Things to do in Southern Africa

South Africa in particular and Southern Africa in general offer tourists very diverse experiences, from bush camps  in game reserves with lions roaring close by on the one extreme to the usual attractions of large metropolitan Western cities (especially Cape Town) on the other. The most popular tourist attractions are the following:

Cape Peninsula and surrounds

This includes Cape Town, Table Mountain, the beaches and the surrounding winelands. There are an enormous number of things to do in this region and many visitors to South Africa spend a great holiday purely in and around Cape Town: see, for instance http://www.tourismcapetown.co.za/. The post-conference tour (Saturday 27 May) will take us down the Cape Peninsula to scenic Cape Point - via Table Mountain if weather permits. Other things to do include:

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Visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for many years, which lies in Table Bay and is now a museum (it can be reached by a ferry).

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Shopping at the Waterfront (from which the Robben Island ferry leaves).

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Visiting the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

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Strolling on (or climbing) Table Mountain (a local guide is recommended here if one intends climbing high on the mountain, it’s easy to get lost on the many paths which criss-cross the mountain’s slopes, or in the clouds which can descend very rapidly even on sunny days);

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Going to Clifton Beach - sunbathing only, even in mid-summer the Atlantic Ocean is chilly!

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Seeing the penguins at Boulder's Beach, just south of Simonstown.

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Heading into the surrounding countryside and sampling the wines of the Cape in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek. (There is a wine-tasting scheduled for the evening of Thursday 25 May).

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Going surfing (wet suits essential!) or horse-riding on Noordhoek beach.

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Playing golf at the many golf courses in the region. (There are several in Stellenbosch alone).

The Garden Route

The Garden Route (either follow the links on the official site, http://www.tourismcapetown.co.za/, or try the unofficial http://www.gardenroute.org.za/) is an area of spectacular natural beauty (not unlike the Big Sur region of California) some 400km east of Cape Town. It is easily reached by rental car, and the tourist infrastructure is very well developed. This is also a very popular holiday destination for South Africans, so accommodation, food etc tends to be very reasonably priced (this is not always the case is especially private game reserves). The main town in this region is Knysna; which is very popular with locals and visitors. There is a lot of accommodation available both in and around the town. Once again, there are many things to do in this area: there are small game parks; beautiful beaches with somewhat warmer water than around Cape Town; and for extreme sports addicts, bungy-jumping - the jump off Storms River bridge claims to be the highest in the world. Other than Knysna, places to consider staying at include the very hospitable  African Oceans B&B  on the dunes outside Mossel Bay (about 360km from Cape Town),  Land's End B&B in the beautiful Victoria Bay (this B&B is literally on the sea - surfers come right past the bedroom windows) just outside George, around 400km from Cape Town, and somewhat further along the coast, the Tsitsikama Lodge (tsitsilodge@pixie.co.za) near Storm's River, at the eastern end of the Garden Route.

The main road to the Garden Route is the coastal road, the N2. (N in South Africa implies a National road - R, regional roads). This road is generally in very good repair (although currently there are road works on some sections, with attendant delays), but it carries a high volume of traffic and is not double-carriageway throughout. Visitors should also be aware of the rather quieter and very scenic R62, which routes inland, initially on the N1,  via the spectacular Du Toit's Kloof. One then turns off the N1 at  Worcester, heading east on the R60/R62 through the Breede (Wide) River valley to Robertson, Montagu and Barrydale (where one can visit the Sanbona game reserve, with four of the "big five") , eventually entering the Klein (Small) Karoo. At Oudtshoorn, one then heads south for Knysna. There are a large number of wine cellars in the Breede River  valley, offering wine tasting for the public (note- usually shut on Sundays, however). Towns worth stopping at include Montagu and Oudtshoorn. Both feature a number of B&B's and restaurants.   Oudtshoorn is also famous for its Ostrich farms; a number, such as Highveld, offer guided tours. The Cango Caves are also just outside Oudtshoorn.

Game reserves.

