|Country Information & Lifestyle|
The Beauty Of The Wild
South Africa has become synonymous with Cape Town, the Garden route, Kruger National Park and the 2010 World Cup. But this large, incredibly diverse country has so much more to offer.
Its long coastline stretches more than 2,500 km from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast southwards around the tip of Africa north to the border with subtropical Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.
South Africa shares borders with Namibia and Botswana, touches Zimbabwe and in the interior, nestled in the curve of the bean shaped Free State, is the small mountainous country of Lesotho, completed surrounded by South African territory.
South Africa is a multi-racial society and culture in is about as diverse as it can come. Zulu is one of the strongest surviving black cultures and the Xhosa also have a strong presence, they are known as the red people because of the red-dyed clothing worn by most adults. The Ndebele are a related group, who live in the north-western corner of what is now Mpumalanga in strikingly decorative painted houses.
The mingling and melding in South Africa's urban areas, along with the suppression of traditional cultures during the apartheid years, means that the old ways of life are fading, but traditional black cultures are still strong in much of the countryside.
Across the different groups, marriage customs and taboos differ, but most traditional cultures are based on beliefs in a masculine deity, ancestral spirits and supernatural forces. In general, polygamy is permitted and a lobolo,(dowry) is usually paid. Cattle play an important part in many cultures, as symbols of wealth and as sacrificial animals.
South Africa has three capitals: Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Pretoria. The Western Cape city of Cape Town, where the country's Parliament is found, is the legislative capital. In the Free State, Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, and home to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
In Gauteng province, Pretoria, where the Union Buildings and a large proportion of the civil service are found, is the administrative capital, and the ultimate capital of the country. The largest and most important city is Johannesburg, the economic heartland of the country.
The climate in South Africa varies from region to region. The southern coast, part of which is known as the Garden Route, is rather less tropical but also green, as is the Cape of Good Hope - the latter especially in winter.
This south-western corner of the country has a Mediterranean climate, with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Its most famous climatic characteristic is its wind, which blows intermittently virtually all year round, either from the south-east or the north-west.
North of the Vaal River, the Highveld is better watered, winters are cold, though snow is rare and further north and to the east, the temperature rises. The Tropic of Capricorn slices through the extreme north and this is where one finds the typical South African Bushveld of wildlife fame.
In the high Drakensberg mountains that form part of South Africa's eastern escarpment it is possible to ski in the winter. The deep interior provides the hottest temperatures.
By far South Africa's biggest neighbour is the ocean - or two oceans, which meet at the southwestern corner. Its territory includes Marion and Prince Edward Islands, nearly 2,000 km from Cape Town in the Atlantic Ocean.
The cold Benguela current sweeps up from the Antarctic along the Atlantic coast, laden with plankton and providing rich fishing grounds. The east coast has the north-to-south Mozambique/Agulhas current to thank for its warm waters.
Landing in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban can be an electrifying experience. Take time to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the cultural diversity and energy, head to the restaurants, bars, shops and beaches and put your feet up in your hotel or spa.
But for those keen to penetrate the surface of urban South Africa, venture to the smaller towns that lie just off the beaten track. These make up the heartland of South Africa and provide a great starting point on the road to understanding the country's complicated make up.
The vast and arid Northern Cape has Kimberley as its capital and is by far the largest province and yet has the smallest population. The province lies to the south of its most important asset, the mighty Orange River, which feeds the agriculture and alluvial diamonds industries.
The river forms the border with the country of Namibia in the north, while the Molopo River is at the border with Botswana to the northeast. The Northern Cape landscape is characterised by vast arid plains with outcroppings of haphazard rock piles. The cold Atlantic Ocean forms the western boundary.
The last remaining true San,(Bushman) people live in the Kalahari area of the Northern Cape. Apart from a narrow strip of winter rainfall area along the coast, the province is a semi-arid region with little rainfall in summer.
The weather conditions are extreme - cold and frosty in winter, with extremely high temperatures in summer. The province has a wealth of national parks and conservation areas.
The Kgalagadi Trans frontier Park, Africa's first cross-border game park, joins South Africa's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park to the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. It is one of the largest conservation areas in southern Africa, and one of the largest remaining protected natural ecosystems in the world.
The park provides un-fenced access to a variety of game between South Africa and Botswana, over its land area of more than 3.6 hectares. Nowhere is the Orange River more impressive than at the Augrabies Falls, which ranks among the world's greatest cataracts on a major river.
