Defend Truth

South Africa has an abundance of natural beauty, scenic drives and quaint spaces, many of which go unexplored because they’re off the beaten track. In an effort to gauge the interests of our readers, we asked you to weigh in on some of the country’s best small towns to visit. After receiving an initial 1,300 nominations and more than 5,000 votes from 2 to 23 October, the results are in. Whether these towns are near the ocean or tucked away inside mountainous terrain, they were all voted for by you. The small town with the most votes is Kenton-on-Sea, and there are eight other provincial winners.

By Ed Stoddard, Talia Kincaid and Hannah Theron

Eastern Cape


South Africa has an abundance of natural beauty, scenic drives and quaint spaces, many of which go unexplored because they’re off the beaten track. In an effort to gauge the interests of our readers, we asked you to weigh in on some of the country’s best small towns to visit. After receiving an initial 1,300 nominations and more than 5,000 votes from 2 to 23 October, the results are in. Whether these towns are near the ocean or tucked away inside mountainous terrain, they were all voted for by you. The small town with the most votes is Kenton-on-Sea, and there are eight other provincial winners.

By Ed Stoddard, Talia Kincaid and Hannah Theron


By Ed Stoddard

Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape was our readers’ choice for best small town in South Africa. My wife and I spent a few days there in October with friends and family visiting from Canada, and I can see the appeal.

For our first adventure, we booked a day trip at the nearby Sibuya Game Reserve. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the “entrance” was a short walk from our accommodation. The reception for the park overlooks the Kariega River and our journey began with a boat trip into the park. It’s a beautiful, winding river surrounded by lush green forest that features a range of bird species, including fish eagles, goshawks and the Knysna turaco.

The morning and afternoon game drives were eventful, and the lunch was an absolute feast. On the drives, the cooler boxes were filled with drinks, adult and non-adult, all of which were included in the price. The staff probably never anticipated catering for a trio of Nova Scotians – let’s just say the beer and wine were not wasted.

Highlights included a pair of white rhino bulls that earlier this year lost their female companions when the resident cows, both pregnant, were poached for their horns, a grim reminder of the continuing poaching crisis. The cows, Binky and Noelle, were themselves orphaned by poachers in 2016. Noelle’s calf survived and is recovering at a wildlife rehabilitation centre.

It’s not big and is an easy and safe place to walk around. That in itself is a treat in South Africa these days.

In 2018, a group of suspected rhino poachers in Sibuya were killed and eaten by the resident lion pride. We did see a pair of the big cats and they put on a sex show for our overseas visitors, with the male mounting the female briefly in typical lion fashion: An on-and-off ritual that can go on for days.

With the bush covered, our next outdoor adventure involved the beach; the place is, after all, called Kenton-on-Sea. The town is encircled by two rivers, the Kariega and Bushmans, and there is a lovely coastal and beach walk between the mouths of the two. Jagged rock formations pepper the coastline, and there was a bit of a climb near the mouth of the Bushmans River that offered sweeping views of the town and coast.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastbound excursions — the traveller’s guide to happy road-tripping through the Karoo heartland

At a time when many beaches and waterways in South Africa are being fouled by the sewage of state failure, it’s also a refreshingly clean stretch of coast.

The weather in October was on the cool and wet side, whereas Gauteng had been cooking when we embarked on our journey, but it was great walking weather and did nothing to dampen our spirits. Our self-catering accommodation had a woodstove that was welcome in the evenings.

We braaied a couple of evenings but there was no shortage of places to eat. I can recommend Pizzarella – let’s just say it has great pizza and friendly staff. It was also conveniently close to our accommodation.

This underscores another point about Kenton-on-Sea: It’s not big and is an easy and safe place to walk around. That in itself is a treat in South Africa these days.

There are also various artist shops and little cafes sprinkled around the town. As an avid reader, I was taken with a place called Imagine: Beautiful Books and Things. I picked up a second-hand copy of Advance, Retreat, a collection of short stories by South African writer Richard Rive.

