ESCAPE – TOP SPOTS
Backyard wonders – our readers’ top holiday picks at home in South Africa
DM168 readers share their favourite South African holiday destinations.
From Table Mountain to the Kruger Park and the Drakensberg, here are the top holiday picks courtesy of our readers.
The most voted-for holiday destination by Daily Maverick readers was Cape Town, which also made the global list of the top 100 Most Loved Destinations in 2021. Cape Town is famous for its beaches, hiking trails and heritage sites.
A reader loved Cape Town “because of its diversely beautiful beaches”, and liked Robben Island, a World Heritage Site where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned.
Another reader said: “I love the easy access to beaches, forests, wine farms and fine dining.”
Areas that stood out included Camps Bay, the V&A Waterfront, Kalk Bay harbour, Table Mountain, Sea Point and Strand.
Table Mountain is a must for readers, with its 360-degree view of the city from the top. You can hike up the mountain or take the cable car, which costs between R110 and R390.
There is a range of things one can do at the V&A Waterfront, from boat cruises to shopping and food markets. The Silo District is also home to the Zeitz Museum, the world’s largest museum for contemporary African art.
The busy inner-city zone of Sea Point boasts restaurants overlooking the ocean and the promenade, which stretches for several kilometres along the Atlantic Ocean.
Kruger National Park
The Kruger Park was singled out as a specific top destination within Mpumalanga, which came sixth overall.
In 2020, the park was nominated by the World Travel Awards for Africa’s Leading National Parks.
“Without a doubt and being 80 years of age and very fit, my favourite holiday destination is the two weeks I spent in the Kruger Park from top to bottom. Absolutely wonderful to be back with absolute nature,” said a reader.
The Kruger has more than 753 species of animals and 1,982 plant species. Besides the animals, the main attraction for many visitors, the park has cultural heritage sites – Masorini hill and Thulamela hill.
The Garden Route is a 300km stretch of the southeastern coast of South Africa, extending from Witsand in the Western Cape to the border of Tsitsikamma and Storms River in the Eastern Cape.
Along the Garden Route, Nathan Krige said he loved “the beautiful vibrant” town of Plettenberg Bay. “I just love the long beaches and there are so many things to do, holidays are always too short to cover the whole area.”
Then there is Buffalo Bay, which is about “20km outside Knysna and is a mouthwatering place for a holiday. Lovely surfing beach, rock angling, beautiful rock pools for snorkelling, close to Knysna and the forests,” said another reader.
The coastline in Buffalo Bay offers some of the country’s best land-based whale-watching opportunities when humpbacks and southern rights pass on their annual migration between May and November.
Another reader said Nature’s Valley is “peaceful, tranquil and one of the most beautiful forests”.
In Nature’s Valley, hikers will love the Otter Trail, which takes five days to complete. Owing to the physical demands of the trail and out of caution, from 1 April 2022 all participants are required to complete a medical questionnaire, along with disclaimers and indemnity forms.
The Kalanderloof Hiking Trail is a shorter option, covering an area of 4.8km.
The Garden Route also boasts Sedgefield, a paragliding and snorkelling hotspot.
Another reader said the Garden Route “is perfectly located to enjoy both the Swartvlei and the ocean. We used to holiday there for many years because it offers this perfect change of calm waters to waterski in and two different experiences of the sea, one in the lagoon, the other on the main beach.”
Gila Marshall enjoyed Sedgefield because “there are so many things that you can do”. The lagoon “is incredibly safe for swimming and if you are good at it you can swim all the way to the river mouth. And the Swartvlei, [which is] a few minutes’ drive away from Sedgefield, was the perfect spot to do waterskiing early in the morning and again late afternoon when the water can be like a mirror with the wind blowing.”
Between Knysna and Sedgefield, along the road to Buffalo Bay, you’ll find the Goukamma Nature Reserve – a World Heritage Site and marine protected area managed by CapeNature. Swimming, sailing, canoeing and fishing are all permitted here. There are six hiking trails of varying distances as well as designated picnic spots. Permits can be bought at the reserve office or through CapeNature Central Reservations.