The Eastern Cape, lying on the southeastern South African coast, is a region of great natural beauty, particularly the rugged cliffs, rough seas and dense green bush of the stretch known as the Wild Coast. Gauteng was built on the wealth of gold found deep underground - 40% of the world's reserves.
Johannesburg is the capital, and by far the biggest city in South Africa. Gleaming skyscrapers contrast with Indian bazaars and African medicine shops and the busy streets throng with fruit sellers and street vendors.
South of Johannesburg is Soweto, heartbeat of the nation, developed as a dormitory township for black people under the apartheid system. Much of the struggle against apartheid was fought in and from Soweto, which has a population of over two million people.
Groot Marico, just two hours from Johannesburg, is full of colourful characters and guarantees the visitor will return with wonderful off-the-wall tales. To the north is Pretoria, the city of jacarandas and the capital of South Africa.
The city is dominated by government services and the foreign diplomatic corps. It's also known for its colourful gardens, shrubs and trees, particularly beautiful in spring when some 50 000 jacaranda trees envelop the avenues in mauve.
Umkomaas on the Hibiscus Coast has spectacular sea views and premier holiday destination as 20 the century unfolded. 5 km offshore lies the internationally renowned aliwal shoal, a fossilised sand dune, soft and hard coral, first spotted in 1849 but not adequately highlighted until after it sank the steamer Nebo in 1884. Almost a century later this week was joined by that of the Produce.
Durban to Hibiscus Coast's gateway resort of Hibberdene is 100 km by road or wood-panelled railway carriage. Capturing past unhurried travel, both run parallel to shoreline-spectacular sea vistas, off shore scuba diving or deep sea fishing.
June or July in Hibberdene is lookout point for catching awesome views of millions strong Greatest Shoal on Earth, sardine shoals being pursued by thousands of dolphins, sharks, game fish and fur seals, with the occasional whale.
Continue on south to Port Shepstone where the Banana Express takes passengers on one of three meanders past rural Zulu villages, through open grassland, weaving plantations of sugarcane and majestic indigenous forests.
A full day trip takes you to the breathtaking Oribi Gorgi where road transport meets train at Izotsha or Paddock for a scenic drive through the gorge 27 km. The Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is home to 250 bird species, bushbuck, reedbuck, blue and grey duiker and you may see a leopard prowling its secretive way through the African bush.
Further inland across the Oribi Flats waits the environmental treasure trove of the Harding district. Referred to as No-Man's Land during the era when local tribes, Zulu expansionists and European opportunities each sought the lion's share of its natural spoils, this remains WHERE EAGLES FLY.
Head inland from the town of Scottsburgh and you are in traditional Zulu country and the chance to witness at first hand all the song and dance of a living culture. Climb the imposing Execution Rock a short distance from the village of Dududu for vast, spectacular views and a pot of day dreaming of days gone by.
A little south of Scottsburgh and inland from the safe, picturesque beach at Park Rynie is Sugar country, centred around the predominantly Indian influenced town of Umzinto. Beyond lies the 2,189 ha Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve, combination of grassland and coastal forest home to a wide range of animals.
Further inland the small town of Highflats is a convenient base for exploring cultural sites relating to the truly ancient San People. Evidence of Voortrekker wagon routes into the Zulu Kingdom from the Drakensburg Mts is found along the old St.Faith's road heading seawards from Highflats.
Gauteng is the country's smallest province and has the second-largest population after KwaZulu-Natal. Gauteng has hot summers and cold winters with frost, and hail is common during summer thunderstorms.
The province blends cultures, colours and first and third-world traditions in a spirited mix, flavoured by a number of foreign influences and is home to the Cradle of Humankind, one of South Africa's seven UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Free State lies in the heart of South Africa, with the Kingdom of Lesotho nestling in the hollow of its bean-like shape. Lying between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south, the region is one of flat, rolling grassland and crop fields, rising to lovely sandstone mountains in the northeast.
The province is the granary of South Africa, with agriculture central to its economy, while mining on the rich goldfields reef is its largest employer. Bloemfontein, flower of the Free State, is the capital.
The Free State can be extremely cold during the winter months, especially towards the eastern mountainous regions, the western and southern areas are semi-desert. A beautiful range of hills near Parys in the northern Free State is actually part of the Vredefort Dome, the world's biggest meteor crater formed 2 billion years ago when a meteorite 10 kilometres wide slammed into the earth, the Vredefort Dome is one of South Africa's seven UNESCO World Heritage sites.
In the northeastern Free State, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is the province's prime tourist attraction.
