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50 Magical locations in South Africa – the expat’s guide

By November 11, 2015July 25th,

50 Magical locations in South Africa – the expat’s guide

November 11, 2015

There’s no doubt that South Africa is one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. Yes, there may be other fascinating and awe-inspiring locations in the world, but South Africa is truly one magical place, with an experience for each and all in a nutshell.

Of course, you know all this! You used to live here! Which means you are one of the foremost authorities on the world of safa tourism.

If you’re planning a trip home for the holidays though, or want to impress your foreign friends with little titbits of South African wonder, we’ve listed 50 of the must-see destinations to visit in the rainbow nation.

Must-see South African tourism spots

  1. Spioenkop
  • Location: Latitude: -28.6488899 | Longitude: 29.516944, KZN
  • Reason to visit: This iconic battlefield holds a story – a story which features the likes of Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Louis  Botha, Jan Smuts, Robert Baden-Powell, Deneys Reitz, Redvers Buller, Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts, Piet Joubert and Christiaan de Wet.
  1. Hogsback
  • Location: Latitude: -32.595174 | Longitude: 26.932255, Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Whether you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or not, there really is no excuse not to visit the town which inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write his mystical tales of adventure in Middle Earth.
  1. The Owl House
  • Location: Latitude: -31.86772 | Longitude: 24.5529, Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: In addition to getting a chance to trek through the Great Karoo, the Owl House in Nieu-Bethesda offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into the world of a great and troubled artist, Helen Martins. Her whole house attests to her obscure and artistic existence with glass-covered walls and a yard full of mesmerising sculptures.
  1. Witsand
  • Location: Latitude: -28.533285 | Longitude: 22.494709, Northern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Dubbed the ‘Home of Contrasting Kalahari Sands’, it literally looks like an aircraft accidentally dumped heaps of white sands amid the red Kalahari sands. And if you keep quiet, you can hear the roar of the brulsand – an  unexplained phenomena which makes the southern slopes of the southern dunes roar.
  1. !Khwa ttu
  • Location: Latitude: -33.34343 | Longitude: 18.17527, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: !Khwa ttu contains a heritage so rich and ancient, it’s impossible to pass by this little gem on the atlas. This San heritage centre teaches visitors about San life, culture, folklore and cosmology while uplifting the San community.
  1. iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Location: Latitude: -27.636135 | Longitude: 32.58252, KZN
  • Reason to visit: The area which used to be known as the St Lucia Wetland Park, iSimangaliso is the third-largest protected area in South Africa spanning 280 km of coastline and including around 3 280 km2 of ecosystems.
  1. Pilgrim’s rest
  • Location: Latitude: -24.891191 | Longitude: 30.754392, Mpumalanga
  • Reason to visit: As the second gold field discovered in Transvaal, this quaint little tourist town attracted a rush of prospectors in 1873. The town also features a fascinating graveyard with every single grave facing in the same direction, save for the famous and mysterious ‘Robber’s grave’ which lies perpendicular to the rest.
  1. Lilliesleaf farm
  • Location: Latitude: -26.043466 | Longitude: 28.0541, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: Tucked away in the heart of Gauteng, Liliesleaf tells a tale of a liberation struggle which would play a pivotal part in the fall of the apartheid regime. A coup which saw the incarceration of names such as Bernstein, Goldberg, Sisulu, Hepple, Mhlaba, Mbeki and Goldreich occurred at Lilliesleaf on 11 July 1963 leading to the controversial Rivonia trials which put South African politics in the global spotlight.
  1. The Cradle of Humankind
  • Location: Latitude: -25.970716 | Longitude: 27.661438, Gauteng
  • Reasons to visit: Known as Maropeng, which means ‘returning to the place of origin’ in Setswana, this breathtaking site tells a tale of our human ancestors who lived here more than three million years ago. There are a myriad of sites to see in Maropeng, so take your time when you visit this one.
  1. Tiger Canyons
