Six of the best

24 October 2014



Words: Sam Bradley / Photos: Various photographers


South Africa is a big place, with landscapes as varied as the towering Drakensberg Mountains to the fertile valleys of the Cape; from the bustling metropolis’ of the big cities to the desolate plains of the Kalahari. To help explore this beautiful playground that is South Africa, Sam Bradley has selected six places in the country that are well worth a visit and deserve a spot on every South African’s bucket list.

Photo credit: Franschhoek wine valley

Photo credit: La Petite Ferme

Franschhoek. Photo credit: Duane Stacey

Photo credit: Franschhoek wine valley

Dolphins in Jeffreys Bay. Photo credit: Eastern Cape Info

Horse trails in Jeffreys Bay. Photo credit: Horse Trails

1) Franschhoek, Western Cape

We start our tour in one of South Africa’s oldest and most elegant towns, Franschhoek. Established in 1688 by the French Huguenots (the name Franschhoek means ‘French Corner’ in the Dutch language), the town still exudes a strong French presence to this day, from the Huguenots Monument located in the town to the farms with their original French names. While buying a property in this valley would be beyond the reach of most people – farms are owned by the likes of Richard Branson and the Rupert family – there are plenty of activities and attractions to give you a good reason to visit this beautiful town time and time again.

Places to eat
Known as the culinary capital of South Africa, and with four 5-star chefs working in the area to back up that claim, guests won’t leave Franschhoek wanting for a good meal. The Tasting Room ( has been included in the San Pellegrrino world’s top-50 restaurants, La Petite Ferme offers stunning views over the valley (, while the French Connection ( is located on Main Road and a great place to enjoy quality food as you soak up the atmosphere of the town. There are also numerous coffee shops in the town, and no visit to Franschhoek is complete without a trip to the Belgian chocolate factory (

Things to do
Wine tasting is a fantastic way to spend some time outdoors and admire the spectacular views, and the picturesque La Motte Wine Estate ( is a good place to start. Serious wine drinkers will want to visit Grande Provence ( for its award winning wines, while those with a lower alcohol-tolerance level may want to consider using the wine tram ( as a convenient way to travel between some of the farms.

Other activities on offer include a visit to the Franschhoek Motor Museum ( and a drive up the beautiful Franschhoek Pass - make sure you have a camera handy to take photos looking out over the valley. For the fit and active, there are also hiking trails, cycle routes and even horse riding trips available.

There are many annual events on the calendar that are worth making a trip to Franschhoek. One of the favourites is the Bastille Festival, which takes place in July each year and has the simple aim of celebrating all-things French. The town turns red, white and blue, and visitors are treated to activities such as music and carnival performances, barrel-rolling competitions, a farmers’ market and food and wine marquee. Not quite as boisterous, but just as famous, is the annual Franschhoek Literary Festival (, which takes place in May each year, as well as many wine-related events held throughout the year. All these events have a sophisticated and classy atmosphere, much like the town itself.

2) Jeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape

Life is more relaxed on the Garden Route, and nowhere is more laid back than the surfing Mecca of Jeffreys Bay. Originally nothing more than a sleepy Afrikaans dorpie, JBay, as it’s known to the locals, would probably have remained unknown to most of the world it if wasn’t home to one of the most perfect right-hand surf breaks on the planet. Tourism has blossomed as a result of the constant stream of surfers staying in the town, so there are now a wide variety of activities to keep people of all ages and interests entertained.

Where to stay
Capturing the heart and soul of the town perfectly is Island Vibe Backpackers ( Located on a sand dune, with 270-degree views over the sea and main beach and close to town, Island Vibe has a relaxed atmosphere that puts you in holiday mode as you walk through the door. Accommodation includes dorm rooms, family rooms in a separate beach house and more luxurious accommodation in the next-door *flashpackers. For the serious surfers who want to roll out of bed and into the waves, Supertubes Guest House ( is about as close as you can get.

Things to do
Surfing is the obvious activity here, with beginners best suited to the Kitchens Window wave on Main Beach, while the more-experienced surfers will want to tackle the legendary Supertubes wave. Waves are better during the winter months, with July seeing the world’s top-40 surfers descend on Jeffreys Bay for the Billabong Pro (, an event that always turns the town into party central.

Other beach-related activities include shell collecting (for some reason this area seems to produce more beauties than most), diving and deep-sea fishing, as well as some well-deserved relaxation time spent tanning on the beach. Even shopping in the town is dominated by surfing, with many surf-clothing shops lining the streets. Jeffreys Bay also boasts some pretty-spectacular dunes, so sandboarding is a good option (, as is a horse-riding trip along the beach and through the bush (

St Lucia. Photo credit: A Chudleigh

3) St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal

Moving up the coast and through the areas of Transkei and Wild Coast, lies the beautiful KwaZulu-Natal with its tropical climate and spicy food. Tucked away on the North Coast is the small town of St Lucia, surrounded by sea, estuary and game park. It’s a wild sort of place, with sightings of leopards in the area and hippos wandering down the main road. All in all, it is the perfect place to go looking for adventure.

