1. The Kruger National Park
This conservancy is a staggering two million hectares in size. There is such a diverse range of fauna but, because of the behemoth size of the park, you need to be in a bit of luck to spot the ‘Big five’ (elephant, lion, leopard, black and white rhino, and cape buffalo). To have a full and rich experience, don’t go there just for one day. The best time to see animals is early mornings and late afternoons as authorities don’t permit visitors to go outside the camps. Drive slowly the whole day and enjoy the park’s vastness and serenity. Or you can join a tour with guides who know where the animals are likely to be. You can see animals better from a minibus or a 4×4 vehicle. If you want to sleep inside the park, you have to book in advance or join a tour group.
2. The Panorama Route.
This is by far one of the most beautiful and popular travel destinations in Mzansi. The route leads through the rugged mountain range of the northern Drakensberg (there are two different Drakensberg ranges in South Africa). Here the inland plateau declines abruptly and steeply and opens up fantastic views of the plains of the ‘Lowveld’ a thousand metres below. The best view, ‘God’s Window’, is most reliable in the dry winter months. At other times the spectacle is often obscured, since the escarpment is a barrier for the clouds coming from the east. Don’t miss Blyde River Canyon, ‘Bourke’s Luck Potholes’ and Pilgrim’s Rest.
3. Johannesburg and Pretoria.
When you are visiting South Africa’s largest city, Johanessburg, take a safe freeway route N12 and you can see the panorama of Johannesburg and visit the ‘Gold Reef City’ just south of Johannesburg. The entrance fee is expensive. Besides a casino, the Apartheid Museum and a theme park with some very unpleasant rides, there is a historical gold mining section starting with an introductory film “Rich Beginnings” – Our Golden Heritage”, some original houses: a mine official’s house, a school, etc., a demonstration of gold panning and gold pouring and an underground gold mine tour. In Johannesburg, the gold reef was easy to reach, today it must be mined in some of the deepest mines in the world, south and west of Johannesburg.
The famous black township of Soweto is nearby, so you could go on a guided tour there. Or you can travel due north to the two main sites of the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ that comprises a strip of a dozen dolomitic limestone caves containing the fossilised remains of ancient forms of animals, plants and most importantly, hominids. The dolomite, in which the caves formed, started out as coral reefs growing in a warm shallow sea about 2.3 billion years ago. In 1936, the Sterkfontein caves produced the first adult Australopithecus. In 1947, the almost complete skull of a 2.7 million years old adult female Australopithecus africanus was found, initially named Plesianthropus transvalensis (“near-man of the Transvaal”), which inspired the nickname ‘Mrs Ples’. You can visit the caves and, 10 kilometres further, the Maropeng Visitors Centre with an interesting and very politically correct museum so that you will no longer have any doubts that all present day humans are one species! Outside the centre, they are busy installing a footprint of Václav Klaus.
Pretoria is nicer and safer than Johannesburg. It has Union Buildings (the president’s office – not open to visitors but the place and the park below are nice), the ‘Paul Kruger House’ just east of the historical Church Square, the best natural history museum ‘Transvaal Museum’, the best ZOO in Africa, Melrose House, Police Museum etc. Go south to the Voortrekker Monument, the shrine of Afrikanerdom, with its fine small museum.
There is some dispute if the highest mountain in the Republic of South Africa is Njesuthi, but there is no doubt that the highest spot is on the border with Lesotho in the spectacular mountain range of Drakensberg, that it is higher than 3400 m, and that the highest mountain in Southern Africa, Thabana-Ntlenyana, which is 3482 m above the sea level, is well inside Lesotho.
5. In Kimberley.
There is a huge hole in the ground left over after the removal of about three tons of diamonds. Measuring over a kilometre deep, with a surface area of 17 ha, it is the world’s largest hand-dug hole – a monument to the lengths (and depths) humans will go in search of wealth. The wild, vibrant and no doubt rather sleazy shanty town that arose around the diggings in the 1870s has been reconstructed into an open air museum. This is the place where South Africa’s industrial revolution got under way. It was money from the easily worked Kimberley diamond fields that funded the rather more expensive gold mines of Johannesburg. Mining at the ‘Big Hole’ ceased in 1914 but there are still a few active mines in the area.
6. Cape Town.
Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, the V&A Waterfront with the Aquarium, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, Robben Island with Nelson Mandela’s cell, beaches on both sides of the Peninsula, wine farms, penguins, seals, baboons, the unique ‘fynbos’ vegetation of the Cape Floral Kingdom in Kirstenbosch Gardens, the ‘Castle’ (a fortress built in 1666), the Malay Quarter and much more. The best day of the year to visit Cape Town is the 2nd January – to see the colourful procession through the town.
7. Western Cape: In spring you can take a tour north from Cape Town to Namaqualand. Between August and October the life-giving rains transform the ordinarily arid landscape into a thick and lush wildflower carpet of every colour. Or travel east to see an excellent old farm museum ‘Kleinplasie’ in Worcester (also with a Karoo National Botanical Garden and hot spas in Goudini and in Montagu), or the Moravian mission town of Genadendal with a bust of Jan Amos Komenský in the museum, or whales playing very near the coast in Hermanus from June to November. You can continue to the Agulhas lighthouse at the southern-most tip of Africa (there are 45 operational lighthouses in the RSA), the shipwreck museum in Bredasdorp, the fisherman village and a huge cave open into the sea in Arniston(Waenhuiskrans), then to Mossel Bay with a fine replica of Portuguese caravel, Oudtshoorn to see ostriches, crocodiles and caves, South Africa’s best small town of Knysna (maybe there are elephants in the forests nearby), and the ‘Garden Route’.