  • Location: Latitude: -30.241791 | Longitude: 25.031747, Free State
  • Reason to visit: Where would you go to see tigers in the wild? Surely not South Africa, right? Wrong! Tiger Canyons near Philippolis serves as a free-ranging area outside Asia which aims to create self-sustaining populations of tigers.
  1. The Big Tree
  • Location: (approximate) Latitude: -33.968313 | Longitude: 23.931737, Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: The big tree is exactly what it sounds like – an enormous tree which towers over its visitors and makes you stand in awe of this living thing which has survived for 800 years in the magical Tsitsikamma forest. The majestic yellow wood stands 36,6 metres high with a circumference of 9 metres.
  1. Tiffindell Ski Resort
  • Location: Latitude: -30.65326 | Longitude: 27.92603,
  • Reason to visit: You should rather ask why NOT to visit Tiffindell – in which case there is absolutely NO reason. Born in 1993, Tiffindell is the only alpine ski resort in South Africa and rated number 19 in CNN’s list of the 100 best ski resorts in the world.
  1. Kruger National Park
  • Location: (approximate) Latitude: -23.988385 | Longitude: 31.55474, Mpumalanga and Limpopo
  • Reason to visit: One can hardly mention South Africa without touching on the 19 485 km2 park which puts South Africa’s big five on display in their natural setting.
  1. Sun City
  • Location: Latitude: -25.359132 | Longitude: 27.100113, North West Province
  • Reason to visit: Seen by some as the epitome of decadence, this luxury resort and casino gives guests a taste of the finer things in life. In addition to its four hotels, the complex includes time-share facilities, two international-standard 18-hole golf courses, a state-of-the-art adventure park, abundant water features and casino.
  1. Hermes Lighthouse
  • Location: Latitude: -31.63494 | Longitude: 29.552375, Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: The muse of many an artist, the Cape Hermes Lighthouse is awesome simply for its silent fortitude against the forces of nature. A solitary watcher of ships and caretaker of the ocean, this majestic building has been shining its light for more than 110 years from its picturesque patch of perfection in Port St Johns.
  1. Table Mountain National Park
  • Location: Latitude: -33.960446 | Longitude: 18.401307, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: Well, it’s one of the world wonders, so there’s a reason for you! Of course there’s more to it than this. The iconic landmark is over 260 million years old and home to 2 200 endemic plant species. It is also the only terrestrial structure in the world to have a constellation named after it. And since it’s smack, bam, in the middle of two great oceans on the southern tip of Africa, there’s nowhere like it in the world.
  1. Augrabies Falls
  • Location: Latitude: -28.591389 | Longitude: 20.340833, Northern Cape
  • Reason to visit: At 60 metres high into a gorge of about 240 m deep, the Augrabies is hardly the most prominent falls in the world. But what makes it so spectacular is its location in the arid and sparsely vegetated region of the Northern Cape. The gorge also serves as an example of erosion into a granitic basement.
  1. Vilakazi Street
  • Location: Latitude: -26.23819 | Longitude: 27.907342, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: South Africa has had a tumultuous history, to say the least, and Vilakazi Street in Soweto is a great reminder of the trials and triumphs of those who have fought for freedom. The only street in the world to have housed two nobel prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) – be sure to put this one in the GPS for your next visit in SA.
  1. Route 62
  • Location: Western Cape to Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Known as the longest wine route in the world, route 62 will take you on a journey of wine tasting which you won’t find anywhere else. From Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, this route meanders past Wellington, Tulbagh, Worcester, Robertson and the Klein Karoo for 850km.
  1. Sunland Big Baobab
  • Location: Latitude: -23.5253 | Longitude:30.4269, Limpopo
  • Reason to visit: Nestled in Modjadjiskloof in Limpopo, you can find the biggest baobab of its species in the world! The Sunland Big Baobab is said to be over 1 700 years old and is such an international attraction that it’s even made the front of the Wall Street Journal. And if you feel like a cold one, why not have a drink inside the Big Baobab bar.
  1. uShaka Marine World
  • Location: Latitude: -29.867254 | Longitude: 31.045854, KZN
