There is a danger in thinking that every little bit of South Africa has been discovered. There are actually some beautiful places, and areas, that a few people know about, but not everyone.
These 7 most beautiful places in South Africa are worth knowing about.
Visit them if you can …
1. INANDA MOUNTAIN VIEWPOINT
This view out over the Inanda Dam is something of a state secret in Durban. Not even Durban’s Green Corridor, when closely questioned, could give me directions. The drive is not too long and the views well worth it. Head up to Inanda Ridge, Maphephetha (the road to Inanda Ridge appears to take one right to the very edge of ‘Inanda Mountain’ – look up Inanda Ridge on Google Maps for directions). On a clear day there are views all the way from Umhlanga to the south of Durban. It is a wonderful space for bird-spotting or for sitting awhile to take in the views.
2. MOUNTAIN ZEBRA PARK
This beautiful, unspoilt reserve is one of the lesser known national parks of the country. Located not far from the Karoo town of Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, the reserve protects one of the rarest animals in the world – the endangered Cape mountain zebra (they are smaller than their cousin, Burchell’s zebra, have larger ears, narrower stripes, brown muzzles, fully striped legs and a white belly). Today there are about 300 of them in the park, but in 1937 when the park first opened they had all but dwindled.
If it had not been for local farmers, who rounded up lone zebra still on their farms to donate to the reserve, these animals would no longer be here. The park provides a complete hideaway to those after solitude and time-out in the bush. Also see black rhino, Cape buffalo, hyena, a couple of lions, cheetah, aardwolf and aardvark. The bird life is incredible and visitors give the reserve the thumbs up for amenities, campsites and cottages, the Kranskop route, picnic sites and scenery.
3. PONDOLAND MARINE PROTECTED AREA
Pondoland is a marine protected area on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast. It lies south of Durban, but north of Port St Johns; 90 km of near-pristine coast between the Mzamba River in the north and the Umzimvubu River at Port St Johns. It extends more than 10 km out to sea and includes the Mkhambathi Nature Reservewithin its boundaries.
It is incredibly beautiful, remote and diverse. Some of the densest concentrations of large marine mammals in the world are in evidence on this coastline – humpback whales and dolphins in great numbers. There are only really two ways of exploring it, as there are no roads in and no beachside resorts (thank goodness). Either you can stay at the Mkhambathi Nature Reserve, or you can walk the Pondo-Explorer hiking trail (or its slackpacker version: the Pondo-Hopper trail).
4. RIEMVASMAAK’S HOT SPRINGS
This remote 74 000 hectare community conservancy lies almost on the border with Namibia, north of theAugrabies Falls just outside the little town of Kakamas; a wilderness of huge granite cliffs and natural hot springs – the result of volcanic eruptions. No-one gets this far north except the 4×4 crowd on their way to Namibia. The Damara and Koranna people have reclaimed their land after the military set up a training ground here during apartheid.
One of the ways in which they sustain themselves is encouraging visitors to their hot springs and guest cabins. The eco-tourism project gives visitors access to a beautiful, remote granite canyon, incredible views and the overwhelming sound of silence. You’ll need a 4×4 to reach it, but the hiking and rough terrain trails, the scenery, and indulgence in stillness, make it worth it.
5. THE LAKE DISTRICT
Centred around the country’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Chrissie, and the little hamlet of Chrissiesmeer is South Africa’s lake district – 270 lakes and pans all within a 20 km radius. Different from other pan systems in Southern Africa, these lakes and pans are perennial and mostly independent of one another. The beauty of the surrounds and the incredible bird life – up to 20 000 flamingos descend on the lakes every year – make the lake district one of the most beautiful, and unexplored, places in South Africa.
6. THE QUIVER TREE FOREST
This forest of quiver trees on the R357 outside of Niewoudtville in the Northern Cape is the largest and most southern colony of the remarkable Aloe dichotoma. The remote forest lies on the edge of Gannabos, a protected area that is also a wild flower reserve. Getting there is as easy as driving up to the gate and getting out to take photographs – because you will want to take home mementos of these incredible trees, some of them over 250 years of age.
The forest is along a farm sand road, although ‘forest’ is not quite what you find, as these aloes don’t stand terribly close to one another. Under threat by climate change these beautiful aloes are not only diminishing in number, but are also slowly in evidence further and further south.
7. THE SECRET CAVES OF THE DRAKENSBERG
The Drakensberg is riddled with caves, many of them used by hikers as overnight shelters. Just as many of them are celebrated for their San rock art – although one is not allowed to overnight in these as they are environmentally protected. An unmarked cave in Secret Valley, opposite old Sherry Cave, in the Garden Castle Wilderness Area, is one example of just how many caves go unnamed.
Some caves can take as many as 100 people at a time, others are limited to a crawl space for two hikers that serve merely as a place out of the wind and rain. There are caves in the lower berg and on the escarpment, although whilst the latter work on a first-come, first-served basis because they are so seldom used, you will need to book the lower berg caves to coincide with your hike. Few people argue that an overnight in a Drakensberg cave is one of the most beautiful experiences in the country.