A list of the best places in South Africa is a long one.
But, unlike similar lists doing the rounds on social media that stick to those places we’ve all visited (yawn), or at least know about, this list of the best places in South Africa is filled with areas and locations we’re prepared to bet you hardly know about.
Go on, how many of these ‘best places in South Africa’ have you actually visited?
Other than the first place on the list below, which we’ve put there so that at least you’ll be able to put a tick next to one of them!
Long Beach, Noordhoek
Midway along this incredibly beautiful and long (over 8 km) strip of beach and protected wetlands that connects Noordhoek with Kommetjie, you’ll see the skeleton remains of the Kakapo steamer shipwreck, Chapman’s Peak in the background (if you look back towards Noordhoek).
Paarl Rock, the white summit of the Winelands
Nature managed to sculpt domes of pearl from hunks of granite that glisten when it rains. You can hike to the top of Paarl Rock, a roughly two hour climb to the second rock (Bretagna), one of three rounded outcrops overlooking the town named for the feature, Paarl. The Taal Monument is up at the top.
The Hex River Valley
The great Matroosberg peak is the highest point in the Hex River Mountains, a red sandstone range that overlook a valley floor perfect for growing table grapes and cherries, 120 km from Cape Town. This valley is ideal during autumn and winter when snow caps the peaks and the vines break into red and orange hues – one of the best places to travel in South Africa.
The mirrored gorge of the Baviaanskloof
The Baviaanskloof is one of the most spectacular of the Western Cape’s mountain kloofs, wedged between the Baviaanskloof and Kouga mountains with its easternmost point not far from Port Elizabeth. It falls into a protected area and provides some of the most outstanding natural beauty in the country.
Namaqualand’s poison mountain
The Gifberg, named such for the chincherinchee flowers that dominate its summit and are poisonous to livestock, looms over the plains of Vanrhynsdorp, providing the backdrop to farm roads of the Maskam, a mountainous area north of Cederberg famous for its wild flowers, provided the hot winds of the Namib die down.
The Karoo’s magic mountain
The Tooverberg (magic mountain), more often spelled ‘Toverberg’, is a stool-shaped mass of sediment that reaches a height of just under 2 000 metres.
It stands guard – a lone sentinel overlooking a largely barren Karoo, only the odd windpump in the distance. Also known as Coleskop, you’ll find the Karoo’s magic mountain close to Colesberg, in the Northern Cape.
Caledon’s secret river of dreams
The Caledon River has been described in dreamlike terms. It marks the boundary between South Africa and Lesotho, where it is known as Mohokare, or river of willow trees, for all the groves lining its banks.
The top of the Drakensberg
Some of the best climbing in the Drakensberg is along the Mont-aux-Sources Amphitheatre.
Immediately south of it is a difficult approach, its foothills a mass of spires and pinnacles, considered the most incredible part of the Drakensberg. To gain the summit, join a reputable hiking club or hire a tour guide.
The etched wilderness of the Kgalagadi
The Kgalagadi is best known as a wilderness. It is not, despite its reputation, a desert.
Instead it is covered in trees and plants, more like a savanna parkland, and thus the natural home of a dense population of wild animals, and the homeland of the nomadic San people.
The bounteous Karkloof Valley
This biodiversity hotspot is an exceptionally unspoilt area north of the Midlands; a place of wetlands, mistbelt forest and grasslands.
FYI: The birds are said to be incredible.
The yellowwoods of the Groot River Valley
Huge yellowwoods dominate the high forest of the Groot River Valley. They can live for thousands of years.
It is only along the narrow coastal terrace that these subtropical forests grow. Nature’s Valley protects the Groot River estuary.
To reach it you’ll drive down the Groot River Pass, alongside and through the forest.
The Gates of St John