  • Reason to visit: Set along Durban’s Golden Mile walkway, uShaka Marine World features a world of entertaining and educational adventures for the whole family. With the largest aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere, a wet ‘n wild adventure park and restaurants, the park also aids the environment with relocation programmes and marine cleanup initiatives.
  1. Oak Avenue
  • Location: Latitude: -25.672559 | Longitude: 28.520646, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: In addition to the diamond mine (where the two biggest diamonds in the World were found) and rustic rail route to Cullinan, this little historic town is a favourite amongst tourists for the ambience of its main street. Oak Avenue features an eclectic assortment of restaurants, bars, gift shops and galleries to woo the interested tourist.
  1. Namaqualand Flower Route
  • Location: (approximate) Latitude: -29.978656 | Longitude: 19.378321, Northern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Each year, the relatively dry area of Namaqualand is transformed into a kaleidoscopic canvas of over 4 000 species of indigenous wild flowers. Many a visitor has likened this phenomena to a rainbow quilt which stretches for kilometres on end.
  1. Addo Elephant Park
  • Location: Latitude: -33.483333 | Longitude: 25.75, Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Although known as an elephant sanctuary, the wildlife conservation area of Addo is also home to antelope, lion, hyena, cape buffalo, black rhino and the flightless dung beetle. The park sees approximately 120 000 visitors each year, of which the bulk is made up of foreign tourists.
  1. uKamhlamba-Drakensberg Park
  • Location: Latitude: -29.380485 | Longitude: 29.546, KZN
  • Reason to visit: Don’t take it from us, rather take the word of UNESCO who named this area a world heritage site and spoke of: “exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts…the site’s diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants…[and it] also contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara”.
  1. The Big Swing
  • Location: Latitude: -24.94367 | Longitude: 30.84029, Mpumalanga
  • Reason to visit: The adrenalin junkies among us will be psyched to visit the Big Swing in Graskop – which features one of the world’s highest cable gorge swings as well as a foefie slide of 135 metres long and 130 metres above the ground.
  1. Voortrekker Monument
  • Location: Latitude: -25.776328 | Longitude: 28.175798, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: Few buildings make such a big impression on us as the Voortrekker Monument. South Africa’s ‘arc de triomphe’, this monument commemorates the pioneer and Afrikaner history of South Africa and is one of the most visited monuments in the country. If you’re lucky you can join in a Park Acoustics show which celebrates South African music every month at the venue.
  1. Bloukrans Bridge
  • Location: Latitude: -33.966844 | Longitude: 23.646403, Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Located near Nature’s Valley, the Bloukrans bridge stands a majestic 216 m tall, spans 272 m in breadth and 451 m in length. It is also the site of the highest commercial bungee jump in the world for those with a thirst for adrenalin.
  1. V&A Waterfront
  • Location: Latitude: -33.907004 | Longitude: 18.422597, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: There is simply no place that emits such a touristy atmosphere as the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The V & A can be seen as the heart of Cape Town tourism. Though it is a bit more costly than most commercial malls, the variety and ambience are what you pay for and it’s worth every penny.
  1. Pretville
  • Location: Latitude: -25.740691 | Longitude: 27.918127, North West Province
  • Reason to visit: Located at Hartebeespoort dam, Pretville is the film set of the Afrikaans music film,of the same name which opens a world of 50s fun to the public. Where else do you get the chance to go back in time AND frolick around in the past?
  1. SAB World of Beer
  • Location: Latitude: -26.204496 | Longitude: 28.033979, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: Few things appeal to South Africans as much as beer. Give us a cold one and a rugby game and we’re sorted. The world of beer showcases the history of South African brewery and is one of the first major investments made in the Newtown Cultural Precinct.
  1. Robben Island
  • Location: Latitude: -33.807607 | Longitude: 18.371231, Western Cape (offshore)
