South Africa: wildlife, wine country and out-of-this-world adventure awaits
From wine tasting to shark diving, we meet the Rainbow Nation’s local experts and discover a dream bucket list of experiences
Experience the full terroir of wines and wildlife produced by some of the Earth's oldest soils and richest game and marine habitats
South Africa is a country that combines wildlife, winelands and a wow factor you won’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s bustling cityscapes, stunning landscapes or out-of-this-world adventure activities, it’s got the lot. We asked a selection of the country’s local guides to give us some insider tips for planning the trip of a lifetime.
Bens Marimane – the wildlife whisperer
As a field guide in Greater Kruger, Marimane knows where the wild things are, including the Big Five (the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros). He’s based at Mala Mala Game R in Sabi Sands, a private game reserve.
Game drives are well named, he reckons. “A game drive is all about game viewing but it’s also like playing a game because we don’t know what we’re going to find out there in the bush,” says Marimane.
A good guide knows all the tricks, including not standing up in your game viewing vehicle. “If we stand up, we break the shape of the vehicle and the animals might recognise us as humans,” he explains.
Big cat sightings are an almost daily experience for him. “For leopard viewings, there’s nowhere better. Down in the river, during the dry season, all of the animals come to drink, so if it’s a sunny day in the late afternoon all you have to do is drive along the riverbed and you’ll find the lions and leopards waiting for the prey.”
Alison Towner – the marine expert
South Africa’s stunning sea coast is awash with wildlife. “I challenge anyone to find another place on Earth that offers such diversity so close to shore,” says Towner, an expert in ocean safaris.
On a cruise around the Dyer Island system in Gansbaai, you have the chance to see the Marine Big 5 (the great white shark, African penguin, southern right whale, cape fur seal and dolphin).
With shark cage diving, you won’t just be watching from a boat either. “We’ve had everyone from a three-year-old to a 100-year-old go in. When you see a great white swim past, you have such a change in perception. It’s a chance to appreciate just how magnificent and elegant they are, to understand they’re not man-eating monsters,” she says.
Sharks are present year-round, but there’s a higher density from May to September “when the cape fur seal pups make their way into the ocean from the Geyser rock colony into the stretch we call Shark Alley.”
Peak season for southern right whales is October and November. “But they start arriving from the Antarctic in May and June and leave again in December,” says Towner.
James Seymour – the mountain rambler
Drakensberg has the largest concentration of hiking trails in South Africa and is packed full of adventure activities.
“They have hot air ballooning, abseiling, rock climbing, horse-riding, mountain biking, zip-lining, paragliding, whitewater rafting, taking a helicopter flip into the ’Burg - you name it,” says Seymour.
To really appreciate this spectacular landscape, hop in a whirlybird (a helicopter). “It’s so hard to comprehend how rugged and vast the mountains are until you’re high up and can see the depth of the valleys and height of the peaks. It’s mind-blowing,” he says.
One of the most popular family experiences is zip-lining at the Drakensberg Canopy Tour, which has 12 lines criss-crossing a valley over indigenous forest. “It really is spectacular,” says Seymour.
Siseko Yelani – the coastal wanderer
The Eastern Cape is a hikers’ paradise - the 250km Wild Coast can be hiked in its entirety. But why stop at hiking?
“You can go horse riding, hiking or fishing, and all along the coast we have waterfalls that pour directly into the sea,” suggests Yelani.
He suggests an itinerary that sees you crossing the Kei River into the former Transkei. “It combines a river cruise and a trek in indigenous forest. It’s great for bird watching, and a guide can talk about the flora and traditional medicines. Finally you take a boat through the Transkei Gates Gorge where you can do cliff jumping,” he says.
Stunning as the scenery is, it’s the people that will make visitors want to come back for more. “You get to interact with friendly locals who might show you where the next pub in the village is, and you’ll maybe end up sharing a bottle of beer and having a chat,” says Yelani.
Andre Morgenthal – the wine guru
Having worked in the wine industry for three decades, Andre Morgenthal reckons South Africa is the best wine destination in the world. “The proximity of the Winelands to Cape Town is unique. People can enjoy iconic city sights and, in under an hour’s drive, sample local wines among the vines in Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. Within a three-hour radius you can visit 10 wine regions easily,” Morgenthal says.
The food is great too. “You really are spoilt for choice with restaurants in the Winelands. And it’s very affordable, along with our wines,” he says.
But what to drink? “Our flag bearers are Pinotage for red and, for white, our Chenin Blanc.”
Supplied by South African Tourism