Tired of the concrete jungle? Here are ten places in South Africa where nature’s beauty and diversity remains unspoiled.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal
The name iSimangaliso means “miracle and wonder”, perfectly suited to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated along 220km of the Zululand coast, the park’s extensive habitats include mountains, grasslands, forests, wetlands, mangroves, beaches and coral reefs. This diverse and species-rich area, home to hippos, crocodiles and fish eagles, is a place of understated beauty where nature is truly untouched.
Namaqualand, Northern Cape
This usually-arid region on the West Coast of South Africa has become famous for the Namaqualand daisies that carpet the area in early spring, after the last of the winter rains. Namaqualand is a biodiversity hotspot, the only arid hotspot in the world, and the flower route from Goegap Nature Reserve in Springbok to Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve in Kamieskroon is an exquisite display of colour.
The Whale Trail, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Southern Right whales come to give birth off the De Hoop coast between June and September, and this is a perfect time to walk the Whale Trail. The 5-day hike winds along pathways between fragrant fynbos and other indigenous plants, and you might even spot antelope, vultures, or other diverse bird and animal species.
uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, KwaZulu-Natal
Another spectacular World Heritage Site, uKhahlamba’s mountain peaks can be snow-tipped during winter. Sparkling rivers and grasslands in between the mountains are home to a vast array of native species of animals and birds, including the Eland Antelope, Bearded Vulture and Black Eagle. Visitors can walk, hike, horse ride or even mountain bike through the park and stay overnight at campsites or lodges.
Tsitsikamma National Park, Eastern Cape
Located on the Garden Route, the national park runs along 80km of coastline and extends between the sea and the Tsitsikamma Mountains. This glorious forest’s Khoi name means “place of many waters”, and waterways such as the Bloukrans River are its lifeblood. Tsitsikamma is home to a host of indigenous tree species such as the Yellowwood and Stinkwood, some of which are centuries old.
Karoo National Park, Western Cape
The Karoo is the largest ecosystem in South Africa, only a part of which is protected by the national park. The Nuweveld Mountains and extensive plains make up the stark desert landscape, and are home to a surprising variety of wildlife which have adapted to the harsh conditions. You might see buffalo, Black Rhino or Cape Mountain Zebra, or if you enjoy bird watching, larks, chats and raptors abound.
Aliwal Shoal, KwaZulu-Natal
Located 5km off the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, Aliwal Shoal is a spectacular dive site with varied typography that includes caves, gullies and pinnacles. The expansive reef is the seasonal home of the fierce-looking ragged tooth shark, as well as guitar sharks and sting rays. On a good day, you’ll even see a manta ray or dolphin.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a protected area of 3.6 million hectares in the southern Kalahari Desert that overlaps international boundaries between South Africa and Botswana. The lack of fences (except on the west and south sides of the park) means that wildlife can migrate freely without interference. The red sand dunes and sparse vegetation are iconic images for photographers. Look out for the black-maned Kalahari lion, leopard, meerkat, and gemsbok.
Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, Western Cape
The first biosphere reserve declared by UNESCO in South Africa, this 70 000 hectare park is home to a whopping 1 300 plant species per
square kilometre. This is more biologically diverse than the Amazon rainforest, which boasts only 420 species for the same area. Besides its 1 880 floral species, Kogelberg offers glorious mountain, sea and sunset views.
Echo Caves, Limpopo
Possibly the least commercialised of South Africa’s cave systems (being somewhat off the beaten track) Echo Caves are in pristine condition, and thought to be more than 40 km long. By tapping a certain stalactite formation, you’ll soon hear why the caves have their name. Also of interest are the engravings by the San people made during the Stone Age.
Published on Jacaranda FM’s website on 30th March 2012.