Finding the out-of-the-way spaces and places (non-touristy things to do in South Africa) that haven’t yet been annexed by tourists and their ilk isn’t difficult in South Africa – there’s so much to discover and see that you won’t have to share with others.
In South Africa you can still find non touristy things to do that don’t involve a queue, entail waiting your turn, or for which you need not turn up at dawn for the experience.
South Africa does non-touristy things to do as well as the next country, if not better – scroll down and discover how many of these non touristy things to do in South Africa you know about…
10 non-touristy things to do in South Africa!
Hike in Grootvadersbosch & Boosmansbos Wilderness
Not many South Africans know about the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. It’s thus highly likely that you’ll be the only ones in the reserve, as long as you head here out of season.
When it comes to non-touristy things to do in South Africa you can’t find more beautiful than a hike along paths through indigenous forest in the Langeberg (nearest little ‘dorp’ in which we strongly recommend you overnight is Suurbraak).
The reserve itself isn’t big, but it borders Boosmansbos Wilderness, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 70 km of unmarked trails (and only 12 hikers at a time), and that’s where the magic happens.
Attend the Easter passion play in Lady Grey
Lady Grey is a pretty, historical rural town in the foothills of the Witteberg Mountains on the border between the Free State and the Eastern Cape (near the border with Lesotho).
It’s way off the average tourist’s route (so its perfect for our list of non-touristy things to do in South Africa) although word has gotten out of the authentic passion play that truly captures the religious character of Easter and takes place in the streets and environs of Lady Grey, so book your accommodation ahead of time.
Parts of town are incorporated into the play, like the beautiful Dutch Reformed church and the Perdedam.
Explore the Aukoerebis or ‘place of noise’
When the Gariep River is in full flood the Augrabies Falls makes a momentous crashing sound, something like the sea, when it hits the rocks with a ferocious vengeance, as it booms its way down 90 odd metres and into a huge 18 km granite canyon.
The river hurtles its turgid, soaring self through the narrow gorge at a rapid rate. Viewed at sunrise or sunset it’s nothing short of spectacular. But there’s more. For beyond the gorge are back roads that lead, to quote Jacques Marais, ‘into an extra-terrestrial melee of rock and dust and Tim Burton botany’.
Explore on your bikes, or on foot. Overnight close by.
Buy a pair of vellies in Wuppertal
If you haven’t already heard of the legendary veldskoen, then now’s the time to venture into the realm of the Afrikaner inspired shoe, made from hide; worn in the veld.
Because deep in the Cederberg (roughly 3 hours’ from Cape Town) is a Rhenish/Moravian mission village known as Wuppertal, and in it you’ll find a veldskoen factory, founded in 1836, that still makes shoes.
We must warn you that whilst a visit is a marvellous thing (just getting there, staying overnight, and perhaps risking a donkey cart trip over the Pakhuis Pass is worth it) you’re not guaranteed of finding a shoe in your size. Ordering ahead is a good idea!
Lie watching the whales on an almost deserted beach
The World Heritage Site is awash with fynbos (ericas, proteas, restios and heather), a Ramsar listed wetland, and a series of momentous sand dunes between you and the beach.
The beach is why the reserve is one of the best whale viewing sites in the country – if you’re there on a weekend out of the school holidays you’ll probably have the sandy shoreline to yourself (book your accommodation here); and you can literally lie and watch whole pods of whales offshore, their fins, tails and spray the only sign that they’re there.
Drive up one of the highest mountain passes in South Africa (whilst you still can)
In sixth spot on our list of non-touristy things to do in South Africa, is ascending the magnificent Drakensberg Mountain on a series of zig-zag curves that are the Sani Pass. Known also as the ‘roof of Africa’ the views from 3200 metres above sea level are nothing short of spectacular.
This at times hair-raising, non touristy things to do in South Africa is up a steep rough track with hairpin bends, tight switchbacks and sightings of snow covered mountain tops (if you drive it in the colder months), and there are plenty of pull over spots for photos).
Note: Sani Pass is about to be tarred (although it’s taking awhile: upgrades began in 2016 and the third stage is still in planning…), so drive it in its naked state whilst you can!
Swim in the rivers of Lekgalameetse
It’s highly likely that you’ll have Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve to yourself – nobody knows about it!
Hard to believe given that it’s an 18 000 hectare mountain wilderness protecting the Wolkberg mountains (on the edge of the Drakensberg just outside Tzaneen) and reserve wildlife (look out for the rare butterfly species).
Lekgalameetse means ‘place of water’ and, aside from its forests, grasslands and steep gorges there are incredible rivers, rock pools and waterfalls offering swimming spots and lazy picnicking on the edge of water.
Photograph the rocky ledge & Waterfall Bluff at Luphathana
It’s all rather mysterious, this part of the Wild Coast, as it’s largely uncharted territory. The Luphathana River mouth becomes suddenly visible at the end of a rather nothing-doing straight dirt road (you get there from Lusikisiki travelling through a wide, flat plain populated only by donkeys and cattle).
What makes this a photographer’s dream is the series of flat rocks on either side of the Luphathana River mouth.
Waves rise and smash into these rocks sending up huge salt sprays (watch the filters and lens!) that make for incredible photo moments, and, a short walk from the river mouth is Waterfall Bluff – a waterfall that drops straight into the sea from the Mlambomkulu River.
Endure the Cederberg 100 trail
This week-long, 100 km hike through the incredible rock formations of the Cederberg is a slackpacking trail that gets A+ reviews not only for the overnights in a selection of the 14 Moravian villages of the area (South Africans don’t even know that so many villages hide in amongst the folds of the Cederberg) but also for the incredible scenery.
Highlights: the top of Gabriel’s Pass, mountains with names like Tafelberg, donkey carts, sculpted sandstone formations, caves, flowers, rare cedar trees, local guides who regale you with stories of their chickens, and blisters (can’t do the full 7 days – no problem, the Cederberg Heritage Route can be rearranged to suit you!).
Travel the backroads & byroads of the Karoo Roggeveld
One of the best non-touristy things to do in South Africa is to head into the deeper reaches of the Northern Cape and the Great Karoo.
Here the roads are slate, and you’re warned by those who travel here frequently to have along not one, but two, spare tyres. But it’s worth it for the incredible scenery, corbelled houses, hospitable people, windmills and star-strewn skies.
How many of these have you experienced? Can you recommend any other non-touristy things to do in South Africa? We’d love to hear from you.