Waterfalls and great wine: locals share the secrets to visiting the real wonders of South Africa
From the hip quarters of bustling cities to the breathtaking sights of The Green Kalahari, South Africa's nine provinces each have much to offer the traveler who is looking for something unique
Tour guide Siseko Yelani has spent the past 10 years taking guests on journeys to regions of unspoiled beauty
Each of South Africa’s nine provinces has its own unique charm, a mix of wonderful wildlife, natural beauty, cool culture, super cities and fabulous food trails.
What all have in common are amazing tourism experiences. That’s because, as well as a great climate, stunning vistas and friendly people, South Africa offers amazing value for money.
Euro for Rand, you get way more bang for your buck here, whatever kind of holiday you’re after. But don’t take our word for it – ask a local.
Eastern Cape adventures
What Siseko Yelani likes about being a tour guide in the Eastern Cape is introducing first-time visitors to the hospitality of his Xhosa people, as well as to a region of unspoiled beauty.
There’s no end of activities either. “You can go horse-riding, hiking or fishing, and all along the coast we have waterfalls that pour directly into the sea,” he says.
One of his favourite places to bring visitors is The Hole in the Wall on Coffee Bay, created over millennia by waves crashing through sandstone. It is the stuff of Xhosa lore and no better man to fill you in than home-grown hero Yelani.
But stunning as the scenery is, it’s the people who make visitors want to come back for more, he says. “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, having a chat.”
In the north east, local guide David Quihampton also appreciates introducing visitors not just to the region’s iconic Panorama Route, but its “many diverse cultures, each with their own unique character.”
The Panorama Route encompasses some of South Africa’s most stunning scenery, including the 16-mile Blyde River Canyon, the Lisbon Falls, Graskop Gorge and Bourke’s Luck Potholes – a beautiful geological feature created by the swirling waters where two rivers meet.
He promotes sustainable tourism, encouraging visitors to support small communities by buying arts and crafts locally rather than in big cities.
Fellow tour guide Bens Marimame is based in a private game reserve and knows exactly where to go to ensure his visitors see as much wildlife as possible. That includes the big five - lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.
And lots more besides, he says. “We don’t have any fence between Kruger and our reserve. Here in MalaMala it’s almost every day we see the cats. For leopard viewings, there’s nowhere better.”
When leading a game drive he appreciates that it can be an emotional experience for first time visitors. “Sometimes I look back and see tears falling down guests’ faces, from joy,” he says.
Food and wine trails in the Western Cape
Food heroes putting South African cuisine on the map include Abigail Mbalo, whose celebrated restaurant, 4Roomed EKasi Culture, is bringing visitors to Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, to experience classic township food designed to “evoke nostalgia and pride,” she says.
Local experts also help visitors discover the real wonders of the country’s famous Winelands tours. “You’re really spoilt for choice with restaurants in the Winelands, and it’s very affordable, along with our wines,” says local expert Andre Morgenthal.
“In one of the oldest buildings in Stellenbosch we have the restaurant De Volkskombuis, which means ‘the people’s kitchen’. This was the food that I grew up with,” he says. He loves introducing people to traditional Cape-Dutch cuisine that evolved in home kitchens over generations. That includes delicious dishes such as ‘waterblommetjie bredie’, “a lamb stew made with a little flower that lives in the marshes and dams here in the Western Cape.”
Culture in KwaZulu-Natal
Thoko Jili’s Zulu culture tours take you to a village called Maphephetheni, in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. “You will fall in love with it,” she promises. “It’s not staged in any way; people are living 100 per cent authentic lives. When we make friends, support the locals and are respectful, the people are very happy. They’ll cook for you, sing for you, and recite poetry for you. I’m excited to share these stories and my roots.”
Jili reckons there are no people on earth as warm as the Zulu people. “People know less about us in KwaZulu-Natal than they should. We have everything, from the beach to safari to the Drakensberg — and it’s still so authentic. There are memories to be made here.”
Fellow tour guide Jonas Barausse helps people explore the province’s main city, Durban. Florida Road, one of Durban’s main strips, is undergoing a fresh wave of urban revitalisation with “entrepreneurs doing some really amazing stuff.” The road is, he says “a place that’s full of life and energy and colour. It’s really bustling, and a good representation of the spirit of Durban.”
Gateway to Gauteng
Charles Ncube makes sure visitors know the coolest things to do in his city, Johannesburg. “Jo’burg is great for its social life, for food and cocktails, for hanging out and just soaking up the environment. On Saturdays, check out the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein. It shows off the city’s creativity, with amazing food and cool fashion. It’s a part of the regeneration of the city. In 1995 and 1996, Johannesburg was a no-go area; today we have so many vibrant places that showcase our spirit,” he says.
Ncube is from Soweto, which makes him the perfect guide to the famous township. “I was born and bred here. Despite past struggles, it’s a very progressive township, full of historical sights and activities and reignited life,” he says. “It’s one of the most vibrant parts of the whole country.”
Highlights of the Northern Cape
Outdoor adventure guide Danie Van Zyl loves the landscape of The Green Kalahari so much he moved his whole family here, so now they have the Augrabies Falls National Park as their front garden.
The Green Kalahari refers to the place where the Orange River, South Africa’s longest, meets the Kalahari desert. It’s a place of beautiful vineyards and trees, perfect for canoeing and hiking. “The Northern Cape is the biggest province in South Africa and probably the least explored, but they say that once you’ve got the red sand under your toenails you’ll always come back,” he says.
From river rafting to mountain biking, bird watching to wildlife spotting, he helps visitors get the max from this beautiful part of the world, introducing them to what he calls “the magic of the desert.”
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