We were there in the off season, but I have been reliably told that Kenton-on-Sea can get very busy during the high season. It only has one major grocery store, a well-stocked Spar. A friend of ours who has a house there said that at Christmas time, to avoid the queues, you need to get to the Spar at 7am.

Being in the Eastern Cape, driving there can have its challenges. The R350 south from Bedford to Makhanda (Grahamstown) is an absolute mess and best to avoid. And Makhanda itself has certainly seen much better days.

But Kenton-on-Sea’s location still has plenty going for it. There are other coastal towns to explore nearby, such as Port Alfred and Boknes. Addo Elephant National Park is only about a 90-minute drive. That was our first destination when we left and we were rewarded with close-up viewings of elephant herds. That could easily be a day trip from Kenton-on-Sea.

The vibe in the town is certainly laid back – it is a holiday place, after all. We certainly enjoyed our time there, and I can see why our readers are fond of the place.

We plan to return but will keep avoiding the high season; I’m not going to the Spar when it opens. – Ed Stoddard



David Thurlwell and his wife first visited Montagu in the early 2000s. Charmed by the town’s scenic stillness, the pair – originally from Johannesburg – made it their home in May 2022. “Since moving here we have met many people who say that they visited and fell in love with Montagu.”

The abundance of natural beauty, unique architecture and fine dining options attract tourists to the area. For Dutch tourist Ricky Lentink, a visit in 2000 prompted a series of biannual trips that convinced her and her husband to buy a home there. “It was love at first sight,” she says.

Montagu “blends old world dorpie [town] with modern convenience”, says Joshua Hattingh, a local resident. 

Montagu is about two hours and 200km from the Cape Town International Airport. Motorists could follow the N1 to Worcester, or take the N1 over Du Toitskloof, turn off at Rawsonville, and continue south of Worcester before linking up with the R62 for a “more enjoyable” drive, says Hattingh. 

For those departing from Johannesburg, a roughly 15-hour drive along the N1 through Bloemfontein will take you directly to the R318 to Du Toit Street in Montagu. 

Residents recommend that visitors explore the town’s plethora of outdoor activities, from mountain biking to hiking. Many of the trails are free to use and do not require a permit. 

Thurlwell says during the colder months hikers often walk to the Montagu Nature Garden, which costs only R5 to enter. 

Established in 1954, this indigenous wildflower reserve has plant species representative of those in the Klein Karoo and adjacent areas. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Defiant joy in Montagu – women smallholder farmers hand out seedlings and a little hope in fight against hunger

More adventurous folks might try their hand at archery or kayaking at the Glen Eden Farm for R200 per person. Call 071 100 2782 to make a booking.

“Montagu has something to offer to everyone from young to old,” says Kamin Taute from Single-Track, which offers various cycling routes and tailored packages in the area. 

“Montagu is one of those magical places… it feels as if you are really far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city,” says Marchelle van Zyl from Flying Fleet tours. Flying Feet provides guests with art and history-focused guided town tours.  One can also rent a bike and explore Montagu independently.

A must for dining enthusiasts is 22 on Church, which is open from 6pm to 10pm, Tuesday to Saturday. 

For the best mimosas, pop into BluVines’ refurbished farmhouse in central town. 

Wine lovers should try Konkelwyn, which is stocked with local Klein Karoo and craft wines, and out-of-this-world cocktails made with locally distilled spirits. 

For those who want to live lavishly, Magnifik Montagu’s luxury self-catering units are between R4,400 and R4,850 per night, with a maximum of four adults per cottage. 

Campers and backpackers can stay at De Bos, which range from R245 to R1,000 per night. 

Glen Eden Farm includes a range of camping, glamping and cottage options that range from R350 to R3,000 per night.



