Second Time Around on South Africa Tours

Africa

UKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

If you enjoyed your South Africa vacation and want to return or simply further explore this wonderful destination, here are some places to consider after the more commonly visited destinations.

A country like South Africa has enough to keep you occupied for a long time. Most of us have limited time, but if you have more than, say, two weeks available, oryou wish to return to explore more of this country, you won’t go wrong selecting some of the following.

Pretoria

Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital and one of the country’s three capital cities (yes three) lies 55 kilometres/35 miles north-east of Johannesburg. It is known as the “Jacaranda city” because of its thousands of jacaranda trees you see in its streets, parks, and gardens. You will notice that it has many diverse cultural influences especially reflected in its architecture, which range from 19th-century Dutch, German, and British Colonial to Art Deco and modern styles. Dominating the Pretoria skyline are the extensive, easily recognized Union Buildings, seat of the national government. They also house the offices of the President of South Africa. The lush gardens surrounding the buildings are a popular picnic venue and the structure itself is considered an architectural masterpiece.

Pretoria Skyline, South Africa
Pretoria skyline

Another major landmark is the Voortrekker Monument, located on a hill overlooking Pretoria. This very large monument was built to commemorate the epic exodus of disillusioned Boers from the Cape into the interior. In what has come to be known as the Great Trek, thousands of Boers began migrating from the Cape in 1835. The local Zulu king at the time was frightened by the large number of settlers and massacred one group and ambushed another before he and his warriors were defeated. Pretoria has a large number of historical buildings, monuments, and museums that can be visited on South Africa tours. These include the City Hall, the Transvaal Museum – the country’s leading natural history museum, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, the Pretoria Art Museum – home to a vast collection of local artworks, and the National Cultural History Museum.

Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria, South Africa
Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria

Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is located on the Indian Ocean and is the fifth largest city in South Africa. It is known locally as both the “Friendly City” and the “Windy City.” The beautiful seafront lies on Nelson Mandela Bay, which stretches for 40 kilometres/25 miles. Marine life in the bay is amazing with plenty of dolphins and whales which can be spotted throughout the year. Some of the major attractions are the Donkin Reserve – which includes a lighthouse and pyramid, the Alexandria Dune Fields – one of the largest active sand dune sites in the world, the African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary, the Sukume Museum and Xhosa Cultural Centre, Bayworld Museum, and Snake Park, combining natural and cultural history. Not far away is the Addo Elephant Park, a sanctuary for more than 450 elephants and home to one of the densest African elephant populations in the world. There are many other animals to view including antelope, wildebeest, springbok, buffalo, black rhino, zebra, hyenas, and baboons.

Yachts in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Yachts in Port Elizabeth

Pietermaritzburg

Pietermaritzburg is the capital of the province of KwaZulu-Natal about 80 kilometres/50 miles from Durban, on the coast. It is at its loveliest in spring when masses of azaleas burst into bloom. It is a city with many landmark Colonial buildings, which include the red-brick City Hall and the old Supreme Court building now turned into an art gallery. The beautiful old Pietermaritzburg Railway Station is where, in 1893, Mahatma Gandhi was told to leave the train, as he was travelling in a “whites only” compartment.

Pietermaritzburg City Hall, South Africa
Pietermaritzburg City Hall

Ladysmith

Ladysmith is a city located in the north-west of KwaZulu-Natal, halfway between Durban and Johannesburg. It became a prosperous hangout for fortune hunters en route to the Transvaal gold and diamond fields. However, Ladysmith made world headlines at the end of the 19th century when it was besieged for 118 days during the most crucial stage of the Anglo-Boer War. Approximately 3,000 British soldiers died during the siege. Worth a visit on South Africa tours is the Siege Museum which explains the battles and history at the time of the Siege. The museum holds around 60,000 documents related to the Siege and the Boer War. A large number of the Second Boer War Battlefields around Ladysmith have been preserved as memorial sites. Monuments and memorials to those who died during the battles have been erected at most of them. Every year, numerous re-enactments of some of the famous battles take place. These are colourful affairs with many local people dressed up in bright red, Colonial British soldier or traditional Zulu warrior attire.

Aerial view over the small town of Ladysmith in the Western Cape of South Africa
Aerial view over the small town of Ladysmith

The Drakensberg Mountains

This is a 1120 kilometre/700 mile range of mountains and consists of scenery that is some of the most spectacular on a South African vacation. The name comes from the Afrikaans for “Dragon Mountains.” It includes rugged peaks, pinnacles, forest, waterfalls and rivers. The scenery, especially in the north, is considered the most spectacular in South Africa. A particularly renowned attraction of the park is the Amphitheatre, a wall of rock 5 kilometres/3 miles in length and 1000 metres/3250 feet high. The spectacular Tugela Falls rushes down from its domed summit at Mont-aux-Sources. With its crisp clean air, the park is perfect for hiking, rock climbing, and fly fishing.

