Regions

- South Africa

The South, including the Western Cape & southern sector of the Eastern Cape provinces

The South, including the Western Cape and southern sector of the Eastern Cape provinces

(Cape Town, wine country, Garden Route, Karoo, malaria free safaris, fynbos floral kingdom, whales)

Few cities in the world are as recognisable as Cape Town, hemmed between Table Mountain and the protected Table Bay. Cosmopolitan and vibrant, easy going and with a splendid summer climate, it is not surprising that the city is included on most visits to South Africa. As the mountain stretches southwards to form the backbone of the Cape Peninsular, the area offers far more than just a city experience – lovely scenery set amongst vineyards or overlooking the oceans, excellent walking and golfing opportunities, great marine wildlife and birdlife including pelagic excursions, penguins, whales and white sharks. In Kirstenbosch, Cape Town hosts one of the best botanical gardens in the world, whilst the Table Mountain cable car, sight-seeing tours to Robben Island and shopping in the Waterfront are just some of the other well known local attractions.

Inland from the city itself, the Cape Flats give way to the mountainous country around the historic town of Stellenbosch, the chic village of Franschhoek, and culturally-diverse Paarl, which together form the ‘Winelands triangle’. Here, award winning vineyards are set amongst stunning mountain backdrops, certainly some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere in Africa.

On the south coast, and about 2 hours drive east of Cape Town, the town of Hermanus offers the finest land-based whale watching in the world (July to October) and is renown for its ‘whale crier’. Off-shore whale watching and great white shark excursions are also available.

Travelling eastwards, en route to the start of the so-called ‘Garden Route’ you might wish to head south to L’Agulhas, the most southern tip of the great African continent, and then travel through to the historic town of Swellendam.

The ‘Garden Route’ itself is usually defined as the coastal land between Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth. In reality however, the most interesting section is the narrow verdant coastal belt hemmed between the Indian Ocean and the escarpment from George through to the Storms River, which includes the beautiful lake district around Wilderness and Sedgefield, the village and lagoon around Knysna, Plettenberg Bay with its wonderful long sandy beaches, and of course the indigenous Knysna and Tsitsikamma forests.

Travelling inland from this area, a number of stunning mountain passes lead you into the dry interior, known as the Great Karoo. Oudtshoorn, which lies at the bottom of the incredible Swartberg Pass and is known as the ‘feather capital of the World’ due to the significant ostrich farming which took place in the middle of the last century, is the first major town of the interior, and also home to the Cango Caves.

To the east and north of Port Elizabeth, the last couple of decades have seen huge growth in non-malaria wildlife reserves, with former livestock farms converted back to natural bush and restocked with most of Africa’s indigenous game. Although now technically part of the Western Cape, this region is usually referred to colloquially as the Eastern Cape (as it used to be). The Addo Elephant National Park is being expanded into the Greater Addo and will in time include much of the coastal belt and the sensitive marine environment around Algoa Bay. The private reserves such as Shamwari and Kwandwe have given the region much international recognition.  The historical town of Grahamstown is also worth visiting.

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- South Africa

The East, including KwaZulu/Natal, northern Eastern Cape, and the Kingdom of Swaziland

The East, including KwaZulu/Natal, northern Eastern Cape, and the Kingdom of Swaziland

(Drakensberg Mountains, Anglo battlefields, wildlife safaris, Indian Ocean coastline)

The Eastern Cape, home to the Xhosa people and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, is an area of the country which is largely ignored by many travellers. The rural way of life here is largely traditional, and the coastline heading north rugged and wild until the sub-tropical beaches of southern KwaZulu/Natal are reached. This region is also the holy grail for any golf enthusiast with many spectacular courses waiting to claim another scalp.

Inland, the mighty Drakensberg mountains rise up to form a impressive boundary with the tiny Kingdom of Lesotho (which is entirely surrounded by South Africa). It is the same range which forms the escarpment area in Mpumalanga, but is significantly more impressive in this locality. It was recently gazetted as the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Hiking and horse trails lead through spectacular country to ancient San dwellings which reveal a multitude of rock art, whilst the mountain rivers are packed with trout and even the rare bearded vulture is at home! Country gourmet lodges offer inventive cuisine amongst rich pastures.

