|Day||Area||Things to do|
South Africa is one of the most beautiful places on earth, offering visitors unforgettable vistas, fauna and flora, nature on land and sea, food and taste and a rainbow of culture! It has such a diverse landscape -- savanna, tropical, mountainous, coastal, and desert -- that there is something for everyone. With hundreds of game reserves (some national and some private), offering the Big Five, it is an ideal place for safaris. Its huge and magnificent coastline stretches from the east (Indian Ocean) all the way around the southern-most point of Africa to the west (Atlantic Ocean), prouding itself with an abundance of whales, dolphins, seals and penguins. Its people are as diverse as its landscape with many cultures that have accumulated over the centuries some due to explorers (such as the Portuguese and Dutch) that seeked the route from Europe to India and the Far East (for example, Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama), slave trade (such as from India and Maylasia), the British who colonized the cape and some because of their indigenous to Africa (Khoi and San - descendants of the Middle Paleolithic populations- and African tribes that migrated south from Western Africa). South Africa has one of the longest sequences of human development in the world. It begins with two million years old hominid fossils. The first upright apes, Australopithecus africanus (southern ape-man) was found here. Zooming ahead in time, the land was colonized first by the Portuguese, then Dutch (Dutch East Indian Company), and then British. Its history is so rich that it will take many pages to write about it, so if you wish to read up on its history, I recommend that you search the internet.
Safety: South africa does have a high crime rate, although it's mainly targeted at locals. However, it is recommended to be streetwise:
|Day 1||Cape Town||
Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places on earth, offering visitors unforgettable vistas, fauna and flora, nature on land and sea, food and a rainbow of culture!
Getting there: Flight to Johannesburg and then domestic connection to Cape Town. I purchased domestic flights from Kulula and they were very good. Car rental can be done at Cape Town International airport. Driving is on the left side of the road (as in England).
Hotels: The best location is anywhere from Sea Point suburb, southwards - Bantry Bay, Camps Bay etc. I stayed at Protea-Marriot Hotel Sea Point, which is not a boutique hotel, but well positioned (close to Woolworths shopping center) and has Spurs steakhouse adjacent to it. But for upmarket, stay in Camps Bay or Bantry Bay area such as the The President Hotel. You can also get great prices by booking a place that actually belongs to someone elses timesharing unit. This is very popular in South Africa. A South african company that provides brilliant service where you can book someone elses timesharing is Timeshare Getaways. Typically, timesharing is for a week so if you book your accomodation from someone's timesharing, you may have to book for the week. But it's still often cheaper than a hotel for less days! So it's definitely worth it.
Backpack touring: Take the popular Baz Bus and hop-on-hop-off between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Simply buy one ticket to your final destination and hop on and off as often as you like along the route. You get picked up and dropped off at the door of your accommodation. There are over 200 establishments to choose from (backpacker hostels, guest houses, lodges & hotels) and more than 40 cities, towns or villages to visit. You can travel in one direction until you reach your final destination. There is no time limit on your ticket!
|Day 2||Cape Town||
Table Mountain: Make sure you book for the cable car online beforehand; otherwise, you will be standing in the queue for hours. You can also walk up the mountain -- Platteklip Gorge trail is the most popular one and not that difficult (go in a group of people to be on the safe side).
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: Fantastic fauna and flora including South Africa's indigenous Protea flowers. Make you sure you eat at the famous Kirstenbosch Tea Room Restaurant, especially the English tea for two with scones and cucumber sandwiches, and South Africa's famous bobotie dish.
Tree-to-Tree Climbing: Navigate from tree-to-tree a few meters off the forest floor. For all ages and a lot of fun!
|Day 3||Cape Town||
Seal Island: Take a boat from Hout Bay harbour to Seal Island to see the Cape Fur seals. The island is a big rock formation covered with hundreds of seals. I took Drumbeat Charters, which was good. When you get back to the harbour, eat at one of the fish restaurants (snoek) and there is a simple flea market (on certain days).
Chapmans Peak Scenic Drive: Engineering feat for building a road in the mountain between Hout Bay and Noordhoek on the way to Cape Point.
