Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how spectacularly beautiful South Africa is. With the political turmoil we seem to be staggered by almost on a daily basis, we all too often bypass the beauty that surrounds us and focus on the negatives.
But it’s tourism month, and we celebrate Heritage Day on 24 September, so let’s take a step back to appreciate the magnificent natural heritage that makes South Africa the colourful and diverse country it is.
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas are part of the six recognised floral kingdoms of the world. Set right at the Southern tip of the continent, these protected areas are as extraordinarily diverse as the people of South Africa.
Home to thousands of endemic vascular plant species, this biodiversity hotspot has immense biological value and holds cultural significance. Unesco’s World Heritage Committee described the region as having “outstanding universal significance to humanity”.
The committee also noted how the region represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa, but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. “Its plant species diversity, density and endemism are among the highest worldwide, and it has been identified as one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hot spots.”
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Miracle and wonder. That’s what iSimangaliso means. It’s an appropriate name for the stunning wetland park around Lake St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park at St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal has lush greenery, plenty of wildlife and numerous activities for visitors.
There’s plenty to get up to in these parts: boat cruises, fishing, game viewing, whale watching, scuba diving, kayaking and horse riding. There’s African wildlife aplenty and lush greenery: the park’s grasslands, wetlands and forests extend over 280km of coastline from the Zululand coast to the Mozambique border.
Fomer president Nelson Mandela duly noted: “iSimangaliso must be the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale).”
The Vredefort Dome is the largest known meteor crater site in the world.
Located in a small farming town of about 3 000 residents in the Free State province, the crater is estimated to be over 2 billion years old (impact was in the Paleoproterozoic era!) and is the second-oldest known crater on Earth.
Although most of its initial diameter of roughly 300km has eroded over time, the remnants of this meteor are visible through a ring of hills strewn across its surface. Four towns are lodged within the Vredefort Dome: Parys, Vredefort, Koppies and Venterskroon.
These towns are home to some gorgeous animal and plant populations and scenic views are aplenty. There are also numerous activities to get up to at the Vredefort Dome, including quadbiking, river rafting, abseiling, hiking, game drives, horse trails, mountain biking, hot air ballooning and paintball.
Cradle of Humankind
The Cradle of Humankind is perhaps best known for producing the first adult Australopithecus in 1936. Two years later, the same archaeologist who discovered the Australopithecus, Dr Robert Broom, found the Paranthropus robustus.
Over the years, there have been several other significant discoveries in and around Sterkfontein that make the Cradle of Mankind one of the most historically important heritage sites in the world. Home to around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils, this is the world’s richest hominin site.
The Cradle of Mankind also has a host of other tourist attractions including some great restaurants and the Lanseria Country Estate.
Maropeng, which is Setswana for “returning to the place of origin”, is the official visitor centre and houses several historically significant artefacts and research relating to human ancestry.
Robben Island needs very little introduction. Our former president and global icon Nelson Mandela spent 18 years behind bars there, along with two other post-apartheid presidents: Kgalema Motlanthe and President Jacob Zuma.
Not only has it housed a prison, Robben island has also been home to a leper colony, a hospital, a mental institution and a military base. Today, it is a world heritage site and one of Cape Town’s greatest tourist attractions.
Thousands of people take the scenic trip to the island on a range of ferries available around the Cape seafront.
The on-site Robben Island museum offers guests the opportunity to learn more about South Africa’s storied political history and gain some incite into the island’s significance. With Table Mountain within eyeshot, views from the island aren’t too bad either!