Decorative painted Sotho houses dot the grasslands and South Africa's national road, the artery between Gauteng and the Western and Eastern Cape cuts through the centre of the Free State. The province produces high quality diamonds and there are 12 gold mines, bituminous coal is also mined.
Limpopo is South Africa's northernmost province, lying within the great curve of the Limpopo River and is the gateway to the rest of Africa. It is a region of contrasts, from true bush-veld country to majestic mountains, primeval indigenous forests, unspoiled wilderness and patchworks of farmland.
The province borders the countries of Botswana to the west, Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. In the eastern region lies the northern half of the magnificent Kruger National Park, a nature reserve teeming with African wildlife.
The capital is Polokwane, lying in the middle of the province and Limpopo is in the savanna bio-me, an area of mixed grassland and trees generally known as bush-veld. Winter is mild and mostly frost-free, the northern and eastern areas are subtropical with hot and humid summers and mist in the mountains.
The province is rich in nature, culture and wildlife and has a thriving tourist industry. In addition to the Kruger National Park there are 54 provincial reserves and several luxury private game reserves.
Mpumalanga - "the place where the sun rises" - is a province with spectacular scenic beauty and an abundance of wildlife, lying in the northeast of South Africa. Bordered by the countries of Mozambique and Swaziland to the east and Gauteng to the west, it is situated mainly on the high plateau grasslands of the Middle-veld, which roll eastwards for hundreds of kilometres.
In the northeast, it rises towards mountain peaks and terminates in an immense escarpment. In places this escarpment plunges hundreds of meters down to the low-lying area known as the Low-veld.
In the eastern region lies the southern half of the magnificent Kruger National Park, a nature reserve teeming with African wildlife. Lake Chrissie is the largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa and is famous for its variety of aquatic birds, particularly flamingos.
North West lies in the north of South Africa on the Botswana border, fringed by the Kalahari desert in the west, Gauteng province to the east, and the Free State to the south.
It is known as the Platinum Province for the wealth of the metal it has underground. Mafiking is the capital and is best known for the famous siege during the Anglo-Boer War. The city lies near the Botswana border.
North West's most famous attraction is the Sun City complex which lies next to the Pilanesberg National Park. Sun City is one of the world's biggest entertainment centres, with a casino, an 18-hole golf course, theatres and concert halls, beaches and a wave pool at the Valley of the Waves, and a number of world class hotels that include the remarkable Palace of the Lost City.
The Western Cape lies on southern tip of Africa, the most southern point is Cape Agulhas some 200 km east of Cape Town. The province is one of the country's most beautiful and is a region of majestic mountains, colourful patchwork of farmland set in lovey valleys, long beaches and further inland the wide open landscape of the semi-desert Karoo.
Two oceans meet on the coast of the Western Cape, the cold Atlantic Ocean is in the west while the warmer Indian Ocean lies on the southern coast. The Western Cape has a temperate southern coastline fringed with mountains and to the north it stretches deep into the Karoo plateau while the west coast is extremely dry.
The Mediterranean climate of the peninsula and the mountainous region beyond it is ideal for grape cultivation, with a number of vineyards producing excellent wines. The Western Cape's unmatched natural beauty, famous hospitality, cultural diversity, excellent wine and rich cuisine make it one of the world's greatest tourist attractions.
Perched between the ocean and the mountain, and with a national park as its heart, Cape Town is wild, wonderful and recognised as one of the most beautiful places on earth. Cape Town nestles in the curve of Table Mountain at the start of the hook-shaped Cape Peninsula, which ends in the jagged cliffs of Cape Point.
Among its attractions are climbing, surfing and diving along with vibrant nightlife, excellent wine and endless shopping. To the east, the region around Knysna and Tsitsikamma has the country's largest indigenous forests, a fairyland of ancient tree giants, ferns and abundant bird life.
At the tip of the Cape Peninsula you will find Cape Point within the Table Mountain National Park. The expansive Table Mountain National Park stretches from Signal Hill and Table Mountain in the north to Cape Point in the south and encompasses the seas and coastline of the peninsula.
Within Cape Point the treacherous cliffs forming the most southwestern tip of Africa are some of the highest in the world and mark the spot where the cold Benguela current on the West coast and the warm Agulhus current on the East coast merge.
Inside the reserve you will find a variety of animals including buck, baboons and Cape Mountain Zebra as well as over 250 species of birds and indigenous flora that is found nowhere else in the world. Take a scenic drive, stop at one of the many picnic spots and tidal pools and travel to the Lighthouse lookout by funicular or on foot for spectacular views.