Surrounded by the majestic Maluti Mountains, the quaint town of Clarens, aka the “Jewel of the Eastern Free State”, captivates visitors with its natural beauty, rich history and vibrant community.

Established in 1912, Clarens was named after the Swiss town where an exiled Paul Kruger resided.

“Clarens is special for many reasons. The sheer beauty of the place makes it stand out,” says Nick Goldblatt, a DM168 voter.  

Visitors are spoilt for choice with an array of charming shops and eateries. But for many, the town’s standout attractions are its nature trails. 

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park has various nature trails that range between one and five hours in duration. Visitors can explore the caves, swim in the clear mountain pool at Glen Reenen, or go horse riding. 

For history enthusiasts, Maluti Tours offers a 35km driven tour from Clarens to Fouriesburg. It features a rich tapestry of historical landmarks, heritage sites and local establishments spanning from colonial-era churches to the revered Fouriesburg Country Inn. Or, stroll through one of Clarens’ many art galleries.

For those departing from Cape Town, the route to Clarens spans more than 1,200km, revealing breathtaking landscapes over about 14 hours of travel. 

Take the N1 through Paarl, Worcester, and Beaufort West, then travellers can either go through to Gariep Dam or a detour through Nieu Bethesda, explained Duncan Bonnett, owner of a guesthouse in Clarens.

“On this route you’re hugging the border with Lesotho and have beautiful views of the mountains for much of it,” said Bonnett. 

Travellers driving from Johannesburg can make the trip in under four hours via the N3, turning onto the R34 at Villiers. 

Clarens’ culinary scene is vibrant. Choose from a pool of diverse dining experiences at renowned spots such as The Posthouse, which is situated in a building that once served as the town’s local post office. Bocca di Lupo serves authentic Italian food, including wood-fired pizzas. 

The town has an abundance of charming guesthouses and hotels. For self-catering, farm stays vary from R400 to R700 per person per night. 

La Poste is a romantic and spacious studio apartment for two located in the heart of the town, whereas the guesthouse at St Fort Farm is a renovated sandstone homestead that is perfect for hosting families in need of time away.



Situated east of Pretoria, Cullinan is a throwback to the heyday of the 1890s mining era. From beautiful historic mining homes to the preserved murals created by Italian prisoners of war in 1944, it’s “a special town almost frozen in time”, says resident Lize Brits. 

The town is best known for the discovery of the world’s largest diamond – the Cullinan Diamond. It was cut and mounted into the British Crown Jewels. 

The Cullinan Diamond Mine, where it was found, offers surface tours to visitors. 

A round trip to Cullinan from Cape Town spans roughly 1,500km over 16 hours. 

“The best route from Cape town will be the N1 to Pretoria and then the N4 to Emahlahleni,” says resident and voter, JB Bekker. 

The driver should then take the Cullinan off-ramp to the R515, says Bekker. 

For those travelling from Johannesburg, after an hour and a half’s drive on the N4, follow the R515 to the R513 in Cullinan. 

Every year during the festive season, a popular choice is the Cullinan Christmas Night Market. It offers visitors the option to eat delicious craft food and buy gifts for loved ones all under the glow of an abundance of Christmas lights. Browse the market from 15 to 17 December.

For those looking for more adventurous activities, Adventure Zone Africa offers ziplining over the Muningi Gorge, as well as three short but challenging hikes. 

For something with more relaxing undertones, book at the Zau Spa, which offers “pampering with a view”, says resident Lara Boardman. Expect a meal, a hot stone or Swedish massage, facials and arm and foot massages. 

The Station Diner is a crowd-pleaser, a family restaurant situated in the renovated ticket office of the former train station, right next to the tracks that is famous for its fantastic service and friendly staff. 

The Lemon Tree Garden Restaurant is a good option for coffee and desserts, or for burgers and lasagna at reasonable prices. 

For those looking for smart accommodation close to the main attractions in town, the Cullinan Diamond Lodge has stylish rooms with home-cooked cuisine. 