Where to stay
In St Lucia, the best place to stay is on Mackenzie Road, as it is close to the shops, restaurants and activities. None is better located than Kingfisher Lodge ( right at the end of the main road, bordering an indigenous forest and looking out over the St Lucia Estuary. This 130-year-old colonial homestead is home to abundant birdlife and at night, guests have also been known to spot the occasional hippo grazing on the lawn or drinking from the swimming pool.

Things to do
The town is surrounded by nature, so naturally most of the activities are geared towards interacting with and observing the wildlife. The St Lucia estuary, which winds its way past the town and is teeming with hippos and crocs and other wild animals, is normally the first place on a visitor’s must-see list. Guests can go on an animal-spotting cruise along the estuary (, while the more daring can opt to embark on a kayak safari (

Between June and December, whale-watching boat rides out to sea are popular. From November and March, the turtle tours are also highly recommended ( Adrenaline addicts are also spoilt for choice in the area: Sodwana Bay, 170 km to the north, is one of the world’s top-ten dive sites, while events such as the iSimangaliso St Lucia Half Marathon race in May and Imfolozi Mountain Bike Challenge in July ( are annual events to look forward to.

A two-minute drive to the north of the town lies the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. This is a game park brimming with wildlife, and the picnic spot at Mission Rocks, with views out over the reserve and ocean, is a spectacular place to watch a sunset from. Take a short drive inland from St Lucia and you’ll find the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, the oldest game reserve in Africa. This 96,000 hectare reserve boasts the ‘Big five’ and some breathtaking viewpoints; most notably the Hilltop camp area (

4) Clarens, Free State

Having travelled up almost the entire eastern coast of South Africa, our list of top destinations now heads inland. Passing through the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, which resemble a snowy, winter wonderland during the colder months, travellers will arrive at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains and town of Clarens. With a population of just under 7,000 people, this small but lively town is suitably nicknamed the ‘jewel of the eastern Free State’.

Where to stay
What’s better than snuggling up in your own castle during the cold winter months? Rapunzel’s Tower ( offers just that! This castle, which sleeps a maximum of four guests, contains decor collected from around the world to create a luxurious fantasy land. Guests after some pampering could also choose to stay at the four-star Mont D’Or Hotel (, which boasts picturesque views of the mountains and valley, some French charm and even a fully equipped day spa. In addition, the hotel organises ski getaways to Afriski, in Lesotho, including transport, ski passes and lessons.

Many fly-fishing enthusiasts travel to Clarens due to the abundance of cold, clear streams and dams promising trout fishing at its best. Sediba Lodge ( has three self-catering lodges on their trout farm, while The Clarens Golf Estate ( also offers fishing from their well-stocked dam.

Things to do
Being well situated between Durban, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg means that there are plenty of weekend visitors, resulting in a delightful choice of activities to keep you occupied. Clarens is known as an artist’s haven, so spending some time in the art galleries is highly recommended. Keep an eye out for the galleries of well-known artists Johan Smith and Richard Rennie, both located close to the town square, as well as an interesting array of quaint coffee shops and craft shops. Events to diarise include the Craft Beer Festival ( in February and Cherry Festival in November (

History buffs will also be well entertained in Clarens, starting with the Clarens Museum in the centre of town ( Around the town lies many other items of historical interest. For example, guests can admire the bushmen paintings at Kiara Lodge, visit Surrender Hill (an Anglo Boer War site) or walk the dinosaur trails with David Groenewald ( Once again, adventure enthusiasts will be in their element with white-water rafting, hot-air ballooning and abseiling all on offer. Golden Gate Highlands National Park ( is also close by, with its memorable sandstone formations.

5) Soweto, Gauteng

Even further inland lie the bright lights of Gauteng. This is the centre of South Africa, with Pretoria as the capital city and Johannesburg as the financial hub of the country. Soweto, which borders Johannesburg, is a melting pot of African languages and cultures, with a vibrant atmosphere and plenty of activities to see and do.

Places to eat
Vilakazi Street is the epicentre of the tourism industry in Soweto, and it’s also where the best restaurants are located. While in the area, be sure to experience the taste of African township cuisine at its best from places such as Restaurant Vilakazi ( and Sakhumzi Restaurant ( Both offer plenty of traditional food, like mogodu (lamb tripe), umleqwa (chicken) and isibindi (liver), as well as western-style foods. Nambitha (, an upmarket restaurant in the same area, specialises in Sunday lunches, while Wandies Place ( is a smaller restaurant in the suburb of Dube, which has hosted household names such as Richard Branson and Evander Holyfield with its cosy atmosphere and buffet meals.