Cape Point: Natural World Heritage Site - tip of the Cape penninsula, which is part of Table Mountain Nature Park. This is where ships were stranded in their attempt to round Africa. (The actual southern-most point of Africa is at Cape Agulus). You can take the funicular to the lighthouse or you can walk up. The view is stunning. Baboons often wonder around the parking lot - beware.
Boulders Beach Penguins: Boulders beach hosts a colony of thousands of African penguins due to the warmer water of the Indian Ocean than on the Atlantic ocean side of Cape Town. Beautiful boardwalk to walk through the vegetation and see the penguins. There is an area that you can swim as well (upper entrance to the park) and often penguins join you in the swim.
|Day 4||Cape Town||
V&A Waterfront: An old harbour converted into a modern shopping mall, markets and restaurants. I would start at the V&A Food Market, which has many interesting food stalls (including biltong). You can then walk to the mall and enjoy your shopping and restaurants (highly recommend Willoughby & Co).
Two Oceans Aquarium: Excellent aquarium at the V&A Waterfront.
Robben Island: Prison island where Nelson Mandela spent many of his imprisonment. You can take the ferry from V&A Waterfront.
|Day 5||Cape Town||
Wine Route: The wine route is just north of Cape Town, mainly around the wine valley towns Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, but in other areas too.
Spier farm is also very famous and boasts a winery and hotel and restaurants (they give you picnic baskets and you can fill it up and picnic on the luscious green lawn next to the lake). I did not find Stellenbosh that exciting except for one main street of nice shops. I would do Spier farm and then off to Franschoek.
|Day 6||Cape Town||
Whale Whatching: Drive to the town of Hermanus (one-and-half hours from Cape Town) and see Whales (Southern Right Whale, but other species including Humpbacks, Killer whales plus Bottlenose) from the shore. Best season is July - November. Can also take the boat to see them and you will probably spot dolphins as well! The worlds only Whale Crier alerts visitors to the location of the whales by blasting his kelp horn. They have a whale festival around October.
BeaupPark Kids Fun: Amazing park for kids of all ages - trampolines, wall climbing, mazes and more! This is great to do on a cold rainy day or simply to let the kids have a lot of fun!
|Day 7||Cape Town||
Oranjezicht Food Market: A fantastic food market every Saturday. The market is a community farmers-style market for independent local farmers and artisan food producers.
The Old Biscuit Mill: Brilliant trendy food market with upmarket restaurants and food stalls.
Constantia Wine Route: Instead of or in addition to doing the Stellenbosh wine route (see above), it is highly recommended to do the oldest wine farming area in Southern Africa (since 1685). It's located just south of Table Mountain and consists of about 9 top wine farms. I would recommend wine-farm hopping and visiting all the following wine farms for wine tasting, eating (cheese etc.), view, and peace of mind:
Buitenverwachting: Oustanding wines and a fantastic restaurant ...and with a view!
Constantia Glen: Amazing wines and view.
Beau Constantia: Excellent boutique wine farm situated at the top of Constantia Nek overlooking False Bay.
From Cape Town, you can take the N2 highway and then turn off just after Swellendam onto R324 which takes you through the Tradouws pass (beautiful) to the famous R62 road.
Cango Caves: Huge underground caves of tunnels and chambers with stalagmites and stalactites.
Cango Ostrich Show Farm: Excellent ostrich show farm for the whole family. They have a guided tour and you interact with the ostriches.
|Day 10||Garden Route - Knysna-Tsitsikama||
Places to stay: There is a wide choice of beautiful places to stay. Here are a few:
Natures Valley: Recommend Tranquility Lodge.
Fynboshoek Cheese Farm: Award-winning cheesemaker and restaurant! On a farm and located in the Tsitsikama forest. Must book a few months in advance!
Enrico: Unbelievable Italian restuarant, serving excellent fish and meat dishes! Located on the Keurboomstrand (beach) between Plettenberg Bay and Natures Valley, where you may even spot dolphins!
ile de pain: First artisan, wood fired oven bakery in South Africa. Located on Thesen Islands in Knysna, offers great breakfasts and lunch (I had an excellent hamburger with outstanding sauce), made with fresh produce grown by local farmers.
|Day 11||Garden Route - Knysna-Tsitsikama||Knysna Elephant Park: Feed and walk with the elephants. Suitable for all.
