South Africa’s hidden heart
Cape Town - South Africa is blessed with some of the world’s most famous tourist attractions – Durban’s beaches, Cape Town’s mountain and winelands, and Johannesburg’s bustling hub of economic activity.
However, if you’re looking for something a little less mainstream and a little more quirky – you’re in luck!
South Africa has an abundance of off-the-beaten-track, out-of-the-ordinary gems to add to your travel bucket list – and Cheapflights got off the highways and onto the byways to find them for you!
Set your sights on Sutherland
Sutherland is in the heart of the Roggeveld region in the Karoo, and is home to its own unique architecture, with buildings incorporating the area’s distinctive grey stone. There are graveyards dating back to the Anglo Boer war, including two gravestones for the same soldier… Sutherland also boasts the youngest (inactive) volcano south of the Equator, as well as rich findings of fossils.
The town is not only famous for the depth of its history – this is the place to go if you want to see some of the most amazing night skies, unspoiled by light pollution. There are guest houses aplenty for visitors, who would do well to spend a few days exploring this gem. Take your warm clothes though – it may be in a very dry area, but Sutherland is often noted on the weather report as the coldest place in South Africa during winter.
Gamkaskloof … to hell and back
Marked by a lone signpost 15km from Prince Albert is the road to Gamkaskloof, best braved by owners of 4x4 vehicles who are comfortable to travel at 25km per hour. Access to this long and fertile valley is not for the fainthearted, with treacherous mountain pass roads clinging to the hillsides. However, the remarkable scenery and unspoilt wildlife are the things of which pilgrimages are made, with Cape Nature Conservation managing bookings for camping and accommodation along the banks of the Gamka River.
Steeped in Anglo-Boer War history, the valley was originally discovered by trekboers who settled there – and then left, with just one of the original families – the Jouberts – remaining to tell tales of years gone by.
Kaapsehoop… not in the Cape
At an altitude of more than 1700m above sea level, Kaapsehoop in Mpumalanga is a quaint little mountain village that his home to wild horses, blue swallows, eagles, hawks, buck, baboons and other small animals too. Enjoying a cooler climate, Kaapsehoop is free from malaria (unlike many other towns in Mpumalanga), and boasts several restaurants and craft stores. You could sleep in The Royal Coach, a train carriage used by Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to South Africa in 1947, or you could spend a night in one of the many charming guesthouses in the village. The surrounding landscape offers contrasts between forest plantations and rocky outcrops, and the village is a welcome stopover en route to the Kruger National Park.
Tootle along to Tonteldoos
Just down the drag from popular Dullstroom in Mpumalanga, you’ll find Tonteldoos, a small hamlet that is home to the annual Tonteldoos Country Festival, held over the Easter Weekend. The festival celebrates all things peachy, from the fruit to peach mampoer, as well as a celebration of donkey carts and their riders. The village is home to several guesthouses that offer a year-round quiet getaway, as well as the Pendle Hill Country estate, which makes its own organic cheeses using milk from its own herd of Jersey cows, who are milked to the strains of classical music. Cycling fans should look out for the annual Cullinan to Tonteloos off-road experience…
Head for Hogsback
Hogsback is located at the western end of the forested Amatola Mountains in the Eastern Cape, and is home to numerous artists, potters, painters and poets. With its lower reaches often blanketed in snow in winter, the village offers great locations for walking, mountain biking, bird watching, mountain climbing and trout fishing. The village is also home to a remarkable collection of manicured gardens, with enthusiasts from around the country travelling to view the achievements of local horticulturists. Named for the three mountain peaks that look much like the wild hogs in the nearby forest, the area is also home to a wealth of bird life.
Bethulie is just about spot on in the middle of South Africa, but it is also in the middle of three game reserves: the Tussen-die-Riviere Game Reserve (between the Caledon and Orange Rivers), the Oviston Nature Reserve and the Gariep Eco Reserve. Located in the Free State close to the Gariep Dam, Bethulie was originally a mission station set up by the London Missionary Society to convert the local San Bushmen, and the original mission station still stands.
It’s gone through many name changes over the years, having been known as Groot Moordenaars Poort, Caledon, Verheulpolis, Heidelberg and now Bethulie! Apart from game viewing, visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, hunting, boating and sundowners on the Hennie Steyn Bridge, the longest railroad bridge in South Africa.
Perfect Prince Albert
Home to a wealth of artists and craftspeople, Prince Albert in the Karoo is fast becoming a food, culture and wine destination. More than 250 years old, the town is also home to several ghosts, with visitors able to take a guided ghost walk through the town to see who they can see! Well known for its fresh and dried fruit – particularly apricots and figs – Prince Albert is also at the heart of South Africa’s mohair region.
The town has its own unique architecture, and still uses a canal system of water supply, which sees people with water rights in the town enjoying specific days and times when they can direct water to their home. Look out for the cinema (a repurposed art-deco car dealership), the brightly painted houses, and the hand-painted dustbins (all 107 of them) that offer great advice to tourists.
Pieter-Dirk Uys’s Evita se Perron may have put Darling onto the map, but this pretty town within easy reach of Cape Town has firmly established itself as one of the most beautiful places in the country (if not the world) to visit. Boasting more than 1,200 species of flowering plants showcased during the annual Darling Wildflower Show over the third weekend in September, Darling is also known for its salt and dairy produce, and is making its name as a wine-making region too. Recently, Darling Tourism announced a bird route on which bird lovers can view some remarkable displays of the local wildlife.
Mad about Matjiesfontein
If you think that a national monument has to be an inanimate object, think again. The entire town of Matjiesfontein in the Western Cape is a national monument. Originally established as a refreshment station for passing trains, Matjiesfontein is a time capsule of Victoriana, with the Lord Milner Hotel offering old world charm, elegant décor and a few ghost stories too! There are numerous fine restaurants and museums in this oasis in the heart of the Karoo, as well as highlights like the Traveller’s Chapel, the Flourmill and the British Army Remount Camp.
Full steam ahead at Sandstone
The annual Stars of Sandstone Steam Heritage Festival takes place near Ficksburg in the Free State each April, celebrating steam driven vehicles and machines that have been restored to pristine condition. More than 15 years old, the festival attracts team enthusiasts from all over the world, with Sandstone Estate’s 26km narrow gauge railway forming the backbone of the event.
* Visit cheapflights.co.za. for more info
Adapted from a press release for IOL