Western Cape is best known for the historic Cape Winelands, which have been producing premium wines and exporting them around the world for more than 300 years. But the province is far more than its grape vines.
To the east of the winelands, the iconic artery roads of Garden Route and the interior Route 62 cut through the province to the Eastern Cape. The coastal route is rife with adventure activities such as shark cage diving and bungee jumping, as well as plentiful opportunities to whale watch and unwind on white and beaches. On the interior route, outlandish pursuits including ostrich racing, squeezing through crevices of underground caves and driving the switchbacks of the 1,583 metre Swartberg Mountain Pass make for memories that last a lifetime. Route 62 is also home to some of South Africa's oldest and most charming country towns.
The less trafficked western coast of the province is known for its picturesque fishing villages with fresh-from-the-ocean seafood and at the northern corner of Western Cape, the rugged paths of the Cederberg Wilderness take hikers past pristine streams, springtime wild flowers and caves adorned with San rock art.
KwaZulu-Natal may be most well known for its iconic Drakensberg Mountains, where visitors can set off on hikes ascending into the wilderness among animals and waterfalls. But this province has so much more to explore, from endless sandy white beaches to the massive iSimangaliso Wetland Park that teems with aquatic animals and nature reserves filled with big game. The province borders Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique and has a handful of small interior towns steeped in the history of major battles that took place in this area and that molded the country’s history.
The Free State is situated in the heart of South Africa surrounded by neighboring provinces and the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. This region has been a bastion for Afrikaner nationalism and conservative culture since the establishment of the independent Republic of the Orange Free State back in the mid 1800s and the progress of race relations tends to move at a slower pace than in the rest of the county. The landscape throughout much of the province is flat cultivated fields, which gives way to the highveld of the Maluti Mountains in the northeastern part of the province. It is this expanse of rolling grassy hills and sandstone cliffs where the province’s main attraction lies. The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is full of fantastic hiking trails, caves filled with San rock art, roaming wildlife, and fresh mountain air, making it an ideal spot for those who enjoy the outdoors.
Gauteng, pronounced (how-teng), means “place of gold” in Sotho. The province, which was cut out from the old Transvaal province and newly formed in 1994, includes two of South Africa’s major cities, Johannesburg and Pretoria. While Gauteng is, geographically, the smallest of South Africa’s provinces, it has more people and is growing faster than any other. It accounts for nearly 40 percent of South Africa’s GDP and its provincial capital, Johannesburg, has a busteling city center and expansive sprawl of suburbs and townships encompasing some of the countries best restaurants, music and nightlife. The country’s administrative capital, Pretoria is quiet and has a more relaxed feel than its neighboring metropolis. Together these two cities form the region’s economic, political, educational and transportation hub for both South Africa and southern Africa.
Mpumalanga (pronounced m-poo-ma-lung-ah) means “the place were the sun rises” in Zulu and siSwati. Reflecting its name, it is a scenic province with incredible vistas passing through the Drakensberg escarpment and Lowveld.
While the major attraction that draws visitors to the province is the nearby Kruger National Park, the surrounding towns have much more to offer than just a jumping spot for day trips into the Kruger and should not be missed. The Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world, is located in the Northern part of the province is one of the more popular destinations for visitors with a number of impressive viewpoints along the edges into the canyon below. The Blyde River Canyon area and the towns of Graskop and Sabie just South of the Canyon offer plenty of adventure activities, hiking trails and dozens of waterfalls to swim under and are conveniently located less than an hour from Kruger. There also plenty of private game reserves within the province, many of which can offer a similar game viewing experience as the big park without a large crowd.
Kruger National Park is the top spot in the country to see amazing wildlife and big game. Whether it is the excitement of coming face to face with a giant elephant, observing the powerful movement of large herds or witnessing an intense moment of life, death or survival among different species of the animal kingdom, every day in Kruger is one guaranteed to be worthy of recounting over an evening campfire.
Driving through the park and observing the impressive variety of wildlife is an overwhelmingly satisfying experience for most visitors. But for those looking for more adventure, sunrise and sunset game drives, hiking into the wild with a ranger, mountain biking, camping, game hides, and even golfing in an unfenced 9-hole course in the middle of the park are sure to thrill.
Limpopo is South Africa’s northernmost province and is named after the Limpopo River that forms the province’s border with Botswana and Zimbabwe. Visitors are drawn to this region because of its rich cultural history and beautiful nature and game reserves, including Kruger National Park. Local museums capture Limpopo’s more recent history of fierce and bloody battles between the advancing Voortrekkers and the Africans who had settled in this area over a thousand years earlier. The region’s unique features have been recognized by UNESCO, which has designated the western Waterberg area as a Biosphere Reserve and the northern Mapungubwe National Park as a World Heritage Site. The area surrounds the busy thoroughfare of the Great North Road (the N1), which starts in Cape Town and continues north through Musina and into Zimbabwe.
The North West Province is probably best known for its precious metal mining and its two top tourist destinations: the over-the-top mega resort of Sun City and nearby Pilanesburg National Park - home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino).
But there is much more to check out in the North West Province beyond these two popular sights. There are a few lesser-known game and nature reserves with great hiking trails that will allow you to experience the pleasant landscape away from the crowds.
A handful of interior cities have their own distinct flavor, such as the city of Rustenburg and its exploding funeral business or the laid-back but prosperous capital city of Mafikeng that endured a seven-month siege during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
The arid Kalahari Desert and the grassy plains and mountains of the Great Karoo dominate the Northern Cape. Every so often, a herd of animals or burst of foliage feeding off the Orange River and its tributaries punctuates the harsh and dry terrain. Though the Northern Cape makes up nearly one-third of South Africa, it remains the country’s most sparsely populated province and is dominated by Afrikaner culture. There are only two large cities within the province and driving between any sizeable town can easily take the better half of a day.
The province’s capital, Kimberley, is best known for its history in the diamond industry and today boasts the largest manmade excavation in the world, aptly named the Big Hole. However, most visitors who are drawn to the Northern Cape stray far from its cities. It is in the region’s more rural lands where the Cape reveals its rich history of the Khoisan and Afrikaners, country hospitality, unique geology, millions of fossils dating back to the Triassic period, and a handful of beautifully rugged National Parks. It is a place for escaping into the wilderness to spend nights in the middle of nowhere under the stars of an impossibly clear sky.