Hakerville Market: Located very close to the Knysna elephant park (see above) is the Harkerville Market which occurs every Saturday. Local farmers and inhabitants offer their fresh products as well as crafts etc. You can taste local food dishes and buy fresh produce. Highly recommended.
Robberg Nature Reserve: A nature reserve that juts out into the sea near Plettenberg Bay. It is a national monument and World Heritage Site. Can see dolphins, whales, seals, antelopes and birds (depending on season). You can choose between three hiking trails (2, 5 and 10 km) - 5 km is great! Informative information is given here.
|Day 12||Garden Route - Knysna-Tsitsikama||Monkey Land: Guided walking tour through a monkey sanctuary where the monkeys roam freely. Suitable for all (especially kids). Next to the monkey sanctuary is a bird sancturay, Birds of Eden, which is a small forest covered by a net canopy to keep the birds in (however, I didn't find it too spectacular).
Bloukrans Bungy Jumping: Worlds highest bridge for bungy jumping!
Tree Zip Lining: Zip lining between Outeniqua Yellowwood trees in the Tsitsikama forest.
|Day 13||Garden Route - Knysna-Tsitsikama||Storms River Suspension Bridge: A 77-meter long suspension bridge hanging just 7 meters above the red-brown waters of the Storms River Mouth of the Indian Ocean in the Tsitsikamma National Park. The walk to the bridge can be done by one of the hikes such as the Mouth Trail (about 2 km - 1 hr), which starts at Sandy Bay (next to the restaurant) and takes one along a winding board walk through indigenous forest to the mouth of the Storms River, the famous suspension bridge and the Storms river Mouth Cave (Khoisan Heritage Site).
Storms River Gorge Boat Ride: While at the Storms River Suspension Bridge, take a boat trip up the otherwise inaccessible Storms River Gorge. It gives you the opportunity to view the gorge firsthand and to marvel at one of natures many wonders. Huge caverns are interspersed on either side of the river, some which extend upwards for 20 meters, providing a habitat for rare bat species.
Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour: Omega (zip line)from one Outeniqua Yellowwood tree to another, 30 meters above the Tsitsikama forest floor. The scenery and bird life is spectacular and professional guides provide interesting facts about the forest ecology.
Natures Valley: Nature's Valley is the only residential area inside any of South Africa's 21 national parks. The Tsitsikamma national park, pronounced "tit-sea-karma" (from the Khoisan words tse-tsesa, meaning clear, and gami, meaning water), surrounds the village on three sides, and the Indian Ocean takes care of the fourth (the reserve extends 5km out to sea). On the way there, stop in at Natures Way Farmstall, a natural cheese and food stall. You can also do one of the most beautiful hiking trails such as the Salt River Hiking Trail. You can enjoy the beach.
|Day 14-17||Garden Route - Safari||There are many game reserves (safaris) at the end of the Garden Route around Port Elizabeth (one of the largest cities in South Africa). There is one big national game reserve and many smaller and very exclusive private game reserves that provide better accomodation, food, and animals! These are malaria-free areas so there is no need to take anti-malaria medication, but to be sure, it is advisable to check with the game reserve concerning this issue). The private game reserves are much more expensive than the national game reserve, but obviously you get what you pay for and if a true African safari is what you are looking for in this area of South Africa - the Cape province - then it is worthwhile doing a private game reserve. A private game reserve is an all-inclusive package, which includes accomodation, all meals, and game drives. The meals are often made by top chefs and the food is generally the best of the best! Even two nights is enough for a fantastic safari experience. The first night is simply to check-in after a long drive from your previous location, although if you arrive in the morning you can do a quick drive through the reserve. The second day is your main game drive where the game reserve takes you on a game drive in a safari jeep and you hopefuly see the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhinoceros elephant, and buffalo - but also giraffes etc.). Most game reserves allow you to do the game drive on yourself in your own car. This is the most popular way to do it in national game reserves like the Kruger National Park (in the North-Eastern part of South Africa), Pilanesberg National Park (an hour and a half from Johannesberg), and Addo Elephant National Park (an hour from Port Elizabeth).
Here is the list of some of the game reserves in the area:
1 Addo Elephant National Park: This is a national park and currently the third largest in the country, offering a wide range of game (not sure if there is lion). Some say that it is not the best park to visit, but it is cheaper than the private game reserves. Not sure if I would recommend, but I could be wrong! They offer accomodation inside the park, but many visitors stay at hotels outside the park and do day drives in the park. The entrance gate opens at around 7:00 and you have to leave by 19:00 (times may change). You can drive in your own car through the park or purchase a guided tour.