These are probably the biggest drawcard for visitors to South Africa in particular and the Southern African region in general. The biggest and best known is the Kruger National Park, http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger. It is located on South Africa’s eastern border with Mozambique, and the reserve is the size of many small countries. Adjoining it are a number of private game reserves (such as Sabi-Sabi, http://www.sabisabi.com/) which offer guided game drives.

A reserve that we can strongly recommend for especially first-time visitors is Pilanesberg, which is less than two hours’ drive from Johannesburg International Airport. It offers the full Big Five, with varying accommodation levels from upmarket lodges to rustic self-catering, tented camps. For details, see http://www.tourismnorthwest.co.za/pilanesberg/ A very major advantage is that it is in a malaria-free part of the country – many of the other game reserves in Southern Africa are in endemic malarial regions, and visitors must take precautions- usually in the form of anti-malaria tablets.  See <Travel advisories> for more details.

Another possibility is to stay at Sun City, next door to Pilanesberg. Originally famous as a gambling resort, Sun City now offers a wide variety of activities, including game drives to Pilanesberg. Sun City’s website is http://www.suninternational.com/resorts/suncity/ and their partner for game drives is Game Trackers: http://www.gametrac.co.za. Afri-Adventures offers a shuttle service to and from Sun City from Jhb Int. Airport; their web site is http://www.afriadventures.co.za/index.html.

For more adventurous visitors, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park , http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/, offers spectacular semi-desert terrain, with many buck species and lions aplenty.  (The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park was combined with the adjacent Gemsbok National Park in Botswana in the late 1990s, creating this, one of the world’s first trans-national parks). It is accessible only by a very long drive from Upington, which in turn can be reached by rather sporadic flights, or an extremely long drive, from Cape Town or Johannesburg.

Neighbouring Botswana http://www.botswana.co.za/ also offers the Okavango Delta for the very adventurous, accessed from Moremi Park near Maun, which has an airfield. Do not attempt to drive yourself around here; the “roads” in the park are mostly tracks and full 4WD vehicles and experienced drivers and guides are essential. Note also that the bush camps are simply clearings in the bush, with no fences;  wild animals generally stay away from visitors…. There are a number of safari camps (which are indeed fenced); see http://moremi.botswana.co.za/ for details. Once again, malaria is endemic in the Okavango Delta and precautions are essential.

Another spectacular site in the neighbouring states is the Victoria Falls http://www.victoriafalls.co.za/ on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Flights into Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe from Johannesburg are the best way of reaching this. For those interested in extreme sports, white water rafting trips on the Zambezi http://whitewater.safpar.com/ depart from close to the Falls. (This has been described as the “wildest one-day whitewater run in the world”. Be warned that this trip is indeed fairly extreme!) Yet again, malaria is endemic in the Victoria Falls region and precautions are essential.

Note that visitors intending to visit other neighbouring African countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia or Namibia will probably need visas for these countries as well – these are all sovereign independent states.

Other things to do

For visitors who have been to Southern Africa frequently and know the main sites well, consider a visit to the Natal Drakensberg  http://drakensberg.kzn.org.za/drakensberg/, a mountain range of great natural beauty with some excellent hotels and guest resorts, such as the Cavern Berg Resort http://www.cavern.co.za/ and Cathedral Peak Hotel http://www.cathedralpeak.co.za/. Alternately: Natal was also the site of a number of battles during the 19th century, between the Voortrekkers and Zulus (Blood River); the British Empire and the Zulus (Ishandwala and Rorkes Drift) and the British Empire and the Boers (Spioen Kop etc) and there is a “Battlefield route”  http://battlefields.kzn.org.za/battlefields/  which visitors can follow. Only a few of these battlefields have associated museums/interpretive sites; perhaps the best of these are located at Rorke’s Drift, and Blood River.  For the former, the tours offered from Fugitive’s Drift,  http://www.fugitives-drift-lodge.com/, are especially evocative. A popular option is to follow the Battlefield tour with a visit to the “Midlands Meander”, http://midlands.kzn.org.za/midlands/;  this is a  collection of crafters, artists, bed and breakfasts, and country restaurants.

Nambia, South Africa's north-western neighbour,  is another fascinating country to visit, with spectacular desert vistas: see http://www.namibiatourism.com.na/.