North of the cosmopolitan port of Durban, the rolling hills of Zululand are covered with sugar and pine plantations, wildlife parks and the vast wetlands of St Lucia. Historically, the Anglo Zulu wars were fought on the battlefields around the Buffalo River (Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift), and many strategic Anglo Boer battles around iconic towns such as Ladysmith and Bergville (Spioenkop).

The Hluhluwe and Imfolozi game reserves are amongst the oldest reserves in Africa, having been established in the late 1800’s, and are considered to be at the forefront of Nature Conservation. Hluhluwe occupies the lower hills of the first escarpment rising from the coastal plain, and with a higher rainfall than adjoining Imfolozi, has the greater density of vegetation – forest, woodland and thickets being more common than savannah. The diverse habitat allows 47 species of larger mammals to co-exist, and in particular, both black and white rhino of which there are significant numbers. As with most of Zululand, the birdlife too is spectacular with over 300 species recorded including the bald ibis.

Other gazetted game reserves such as Ithala and Mkuze are complimented with an array of private reserves such as Phinda, Mkuzi Falls and Thanda. For variety and quality of big game viewing, coupled with exclusivity and luxury accommodation, the Phinda Resource Reserve is marginally the most productive reserve to visit.

The northern Maputoland coastline, which stretches from Lake St. Lucia (now incorporated into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site) northwards to the Mozambique border, is a remote part of the country with little development. Endless golden beaches give way to diverse habitats which are home to over half the total species of birdlife found in the country. Offshore, this area is the only part of South Africa where good snorkelling and reef diving is available. Diving is challenging but very rewarding.

The Kingdom of Swaziland is the only absolute monarchy in Africa and lies between South Africa and Mozambique. It is a delightful, friendly country and certainly worth a visit if you are travelling between KwaZulu/Natal and the Kruger area of Mpumalanga. The country has a fine handcraft reputation. The attractive countryside of mountains, rivers, rolling hills and forests is home to a small number of wildlife reserves but nothing to really compare to those found in South Africa.

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- South Africa

The Centre, including the Free State, Northern Cape, and Kingdom of Lesotho

The Centre, including the Free State, Northern Cape, and Kingdom of Lesotho

(Kgalagadi Trans-frontier park, Namaqualand, Kimberley, northern Karoo, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve)

The central province of the Free State is not usually visited except by those doing an extended tour of the country. Much of the province is fairly flat farming country (vast fields of maize and wheat) although the main route between KwaZulu/Natal and the Eastern Cape bordering western Lesotho is particularly scenic, especially around the Golden Gate National Park and the towns of Clarens, Ficksburg and Bethlehem.

Kimberley, famous throughout the World for the discovery of diamonds in 1866, is home to the Big Hole, a number of interesting museums, and a bastion of colonial times, the Kimberley Club.

The Trans-Kgalagadi Frontier Park was the first Peace Park developed by combining the former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa, and the Gemsbok and Mabuesehube National Parks in Botswana. The park is dominated by the dune landscape of the region. There are only four roads in the park suitable to two-wheel drive vehicles, all of which are on the South African side – two follow the water courses of the Nossob and Auob rivers and have numerous ‘loops’, with the other two joining the river roads by travelling in a roller coaster manner over the dunes. Accommodation is available at a number of National Parks restcamps including Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata, Kahalari Tented and Nossob, but only Twee Rivieren has restaurant facilities. There are also a number of remote bush camps which are accessible by 4×4 only – there is no permanent accommodation in the Botswana section.

Game-viewing is best along the river courses which are scattered with waterholes providing a lifeline to the region. The vegetation is predominantly that of desert scrub, with trees found along the rivers. During the rains, the river courses are transformed into seas of grass. For such an arid environment, the area is incredibly diverse. The raptor population is exceptionally good and makes up nearly 20% of the total number of resident species. Of the mammals, lion, cheetah, leopard, and wild cat are reasonably common. It is however the stately Gemsbok, dainty Springbok and diminutive meerkat for which the park is most remembered.

Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve was born in the early 1990’s when a British entrepreneur purchased the vast tracts of arid farmland within the Northern Cape to live out a dream. Following his untimely death, the Oppenheimer family bought Tswalu in 1999 to create the largest privately owned game reserve in South Africa, covering an enormous 100,000 hectares of dry Kalahari savannah. The reserve includes three distinct zones – the rocky Korranaberg Mountains in the east, the Kalahari plains and dune-ridge system in the central part of the reserve and the wild calcrete pans and thorn scrub habitat of the western part of the reserve. The reserve is split by a remote gravel road (public) running north to south, with 20,000 hectares of reserve found to the east of the road. To the west of the road, where the lodges are located, there are 80,000 hectares of wilderness. The reintroduction of many of the species of wildlife formerly indigenous to the region has allowed the reserve to develop as a fine wildlife destination. Today over 40 species of animals can be seen, with the key absentee being elephants. The reserve offers spectacular meerkat viewing, with three habituated meerkat families. There are also over 200 species of birds recorded.

In north-western South Africa, the remote 4×4 access-only Richtersveld National Park forms a common boundary with Namibia’s Fish River Canyon. South of here, from the towns of Okiep and Springbok southwards to the Cederberg Mountains, is the spectacular Namaqualand. For around six weeks (August and September), and seemingly overnight, the dusty valleys of Namaqualand are transformed into a wonderland, carpeted with wild flowers. With its winter rainfall, Namaqualand is home to the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world and more than a 1000 of its estimated 3500 plant species are found nowhere else on earth.

Namaqua National Park lies about 45 minutes drive west along a dirt road from Kamieskroon. The park is huge, but 2 wheel drive vehicles can only access the area known as the ‘Skilpad section’, close to the entrance gate. The carpets of flowers in this section are incredible. There is a circular drive which incorporates some look-out points, and a number of self guided walking trails (on reasonable paths if it is dry) through the flowers. The park has been described as typical Namaqualand ‘broken veld’, with a great variety of smaller succulents, as well as annuals and bulbous plants. It is also described as part of the succulent Karoo biome. The Namaqualand broken veld merges east into the mountain renosterveld of the Kamiesberg Range, part of the fynbos biome.

The Cederberg Mountains and West Coast National Park, some three hours drive north of Cape Town are also well worth visiting during this flowering spectacle. Small fishing villages dot the Atlantic coastline, many still reflecting the early pioneering spirit of early explorers into this very harsh country.

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- Namibia

Waterberg Plateau & central environs

The Waterberg Plateau and central environs

The Waterberg Plateau National Park lies to the south-east of Otjiwarongo and is an interesting massif which rises some 700 ft off the surrounding plains. It is home to some wildlife, including eland and introduced white rhino, but the park is perhaps more important for its birdlife (over 200 species) and flora. Most people use the area to break the long journey between Windhoek and Etosha/Damaraland/the north. Vehicle movement is restricted on the plateau itself and some walking trails are available.

The region is also home to a number of private reserves. To the south-west of Otjiwarongo in the Omboroko Mountains is found the well known Okonjima, home of the Africat Foundation. To the north of the plateau is the much less known Mundulea Nature Reserve, which is ideal for experienced nature lovers who wish to walk in the wilderness with an experienced guide. To the south-west, close to the town of Omaruru and bordering south-west Damaraland, the Erongo Mountains offer a wonderful scenic, walking and birding experience.

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- Namibia

Swakopmund & Walvis Bay

Swakopmund and Walvis Bay

The two major coastal towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are just 30 kms apart but serve as a good stopping point between a visit to the Namib Desert and Damaraland to the north. Walvis Bay serves as the main port, whilst Swakopmund developed as the ‘holiday’ destination and is far less ‘industrial’.

Most visitors stay in Swakopmund from which there are numerous excursions including those to Sandwich Harbour, and the interior ‘moon landscape’ and Welwitschia plains. From Walvis harbour, a range of wildlife cruises are also available, particularly to the Pelican Point seal colony (kayaking also possible). Between the two towns, a sand dune belt is used for quad-biking and dune boarding, whilst sky-diving is also possible for anyone seeking an adrenalin adventure!