2 Shamwari Game Reserve: This is a private game reserve and considered THE best in this area (Cape province)! It is more expensive than any others but worth every penny - THE ULTIMATE SAFARI EXPERIENCE! They offer the Big 5 and more! They have about five different lodges situated throughout the park. Everything is provided - all-inclusive -- accomodation, meals and game drives. Highly recommend!!
3 Pumba Private Game Reserve: This is a private game reserve and also considered one of the best (and has received tripadvisor's Certificate of Excellence)! The reserve is home to Africa’s Big Five as well as rare white lion, hippo, hyena, cheetah, giraffes, various antelope and more than 300 bird species. The price is all-inclusive -- accomodation, meals and game drives. They have two different lodges in the park.
4 Lalibela Game Reserve: This is a private game reserve and also considered one of the best (and has received tripadvisor's Certificate of Excellence). Lalibela consists of 10,500 hectares (approximately 26,000 acres) and is home to the Big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo & leopard) as well as other predators like cheetah, hyena, jackal & lynx. They have about five different lodges scattered throughout the game reserve. Everything is provided - all-inclusive -- accomodation, meals and game drives.
|Day 14-16||Wild Coast - Umngazi||Umngazi Resort: Located on the Wild Coast, the stretch of eastern coastline South of Durban is one South Africa's jewels. This resort is set on an estuary from the Indian Ocean. Accomodation consists of thatched-roof bungalows. There are many activities includng hiking trails and sports. The Wild Coast offers incredible views of the dramatic coastline, jagged cliffs, sheltered bays, wild beaches and rolling hills and valleys. This is a hikers' paradise and can also be enjoyed on horseback. It is renowned for being one of the most beautiful places on the planet and is the heartland of the Xhosa people. Ancient forests filled with cycads and yellowwood trees abound with bird and animal life.
|Day 14-16||Pilansburg Safari||Pilansberg National Park: One of South Africa's most popular game reserves. It is a malaria-free zone and only about 3-hour drive from Johannesburg. It includes the "Big 5" and a variety of accomodation. I highly recommend Bakubung Bush Lodge - so beautiful and great for kids as well (pool and trampoline etc.). To see the animals, you can drive your car around the park and/or take guided tours.
Sun City: While staying in Pilansberg game reserver (or stay at Sun City hotels), you can hop over to the famous Sun City resort (10 minutes drive). Sun City has casinos, wave pools and slides, golf course, shops, restarants, movies etc. and a cultural village.
|Day 17-19||Johannesberg||Shopping and restaurants:
Melrose Arch: Trendy shopping center with top restaurants.
Lesedi Cultural Village: On your drive back from Sun City (or from Johannesburg - 1:30 hrs), stop at at this cultural village to get a fantastic guided tour of South Africas different cultures and people. This is alos a great place to buy local crafts.
Apartheid Museum: The museum telling the story of South Africas years of Apartheid in the 20th Century and the struggle by non-whites to overcome it.
Soweto Township Tour: Take a guided tour into Soweto and see the Mandela House Museum, where the former South African president once lived, and the once-residence of Nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu.
|Day 20-22||Limpopo Province - Haenertsberg Area||This is hidden gem that is unknown to most foreign tourists! This area is in the northern part of South Africa, about 4.5 hours north of Johannesberg (N1 highway) and about 4 hours west of Blyde Rver Canyon and Kruger National Park (which can be visited afterwards - see below). Perched on the slopes of the Wolkberg and Drakensberg mountains, that together form what is known as the great escarpment in Limpopo, lies the dainty little village of Haenertsburg. It’s an unusually high mist area with a lot of rainfall and subsequent green vegetation and afromontane forest patches with kloofs and rolling grasslands that provide a welcome relief to the wide expanses of bushveld elsewhere in the region. In my youth, I lived in Polekwane (formerly called Pietersberg) which is just under two hours away. This is the area my family and locals vacationed.