Knysna was also among the top 100 Most Loved Destinations in the world in 2021. Here, the privately owned Featherbed Nature Reserve (another Heritage Site) is only accessible by ferry. You can learn about the Knysna loerie, the endangered Knysna seahorse, the African black oystercatcher and the rare blue duiker.
Paul Datlen said about this fourth-place choice: “There are spectacular hikes with magnificent views. The rivers are crystal-clear, clean and refreshing for those brave enough to enjoy a cooling-off dip! The perfect getaway to recharge one’s batteries.”
There are many hiking trails in the Drakensberg – from Rainbow Gorge to Cathedral Peak and the Chain Ladder.
Reader Cleo Ehlers described the walks up Rainbow Gorge and the Chain Ladder as “unforgettable”.
Visitors can also do the canopy tour near Cathkin Peak, and go fly fishing in the Royal Natal Park.
“The Drakensberg is mind-blowing. There is peace of mind and the tapestry of the mountains. It’s out far from the fast life and the people are wonderful,” said Isaac Hadebe.
Along the West Coast of the Western Cape, readers said that they loved: Paternoster, Saint Helena Bay, Saldanha Bay, Kagga Kamma, Cederberg and Jacobs Bay.
Listing the biggest attractions in the area known for strong winds, heritage fishing villages and beautiful succulents and spring wildflowers, one reader said: “The unspoilt beaches, shells, fisherman’s cottages and friendliest people.”
Bird watchers will love the West Coast: there are 225 species to spot here, including wagtails, fiscal shrike, European starling and red bishop.
Another reader said of remote Saint Helena Bay: “Nature at its best, serene. One just needs to admire and appreciate God’s hand of creation.”
Marie Hoadley singled out Jacobs Bay. “I love its isolation, wild wind and sea and its bleak surroundings. I love the little sandy bay, the quirky coffee shop and the quiet. My kind of place. Totally different from home and urban life and free of hyped commercial activities.”
While Mpumalanga (which means “the place where the sun rises”) does have coal-fired power stations, it’s also known for astounding views and holiday retreats. The scenic spots include the Panorama Route and Three Rondavels – three round mountains with slightly pointed tops.
Visitors are often drawn to God’s Window, which offers a panoramic view of the Lowveld more than 1km down in an indigenous forest.
The province is also home to the third-largest canyon in the world, the Blyde River Canyon. It is 26km long and, on average, 800m deep. The dam itself, when full, is at an altitude of 665m.
Another tourist attraction is Pilgrim’s Rest, a small town in the Kruger Lowveld region. It was declared a national monument to the early gold rush days of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Historians, architects and curators ensure the town maintains its historical appearance.
Readers said they love Mpumalanga for its views, mountains and waterfalls.
If you’re a fan Survivor you’ve probably seen spectacular images of the Wild Coast, since season eight was filmed there.
The Wild Coast gets its name from its wilderness character and from the pounding breakers and cauldron of boiling seas in stormy conditions. It stretches from the southern parts of the Eastern Cape to northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Daily Maverick readers said Pondoland, Umtamvuna and Mbizana were their retreats in this rugged, wild part of the country.
In the villages of Umtamvuna in the Eastern Cape and Mbizana in KZN, one reader said, you will find a “warm climate and lovely people with welcoming smiles”. The views from one end of the bridge into the town and the Wild Coast Sun made it a beautiful local destination.
There are a few hiking trails in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve, including the 2km Loerie Trail and the 8km Fish Eagle Trail. The main attractions in this nature reserve include a steep-sided, forested gorge, which is botanically rich with many endemic species and magnificent sandstone koppies.
Swimmers might want to check out the famous Hole in the Wall, a huge detached cliff with a giant opening carved by waves.
Phillip Vorster said: “The remoteness of Mbotyi on the Pondoland coast and its proximity to some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world make it an absolute favourite of mine. The unspoilt beaches, pristine grassy hills and huge indigenous forest have resulted in a time warp of what it must have been like all over.”