The top of Table Mountain offers spectacular views in all directions and gives a birds eye view of the city. The upper cable car station is situated at 1067 meters and the revolving cable car makes sure that your trip up and down gives you a good look in all directions.
Staying in the Cape Wine lands regions of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek will give you easy access to the numerous wine estates in the area - which means plenty of time for leisurely wine tasting and cellar tours.
With towering mountains as their backdrop, the wine lands towns offer history, spectacular scenery, outdoor activities and award winning restaurants for elegant or casual dining. Still within a 45-minute drive of Cape Town city centre, the wine lands are well-worth staying a night or two.
South Africa's Cape coast attracts thousands of local and international tourists each year to witness the Indian and Atlantic oceans splashing together. Cape Point, an hour's drive from Cape Town, has spectacular cliffs, lighthouses and "Two Oceans" curio shops.
The Indian Ocean on the east is warmed by the Mozambique or Agulhas current which flows down from the tropics while the Atlantic on the west coast is cooled by the icy Benguela current which comes up from the Antarctic.
These two different oceans, the prevailing winds and the topography of South Africa combine to create lush forests and sub tropical savanna on the east coast, gradually changing to desert or semi-desert on the west coast.
The beaches of Camps Bay, Clifton and Llandudno that dot the Atlantic Seaboard are white and sandy offering beautiful views and spectacular sunsets. Although the water is very chilly, on a hot summer day it does make for a refreshing dip.
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of South Africa. There is a very common misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa and the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, but in fact the southernmost point is Cape Agulhas, about 150 kilometres to the southeast.
The famous Robben Island in Table Bay is 11 km offshore and was used for centuries as a prison for dissidents and outcasts. It has also been used as a leper colony and from 1846 to 1931 as a mental hospital and during World War II the island was used as a training and defence base.
The prison was once home to former President Nelson Mandela as well as many black political freedom fighters and is now a World Heritage Site and provides stunning vies across the bay with Table Mountain as its backdrop. A trip to the island is an unforgettable experience and offers a glimpse into the life and times of the apartheid era.
The garden province of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal is a subtropical region of lush and well-watered valleys, washed by the warm Indian Ocean. One of the country's most popular tourist destinations, the province stretches from Port Edward in the south to the borders of Swaziland and Mozambique to the north. Its western part is marked by the dramatic Drakensberg mountain range.
Between the mountains and the humid, subtropical coastline is savanna grassland, but there are also areas of indigenous forest along the coast. It is a summer rainfall area, with a climate that ranges from extremely hot along the coast in summer, to heavy snow on the mountains in winter. The Midlands are drier than the coast and can be very cold in winter.
KwaZulu-Natal is the only province with a monarchy specifically provided for in South Africa's Constitution. The province's name comes from the Zulu kingdom of KwaZulu and the Zulu are the largest South African ethnic group of an estimated 10-11 million people who live mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The Zulu Kingdom played a major role in South African history during the 19th and 20 the centuries.
In 1816 the Zulu formed a powerful state under the leader Shaka who gained a large amount of power over the tribe. In 1878 Cetshwayo was ordered to disband his army and accept British authority. He refused and war followed at the start of 1879. During the war the Zulus defeated the British at the Battle of Isandlwana on January 22 but the British managed to get the upper hand after the battle at Rorke's Drift, a mission station on the Buffalo River when one hundred and thirty nine British soldiers successfully defended their garrison against an intense assault by four to five thousand Zulu warriors. The war was won with the Zulu defeated at the Battle of Ulundi on July 4.
Under apartheid the homeland of KwaZulu was created for the Zulu people and in 1970 the Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act provided that all Zulus would become citizens of KwaZulu-Natal, losing their South African citizenship.
The Ukhalamba Drakensberg Park has outstanding natural beauty and is home to Africa's highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro, a fascinating and ancient geology, some of the rarest animals in the world and the largest, richest and most concentrated series of rock art in Africa.
The park lies in the west of KwaZulu-Natal on the Lesotho border and the Zulu name uKhahlamba-barrier of spears and the Afrikaans name Drakensberg dragon mountains fit the formidable horizon created by the range. For more than 4,000 year they were home to the indigenous San people.
South Africa, an amazing, beautiful country what does it conjure up for you - the Big Five, elephant, lion, rhinoceros, buffalo and leopard, Table Mountain, Zulus, the indigenous San people of the Kalahari, the stunning coastline and gorgeous beaches.
There is so much in this incredible country, come on over and see for yourself.