Where to stay: I highly recommend Magoebaskloof Hotel. The hotel overlooks the superlative Magoebas valley. The hotel is typicall to the area where it is left hidden - it has been around for many years and still has the old look of the 70's/80's, but the service and food is excellent! Note that their website has problems but don't let this deter you. It's a great place to base yourself and do tour the area (3 days is good).
Things to see:
Ebenezar dam: It lies between the lovely little town of Haenertsburg and the Magoebaskloof, in the Land of the Silver Mist! It is a popular place for boating, water skiing, fishing and sailing (Mountain Yacht Club) and just picnicing. There are also a few self-catering guest houses on the slopes - one of them I highly recommend is Misty Crown.
Debengeni Waterfall: Located at the base of the Magoebaskloof Mountains, where the Ramadipa River descends approximately 80 metres into a big pool, the result of thousands of years of water erosion. The plunge basin of the waterfall is a popular swimming spot for locals, passing by hikers and tourists alike. The Debengeni Falls are easily accessible from the Woodbush Forest Station just off the R71. Be prepared to travel on a dirt road for about 3km. Once at the Waterfall, visitors should note that the rocks are slippery and are cautioned as there are no lifeguards posted at the site.
Cheerio Gardens: Cheerio Valley, a 100 hectare forest, lies in the Magoebaskloof. Within the forest lie the world-famous Cheerio Gardens. And it is not azalea blooms alone that set the gardens on fire during spring. Cherry (original cherry trees were sent in the 1950s by the Emperor of Japan's physician) and crab apple trees too adorn the countryside in rich, exotic colour.he gardens include at their heart a sequence of dams, their banks lined with huge African tree ferns and quintessentially English garden features, like elms, pin oaks and crab apple trees. In spring the hydrangeas, camellias, irises and floxgloves are at their peak, and the array of colour is a rash of pinks, mauves, orange and scarlet. Which is why Cheerio Gardens are the focal point of the Haenertsburg Spring Fair. These thoroughly exotic gardens, and surrounding forest, attract a wealth of birds, and a gentle stroll along the paths of the gardens will lead to sightings of green twinspot, Baratt's warbler, white-starred robin and lemon dove.
Wegraakbosch Organic Cheese Farm: Wegraakbosch Farm is an eco-friendly farm with a dairy that produces traditional Mutchli, Tilziter, Emmenthaler, Harvati, Feta and cream cheeses. Stroll around the farm, take a cheese-making tour (10 am and is about an hour) and round it all off with a delicious ploughman's platter lunch. You can also milk the cows and feed the goats! This is a must!!
Blueberry Heights for picking blueberries. This is an organic blueberry and kiwi farm where you can pick your own blueberries. The farm has a restaurant and provides accomodation. Picking season is in the summer (December, January, and February) - but even when out of season, it's worthwhile a visit. It is located in the Magobaskloof mountains, on the R71 about 7km’s from Haenertsburg.
Hiking: Magoebaskloof is well known for amazing hiking trails. One of them is the Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail, but there are many others. The best is to ask at your hotel or people in the area.
Fishing: There are two beautiful dams at Magoebaskloof Getaway the one having Trout and the other Bass and Kurper. But there are other dams you can fish at.
Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour: Zipline high above the sparkling river, waterfalls and forest floor. It is located on the Green Frog Farm, near Haenertsberg. Get your adrenaline pumping and your soul soaring as you fly over the beautiful, green gorge below.
White Water Tubing: The gecko-tubing trip starts deep in the gorge at the beginning of the Great Letaba River IN Magoebaskloof. Each person has their own gecko tube. Glide through tranquil crystal clear waters on your gecko-tube and enjoy the scenery. Experience the adrenalin rush through some roaring white water rapids and jump the waterfalls if you dare. It is located at the at the Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour.
|Day 20-22||Mpumalanga (Eastern Transvaal)||Formally known as Eastern Transvaal, Mpumalanga is considered to be one of the most geographically diverse and extremely beautiful places in South Africa. Mpumalanga lies in the east of South Africa, bordering Swaziland and Mozambique. It was also the area of the 1870s gold rush! It has mountain ranges, waterfalls, and many game reserves (safaris) including the famous Kuger National Park.
