Proudly local travel – 7 tourism wonders every South African should see at least once in their lives

Okay, we admit it — our country actually has countless wonders. Here’s a selection of some of the places that make us most proud of our beautiful land

The Blyde River Canyon.
The Blyde River Canyon.                                                                                                   Image: WIKIMEDIA

1. Blyde River Canyon (Motlatse Canyon)

Mpumalanga means “the place where the sun rises” in siSwati and if it’s possible to pinpoint such a phenomenon even further, it would be here. At 26km long and over 800m deep, the Blyde River Canyon is without doubt one of the most breathtaking places in the country.

The third largest canyon in the world (after the US Grand Canyon and Namibia’s Fish River Canyon), it is also said to be the world’s largest “green canyon”, thanks to its swathes of subtropical foliage.

Incidentally, its official name was changed in 2005 to the Motlatse Canyon, though most – including the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency – still refer to it by its old name.

2. Route 67 Art Route

Route 67 in Port Elizabeth is a route comprised of 67 artworks, symbolising the 67 years of former president Nelson Mandela’s struggle for freedom.

The walk begins at the Campanile bell tower in the harbour and climbs up to the Donkin Reserve, the city’s highest point, which, along with a fine view also boasts the country’s biggest national flag.

One of the main attractions is The Voting Line sculpture comprising two-dimensional figures – including Mandela – cut from metal showing people waiting to vote in 1994.

The Piazza Mosaic by the NMMU ceramic collective on PE's Route 67.
The Piazza Mosaic by the NMMU ceramic collective on PE’s Route 67.                 Image: Supplied
The scenery at Table Mountain National Park is jaw dropping.
The scenery at Table Mountain National Park is jaw dropping.                          Image: 123RF/Otto du Plessis

The park encompasses some of SA’s most bucket-listed scenery, including the eponymous mountain – also a World Heritage Site as it’s home to 1,460 species of fynbos, the smallest but richest of Earth’s six floral kingdoms.

Also in the park is Cape Point, which besides being incomparably beautiful is Africa’s most south-westerly point and SA’s windiest spot, with an annual average wind speed of 50.76km/h. High drama indeed.

4. Isandlwana battlefield

Lindizwe Dalton Ngobese is the great-grandson of Mehlokazulu of the iNgobamakhosi Regiment, which formed part of the left horn of King Cetshwayo’s Zulu army when it fell upon the British force camped on the plain below the sphinx-shaped rock on the edge of Zululand on January 22 1879.

Tourist Mervyn Kidd and guide Dalton Ngobese at Isandlwana.
Tourist Mervyn Kidd and guide Dalton Ngobese at Isandlwana.                                                                                          Image: Paul Ash
Who better, then, to tell you the story of that fateful day when men armed with spears and cowhide shields defeated soldiers armed with rifles and cannons, sending shockwaves throughout the empire? Ngobese, whose tours cover the battlefield in Nqutu, KZN, and traditional Zulu culture, is based at Isandlwana Lodge, which overlooks the battlefield.

5. Kruger National Park

With a total area of 19,485 square kilometres, the Kruger National Park occupies parts of both Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, and is one of the largest game reserves on the continent. Its five distinct vegetation zones – from open grassland to riverine forest – mean different types of wildlife proliferate in different parts of the park.

It is also part of the 35,000 square kilometre Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park linking Kruger with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe.

A leopard snoozes in the Kruger National Park.
A leopard snoozes in the Kruger National Park. Image: Hoberman Collections/Getty Images
iSimangaliso Wetland Park was SA's first UNESCO World Heritage site.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park was SA’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. Image: 123RF/Benny Marty

SA’s first Unesco World Heritage site stretches along 220km of protected coast along the eastern seaboard in KwaZulu Natal.

Its 332,000ha are home to a stirring collection of superlatives, including Africa’s largest estuarine system; some of the world’s highest coastal vegetated dunes (which also happen to be an incredible 25,000 years old); most of SA’s last surviving swamp forests, and four Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance).

The coast is also the last significant site of breeding for leatherback turtles in Africa, and its waters are home to the world’s oldest known living fish species, the coelacanth.

With three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, and more than 6,500 plant and animal species, the park offers an incredible wealth of activities for visitors, from estuarine cruises to game drives to deep-sea dives.

7. Cradle of Humankind

The remains of 700 Australopithecus africanus hominids who lived here nearly 3 million years ago have been found in the warren of limestone caverns that loop and twist under the earth around Sterkfontein in Gauteng’s north-western corner.

The visitors' centre at Maropeng is home to an array of fascinating displays.
The visitors’ centre at Maropeng is home to an array of fascinating displays.                                                                        Image: Jeffrey Greenberg/Getty Images
Your first stop should be the visitors’ centre at Maropeng which contains fossils, stone tools and dioramas that bring to life in a spectacular way the history of humankind – including the 2013 discovery of a new species named Homo naledi. You can take a boat ride through 3 billion years of history and feel an odd thrill when you realise that this is where it all began for us.
BY PAUL ASH & ELIZABETH SLEITH

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