Self-caterers might wish to try the Little Eden Resort, which offers natural beauty, peace and tranquillity. It is set alongside a ravine with stunning views. Guests can take bush walks, swim in rock pools, stroll to the waterfall or enjoy an outdoor massage. Quaint chalets ensure privacy for everyone. 

“The natural beauty of the area and peace offers a tranquil getaway to anyone,” says Bekker.

St Lucia

St Lucia

Enclosed by expansive wetlands, St Lucia is a natural paradise frequented for its abundance of wildlife, diverse flora and fauna and unique marine ecosystems. 

“You have it all in one place – the bush and the ocean,” says reader and voter Narissa Duvenhagen. 

Lake St Lucia remains a focal point of the region as it is a World Heritage Site. Spanning a vast 80km, it is the largest estuarine system in Africa.

Deborah Patten, a content producer for St Lucia News, says those who visit it will “fall in love with St Lucia, a little town with a big heart and open arms”. 

Book a five-hour flight from Cape Town to Richards Bay and take a shuttle via the N2, connecting with the R618 to arrive in St Lucia in under seven hours. 

Those travelling via car can expect a 22-hour drive along the N1 before connecting with the N2 in KwaZulu-Natal. From there, take the R618 and you will arrive at your destination.

Visitors journeying from Johannesburg should follow the well-worn, but scenic drive from Ermelo to Piet Retief, before heading through Pongola, recommends Patten. 

Those travelling north east of Shaka International could take the N2 toward Mozambique, before turning east onto the R618. Alternatively, those travelling north east of Shaka International could take the N2 towards Mozambique, before turning onto the R618. 

“There is something to suit everyone’s budget and requirements,” Patten says. “Stroll through the markets, explore our unique shops. Early-morning starts chasing the sunrise, followed by late-afternoon braais.”

Activities such as birding, long beach walks and bush trails contribute to its attraction. “St Lucia has been my holiday destination for the past 40 years,” says Cathy Kriel. “The wildlife is phenomenal.” 

Wildlife lovers must visit the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, suggests Patten. Or, take a trip up the east coast and spend the day at the popular beaches of Mission Rocks, Estuary Beach and Cape Vidal, whose waters are suitable for swimmers and snorkellers. To explore the region’s avian life, visit St Lucia Birding Tours, which offers expertly guided walks through the Igwalagwala forest, wetlands, or on the beach. The tours cost R380 per person, says guide and owner Ian Ferreira. 

St Lucia has everything, from cosy B&Bs, tasteful guesthouses, lodges and hotels to self-catering apartments. 

Lake St Lucia Lodge has self-catering cottages with stunning views that are reasonably priced. It is within walking distance of nearby restaurants, shops and pubs.  

For something more upmarket, visit the four-star Leopard Corner Lodge on the edge of the forest for a calm and relaxing stay. 

Alternatively, the St Lucia Livingston Lodge has luxury suites and is only 15 minutes away from some excellent beaches. 



The charming town of Dullstroom, known as South Africa’s “fly-fishing capital”, beckons visitors seeking tranquil escapes and outdoor adventures. “It’s a beautiful place with mountains and waterfalls,” says resident Paula Caldas.

More than 1,600km from Cape Town, Dullstroom is roughly a 17-hour drive along the N1 and N2, towards the R33. Those travelling from Johannesburg can expect a three-hour drive via the N12 and N4. Expect to pay toll fees.  

Fly fishing at Dullstroom Dam caters to both dedicated anglers and leisure fishers. Beginners can partake in an introductory course to fly fishing at R450 per person, says resident Craig McLachlan, who hosts the lessons.

He reminds visitors that they will need to obtain a fishing permit, which costs R150 per person. 

The owners serve up drafts, locally sourced fare – including homemade relishes and mustards – and generous helpings of boozy cake.