  • Reason to visit: As a South African you will be well aware of Robben Island’s notorious history. Former president Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 incarcerated years behind bars in this prison. It is both a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  1. Old Car Haven
  • Location: Latitude: -25.4362900000 | Longitude: 31.9556200000, Mpumalanga
  • Reason to visit: The first Ford car ever to be sold outside the states was sold to a South African, Mr Arthur Youldon, of Johannesburg. Visiting the Old Car Haven, you can get a glimpse of vintage vehicles in impeccable state, including the five Lincolns dating from 1923 to 1969.  as well as scale models, old tractors and other vintage cars.
  1. Newtown
  • Location: Latitude: -26.202501 | Longitude: 28.031783, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: The Newtown Cultural District developed from a need to uplift the industrialised city centre of Johannesburg. The result is a fascinating array of loft apartments, boutique shops, art galleries, book shops, cafe’s, clubs, entertainment areas, offices as well as a museum and the Maboneng precinct. The initiative has really succeeded in uplifting a previously downtrodden area of Johannesburg.
  1.  The Big Hole
  • Location: Latitude: -28.739103 | Longitude: 24.758531, Northern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Sounds better saying ‘Kimberley se gat’, right? This giant mining excavation site is said to be the largest hole excavated by hand in the world. The open pit became an attraction in the 1960s and is now a museum which includes relics of Kimberley’s early days, such as old buildings and sundry memorabilia.
  1. God’s window
  • Location: Latitude: -24.876541 | Longitude: 30.88878, Mpumalanga
  • Reason to visit: It’s not always easy to choose which destination along the Panorama route in Mpumalanga is your favourite. There’s Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels, the Mac Mac Falls and the Blyde River Canyon as well. But with it’s spectacular views over mountains and gorges, God’s window seems exactly like the name describes.
  1. Naval Hill
  • Location: Latitude: -29.099496 | Longitude: 26.233415, Free State
  • Reason to visit: It’s not only the site of the British naval-gun emplacements during the Anglo-Boer War but also serves as a vantage point from which one can view the Franklin Game Reserve and includes an observatory and planetarium. The site is said to expand into a comprehensive Centre for Earth and Space which will serve as an educational centre and include a science and art garden.
  1. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
  • Location: (approximate) Latitude: -26.472542 | Longitude: 20.611864, Northern Cape
  • Reason to visit: Kgalagadi, which means ‘place of thirst’, is greatest wildlife conservation areas in the world. It spans 38 000 km2 and includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa as well as the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.
  1. Vredefort Dome
  • Location: Latitude: -26.990999 | Longitude: 27.3734, Free State
  • Reason to visit: With an impact radius of about 300 km, the meteorite which struck the Free State about 2 023 million years ago is considered to have made twice the impact as the one which killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It is also the oldest impact crater found on earth, making it a World Heritage Site, and a remarkable geological find. It is said to have been 10 km wide and travelled at 36 000 km/h on impact. The Vredefort Dome is the central point of impact of the meteorite.
  1. Mineral World
  • Location: Latitude: -34.17148 | Longitude: 18.4264, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: Many people may not be aware, but almost half the world’s gemstones can be found in South Africa. For this reason, South Africa is often considered the ‘gemstone capital of the world’. And when you walk into Mineral World/Scratch Patch in Simon’s Town, you know you’ve walked into a world of magic and mesmerising beauty.
  1. Hole in the Wall
  • Location: Latitude: -32.0329 | Longitude: 29.1107, Eastern Cape
  • Reason to visit: The awe-inspiring beauty and scenery of Hole in the Wall is amplified by its remote setting in the Transkei. It is a place which cleanses the sole and provides a serene presence amid the calm of nature. It’s a favourite amongst photographers and bird-watchers all over.
  1. Shangana Cultural Village
  • Location: Latitude: -24.34965 | Longitude: 30.94779, Mpumalanga
