Go Beyond Your Bucket List in South Africa
With United Airlines’ new direct flight launching from Newark to Cape Town this December, South Africa is becoming more accessible than ever before. As an increasing number of travelers move beyond typical bucket list trips and seek out meaningful, unique experiences, they will find South Africa has everything they’re looking for. The South African Tourism Board has launched the #MeetSouthAfricaMondays campaign to introduce travelers to some of the country’s lesser-known but most compelling experiences, curated by long-term citizens and lovers of South Africa.
• Accessible Art in Woodstock
• Rediscover Durban
• Johannesburg’s Revitalized Art Scene
• Marine Life of the South African Coast
• Adventures in Drakensburg
• Panoramic Views on the Panorama Route
• World-Class Winelands
• Tastes of a Township: 4Roomed eKasi Culture
The Urban: Arts and Culture Redefined
Accessible Art in Woodstock
All across Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town, buildings are covered in colorful art, painted by local and international artists. “The movement was founded by a longstanding group of artists that were painting in Woodstock but who wanted to take their art from the studios into the streets,” says Juma Mkwela, a tour guide who leads visitors on street art walking tours of the area. “We wanted to inspire, we wanted to educate, and we wanted to tell stories that hadn’t been told. Today, we have more than 100 pieces here by local and international artists.” High-end restaurants like The Test Kitchen and bustling, artsy watering holes like Casa Woodstock Bar populate the neighborhood, creating a vibrancy to match that of Woodstock’s colorful painted buildings.
Undergoing its second wave of urban revitalisation, Durban has elements that appeal to every kind of tourist — everything from beautiful beaches and perfect weather to high-caliber musicians, fusion food, and world-class distilleries can be found along the city’s streets. According to Jonas Barausse, urban storyteller and Durban local, “Durban really appeals to someone who wants to discover, who wants to peel back the layers of a city. Entrepreneurs are doing some really amazing stuff.” Florida Road, one of Durban’s main strips, is full of life, energy, and color, embodying the city’s spirit. The road is lined with local coffee places and Durban dining staples for travelers who love the bustling atmosphere of city life. Durban’s proximity to coastline, mountains, and some of the world’s best game parks and wildlife make it a perfect stop on a South African vacation.
Johannesburg’s Revitalized Art Scene
One of South Africa’s more well-visited areas, Jo’burg is known for its social life, spirit, and history. Maboneng is the modern center of the art scene in Johannesburg, populated by galleries, boutiques, bars, and restaurants. For a lesser known side of Jo’burg, Charles Nbube suggests visiting his home township of Soweto. “Despite past struggles, it’s a very progressive township, full of historical sights and activities and reignited life,” Charles says. “There’s bungee jumping and quad biking at the Soweto Towers; cycling and tuk tuk tours from Leto’s Backpackers. And there’s Hector Pieterson Memorial, where you can learn about the 1976 Soweto Uprising. The wounds are the scars of the past are still open in this township, but nobody’s crying here.”
The Wild Side: Pursuing Natural Splendors Beyond the Safari
Marine Life of the South African Coast
Take a safari path less traveled by hopping on a boat. Voyage around the Dyer Island system in Gansbaai to spot the Marine Big Five: the great white shark, African penguin, southern right whale, cape fur seal and dolphins. “I challenge anyone to find another place on Earth that can offer such diversity so close to shore,” says Alison Towner, marine expert and guide with Marine Dynamics. For the ultimate shark cage diving experience, try to visit from May to September when they’re in the highest density. Also according to Alison, “peak season for southern right whale watching is October and November.”
Adventures in Drakensberg
South African topography is much more than its famed safari plains. The mountains and valleys of the Drakensberg contain the largest concentration of hiking trails in South Africa, as well as around 300 species of plants that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Beyond hiking, the mountains are the perfect host for adventure activities such as rock climbing, ziplining, horseback riding, paragliding, whitewater rafting, hot air ballooning, and abseiling. According to James Seymour, a South African mountaineering guide, the mountains’ most “unmissable” activity is a helicopter trip over the Drakensberg. Unique flora and fauna, dense population of antelopes, and ancient rock art hidden in stunning vistas make the Drakensberg one of only 20 places in the world that have been recognized twice by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
Panoramic Views on the Panorama Route
The most scenic and diverse geographical features of South Africa can be found along the Panorama Route, an aptly named 1,242 miles of road in the often-overlooked province of Mpumalanga. The road passes around the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world and provides access to unique geographical features such as Lisbon Falls, Graskop Gorge, and Bourke’s Luck Potholes. From God’s Window, a viewpoint 2,297 feet above the lush forest below, it is said that on a clear day you can see to the ocean in Mozambique. Beyond natural marvels, the Panorama Route allows a glimpse of local culture outside of urban centers. “Support the local community by buying their arts and crafts that they sell at sights along The Panorama Route,” suggests David Quihampton, who has been a Mpumalanga tour guide for fifteen years.
The Gourmet: Wine and Food
Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, South Africa’s Cape Winelands are “the best wine destination in the world,” according to Andre Morgenthal, who has worked in the wine industry for nearly thirty years. Within a three-hour radius visitors can easily see ten different wine regions, from Constantia to Stellenbosch, each with their own specialty varietals. Like other wine power-houses of the world, the Winelands have a long history of excellence. In recent decades, however, the Winelands have redefined themselves, bringing together European influence with their own country’s flair. “Pinotage is our national grape,” says Andre, claiming the grape as the region’s flag bearer for red wine. “It’s producing beautiful, world-acclaimed wines.”
Tastes of a Township
For authentic South African cuisine, visit the Cape Town restaurant 4Roomed eKasi Culture. The restaurant’s founder, Abigail Mbalo, a contestant on Master Chef South Africa, named her restaurant in honor of the standard four-roomed homes found in townships across the country. “With our cuisine, we want to tell stories about growing up in a township. We want to evoke nostalgia and pride,” Abigail says. Her restaurant revamps traditional recipes with fresh ideas and fresh ingredients from the backyard garden. Guests enjoy offerings such as a pumpkin and pap dish called umqa, to which Abigail adds butternut, nutmeg, and truffle oil, or the dessert, amkhekhe, based on a popular scone and made modern with citrus, chocolate, and a yuzu syrup. Surrounded by fast food and frantic lifestyles, the restaurant allows guests to slow down and get a delicious taste of South Africa’s history and culture.