broad plateau that’s bounded to the south by the Great Escarpment. The ‘Highveld’ segment, at around 2000 metres, has a dry and stable climate, vast swathes of grassland, and is home to the famous springbok.
North of the Highveld is the ‘Lowveld’ region, which is hotter and generally less cultivated. Spanning the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, it is home to many big game animals, including elephants, rhinos, zebras, wildebeest and hippos.
Combine your safari with some spectacular scenery by heading northeast from Johannesburg, the country’s financial capital, to the aptly named Panorama Route. As you wind your way through the Drakensberg, en route to Kruger National Park, enjoy stunning views along the Blyde River Canyon and a glimpse of paradise from ‘God’s Window’.