One very fascinating feature of the Drakensbergs is the San (Bushmen) rock art. Though the inhabitants have largely disappeared from the area, they have left their mark in the form of some 30,000 paintings in 600 caves, the largest collection of such work in the world. Due to the materials used in their production, these paintings are difficult to date but there is evidence -including many hunting implements – that the San people existed in the Drakensberg at least 40,000 years ago.

Ampitheatre with Tugela River in the Northern Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Ampitheatre with Tugela River in the Northern Drakensberg

St. Lucia Wetlands

The St. Lucia Wetlands, also known as Isimangaliso Wetland Park, is one of South Africa’s most beautiful wetland and coastal sites with coral reefs, long, sandy beaches, dunes, lakes with hippos and crocodiles, and swamps with birdlife. It is geographically diverse with inspiring scenic vistas along its 220 kilometre/130 mile coastline. From the clear waters of the Indian Ocean with wide undeveloped sandy beaches, to a mixture of wetlands, grasslands, forests, lakes and savannah, the park contains exceptional biodiversity qualities. There are a large number of nesting turtles on the beaches and an abundance of dolphins and migration of whales and whale sharks offshore. Animals that can be viewed here on South Africa vacations include elephant, African leopard, black and southern white rhino, buffalo, and in the ocean – whales, dolphins, and marine turtles. The park is also home to 1200 Nile crocodiles and 800 hippos.

Hippo feeding out of water, St Lucia Wetlands (Isimangaliso Wetland Park), South Africa
Hippo feeding out of water in St Lucia Wetlands (Isimangaliso Wetland Park)

Sun City

Sun City is a 2-hour drive or 45-minute flight to the north from Johannesburg. To try and describe it, it is a whole self-contained entertainment centre oasis in the middle of the bush – a kind of Las Vegas in miniature. Don’t, however, think of Sun City as being highly built up. It is very well designed, spacious, and very green. It has 5 hotels, 19 restaurants, 8 bars, a water park, 2 golf courses, a number of shops and stores, spas, movie theatres, nightclubs, and a casino. One luxury hotel of note is the remarkable Palace of the Lost City, with its unique design and hilltop location at the northern end of Sun City.

The water park, known as Sun City Waterworld, is situated on a man-made lake and offers a wide choice of water activities. Other activities include tennis, squash, swimming, mountain biking, horse riding, and for the very active, running trails. In the evenings, you can enjoy local and international performers. Some famous names who have appeared in the past are the Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Rod Stewart, and Elton John. Nearby is the Pilanesberg Game Reserve which borders Sun City. The park boasts healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant, and buffalo – Africa’s “Big Five.” You might get the impression that Sun City is something of a pleasure park. It is not at all like that. There is something for everyone and the ambience is relaxing, with the ability to be involved with any number of multiple activities as desired, on South African tours.

Aerial View of Palace of the Lost City and Sun City, South Africa
Aerial view of Palace of the Lost City in Sun City

Hermanus

Hermanus, which is 122 kilometres/75 miles from Cape Town, is generally considered the best land-based whale watching destination in the world. From June to December, the bay becomes the swimming grounds for a large number of Southern right whales. You are almost guaranteed of seeing whales in September, October, and November. Hermanus is the mating and breeding grounds of this mammal during the winter and spring months. They migrate from the Antarctic around June to calve and mate. Calving takes place in August and September and the males arrive for mating in October, when the whale population peaks. There is a superb cliff-path walk from which to observe the whales, and plenty of other hikes in the hills around the town. This town is known for its wine tasting and the Hermanus Whale Festival in September.

Southern right whale off the coast of Hermanus, South Africa _779980717
Southern right whale off the coast of Hermanus

Kimberley

Kimberley is the home of the Big Hole, an open diamond mine and the city’s major attraction. It is an open-pit and underground mine and claims to be the largest hole excavated by hand. It has attracted visitors since mining operations closed here in 1914. The first diamonds here were found in 1871 when miners dug the hole with picks and shovels. The gold rush brought thousands of people from all over the world here. The Big Hole has a surface of 17 hectares/42 acres and is 463 metres/1,519 feet wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 metres/790 feet. It is viewed by an open-air steel platform that juts over the Hole, giving one a vertigo-inducing view right into the chasm. Kimberley was besieged during the Anglo-Boer War, and some of its residents died trying to protect the city. A memorial in honour of the city’s heroes was designed and unveiled in 1904. Known as the Honoured Dead Memorial, the structure is a sight worth visiting on a South Africa vacation. The William Humphreys Art Gallery houses almost 300 works of art, including French, Dutch, and Flemish paintings plus Southern African art.

The Big Hole in Kimberley, South Africa
The Big Hole in Kimberley

So, there you have it. I haven’t mentioned too many wildlife parks, which is a subject on its own, as there are at least 20 animal viewing national parks. This is, after all, the kingdom of animals.