At the far southern tip of the continent of Africa, one of the largest on Earth, lies one of the most amazing countries that you will find anywhere on Earth.
Five times larger than the UK. South Africa has such a breadth and depth to offers its visitors it’s difficult to know where to start…so how about with its history, which is characterised by racial and political violence, territorial conflict, wars of conquest, and inter-ethnic rivalry, the latter of which still exists to this day. The bush-men (Khoi and San) were the original inhabitants having had roots in the region for millennia with a nomadic lifestyle, and empathy to their environment similar in many ways to the aborigines of Australia. Most of the rest of the population trace their history to later immigration. Africans in South Africa are descendants of migrants from central Africa, who first entered southern Africa about 2,000 years ago. White South African were descendants of later European settlers, mainly from the Netherlands (the Boers), Germany, France and Britain – and they all left their mark on the country.
Much of the history of the clashes between the Boers, the Zulus and the British – take any two of the three – and there was a battle for land between them stretching back to the early 1,800’s, is remembered to this day in the names of towns, features within the landscape (e.g. Blood River) and countless monuments. Especially so in the east of the country, abutting the Indian Ocean, in the province that is today called KwaZulu Natal.
But enough of history, what has South Africa to show its guests these days………..this is like being asked “what did the Romans do for us”……….. (courtesy of the Life of Brian – such a great film).
The Western Cape
Home to the Mother City of Cape Town where the Atlantic & Indian Oceans meet and close to the southern-most point of Africa. A must visit location on any itinerary usually at the start or end, the Western Cape is home to the majority of South Africa’s vineyards with such well-known name as Franschhoek (“French Corner”), Paarl and Stellenbosch. A tour to at least one of these areas, with a driver/guide of course, just has to be one of your days out. Likewise a trip to Boulders Beach to see the penguins, followed by a drive round Chapman’s Peak and a visit to Kirstenbosch also needs to be on your bucket list. But then there’s Bo Kaap, Robben Island, Hout Bay………..and, of course, Table Mountain.
The golf courses in the province are some of the best in South Africa and offer a challenge to golfers of all standards. And the green fees are such good value!
Just a few miles to the east is the coastal town of Hermanus, famed for its very particular flora, found only in this region, called ‘fynobos’. But is flora is not your thing Hermanus is famed for being the location where the Southern Right Whales come so close to the shore that all you need to do, is sit on the cliff top with a glass of the local produce. If that is still too tame, then take a short trip to Dyer Island and go Great White Shark cage diving.
There really is something here for everyone.
The Eastern Cape
So, you’ve done the whole Cape Town thing and now want to strike out and discover more of the real South Africa. For me you have three choices and I’ll begin with the softer of the three – the Western Cape. Hire a car and drive towards George (it’s scenic in an M4 through Wiltshire sort of way) and the Garden Route unless you cut inland and route through the Karoo. Best visited in their spring (October & November), the region has some quant Cape Dutch homes and beautiful scenery with the lagoon around which Knysna is built being a particular pull.
The golf courses are simply superb, with the likes of Simola, Oubaai and Fancourt courses that you just have to play. Beware Fancourt Links unless you’re serious golfer or your confidence could take a battering.
Head further east through Tsitsikamma and onwards to Port Elizabeth and the malaria free game reserves awaits with names such as Addo, Amakhala and Shamwari, home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant). The real Africa?
Mpumalanga / Limpopo
A two hour flight from Cape Town will take you to Kruger Mpumalanga Intl Airport and another of the major pulls for visitors to South Africa – the Kruger National Park. Named after Paul Kruger who was instrumental in its formation. The park is the size of Wales – a tad bigger than Longleat – and borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Kruger has such varying topography that there is a habitat all the major animals you can think of and several hundred more besides. You can self-drive and camp in the Kruger, its great fun and very social but I would also advise spending a little bit more for a few days and finding a rustic lodge in one of the many private game reserves that abut the park.
For some relaxation after the early morning safari starts, head west for an hour or two and visit the area around Pilgrim’s Rest, set in the Drakensberg Escarpment, was one of the Transvaal’s goldfields that drew prospectors to the area in the 1870’s. The scenery is the area is simply stunning with hill walking, white water rafting, hang gliding and horse-riding just some of the activities on offer. Your bucket list in this region has to include visiting the Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window.
The golf courses in the area are not as plentiful as the other provinces but what is lacked in quantity is made up by their quality. Leopards Creek has views into the Kruger and is arguably the No.1 course in South Africa, whilst further into Limpopo is Legends which houses two courses of such quality that is needs to be on every golfers list of courses to play. And then there’s its famous 19th hole – not the bar but a 400m Par 3 (yes Par 3). Ever taken a helicopter to a tee box………thought not.
Kwa Zulu Natal
And finally to an area that in my opinion is the pivotal region in South Africa from a historical viewpoint and my particular favourite. The name itself evokes the history of the region – Kwa means ‘place of’, Zulu after the warrior nation who under King Shaka shaped the nation. Then there’s Natal, a shortened version of Natalia, that the Portugese called the region after landing here on Christmas Day. Nowadays it is usual shortened to just KZN.
The region is where most of the battles that forged the nation of South Africa took place between the Boers, the Zulus and the colonial British. You cannot have not seen the film ‘Zulu’ starring Michael Caine, it was a real engagement and you can visit the site of the battle. This one has to be on your bucket list.
The Drakensberg Escarpment continues in an arc from Mpumlanga and provides a stunning backdrop to the hinterland of KZN, a place to take a picnic and hill walk, or horse-ride, or mountain bike or fly fish. Or just relax and breathe in the clear crisp mountain air. A trip to Cathedral Peak and Giant’s Castle is a day not wasted.
Moving to the coast KZN has some of the best beaches in Africa, stretching up from Richards Bay to the Mozambique border with names such as St Lucia, Kosi and Rocktail. These are wild and remote beaches with superb diving and space to relax – but do not think loungers, club sandwiches and waiter service.
The game reserves are some of the oldest in South Africa, home to a wide variety of wild life and quite close to the coast; it is perfectly possible to have a game drive in the morning, a dive in the Indian Ocean on the afternoon and drinks at Lake Sibaya as the sun sets. What a superb day!
Golfers are well catered for with several superb courses, including some championship ones, both north and south of Durban and in the Drakensberg. I would definitely recommend Durban Country Club, Zimbali, Prince’s Grant and Cotswold Downs.
So, that’s my synopsis of South Africa – great scenery, stunning diving, challenging golf, endless walking, delicious wines and nation forming history.
Have you been yet?