  • Reason to visit: Residents of the traditional Shangana villages invite visitors to share in their way of life and discover how the Shangaan people live. Visitors can also buy handmade crafts and sample Shangaan cuisine, after which they can see the famed festival in the Chief’s Kraal.
  1. Franschhoek Motor Museum
  • Location: Latitude: -33.87982 | Longitude: 19.002979, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: The Franschhoek Motor Museum gives visitors a chance to glance at over 100 years of motoring history with exciting collections of cars, motorcycles, bicycles and memorabilia.
  1. Apartheid Museum
  • Location: Latitude: -26.237871 | Longitude: 28.008371, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: Apartheid is a touchy subject for all South Africans irrespective of their race, but as with most healing, once the cuts begin to close and the bruising heals, we can step back and take an objective view of our collective history. The apartheid museum serves to tell the story of this crucial part of South Africa’s history and its 22 exhibition areas takes visitors through this history in an honest and enlightening way.
  1. Origins Centre
  • Location: Latitude: -26.192698 | Longitude: 28.028305, Gauteng
  • Reason to visit: The Origins Centre is a museum dedicated to exploring the history of mankind, from the first civilizations to modern day. It boasts rock art, fossils, cutting-edge technology and displays which move through the development of art, symbolism and technology in Africa.
  1. Adam’s Calendar and the Stone Circle Ruins
  • Location: Latitude: -25.63181 | Longitude: 30.759632 (Adam’s calendar), Latitude: -25.639103 | Longitude: 30.329647 (Stone circle ruins),  Mpumalanga
  • Reason to visit: Adam’s Calendar and the Stone Circle Ruins are considered by some archaeologists to be the oldest man made structures on earth. It is located among thousands of amazingly situated stone circle ruins which are believed to be between 75 000 and 250 000 years old.
  1. The Castle of Good Hope
  • Location: Latitude: -33.926046 | Longitude: 18.428058, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: The oldest building in South Africa is also considered the best preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort in the world. The building, which is an example of a ‘star fort’, was completed in 1679. Its 18th-century décor has been restored and it now serves as a popular museum.
  1. Klerksdorp Museum
  • Location: Latitude: -26.876 | Longitude: 26.6655, North West Province
  • Reason to visit: Although the old sandstone buildings of the museum (which used to be a prison) are fascinating, and the other displays are mesmerising, we are mostly drawn to the mystical Klerksdorp spheres. These strange objects found in 3-billion-year-old pyrophyllite deposits are 0,5 to 10 cm in diameter and exhibit an extremely well defined radial structure. Though geologists believe these to be formed by natural processes, there are still some believe that it had to be made by intelligent beings.
  1. Blombos Cave
  • Location: Latitude: -34.4141031  |  Longitude: 21.217688888888887, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: In addition to its beauty, archaeological discoveries at Blombos Caves have shattered archaeologists and historians’ perception of ancient humans. Artifacts found there include sophisticated hand tools and an abundance of ochre – which attests to the decorative and artistic nature of ancient humans as ochre has no other use. It is believed to be the oldest ‘paint-making’ factory in the world – approximately 100 000 years old.
  1. Basotho Cultural village
  • Location: Latitude: -28.48814 | Longitude: 28.74468, Free State
  • Reason to visit: We love learning about all South African cultures, but what attracts us to the Basotho Cultural village on the Eastern Cape’s Maloti Route is the spectacular colours which cover the vernacular architecture of the village.
  1. The Cango caves
  • Location: Latitude: -33.3923 | Longitude: 22.2149, Western Cape
  • Reason to visit: Known as South Africa’s first tourist attraction, the Cango Caves were also the first caves to be protected by environmental legislation. There really is no way to describe what it feels like to set your eyes on these remarkable underground wonders, which have been known, and used, by man since the early stone age.

Of course, there are many more wonderful gems within the South African borders, we’re sure you have a few favourites which are not on this list.

Remember to spread the word about our wonderful country, and enter some of these coordinates into your GPS for your next visit on South African shores.

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