South Africa is a land of plenty. Even when growing up as a local, one is often awed by the diversity of this place. Many tourists fly in and out of Cape Town – they see the Mountain, they taste the wine, they take a bus through a township and they believe that they have seen it all. Experiencing South Africa like this is valid, but it’s a pity, as this place is filled with many different countries, cultures and cool people.
Buckle up. This is the local’s guide to everything good in ‘Afrique du Sud’.
Jo’burg, Jozie, Johannesburg
Your plane is most likely to land in Johannesburg, from where you must resist from jumping onto the first available flight to Cape Town. Jo’burg is one of SA’s largest cities and this buzzling Metropolis has too much to offer to miss.
An old school fare-like market where the smell of freshly baked bread fills the air from 9am onwards. Truly a local hangout and an appropriate location to enjoy your first ever ‘boereworsrol’.
From Jo’burg, take a drive on the N3 towards Durban. It’s not only important that you get to Durban – the city with the largest population of Indian people outside of India – it’s important that you drive there. The N3 curves neatly around the Drakensberg Mountain Range, which is the highest in SA.
- The Bunny Chow.
A Bunny chow consists of half a loaf of store bought white bread, hollowed out and stuffed with a curry that is sure to blow your brain out! Buy one for R20 at any small ‘spaza‘ on the Durban Foreshore and ask for a glass of milk with it. Trust me, you’ll be thankful for the milk…
- Lake St. Lucia
This is merely one of SA’s mindblowing natural wonders. Lake St. Lucia is an enormous fresh water lake situated mere meters from the Indian Ocean. Here crocodiles, hippopotami and other fresh water animals enjoy life unaware of their saltwater siblings across the street.
The Wild Coast
True to its name, the Wild Coast – or the Eastern Coast of SA – is untamed. Nevertheless, this part of South Africa holds some of the most awe-inspiring natural scenery, some of the most kindhearted people and definitely the most truly South African experiences.
- Take a hike.
Apart from the fact that there are no real roads, hiking in this part of SA is the best way to feel like a local – especially when you’re hiking with Jimmy Selani. He’ll take you from Port St. Johns all the way to Coffee Bay over a period of 5 days. You’ll stay with some of his local friends in their colourful round huts, eat with them, drink beer with them and see the Wild Coast in all its splendour.
- Hole in the wall.
Another breath-taking, secret natural wonder. If you’re hiking with Jimmy, this is where your tour will end. Not into hiking all the way? No problem. Take a taxi to the spot while listening to deafening South African gospel beats to the likes of Miriam Makeba all the way.
Into the Great Karoo
From lush green to desolate planes of emptiness, such is the stark contrasts found in South Africa. The Great Karoo, which covers the largest surface of South Africa, is certainly not only a drive through which leads to Cape Town.
- Go Fish (or Hunt)
Stop in one of the Karoo towns and go have a drink in the Royal Hotel. 90% of Karoo towns have a Royal Hotel. Speak to some Afrikaans Farmers about where you’ll be able to do some fishing or hunting and before you know it you’ll be chewing on a piece of Springbok biltong that you have hunted and made yourself.
Another landmark found in all Karoo towns are majestic English churches. The ones in Graaff Reinet, Aberdeen, Sutherland and Cradock are some of the few worth mentioning.
Make your way to the Mother City.
- Choose the R62 to Cape Town
This piece of road meanders through the Eastern Cape, right through the Klein Karoo into the wine regions of the Western Cape. Small oases, like Ronnies Sex Shop (the name is certainly misleading) and the Barrydale Karoo Hotel are situated all along the R62.
There are also some pretty steep and interesting mountain passes built by Thomas Baines on this road, which would make for a well-deserved rest point in your journey.
You have now arrived in the Overberg – or literally translated “Over the Mountain”. This term refers to the Hottentots-Holland Mountains situated to the West, where-over the N2 will lead you to Cape Town. But that’s only later. First, stop to have a home-made pie at the Ou Meul Bakery in Bredasdorp. It’s become so popular that the owner’s daughter recently opened a small franchise of the farm bakery in the City Bowl and, needless to say, they’re thriving.
A proudly South African West Coast village internationally renowned for the Southern Right Whales that come here to give birth to their calves each year. Although the calving only happens during a certain time of the year, whales are to be seen all year round.
Now you’re ready to head over the Sir Lowry’s Pass on the Hottentots-Holland Mountains via the N2. Once you start descending towards Somerset-West, take a moment to enjoy the incredible view of the Cape Peninsula. Take a deep breath, because you have now entered the Cape Town realm.
CT, Cape Town, The Mother City
- Stay in a backpackers
Cape Town offers some of the most high-end backpacking experiences on the planet. It’ll be a pity if you don’t stay in a hipster backpackers somewhere off Long street or in Woodstock.
- If the sun shines, it’s an undeclared public holiday
This is something no book or guide would ever tell you, but it’s common knowledge among locals to respect and savour good weather whenever possible… and in Cape Town, it’s more often than not. On one of these undeclared public holidays, be sure to be in the right places:
- On the beach: Camp’s Bay, Clifton, Beta Beach
- At a market: The Oranjezicht Farm, Root44, First Thursdays, The Vintage Market
- Table Mountain
Although this is a very touristy thing to do, one cannot exit Cape Town without spending time on the mountain. You can, however, choose to experience Table Mountain like a local by hiking up one of the various routes, rather than taking the cable car up and down. Hike up through Kirstenbosch Gardens and Skeleton Gorge. This way you can spend time in the Garden too before going up the Mountain (this is sounding much more Biblical than intended…)
Now – and only now – can you say that you have experienced South Africa. Some of the listings above cannot be done in a 2 week holiday to SA, so you’ll have no choice but to come again and again and again to see it all. And the best part is – this list is only but a teeny weeny tip of the iceberg.