Things to do
It’s worth spending some time remembering three of Soweto’s most famous people; former President Mr Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Hector Pieterson. Mandela and Tutu both lived on the now-famous Vilikazi Street, the only street in the world to claim two Nobel Peace Prize winners. Mandela House ( has been restored and is open to visitors, while 700 metres away is the Hector Pieterson Museum (

A township tour is probably the best way to see the city and all its highlights. Tours can be as short as two hours to as long as an overnight tour, such as Themba Day Tours and Safaris ( or Soweto Township Tours ( Most tours will visit all of the attractions, as well as a shishnyama (informal braai) and shebeen (informal bar).

The apartheid museum ( illustrates the entire story of apartheid, with an amazing array of pictures, videos and artefacts from the past. To explore it properly takes at least two hours and is time well spent. Another attraction is the FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City Stadium or simply The Calabash; venue of the 2010 Soccer World Cup final. Not far away, and a prominent landmark in Soweto, is the Orlando Towers (, part of an old decommissioned power station. The towers are now brightly painted and easily identifiable as Soweto’s adventure zone. Options include a bungee jump, a controlled free fall, paintballing and a power swing. All of these activities include breathtaking views of Soweto as you prepare to somehow make your way back down to solid ground.

A hippo at St Lucia. Photo credit: Advantage Tours

St Lucia. Photo credit: Advantage Tours

Photo credit: The Clarens

Photo credit: The Clarens

Photo credit: The Clarens

Soweto towers. Photo credit: KDA Travel and Tours

Soweto. Photo credit: KDA Travel and Tours

Soweto stadium. Photo credit: KDA Travel and Tours


Bourke's Luck potholes. Photo credit: Cristie Bradley

6) Panorama Route, Mpumalanga

Moving out of the city and eastward towards the grasslands of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park lies our last attraction. This destination is not one city, but rather a collection of towns and sights that combine to form the Panorama Route, one of South Africa’s most scenic road routes.

Where to stay
The towns in the area are Hazyview, Graskop and Pilgrim's Rest, each with unique selling points. Hazyview is a small town that's only a few kilometres away from the Kruger National Park, making it a great base for day trips into the park. Accommodation options range from backpackers ( to a choice of game lodges. Graskop is also a good village to stay in while exploring the area. Here, Mogodi Lodge ( offers self-catering chalets and hotel rooms with magnificent views, as well as a big swing over the nearby gorge. The swing ( is a 68-metre free fall, with abseiling and rap jumping also available.

Staying in the town of Pilgrim’s Rest will feel like being transported back in time. The town shot to prominence in 1873 with the discovery of gold, at one time boasting 1,500 opportunistic diggers searching for their fortunes. The town is now a provincial heritage site, meaning it is in essence a ‘living museum’ that looks much like it did a century ago. The Royal Hotel (, itself a national monument, is the best place to stay to truly feel part of this time warp and boasts many photographs from the gold-mining era, as well as genuine antique furniture. While in the town you can take a donkey cart ride or try your hand at gold panning (

Things to do
It is the natural wonders that steal the show on this route. The most ideal way to explore this area is by car, as it is possible to see the sites in a single day. God’s Window, so named for its amazing views out over the Lowveld 700-metres below, is a must on the itinerary and will keep you merrily clicking away on your camera.

Close by is the Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world at 25-kilometres long and averaging 750-metres deep, with awe-inspiring views out over the Three Rondavels. The actual beginning of this canyon starts at Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a geological feature well-worth seeing. Also known as ‘Giant’s Kettles,’ the potholes can be explored along the pedestrian bridges that connect them. Animals to be spotted along the Panorama Route include dassies, monkeys, baboons, bushbabies, jackals and various buck, such as kudu and bushbuck. There are also a few beautiful waterfalls along the route, like the Mac Mac Falls, Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls. After a day of exploring the Panorama Route, the average traveller will be weary but contented, with some stunning mental photographs that won’t be quickly forgotten.


These six destinations traverse almost the whole country, beginning in the Cape and moving all the way up the coast before travelling inland; a total distance of almost 3,000 kilometres. After seeing and exploring these landscapes, the unavoidable conclusion will be that our country is not only very large but also extremely varied and stunningly beautiful. No doubt there are plenty of other hidden destinations worthy of being included in the top six places, but that simply gives us an excuse to keep travelling and exploring.

More information
*Flashpacker - someone who travels with the intrepid ethos of a backpacker, but has added comfort, style and technology while maintaining a sense of exploration and adventure.

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Welcome to the 24 October 2014 issue of DO IT NOW Magazine.