Vorster also recommended seeing the Magwa Falls, in the middle of the Magwa tea plantation, where the river leaps off a precipice into a narrow, 142m deep slot canyon that was formed by seismic activity.
Another reader recommended doing the “Pondoland Wild Coast trail with stays in homesteads organised by Sinegugu Zukulu and others affiliated with Sustaining the Wild Coast and the Amadiba Crisis Committee. One of the best holidays of my entire life.”
Nicholas Rossato said Durban was his top destination because “it has the best winter weather in the country, beautiful beaches and warm oceans with all the associated water activities. There’s also uShaka Marine World. It’s an hour or so from the Midlands and Drakensberg, which are stunning parts of the country… and no traffic jams!”
uShaka is the largest aquarium on the continent and home to endangered penguins, zebra sharks, among many other animals.
Another reader loved the “good warm weather and clean beaches. There are many things to do while there.”
For history buffs, KZN is home to 82 battlefields, including at Isandlwana where the Zulus defeated the British in 1979. Guided tours are available.
Art lovers will enjoy the African Art Centre where unemployed artists can work and improve their skills, while the KwaMuhle Museum celebrates those who worked to end apartheid. According to South African History Online, the museum “is in no sense an apartheid museum. Nor is it an African History Museum. It is a museum that documents Durban’s urban growth, the interaction, relationships and confrontations that made up the everyday events of ordinary people.”
The provincial tourism industry will be relieved to see this city feature high up despite the July 2021 riots and the recent flooding, which has devastated parts of the city and also led to the closure of many city beaches.
Ballito is 40km north of Durban and has a number of fun things the family can do together.
The Flag Animal Farm offers pony rides, an indoor play area and the chance to feed ducks, rabbits, sheep and goats. Crocodile Creek boasts more than 6,000 Nile crocodiles, West African dwarf crocs, American alligators, deadly mambas and a wide array of other snakes, tortoises, rabbits, wild monkeys and banded mongooses.
In the south of Ballito, Salmon Bay is a designated launch area for boats and inflatables and home to the Ballito Inflatable Boat Club. Other beaches to visit are Willard Beach and Clarke Bay Beach.
Cape Winelands; Kgalagadi Park; Kenton-on-Sea (triple tie for 10th place)
The Cape Winelands in the Western Cape, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape and Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape tied for 10th place.
Readers cited Franschhoek, Tulbagh and Stellenbosch as good holiday destinations in the Winelands.
De Waal Davis said his best destination was a farm not too far from Tulbagh. “I love the serenity, the sound of farm animals and the climate. There are top-class eateries within a few kilometres and the most important is the history. The old main road has buildings 200 years old that were restored after the earthquake in the 1960s. The scenery is outstanding due to the two mountain ranges that surround it, creating a valley.”
As to what made Franschhoek so great, another reader said: “It has nice weather most of the year. More wine than one can sample in a year. There are friendly people and it’s an affordable place.”
For car enthusiasts there is the Franschhoek Motor Museum where they can look back at more than 100 years of motoring history.
In between the Kariega and Bushmans River estuaries between East London and Port Elizabeth lies the small coastal town of Kenton-on-Sea. There’s waterskiing, canoeing and kayaking as well.
As to what makes Kenton-on-Sea a good holiday destination, David Wynne said it has “a variety of excellent beach and lagoon options, is very safe for children, superb climate, small and friendly, good shops, proximity of game farms, two rivers navigable for 15km upstream, lots of sporting options open to visitors. It’s heaven.”
Beach horse rides are yet another fun outing, with guided trails by Beachcomber Horse Trails.
Kenton-on-Sea also boasts of one of the best beaches you’ve probably never heard of – Shelly Beach which, according to The Guardian, is peaceful and secluded.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was described as “extremely well managed and clean. [It has] excellent camping sites and well-stocked shops, well-maintained roads and friendly staff.” Another reader said: “Difficult to get to from the Garden Route but well worth the travel time.” DM168
A total of 241 readers responded with their top local tourism destinations. This is just a start.
Please share your favourite haunts by emailing [email protected]
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.
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