‘The Rainbow Nation‘ only begins to describe the diverse splendours of South Africa. Staggering vistas, magnificent wildlife, a thriving viniculture, grand echoes of the colonial era, fascinating history and a beautiful and inspiring mix of people who speak eleven languages.
South Africa is also one of the most popular Gate 1 destinations with Australian travellers. If you’re looking for a travel experience that fills your senses and checks off every box on your list of travel must-haves, South Africa could be for you too!
Johannesburg, City of Gold
Johannesburg was founded as a gold mining town. Today it stands as the capital city of South Africa’s wealthiest province of Gauteng, which translates as ‘Place of Gold‘. But the city’s mining history has long, dark chapters – the darkest of which was the establishment of Soweto (South-Western Townships) as a township apart from its parent city of Jo-burg. The intent of the ruling white minority was to segregate native African mine workers into a ghetto of ramshackle huts.
It’s not surprising that two of the nation’s most outspoken anti-apartheid advocates lived in Soweto: Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Their former homes – Mandela’s also serving as a museum that traces his life’s history – are a highlight of any visit to Soweto. But there’s another thing that stands out in this township: Today, it is a diverse and active multi-class community. The city’s – and country’s – past is memorialised at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. Named for the 13-year old boy shot by police during a peaceful protest in 1976, it is a powerful museum that chronicles the country’s struggle to abolish apartheid and in particular the 1976 uprising and events surrounding the protests.
Sweeping, Spellbinding Beauty of the Northeast
It’s not only South Africa’s history that’s rich and stirring. Many vistas along the breathtaking Panorama Route evoke Eden itself. The 16-mile-long Blyde River Canyon, for instance, cuts through a lush landscape of towering monoliths skirted in green. By some accounts, it is one of the largest canyons on earth thanks to the dizzying heights of its red sandstone walls. The meeting of the Blyde River and the Treur River forms Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a series of dramatic waterfalls, plunge pools and cylindrical rock formations that have been sculpted over millennia. But perhaps the most dramatic vista, as its name implies, is God’s Window. This magnificent view, best seen on clear days, stretches forever, tracing the Drakensberg escarpment’s sheer cliffs that spill into the low veld.
While the Panorama Route reveals some of South Africa’s breathtaking landscapes, Kruger National Park is the country’s haven for an astounding array of wildlife. Kruger boasts some of the most spectacular game viewing on the planet and our Gate 1 guides always keep their eyes peeled for ‘The Big Five‘ – buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion and leopard.
Kruger, though it is South Africa’s most famous, is not the country’s only wildlife game reserve. In the northeastern reaches of the country, the Mabula Game Reserve immerses you in the quintessential Africa, with sightings of magnificent wildlife at close range. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, a hilly reserve in northern KwaZulu Natal near South Africa’s east coast, also hosts a vast diversity of flora and fauna, and with its conservation efforts it can lay claim to the largest population of white rhino in the world. In the same province and closer to the Indian Ocean’s shores, the nearby St. Lucia Estuary harbours Nile crocodiles, hippos, sea turtles and even sharks, as Gate 1 travellers see firsthand on a safari cruise.
Cultural Riches of the East
South Africa is the kind of country that keeps on giving. Even away from the safari circuit, it has wonders in store. In Port Elizabeth, perched on the Indian Ocean at one of the nation’s most southeasterly tips, take in the ambiance of ‘The Friendly City‘. The legacy of Britain lives large here: in the City Hall, in the old stone Fort Frederick and in the cricket grounds in St. George’s Park. Of course, South Africa’s culture lives larger: The city’s ‘Route 67‘ is a series of 67 public artworks, one for each year Nelson Mandela committed himself to winning his nation’s freedom.
Port Elizabeth is also renowned as the start of the Garden Route, a 300 km scenic drive that traces the coast all the way to Cape Town. One of the route’s highlights, Tsitsikamma National Park, traverses a stunning gorge. The seaside town of Knysna is a gateway to the scenic beauty of the Featherbed Nature Reserve. Accessible only by ferry, it is a stunning landscape of green and blue waters washing up on coffee-coloured sands and soaring emerald hills. Few experiences rival a walk through this paradise. More splendid vistas and memorable detours lead to Oudtshoorn. Known as the ‘Ostrich Capital of the World‘, it hosts the world’s largest population of the flightless bird, and there are ample opportunities to learn more about the town’s feathered friend.
