South Africa has plenty of well known draw cards – the Kruger, Cape Town and the Garden Route are popular sites that spring to mind – but its wealth of lesser known natural wonders, quaint towns and beautiful beach destinations can make a huge difference to your holiday, especially if you are seeking something a little different and far from the milling crowds. Diversity is a word often associated with South Africa, but you only get to see a fraction of it if you stick to the well-tread areas that take top spots in guide books and travel sites.
Sterkfontein Caves, Gauteng
Sterkfontein is a World Heritage Site, and the perfect spot for amateur archaeologists. One of the most important fossil sites in the world, the caves are an active excavation site and a fascinating place to tour. Hominid and animal fossils as old as 4 million years have been discovered in the place known as the Cradle of Humankind – providing valuable information on human history and development.
A top class visitor’s centre with excellent exhibits, great guides, a restaurant and beautiful views make the visit an unforgettable part of any South African trip. The caves are just 40 minutes from Johannesburg, a convenient distance to see one of the most famous archeological sites in the world. Remember to wear comfortable shoes for the cave tours.
Drakensburg Amphitheatre, KZN
While the towering mountain range could hardly be regarded as hidden, the 5km wide amphitheatre cliff face is an under-marketed natural phenomenon that draws far fewer crowds than it should. Standing at the base of this sheer tower of rock will make you feel as though you’re transported to a fictional landscape. Hikes to the peak of the cliff are available, and the majestic Tugela Falls at the top will make the walk more than worth it.
There is some great accommodation with unrestricted views of the amphitheatre, an unforgettable sight to wake up to daily.
Clarens, Free State
The Free State, a vast province with few tourist attractions, is home to a little oasis. An artist’s haven, Clarens’ beauty lies in its toy-like picturesqueness at the base of some impressive sandstone mountains.
It’s not too far from Johannesburg, and its location along the scenic Highlands Route will allow for plenty of beautiful views. Lots of interesting little galleries and restaurants, with spectacular scenery all around make Clarens a great battery-charging weekend getaway.
Lekgalameetse Resort, Limpopo
The indigenous forest of this provincial park forms part of the Drakensburg mountain range, and has incomparable natural beauty. Discover bubbling streams, magical rock pools, waterfalls, rare butterflies, vervet and samango monkeys, and a range of colourful birds.
You can explore the reserve on foot or by 4×4, and stay in one of its rustic bungalows among the trees. If its wildlife and nature you’re seeking in SA, places like Lekgalameetse offer incredible alternatives to the tourist-heavy meccas of the Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg and many private reserves like Sabi Sand and Kapama. Beautiful lookout points and picnic spots are dotted throughout the reserve.