The Dullstroom Dam also has a beautiful and easy hiking trail that is free for all. “You walk up the mountain and then you can actually get a 360° view of the whole town and the surrounding area,” says McLachlan. 

At the Dullstroom Bird of Prey and Rehabilitation Centre, visitors can view captivating flight displays that feature some of South Africa’s majestic birds – they can see how raptors fly and hunt and explore the bird enclosures. 

Mrs Simpson’s was opened in 2005 and offers legendary cuisine. Patrons can enjoy anything from springbok carpaccio to Durban lamb curry. 

At the Mayfly Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, house specialties include chicken cordon bleu and the Mayfly rump, which is topped with bacon bits, caramelised onion and a red wine and mushroom sauce.

The Anvil Ale House is a brewery and pub where the owners serve up drafts, locally sourced fare – including homemade relishes and mustards – and generous helpings of boozy cake. 

“There are plenty of amazing guesthouses in Dullstroom,” says voter Warwick Barltrop.

For those looking for luxurious but family-friendly accommodation, Walkersons Hotel and Spa is perfect. It’s in a spectacular setting and offers fine dining. Guests can enjoy various outdoor activities including fly fishing in one of its 14 lakes and dams, and walking and hiking trails.

Centrally located self-catering accommodation is available at Big Oak Cottages –which has four charming units that can be booked individually or as a whole.

Dog lovers will be pleased to know that most of the accommodation on offer is pet-friendly, and all within walking distance of the town’s main attractions.




Hoedspruit is Limpopo’s hidden gem. Located at the foot of the Klein Drakensberg, it is the last stop and springboard into the Kruger National Park from the Orpen or Phalaborwa gates. Home to about 3,200 permanent residents, Hoedspruit is quickly becoming an ecotourism hotspot.  

“Hoedspruit has a strong culture of community spirit,” says resident Jono Soames, though it is a “proverbial global melting pot” because of its steady flow of local and international tourists. 

Many foreigners from all over the world “have made Hoedspruit their home”, says Daily Maverick reader Stuart Woodhead. “Not only do they own and run lodges, but they bring many skills and money into South Africa.”

Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport, described as “quaint, yet immaculate” handles all of Hoedspruit’s commercial flights, says Soames. 

From Cape Town, the flight is about two and a half hours. If you’re travelling from Johannesburg International expect an hour’s journey. 

The most direct route by car is through Middelburg. “The descent to Hoedspruit through the Strijdom Tunnel on the R527 travelling from Ohrigstad is spectacular,” says Soames. 

A safer driving option, although about 50km longer, is to travel from Johannesburg through Pretoria onto Bela Bela, passing Polokwane. “The Magoebaskloof pass is stunning and takes you from the bushveld mountains to the tropics, and abundant birdlife.” 

The Blyde River Canyon – regarded as the world’s largest green canyon, according to Blyde Canyon Safaris – is home to what is known colloquially as the Blyde Dam. 

Together with the Moletele community, the company offers scenic boat cruises on the dam – a place of “pure, untouched beauty and is best seen and experienced from the water”. 

“You will be guided and accompanied by our experienced skipper who is a born and bred ‘Hoedspruiter’ with a wealth of knowledge and passion for the canyon.”

Animal lovers must make a trip to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre for a 90-minute tour, says Soames. 

“You’ll see an impressive collection of eagles, vultures and smaller raptors. This is a very impressive set-up with their main objective being to reintroduce injured animals [into] their natural habitats,” he says. 

Another famous conservation-related tourist attraction is the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, which gives informative tours that both children and adults will enjoy. The centre’s vulture restaurant attracts hundreds of these birds when food is put out for them, and seeing cheetahs and rhinos is always a highlight.

The more physically inclined can explore the town’s biking, hiking and horseback trails, along with birding walks at the Karongwe Reserve. 