The main thing to do is the The Panorama Route. This unbelievably beautiful scenic route - maybe one of the best in the world - explores the Mpumalanga highlands. The most popular stretch of the route is the R532 that winds its way from the town of Sabie via a selection of graceful waterfalls (8) - the Sabie Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Mac Mac Falls - to God's Window, the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke's Luck Potholes and the three Rondawels. The Blyde River Canyon is the largest Green Canyon in the world and stretches over 26 Kilometres and is over 800 meters deep.There are other road routes that also form part of the Panorama Route that have equally beautiful highlights: • the R36 to Matibidi past the Lydenburg Falls, Ohrigstad Dam Nature Reserve and on to Echo Caves • the R37 along Long Tom Pass (arguably one of the most beautiful passes in the province) • the R533 between the historical mining village of Pilgrim's Rest and Graskop – both towns equally interesting to visit Hazyview makes a good stop for lunch, or as a launch pad into the Kruger National Park, and Graskop makes a good base if you plan to drive the Panorama Route over a couple of days. There is also a long list of attractions in amongst the natural highlights – like the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, Tsakani Silk Farm, interaction with elephants, farmstalls, eateries, hiking and MTB trails, a coffee farm and roastery, art galleries and cultural village experiences.
Where to eat: When you get to Graskop and you want to eat the best pancakes and milkshakes in Africa, stop at Harries Pancakes - corner Louis Trichardt & Church streets! You won't regret it!
Where to stay: Mount Sheba hotel - Sleepily tucked away amongst the mountains above the historic mining town of Pilgrims Rest lies Mount Sheba Country Lodge. Surrounded by indigenous forests this up-market lodge resort is an ideal retreat yet lies in easy distance to some on Mpumalanga's superb tourist attractions including 'God's Window', the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke's Potholes and of course the Kruger National Park.
|Day 22-25||Safari - Mpumalanga Area||This is one of the main areas for safaris in South Africa (although not the only -- see above), where you have one of the worlds biggest and world-renowned national game reserve - the Kruger National Park. However, you also have plenty of excellent private game reserves that border on the Kruger National Park, one that is considered the best game reserve in Africa and the world (there are plenty others, but ....) is the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, which hosts amazing lodges such as SABI SABI. These are very expensive compared to other national game reserves, but are all inclusive -- accomodation, meals and game drives -- and offers unforgettable experiences.
Note that this area is not free of malaria and generally anti-malaria medication is taken although many do not due to the strong side-effects and their effectivity, and depending on season. The winter months have the least malaria as there is less rain in this season (June - September). It is advisable to speak to your physician regarding this issue. One of the best seasons to visit is also winter as their is less foilage and therefore easier to see the game. Also, because there is no rain, the animals have to drink at the numbered natural water holes, so you can simply wait at these water holes for them.
Another highly recommended game reserve is Shumbalala Game Lodge. This is an all-in-one game reserve providing fantastic accomodation, sumptious meals, game drives and professional and very friendly staff. Shumbalala is situated in the heart of the private Thornybush reserve, part of the greater Kruger National Park area, approximately 50km (30miles) from Hoedspruit.
The Kruger National Park provides around 2 million hectares, offering a wildlife experience that ranks with the best in Africa! You can either sleep outside the park or stay in the lodges offered inside the park. If you are staying outside the park, you can enter the park's gates every day and drive around (at max. of 40 to 50 km/h max.) the park on the designated roads looking for animals, and then exit the gate before it closes. Check their site for gate opening and closing times. You can also get guided tours from the gates.
|Day 26-29||Drakensberg Mountains||The Drakensberg mountain range is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the main mountain range in South Africa, offering unimaginable scenery and perfect for those who love hiking or simply want a break from the bustling city. The Drakensberg is South Africa's highest mountain range, rising to more than 11,400 feet (3,475 metres), with snow-capped mountain peaks in the winter, and extends roughly northeast to southwest for 700 miles (1,125 km) parallel to the southeastern coast of South Africa. It is great for families and all. Drakensberg is located between Johannesberg and Durban - about 400 km east of Johannesberg, by car a 5 hour drive or a flight to Durban airport and then about a 4 hour drive west to the Drakensberg. This unspoiled escarpment offers visitors spectacular views, a multitude of activities and rich historical and ancient value and is considered one of South Africa's most popular natural attractions. It is made up of a sandstone layer covered with a 1400 m basalt layer and its incredible biodiversity and sandstone caves filled with the largest collection of San art and cave-rock paintings (indigenous "Bushmen" hunter-gatherer people representing the first nation -- over 30000 years ago-- of Southern Africa, whose territories spanned Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa) in the world are two of the reasons for its appeal. The area falls into four valleys, beginning with the Champagne Valley in the Central Berg, through the Cathedral Peak and Didima Valley, then the Royal Natal National Park and Amphitheatre Valley, and finally the Middledale Pass Valley in the Northern Berg. Each of the four valleys has its own kind of beauty and character; all have magnificent mountain views.
