Read more about each South African area and what it has to offer…
Cape Town has prize-winning good looks, a wonderful climate, a fascinating history and plenty to do. Virtually nobody comes to South Africa without including a visit to this most 'European' of African cities. High up on anybody's list is to set foot on top of Table Mountain.
This area is world-famous due to some strong marketing to overseas tourists, but I don't think that all who pass through Garden Route necessarily enjoy it to the full. This is mainly because the best it has to offer requires some effort from you.
The Cederberg: 71,000 hectares of dramatic sandstone mountain terrain. Walking boots and a bird book are essential in this very special wilderness area. The weathered sandstone makes for dramatic water-sculpted scenery and the whole area is a combination of rocky gorges, rivers, wonderful spring flowers and farms hidden in their own secluded valleys.
The real charm of the Klein Karoo lies in the fact that it remains, for the greater part, 'undiscovered', despite being so close to Cape Town. On any journey through this part of the world there is therefore plenty of scope for the unexpected. Guest houses set on sprawling, off-the-beaten-track fruit farms, restaurants tucked away in quiet little towns and intriguing wildlife experiences.
A huge expanse of land with 800km of coastline, Eastern Cape is home to much of this country's history, both ancient and modern. Stop off at some of the great sandy beaches for seafood, sunbathing and perhaps even a spot of surfing around St. Francis Bay.
Gauteng occupies a high and dusty interior plain and is the smallest and most densely populated of South Africa's regions, with some 20% of the country's population living within its boundaries. Eat out, enjoy the botanical gardens and green urban spaces and only then jump back in the hire car and drive the easy few hours out to the game reserves.
The great, grey-green, greasy waterway, after which this most northerly of South African provinces is named, curls 1,600km in a wide arc around the top of the Drakensberg, separating South Africa from neighbouring Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Limpopo has enough variety to warrant a substantial trip to just this one province. One of my favourite regions of the country.
The highlights of the North West Province to my mind are the Magaliesberg close to Pretoria and the Madikwe Game Reserve so we've suggested an itinerary that takes you to both. You can of course do all of the Magaliesberg suggestions within an easy day trip from Jo'burg or Pretoria and they can make a pleasant change from the hectic city streets.
For sophisticates - like myself - who have come to expect the finer things in life, the Cape Winelands are the only place to go. They cover a relatively small area of verdant valleys and vertical mountains that spring up out of the sea on the far side of the Cape Flats, about an hour east of Cape Town.
The Overberg is all about the meeting of land and ocean. Agulhas is the southernmost tip of Africa and here, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans collide, the sea smashes over rocky and rugged headlands, and washes up on wide, arcing white-sand beaches.
The Great Karoo reaches unbroken right up to Gauteng and is a gigantic region with vast open vistas, gigantic skies, dramatic koppies and night skies, home to many desert-loving creatures and plants. I think you really need to experience the Karoo to get a real sense of South Africa.
The West Coast makes for low-stress, high-reward travel, all within just an hour or two of the Mother City. I do recommend getting lost in this region! Beaches are white and there are plenty of water sports on offer. More leisurely pursuits include superb birding and whale- and dolphin-watching, the Fossil Park plus some great seafood restaurants right on the beach.
This is an all too rarely explored region of sparsely-populated golden plains, sandstone mountains and unspoilt villages. If you choose to cross the Free State it is definitely worth taking your time to select some things to do and places to stay that will not only break up the drive, but also make travelling through this part of South Africa really enjoyable.
KwaZulu Natal often doesn't get as much press as it deserves. For anyone looking for a real range of activities from their holiday, this huge region offers as complete a package as you'll find anywhere in South Africa.
Formerly the Eastern Transvaal, Mpumalanga means 'the place where the sun rises', which should give you a pretty good indication of where it is: smack on South Africa's eastern border. While many may associate the region purely with the big cats of the Kruger National Park, 68% of it is set aside for agriculture.
The Northern Cape is by far and away the largest province in South Africa, covering almost a third of its land mass. Travelling through this area is really very simple as there are generally very few roads that connect very few towns. But this is what makes it fantastic to visit and a loop around the Northern Cape is perhaps the most thrilling drive in the country.
South African accommodation special offers for this month, focusing on…January Getaways
A blog of don't-miss
in South Africa
Here's some more specific South Africa travel information: when to go, getting around (car hire, inter-island ferries, train journeys) and distances.
PLACE OF THE DAY
One of the happiest and most humorous guest houses in Cape Town, so it always seems to me. Many of Jonny and Sharon’s guests refuse to stay elsewhere and gifts arrive daily from overseas… well almost. It’s a small, intimate place and you are spoiled: free-standing baths, fluffy duvets, big white pillows, unflowery good taste in mirrors and wood floors, magazines, African artefacts, great showers.…Read more