In terms of Hoedspruit itself, Soames recommends that visitors explore the town on foot, sampling the fare at various top-quality restaurants, tasting beers at the Hoedspruit Brew Co microbrewery, or visiting pottery studios, art galleries and spas. 

“You will find that the people of Hoedspruit are friendly and accommodating,” says Soames. 

Befitting a popular wildlife tourism spot, Hoedspruit has plenty of safari and bush lodges to choose from. There are also many hotels, B&Bs and self-catering options. 

“At least a three-night stay is recommended for visitors because there is so much to do and see,” says Soames. 

Raptors Lodge receives great reviews for its peaceful and central location and affordable prices. For those who are willing to travel from something further out of town, the LittleBush Private Lodge has three fully equipped chalets that can sleep families large and small.



Located at the foot of the Magaliesberg in North West, Hartbeespoort is a popular weekend getaway destination for residents of Pretoria and Johannesburg, clocking in at about an hour’s drive along the N4, before veering off toward the R115.

“Harties has the most scenic environment with the mountain on one side and the dam on the other,” says former resident and voter, Willie Maree.

Those driving from Cape Town can expect a 17-hour journey. Take the N1, turning onto the N12 at the border between the Northern and Western Cape. From there, follow the N12 before taking the R507 and R30 to the N14. Continue onto Brandvlei Rd to get to your destination. 


The Hartbeespoort Dam is one of the town’s main attractions, says Martie Maree, Willie’s daughter-in-law. “Its beauty is what draws people here.” 

Visitors can use the dam for recreational activities such as windsurfing and waterskiing, but the locals advise against swimming owing to the poor water quality.  

Experience Harties from the water with The Bush Camp’s guided cruises that start from Kommandonek Resort. 

Willie Maree says the Jasmyn Crafters Market is a “great meeting point for visitors” that “invites scores of bikers and city dwellers during the weekends”. 

Additional attractions include the Harties snake park, elephant sanctuary and cableway, says Maree. The cableway is an absolute must for breathtaking views of the Magaliesberg range and the dam before lunch at one of the restaurants at the top of the mountain. 

Accommodation is available by the dozen and ranges from camping to luxury lodges. 

Motozi Lodge is highly rated and priced from R880 per night. Alternatively, try the Out of Africa Lodge from R850 per night. More upmarket lodging is available at the Venue Country Hotel, priced from R2,090 per night.



The quaint Northern Cape town of Sutherland is a world-renowned hub for astronomy. “You can still experience the silence, the brightest stars, winters are below -16°C and summer gets to 40°C,” says resident Marita Britz, who manages Visit Sutherland. 

Stargazing at the planetarium is a great way to spend an evening, where stargazing shows that take place over two hours occur weekly. “Everybody comes here for the stars,” says Jacques du Plessis. 

Those coming from Cape Town can expect roughly four-and-a-half hours of driving along the N1 and R354, while those travelling from Johannesburg via the N12 and R354 can journey for 1,200km over about 13 hours.

Sutherland on Foot offers history-focused walking tours for R50 per person. These tours will “take you back to the 1850s”, says Britz. 

History buffs can also visit the Louw House Museum, where the lives and works of Sutherland’s Afrikaans poets and brothers NP van Wyk and WEG Louw are on display. 

Visitors can also experience a guided hike of Salpeterkop, which is believed to be the last active volcano in South Africa. 

Situated in the town’s restored old grain mill, Die Ou Meule is a great place to get a reasonably priced, quality lunch or dinner starting from R70. The restaurant is known for its pizzas and home-made boerekos (traditional cooking). 

The Blue Moon’s modern cuisine offers savoury pancakes, subs and pizzas starting from R44. 

Jack of the Karoo is a self-catering renovated Victorian house where guests can enjoy the town’s quiet starry nights. Another self-catering option located in the heart of the town is Die Heks se Huis. This charming establishment has a main house that sleeps six, and eight cottages that each sleep two. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 e-edition is available for free to Maverick Insiders.