Further up the coast, towards the Skeleton Coast National Park lies the Cape Cross seal colony, home to the largest Cape fur seal colony with some 100 000 ‘residents’.

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- Namibia

The Skeleton Coast

The Skeleton Coast

Whilst you could describe the entire length of Namibia’s Atlantic coastline as ‘Skeleton Coast’, the official Skeleton Coast National Park is made up of the narrow coastal belt which stretches north from the Ugab River to the Angola border. The southern section of the park (up to Terrace Bay) can be visited by the general public, although generally a 4×4 would be required (there is little road infrastructure). North of that, the park is closed to all but one company who operate the exclusive Skeleton Coast Safari Camp. Flying safaris along the coast are possible, but north of Terrace Bay landing options are rather limited!

The flat and open beaches of the coastline, which are often shrouded in mist, are home to numerous Cape fur seal colonies, which in turn provide food for black-backed jackals and the rare brown hyaena. Close to the coast, the landscape is a mix of gravel plains and sand dunes, whilst further inland rocky ridges rise out of the desolate plains. At Terrace Bay, it is possible to drive into the sand dunes and experience the ‘roaring dunes’ where sand particles are so uniformly weathered they resonate deeply like a ‘tuba’ when disturbed.

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- Namibia

The Namib Desert, Namib Naukluft National Park & Namib Rand Nature Reserve

The Namib Desert, Namib Naukluft National Park and Namib Rand Nature Reserve

The Namib Desert is a region which should be included on any visit to Namibia, and is, quintessentially, what the country is about. The main Namib Naukluft National Park extends from the Luderitz area in the south to the Walvis Bay/Swakopmund area in the north, and inland to cover much of the vast Namib dune belt. To the east are a number of private conservancies from which you can explore this wilderness.

Within the National Park itself lie the renowned Sossusvlei dunes, which rise some 300m from valley floor. Sossusvlei is a huge dried up clay pan formed at the end of the Tsauchab River where the huge dunes stopped its progress toward the sea. Nearby are two other pans, Hidden Vlei and Dead Vlei. If you’re feeling fit, you can climb the dunes for a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

The Sesriem Canyon is one of the most amazing features of this desert.  Here, the Tsauchab River has carved a gorge (up to 100 ft deep) into the gravels deposited around 16 million years ago.  The canyon dates back to about 3 million years ago, when continental uplift caused the incision of most of the westward flowing rivers in Namibia. The canyon is about a kilometre long and becomes shallower as it makes its way towards Sossusvlei.

Bordering the park, the two most significant conservancies are the Kulala Conservancy and the Namib Rand Nature Reserve. The Namib Rand is huge, covering some 1800 sq.kms., and is stunningly beautiful with a mix of sand dunes and gravel plains, flanked on all sides by rugged mountains. There is a significant amount of wildlife, including oryx, springbok, mountain zebra, giraffe, bat-eared fox, ostrich and the occasional leopard or cheetah.  Although it is possible to reach the Sossusvlei dunes on a day trip from the northern section of the Namib Rand, a visit to this conservancy can also combine well with a stay closer to Sossusvlei.

The Kulala Conservancy is closer to Sesriem and although much smaller than the Namib Rand, has direct access into the National Park so is ideal for those with limited time in the region.

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- Namibia

Kaokoland

Kaokoland

Kaokoland stretches north from Sesfontein and the Hoanib River Valley to the Kunene River, the border with Angola, and can only be accessed by four-wheel drive. Few people travel far into this land, and those that do, usually do so with an experienced guide, which is highly recommended.

For self-contained 4×4 travel, either self-driving or on a guided safari, the most accessible region is the stunning Hoarasib River Valley, which can be explored for several days from a base at Purros, the closest thing to a town or village in the region. The region is also a stronghold for desert lions and desert elephant, who often come into conflict with the local Himba and Herero villagers, and in the long term tourism into the area should help protect the fragile populations of both. There is one luxury lodge near Purros, and an airstrip for fly-in safaris, but otherwise camping is the usual accommodation choice.

From the Hoarasib stretching northwards is a vast wilderness which is home to the nomadic Himba people, pastoralists who are well known for being ‘not very well known’! In this area you can explore several spectacular valleys and mountain ranges, including the stunning Hartmann Valley which leads to the Kunene River, the Hartmann Mountains, Marienfluss, and the spectacular Van Zyl’s Pass.

