As life heats up (literally if you consider that in September climate scientists announced that Arctic sea ice has shrunk to its smallest surface area since 1979, and an ice-free summer in the Arctic may now happen within the next few years, not the next century as initially predicted) getting off the beaten track is becoming more a euphemism than a reality, as more roads are tarred and unexplored dorpies change into overnight ‘discoveries’.
Get out of the cities and take to the open road, explore potholed roads seldom travelled, and savour the idiocyncrasies of slightly out of the way destinations in South Africa.
But there are definitely parts of the country that are less travelled, more so because they lie a little further than people on average are prepared, or can afford the time, to journey.
Photograph: Tulbagh, Western Cape
Western Cape – Tulbagh and the Witzenberg area
Virtually surrounded by mountains, Tulbagh is on a road that ends in Tulbagh. In other words the town is not on the way to anywhere, it’s a destination in its own right. And a beautiful one at that. To the west are the Obiqua mountains, to the north the effortless Winterhoek and on its east flank the Witzenberg mountains. Aside from an earthquake in 1969 the town has experienced little by way of calamity or stress.
Add to this the fact that the town is also in the heart of the Boland winelands, and that it is only just over an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town, one wonders that people don’t head out here more. The scenery and the national monuments alone will keep you occupied for a weekend.
But there is also a theatre, a chocolatier, a cheesery, a shoe factory, delis, restaurants, coffee shops, and award-winning wineries all within minutes of town. Also take in Wolseley, Ceres and Prince Alfred’s Hamlet whilst out here.
Photograph: Near Barkly East, Eastern Cape
Eastern Cape – The snow valley
Lady Grey, Barkly East, Rhodes, Elliot, Maclear and Ugie all lie in remote areas of the Eastern Cape. Some of them, like Lady Grey, virtually on the border of the Free State. Whilst not officially known as the snow valley it is, however, one of the areas of the country most likely to experience snow during winter.
Travel in this part of the country needs your eyes on the road to avoid the potholes, but for the same reason it’s not busy and each of the towns has a uniqueness and quaintness worth the bumps and detours, particularly Rhodes and Lady Grey. The freshness, the open space, the unassuming unpretentiousness of the area easily qualifies as off the beaten track.
Photograph: Hantam National Botanical Garden, Northern Cape
Northern Cape – Nieuwoudtville, Loeriesfontein, Calvinia and Victoria West
Nieuwoudtville‘s fame during flower season is well publicised. But even when not in bloom its quaintness, the Hantam National Botanical Gardens and the community run Bulb Nursery (follow signs from town) make a visit here essential.
When the wild flowers are not in bloom Loeriesfontein, just up the drag from Nieuwoudtville, is also worth a drive purely to see the Windmill Museum (and, if you have nothing better to do, the local garage where the petrol pump attendant has an office full of pot plants).
If you can, the quiver-tree forest (closer to Niewoudtville) is well worth a detour. Add to this the giant post box in Calvinia, and the gorgeous town of Victoria West, and you have the makings of a superb holiday far from the madding crowds.
Photograph: Mkuze, Elephant Coast, KwaZulu Natal
KwaZulu Natal – St Lucia Wetlands and Kosi Bay
Name change aside this area is astonishing in its beauty – tropical, perfect for swimming, snorkelling and exploring incredible beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, forests and mangroves all in one. In short its 220km of beach and water filled with the most beautiful sights and miraculous experiences.
Whilst most people visit the eastern shores near the town of St Lucia, because of its accessibility, head to its centre, roughly 100 km north of St Lucia, where ocean meets bushveld to create an experience that is hard to beat. Diving coral reefs and bumping over ground in the back of a landie in search of elephant is all in a day’s experience.
Kosi Bay, a series of four lakes connected by channels, is one of the most beautiful parts of the park. If you want remote and away from it all, head here.