Big Discoveries, Tiny Country
It’s easy to overlook Africa’s tiniest independent country, eSwatini, just 190 kms north to south and approximately 130 kms east to west. Formerly known as Swaziland, until King Mswati III made the change in April this year to avoid what he described as ongoing confusion with Switzerland, this modest country makes for a fascinating visit. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about eSwatini, ‘Land of the Swazis‘, is that it has such a wide variety of landscapes, from rainforests to mountains and savannas to canyons. But its culture is equally remarkable, with a centuries-old tradition of crafts that is honoured in today’s candle workshops and glassblowing studios.
Cape Town’s Cultural and Natural Treasures
Cape Town and its surrounding region may well showcase South Africa’s diverse culture and rugged beauty best. To be sure, the city itself with its splendid baroque City Hall, impressive Cathedral of St. George, and the cheery multi-hued houses of Bo-Kaap, is a delight to explore. Its star-shaped Castle of Good Hope is the world’s best-preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort, originally built in 1666. But Cape Town’s natural surroundings take the breath away. The most ubiquitous natural wonder is Table Mountain, hovering over the city like a god. From its summit, views of the sterling city stretch to Table Bay, home to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent much of his time in prison. Another gem rests at the foot of Table Mountain, equal parts natural and manmade: the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. More than 7,000 indigenous species thrive here representing many different regions, from savanna to shrub-land fynbos.
The Cape Peninsula, which extends south into the Atlantic from Cape Town, offers dramatic seascapes and rugged coasts. Steep mountains spill into secluded coves and onto crescent, rock-lined beaches. The environment that’s evolved here – where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, surf crashes into head-rock and wind whips at vegetation – has created a unique ecosystem worth preserving. The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve does just that. Its 17,300 acres provide an undisturbed home for a rich diversity of flora and for more than 250 bird species. As for marine life, Boulders Beach is a cushy habitat for the African penguin, thanks to the calm waters of the sheltered cove.
Calmer waters don’t only host penguins here. They also support fishing villages like the town of Hout Bay. This charming enclave was originally founded by the Dutch for its timber rather than its fish. Another small town known as Simon’s Town enjoys a quiet spot on False Bay, earning it a place as the home of the South African Navy.
Add More of Africa for a Sweeping Adventure!
Southern Africa is overflowing with natural and cultural wonders. And when you travel this far, you’ll want to make the most of your airfare and reach beyond South Africa. To that end, we invite you to add Botswana and Zimbabwe to your adventure. They’re a short flight away from Johannesburg, but offer a magnificent beauty you won’t find anywhere else. In Botswana, marvel at the secluded splendour and astonishing wildlife of Chobe National Park, home to the densest concentration of elephants in Africa. At the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe witness one of nature’s most awe-inspiring spectacles, Victoria Falls. Here, thundering cataracts that send untold millions of gallons of water into a precipitous gorge.
Or venture with us to Namibia, home to some of the most starkly beautiful landscapes on the planet, not to mention abundant marine life. A catamaran cruise takes you out into the lagoon and the wetlands to mingle with flamingos, dolphins, and more while a 4×4 safari brings you into the towering dunes that face the coast. And in the Namib Desert, you’ll witness surreal landscapes, spectacular sunsets and incredible wildlife that has adapted to the harsh environment. A highlight here are the enormous dunes that look tall as mountains. The German-flavoured city of Windhoek puts you back in touch with civilisation.
Experience South Africa with Gate 1 Travel!
Join Gate 1 Travel in South Africa and experience firsthand its unrivalled natural beauty, warm and welcoming culture, and fantastic wildlife. And here’s another reason to travel here with Gate 1: the value of our tours to South Africa cannot be matched by other companies.
There is no better time to experience the Rainbow Nation for yourself. We hope you’ll join us!