The Hartmann Valley is one of the most stunning, remote and awe-inspiring places in Africa. Technically it is no more beautiful than other parts of Namibia, but the real magic is in its remoteness. It is an area of wide open plains flanked by mountains, and sometimes populated with huge herds of springbok and oryx which move through the area. Towards the northern end of the valley, you come across more and more red ‘sand’ which reminds you of the Namib Desert, before reaching the spectacular Kunene River valley, a verdant strip which snakes through the rocky mountains en route to the Atlantic. One luxury lodge and a couple of more adventurous camps exist on the banks of the Kunene, accessed either overland or by air into the Hartmann Valley airstrip.

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- Namibia

Fish River Canyon and the far South

Fish River Canyon and the far South

The Fish River Canyon lies in the far south of the country and is the second largest canyon in the world. Certainly off the beaten track (two days drive from Windhoek), visiting here should not be a big priority for those with limited time but the canyon itself is spectacular. Set in a harsh, stony plain, scantily covered with drought-resistant succulents and the distinctive quiver tree or ‘kokerbom’, the canyon represents a spectacular natural phenomenon which took hundreds of millions of years to evolve. The full length of the canyon is 160 kms with a depth of up to 550 metres. Hiking is available in the winter months (May to September). It is possible to walk through the gorge on a five day trail although a permit is required from the Namibia Wildlife Resorts authority. Day walks are more readily available from some of the lodges in the region. Walking in the canyon is hard work and only suitable for confident walkers.

Much of the south-east of the country borders the Kalahari Desert and includes areas such as Bushmanland. There are some limited game-viewing and San culture opportunities, particularly around the town of Mariental.

Luderitz on the coast has changed little since the early 1900’s when the nearby ghost town of Kolmanskop was a bustling diamond centre. The town is still largely surrounded by the Sperrgebiet (the forbidden territory) where a lot of alluvial diamond mining takes place but in essence, it’s no more than a small laid-back trading town. Today, other than visiting Kolmanskop where the Namib sands sift through the dilapidated buildings to create interesting photographic opportunities, there is little reason for going ‘out of your way’ to visit the region.

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- Namibia

Etosha Pan

Etosha Pan

Etosha National Park lies to the east of northern Damaraland/ southern Kaokoland and is Namibia’s main wildlife area. The 22,270 sq. kms. park was proclaimed a game reserve as early as 1907 (after years of being a hunter’s paradise), but it was not until 1952 that the park was developed. In 1958, it gained its National Park status. The famous pan, which covers an area of some 4,900 sq. kms. was discovered in 1815 and, according to geologists, is the remains of a huge inland lake, fed millions of years ago by the Kunene River, which changed course causing the lake to shrink to its present size. During the rains, the pan does hold sufficient water to enable millions of waterfowl to descend onto it, including greater flamingo which breed here. The extensive habitat is home for some 340 species of birds.

The vegetation varies from the desolate sands of the pan to the surrounding grass plains (of salt-loving grasses and shrubs) to the deciduous bush (consisting mainly of mopane) and mixed woodland (wild figs, wild dates, maroela and tamboti) which covers much of the ground away from the pan. With the exception of buffalo, most of Africa’s large mammals are found, including healthy lion, elephant and rhino (black and white) populations. The area is also particularly good for greater kudu and black-faced impala.

The best way to game-view through the park is to spend time visiting the various waterholes which are found south of the pan itself. These attract a wide range of wildlife species, and those with patience will reap the best rewards.

There are currently three accommodation restcamps and one luxury lodge within the park, all run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts (the National Parks body) and whilst Etosha is definitely worth visiting, it is extremely busy and you’ll not have a particularly ‘exclusive’ safari experience.

Adjoining the southern boundary of the park near the Andersson Gate entrance is the Ongava Game Reserve, a privately owned property which offers a more traditional game-viewing experience. On the eastern boundary of the park, near the Von Lindequist Gate are numerous luxury lodges set on their own private concessions, but outside of the park itself they offer a limited safari experience.

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