South Africa has heart-stopping vistas aplenty. We struggled more with narrowing it down to a list of 10 than trying to find the views in South Africa …
BRANDWAG BUTTRESS, GOLDEN GATE
Close to the border with Lesotho, in the Free State, lies the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Its main feature is the golden sandstone cliffs and outcrops on either side of the valley at the Golden Gate dam. Brandwag Buttress is the ‘sentinel’ cliff one sees in many pictures of the park, and to reach the top is not as difficult as it first appears. It is only a 2.5 km hike, most of which is rather gentle, until the final stretch and chain to help you to the top. Conversely there is a longer, second route of man-made steps.
CAMDEBOO’S VALLEY OF DESOLATION
The Camdeboo National Park incorporates the Valley of Desolation, also known as the ‘cathedral of the mountains’ for its piled dolerite columns that stand like sentries against the plains of the Groot Karoo. A product of erosion and volcanic forces, the views from in amongst these knobbly pillars extend over the town of Graaff-Reinet and the plains of the Camdeboo.
CAPE AGULHAS LIGHTHOUSE
Head to the southernmost tip of Africa to find yourself climbing your way up the red and white painted lighthouse and, if you have no fear of heights, the views from the platform at the top are well worth the rather hairy stepladders (and the whipping wind). The lighthouse was the third built in the country and remains the oldest still operating lighthouse. The views out over the ocean and the coastline of Cape Agulhas are beautiful.
CHAPMAN’S PEAK DRIVE
Likened by visitors to Melbourne’s Great Ocean Road, Chapman’s Peak is not only an engineering feat but an incredible road hewn into the near-vertical face of the mountain that lies between Hout Bay and Noordhoekin Cape Town. Known locally as ‘Chappies’ it is 9 km of curve upon curve with views that will have you stopping the car at every possible spot – the stuff of postcards. Don’t rush the drive, it is worth making a day of it. Pack a picnic lunch as there are plenty of small tables en route. Drive, cycle or walk it.
GOD’S WINDOW, BLYDE RIVER CANYON
This God’s eye view over the Lowveld from the far eastern edge of the Drakensberg is hard to beat. It lies at the southern end of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and overlooks the incredible plunge of a series of cliffs over 700 metres into the Lowveld below. The views are Eden-like in their appearance (hence the allusion to God’s view) and on a clear day you can see to the Kruger National Park and the border with Mozambique. But words do it no justice; see it first-hand to believe it.
MOON ROCK, AUGRABIES FALLS NATIONAL PARK
The summit of Moon Rock, a huge granite dome, offers some of the best views of the moon-like landscape of the Augrabies. West of Upington, the Augrabies Falls are what draw people to the park, but this 800 metres across, 30 metre-high granite dome is unusual for South Africa (there are plenty in Sierra Nevada, California). From its summit, for those willing to scramble to the top, it towers over the semi-desert landscape of the park and offers 360-degree views. Look out for the 14 or so naturally occurring popups (A-tents), two slabs of rock that push up to form a tent-like A-frame structure.
THE STARS OF SUTHERLAND
Nowhere else in the country will you see night skies quite like these. Sutherland is the site of SALT, the Southern African Large Telescope – the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world. The observatory field station lies outside town. The naked skies are worth a visit here on their own, but viewed through a telescope, they are wondrous.
THE SUMMIT OF THE AMPHITHEATRE, DRAKENSBERG
The Drakensberg’s Amphitheatre is one of the most dramatic cliff faces on the planet. Over 5 kilometres long, its sheer cliffs rise like a bulwark, a solid wall of rock 1, 220 metres high along its length. The summit is over 3 000 metres above sea level, with Mont-Aux-Sources standing at 3 254 metres high. It is from here that the Tugela Falls plummets over 3000 feet. Getting to the top of Mount-Aux-Sources is not a walk in the park. Neither is there an ‘easy’ way up, like a cable way. But the hike from the Sentinel car park will take five or six hours return; the only day hiking trail (the others are overnight trails) to the top of the escarpment. The views are incredible.
THE TOP OF TABLE MOUNTAIN
Cape Town’s table top needs little introduction. Arguably the most recognised site in Africa, it is one of the world’s new seven natural wonders, and is also the only natural site on earth with a star constellation named after it (Mensa). Its flat-top offers hiking trails, a cableway trip, rare and endangered floral species, and views. From the top, provided you have selected a hot, windless, cloudless day, there are views of the 12 Apostles, the V&A Waterfront, Robben Island, Mitchell’s Plain and the Cape Flats and the iconic 68 000 soccer stadium.
VALLEY OF 1000 HILLS
This valley lies between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, called such for the repeatedly folded hills that extend as far as the eye can see from the top of Botha’s Hill. Up on this ridge the views of hills, valley and gorges is a feast for sore eyes. Drive a choice of routes from here that pass villages, art galleries, country pubs, nature reserves, farms and places to stay.