South Africa’s countryside is as diverse as its cities. Each of the nine provinces is large and often you will find radically different climates, cultures and landscapes within the same province.
South Africans of all hues have a deep connection to the land and the countryside: most of us only really became fully urban two generations ago and it’s for this reason that you find that many South Africans retain a house or a patch of land in their ‘home’ (which will be in a rural area) and then a ‘house’ in or near the city where they work. Thus when you ask a South African ‘where are you from?’, they will reply with a rural location but if you ask ‘where do you stay?’ they will normally reply with an urban location. So visiting the countryside in South Africa is actually where the soul of the country is to be found.
The Western Cape has three distinct areas of countryside: the Overberg, the Winelands and the West Coast/Cedarberg.
The Eastern Cape has three distinct areas:
The Wild Coast is so named because of its stunning coastline, untouched by civilisation. Here you can still find the Xhosa people living in traditional reed and mud huts, splendid rivers and waterfalls cascading over cliffs into the sea and an ocean brimming with dolphins and whales. The Albany district for a long time was the frontier between the Cape Colony to the west and the homelands of the Xhosa to the east: this beautiful countryside hosts some of the most historic and notable towns in the country, such as Graff Reinet, Grahamstown and Bathhurst with rolling countryside in between. We’d also strongly recommend a visit to Greater Addo and the Baviaanskloof (one a national park and the other a wilderness) in the area.
KwaZulu-Natal has its coast line (which includes the stunning Isimangaliso Park), the Midlands and also the Drakensberg Mountains. Many visitors say that the Midlands may, in fact, be some of the most beautiful countryside on the planet: the pretty and historic towns on the Midlands Meander nestle into the lush green hills just to the west of Durban itself, with the backdrop of the Drakensberg mountains behind them (in themselves a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Every year, this area hosts the Comrade’s Marathon, an ultra-run that attracts runners from the world over. The run takes place either from Durban to Pietermaritzburg or the other way around. The Drakensberg has some of the most prolific rock art in the world much of it over 30 000 years old and the hiking in the foothills or the mountains themselves is hard to beat.
Mpumalanga and Limpopo don’t have a coast line but share the hosting of the largest transfrontier park in the world, the Kruger Park. However, they also have fascinating attractions in their own right such as the Panorama Route and Blyde River Canyon, as well as the Bela Bela hot springs, cycad and baobab forests and the lost civilisation of the Mapungubwe.
Much of the interior of South Africa, which is broadly the Free State, North Western and Northern Cape is semi-desert and arid and plays host to the Karoo, an enormous and amorphous area that extends all the way from the Swartberg Mountains (along the Garden Route) right up to the border with Botswana. The Free State borders on the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and as such the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a major attraction. Much of the rest of the Free State is agricultural as is the North West and Northern Cape.
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