Activities / Attractions / Ten (10) to Inspire

8 Unknown Places in South Africa You Must Visit at Least Once

Updated Wednesday, 13 March 2024

There is something about the unknown that stirs one to explore, take to the open road, and these unknown places in South Africa are no exception.

We guarantee by the end of the article you’ll be contemplating which unknown place in South Africa you most love.

Each of these awakens the traveller in you, the explorer intent on experiencing the new.

Visit these 8 Unknown Places in South Africa at Least Once

  1. The Waterberg

Soaring mountain peaks, antediluvian rock formations, precipitous river valleys, dense forests and the type of savanna plains you’d expect to find only in Story of an African Farm.

This northern hideout and its jaw-dropping scenery is underexplored and part of a 350-kilometre self-drive route, known as the Waterberg Meander. Drive it!

Where to stay? Our Top recommendation: Itaga Private Game Lodge – this luxury game lodge offers private safari accommodation and is perfect for honeymoons or a special weekend.

  1. Herman Charles Bosman Country

You’ll find the town that lays claim to well-known South African author, Herman Charles Bosman, in the North West Province (there’s a bust of him in the local Visitors’ Centre and an annual literary festival named after him).

Funnily enough he didn’t spend all that much time in Groot Marico, teaching here only briefly before heading to Joburg where he murdered his stepbrother and was interned in a prison in Pretoria.

Rather than these (debatably) sensational details of his life, however, this part of the world chooses to concentrate on the household character of Oom Schalk Lourens, the major character in his stories.

Where to Stay? Just outside Groot Marico

Herman Charles Bosman Country
  1. Land of the misty mountain waterfalls

Say ‘hello’ to the little town of Sabie, another of the relatively unknown places to visit in South Africa. It’s in the Lowveld on Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route, and you’ll find it’s a fairy world of forests, mountain, misty mornings and waterfalls. Lots of them.

Waterfalls are just plain irresistible, and if you love them, then this 50 km route, starting in Sabie and venturing both north and south west of the town, connects a countryside rich in ravines, passes, valleys and waterfalls. You could do worse.

Where to Stay? You’re practically on the waterfall route with a deck that overlooks the river valley and accommodation in charming cottages. Sabie Accommodation options are plentiful to suit all budgets.

Sabie Waterfall Route
  1. Barberton’s Makhonjwa Mountains

Not only do they sound otherworldly, but the Makhonjwa Mountains – just outside the little historical town of Barberton – contain one of the oldest geological structures in the world. Yet it remains one of the unknown places to visit in South Africa.

It’s known as the Greenstone Belt – the best-preserved volcanic and sedimentary rock the world has found up to now.

And it dates back 3.6 to 3.25 billion years (to put that in perspective, that’s back when continents were only just starting to form). There’s a route you can drive, or you can take arranged tours. Just contact tourism in Barberton – they’re pretty jacked.

Stay in Barberton: Bushwhacked – a cute and reasonably priced farm-style guest house with four double bedrooms with a communal kitchen, dining room and lounge.

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains
  1. Thirst Land – land of the salt pans

In the nether northerly reaches of the Upper Karoo lie a series of dry salt pans with Brandvlei their fulcrum. Uncannily, and for good reason, this unknown places to visit in South Africa is also known as the Thirst Land (Dorsland).

It refers to how rains fall on this flat, dry land. Instead of running off, as it does in other parts of the country, it evaporates, leaving behind salt and other minerals, pans of huge nothingness, where you can drive for 200km without passing a human being or a home.

During the season birds flock to these pans. When they’re dry then those,like Verneukpan, double as a venue for speed racing. There’s a beauty here like nowhere else. Particularly during winter and autumn.

Stay in the upper Karoo: Boutique Guesthouse Hanover – this beautiful spot is an oasis from which to drive the rugged roads that connect the towns of Vosberg, Carnarvon, Loxton, Williston. Sweetfontein Boutique Farm Lodge – hints at how farming survives here, using underground springs. It makes a perfect base.

Verneukpan
  1. The Knersvlakte

If you want to summarise Knersvlakte in a word – think ‘succulents’ – fat plants that are all the rage at the moment. It refers to the hilly beauty of the north-west corner of the Western Cape around the upper reaches of the N7.

Translated Knersvlakte means ‘gnashing plain’ and is thought to refer to the sound of wagon wheels as they crunched over hard white quartz gravel that passes for sand here.

This is the succulent Karoo, another unknown places to visit in South Africa, its beauty dominated by Aizoaceae and Crassulaceae. A space that appears barren to the untrained eye, until you look down and notice you’re standing on the tiniest plants…

Where to stay? We suggest Melkboomsdrift Lodge – a welcome space on a working wine farm producing boutique wines, the Sishen-Saldanha train line far in the distance.

The Knersvlakte
  1. The Gamkaskloof

This hidden kloof has a story attached to it.

The unknown places to visit in South Africa contains a narrow valley 20 miles long and roughly 600 feed wide, cut off from the rest of the world for years, and known as Die Hel (the hell) for reasons that might describe the hell of a journey in or out (it drops almost 579 metres very quickly) that those who lived here had to make to reach civilisation.

Today it’s a difficult drive, but at least there’s a road. Best done on a road bike or 4×4 vehicle with a driver who knows what he’s doing. You’ll find it in the Swartberg Mountains. It’s signposted.

Stay anywhere in Prince Albert, Ladismith or Calitzdorp. We suggest Matjiesvlei Guest Farm – a perfectly placed space in the foothills of the Swartberg between Ladismith and Calitzdorp. Mymering – lies in the fertile Dwarsrivier valley close to Die Hel, offering a couple cottages and suites.

The Gamkaskloof
  1. The Koue Bokkeveld

You’ll find the Koue Bokkeveld on the alternative route to Citrusdal from Ceres (R303).

It’s quite a climb – first up Mitchell’s pass and then the Gydo Pass, to a plateau 1050 metres above sea level. Winters here are not warm, whilst summers are brief and intensely hot.

Predominantly apple, pear and vegetable farming land, some of the oldest farms in the country rest here. At its heart is the Dorp-op-die-Berg, a sixty year old village.

Where to Stay? Little Acres – a perfect spot on a farm with some of the best ever mountain views and Riverstone’s Fam Tin – just take a look at the pics – if this venue doesn’t grab you, then nothing will.

The Koue Bokkeveld