South Africa is a beautiful country known as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and the expanse of what you can do and experience there is just as colourful.
It’s a mix of African culture and urban cities with a turbulent past and is teeming with the Big Five and an abundance of wildlife. So what can you do in the Rainbow Nation? Here are just some of the highlights.
Who goes to South Africa?
South Africa holidays are great for travellers of all ages due to the diverse range of activities, landscapes, cultures and wildlife. For first time visitors to South Africa, an organised tour is the way to go. Repeat travellers, or those who are confident to do their own thing, can easily hire a car and go at their own pace.
Adventure travellers will enjoy the outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, bungee jumping, white water rafting and diving. For the fearless traveller, there is even the chance to go cage diving with the great white sharks.
Families travelling around South Africa will find there is always a place for them. There are many family friendly lodges in the game reserves, so parents can safari with the knowledge the lodge is fenced and malaria free. Best of all, there will be activities for the kids so they can feel like they are game rangers themselves and come home knowing all the different animals.
Couples will be romanced by the sensational sunsets, wined and dinned along the wine route and fall in love all over again in South Africa. Imagine sailing over the bush in a hot air balloon, watching animals roam free below or walking hand in hand along one of the many beaches as the sun sets the sky a light as the day ends.
Singles can travel solo in South Africa, but it is recommended to do their research first. There are many group tours that accept solo travellers, so they don’t have to be alone when exploring the country. Like any country, solo travellers need to be cautious of their safety, and South Africa is no different.
How to get to South Africa
Flying direct from Australia to South Africa, you only have two airline options. Qantas will fly Sydney to Johannesburg direct and South African Airways will fly Perth to Johannesburg direct. Other options are available via Asia or the Middle East, but this does add on a considerable amount of flying time. Once in South Africa, travelling domestically is easy with plenty of air access across airlines such as Mango Airlines, Kulula, AirLink, ComAir, Safair and South African Airways.
Johannesburg is fast becoming one of the hip and happening cities of South Africa, with a cultural uprising that coaxes even the most timid travellers to the streets. Johannesburg has busily redefined itself over the past decade, breathing new life into old warehouses and derelict buildings, while slowly reclaiming sidewalk spaces for markets, cafes, and art galleries. Begin with a drive through the township of Soweto to the famous Vilakazi Street, home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. In fact, you don’t even have to drive, with options like bike and walking tours taking a slower more personal approach.
At Vilakazi Street you will find Mandela’s house, where he returned after his release from prison, is now a small museum holding intimate mementos of his family life. The Apartheid Museum is a good place to start learning about the history of the city and South Africa as a whole. The Neighbourgoods Market are held every Saturday in a parking garage in Braamfontein, foodies gather around giant paellas, raw oysters, and lots of craft beers while listening to funky African tunes pumped out by a local DJ. Arts on Main has grown into a massive urban renewal project that has lured top artists like William Kentridge, an art house cinema, young fashion designers and ambitious new chefs. Go at the right time and you will be able to enjoy drinks and Salsa on the rooftop.
Cape Town is a vibrant city and a great place to start your African adventure. It’s the land of wineries, great beaches and Al Fresco living with a fantastic V&A Waterfront. Take a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, a symbol of hope and freedom for views of the city and its beautiful bay, wander around the artisan market at Greenmarket Square, listen to jazz at Cape Grace or take a stroll along Camps Bay and go celeb spotting with a cocktail on the beach whilst watch bronzed bodies playing volley ball.
To delve into the history of the country, a day visit to Robben Island is definitely a must. Boats from the waterfront will take you to Robben Island, once a high security prison where Nelson Mandela served 18 years within its walls. Former prisoners and guards will take you on a tour around the island which has now become a symbol of peaceful resistance.
Port Elizabeth is a windy, coastal city which thrives on tourism and has plenty of museums to keep you busy. You can take tours here to a township or Nelson Mandela Bay City. Visit the ruins of Fort Frederick or just explore some nature at Alexandria Dune Fields – the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere.
The Zulu Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal is the battlefield area of South Africa where you can learn more about the Zulu history and walk in the footsteps of Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. Visit the Elephant Coast, a mecca for eco-tourism and spot whales and bottlenose dolphins all whilst enjoying the views of the basalt cliffs of the Drakensberg Mountains. For the adventurous traveller there’s ostrich riding, great hiking routes, sand boarding, mountain biking, hot air ballooning, canyoning, bungee jumping, and cage diving with great white sharks.
The coastal town of Durban is excellent for surfing and a golden mile of beach, the waterfalls of Drakensberg, Seal Island, and the Cape of Good Hope; a nature reserve of rugged landscape and a 40km coastline. A walk around the city of Durban and you will come across many market places all selling different things. Take in a Zulu experience to learn more about the culture of South Africa’s largest ethnic group (some 10 million Zulus live here). At Shakaland and PheZulu Safari Park, both located in the magnificient Valley of a 1000 Hills, you can walk through beehive huts (replicas of Zulu homesteads), sip traditional beer, watch tribal dances and participate in traditional ceremonies. Follow the Inanda Heritage Route, where you can take a deep dive into some of the city’s most important historical sites. Being a coastal city, Durban has access to some of the best diving areas in South Africa. Last of all, Durban is a city famous for its curry and Bunny Chow. Do not be alarmed as no rabbits are harmed in the making of Bunny Chow, it’s usually beef, chicken or mutton.
You simply cannot visit South Africa without going on safari in one of the many game parks. It is most certainly the ultimate experience to watch the sun rise in the South African bush, sit gazing at wildlife within meters of you and witness the African wild in its most pure form, wild and free. You may need to take malaria tablets if you choose to do a safari in the northern area of the country.
Kruger – Everyone’s heard of Kruger. It’s one of the best parks in the world with a great diversity of animals and an endless landscape of African bush.
Mala Mala – Borders Kruger and is game packed with the Big Five.
Kgalagadi – A spectacular Transfrontier park with the Big Five (not as touristy as the others).
Richtersveld – Arid and desert scenery (better for desert flora than the Big Five). *malaria free
Shamwari – Cultural history and the Big Five. *malaria free
Addo Elephant National Park – Lots of elephants! *malaria free
Madikwe – Excellent year-round game viewing and renowned for sightings of wild dogs. *malaria free
Kariega – Boasts the ultimate safari experience. *malaria-free