Length of stay: I would recommend a minimum of 3 full days (4 nights).
Where to stay: Because the mountain range is so vast and each area brings with it special and spectacular views, I would recommend doing one of the following: a) Stay at two different places to get the full experience of the mountain range -- Cathedral Peak hotel (see below) for one night and then Drakensberg Sun hotel (see below) for the remaining days, or b) Stay at one hotel -- the Drakensberg Sun hotel (see below). The advantage of "b" is that it saves you the long and windy drive up to Cathedral Peak hotel.
1) Cathedral Peak Hotel: This is one of South Africa's top resort hotels and has been around for decades (1939), undergone renovations and improvements throughout the years. The area gives you the true feeling of the Drakensberg mountains and even for one night it is worth it. The hotel is located high up in the mountains and is a bit of a slow and winding drive (with pot holes here and there and passes through a few rural villages), but worth it! The hotel is located in the northern Drakensberg area which is more dense with regards to vegetation (very forestry) and offers the most majestic views compared to the other areas (but the other areas are also amazing!). If you are not willing to take on the winding ride, skip this and go straight to the Drakensberg Sun (see below).
2) Drakensberg Sun: This hotel is part of a well-known hotel chain and popular with the local tourists. But don't let this deceive you, it's the perfect place to base yourself -- especially for families -- and the hotel offers excellent accomodation and great food and a lot of entertainment. It is located in the Cathkin Park of the Drakensberg mountains.
What to do: Wherever you stay in the Drakensberg, the hotels will advise you on hikes and other things to do.
1) Drakensberg Boys Choir: The world famous Drakensberg Boys Choir is a boys choir of The Drakensberg Boys Choir School. This is a must! Concerts are every Wednesday at 15h30 (during school term and if not performing overseas), at the Ken MacKenzie Auditorium at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School. The school is situated in the Champagne Valley of the Central Drakensberg in Winterton -- 10 minute drive from the Drakensberg Sun hotel. You need to book beforehand.
2) San ("Bushman") Rock Art: All of the Drakensberg paintings are on Cave Sandstone, a rock custom built for the purpose. It erodes in a way that produces weatherproof overhangs; few are real caves. So the artist can work in peace, and his work will not be washed away by the first rain. The sandstone is porous so that paint applied will sink in and “grip”.The rock art gives us an insight of life thousands of years ago with regards to animals present in the area and war between the San people. The materials used in the paints are all local. Blood, or rock or soil rich in ferric oxide (rust) provide reddish brown. Variations in redness can be obtained by heating the pigment in a fire. Charcoal provides black, while white is created with bird droppings or clay. Other colours are rare, and Bushmen weren’t particular about matching colour to that of the live subject. Elephants tend to be painted red for example. We know from incomplete paintings that white was applied first, and additional colours, if any, were painted on top. Melted fat, beeswax or egg white converted the pigment into usable paint, but the secret ingredient that gave permanence to the paintings is not known. Some of the rock art places to visit are: - - Royal Natal in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park: Guided outings to the Sigubudu Bushmen paintings take place every day between 9:00 and 16:00. This excursion takes approximately 1 hour, made up of 20 minutes walking each way, and 20 minutes allowed for interpretive information about the rock art and for exploring the surroundings. An entrance fee into the park and an excursion fee is payable for this outing. -- Didima Resort’s San Rock Art Centre: Celebrates the rock art of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. It provides insights into the art and culture of the San. The centre comprises a display hall, where visitors learn about who the uKhahlamba San people were and how they once lived, a preview room for a fireside story telling experience and an auditorium where visitors watch a screening of the audio visual presentation. The Rock Art Centre is open between 08:00 - 16:00 daily. Rock art is found in many places at Cathedral Peak. -- KAMBERG BUSHMAN PAINTINGS