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Top 10 SA Places Off The Beaten Track

Travel trends across the world are seeing travellers shying away from the overcrowded sights, and opting for unique experiences in their destinations. 

A rising trend among travellers is to find activities off the beaten track that help them experience their destination in a new way. 

According to Danny Bryerarea director, sales and marketing, Protea Hotels by Marriott, Marriott International, Middle East and Africa, tourists want to engage with their destination in a new way, with the focus on experiences rather than sites. 

“Our visitors are looking for activities that help them to connect with their destination in an authentic way and experience the destination as locals do. We’ve noticed a trend of moving away from merely spending a few hours sightseeing as a passenger, and towards seeking out unusual experiences and sites that tell a different South African story.” 

Next time you’re holidaying in one of South Africa’s major cities, be sure to try a new experience at one of these unique destinations instead of following the well-worn path of hordes of other sightseers. 

1. Kromdraai Gold Mine

Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng 

Revisit the time of great riches and devastating losses through a trip to one of the oldest gold mines in the province, the Kromdraai Gold Mine.

Gold was first discovered on the farm in 1881, ahead of the Johannesburg gold rush. Once one of the most productive mines in the area, today the mine offers a glimpse into the tough working conditions at mines during the time, which included working by candlelight and making use of donkeys to pull ore carts.

A tour through the old mine tunnels showcases the vast amounts of dynamite once used to blast tunnels and includes a talk on the history of the gold rush, which led to Johannesburg being nicknamed the City of Gold. 

2. Guga S’Thebe Arts & Cultural Centre

Western Cape 

Immerse yourself in local culture through a visit to the Guga S’Thebe Arts & Cultural Centre in Langa, where you can shop for handmade pottery or view a musical performance by local musicians.

The centre has been created to empower the community and uplift their socio-economic status. Locals are trained in several art forms, including metal work and pottery.

There is also a community theatre on site, which showcases traditional dancing and choral music. The centre can be included in tour of the Langa and Gugulethu township. 

3. Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve Hiking Trail

UmhlangaKwaZulu-Natal

Take a walk on the wild side with a hike in the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve.

This hidden wilderness is home to a wetland, and coastal and dune forest, along with a number of indigenous birds and animals, such as bushbuck and duiker.

The forest is also home to a 500-year-old white stinkwood tree. The end of the trail will bring you to beach, where the lagoon is on one side and the sea on the other. 

The two-kilometre hike is not strenuous, and is ideal for families, but can be extended along the beach for those looking to stretch their legs. 

4. Wildflower route

Namaqualand, Northern Cape 

Every year, almost 4 000 different species of wildflower transform the dry, arid landscape of the Namaqualand into a tapestry of vibrant colours.

Starting in the Northern Cape in July and August, the carpet of flowers slowly spreads south, into the Cederberg region, and west.

The flowers are best seen on a route along the N7 highway, around the towns of Garies, Springbok, Kamieskroon, and Port Nolloth.

The dormant seeds germinate depending on the weather conditions, ensuring that every year is a unique experience with a different selection of flowers carpeting the landscape. 

5. Clarens Drive

Kleinmond, Western Cape 

Take in one of South Africa’s most scenic coastal roads, enjoying the spectacular vistas of where mountains meet the sea.

One of the best ways to see the beauty of the Western Cape is by leisurely winding your way along the 21kilometre long Clarens Drive with the option of stopping at the numerous viewpoints en route.

The coastal road offers unparalleled ocean views between Cape Town and Hermanus, and even the occasional glimpse of whales and other marine life for the lucky traveller

6. Umgeni Steam Railway

Valley of a Thousand Hills, KwaZulu-Natal 

For a relaxing change of pace, take in the countryside through the classic mode of transport from yesteryear.

The Umgeni Steam Railway train will take you on a leisurely puff through the Valley of a Thousand Hills, giving you an immersive experience of the beautifully verdant province.

The non-profit organisation is run by volunteers passionate about preserving South Africa’s railway heritage. Trains run from Kloof to Inchanga on the last Sunday of each month. At Inchanga, the local Conservancy hosts the Inchanga Community Craft Market whenever the Inchanga Choo Choo runs. 

7. Khoi and San rock art

Cederberg, Western Cape 

The Cederberg has more rock paintings per square kilometre than anywhere else in South Africa (around 2 500), and these glimpses into our heritage can be easily viewed on a day hike in the Cederberg Conservancy.

Some of the art is as old as 8 000 years, with the more recent works painted a century ago, and often depict natural scenes with animals such as eland which hold particular religious significance.

Humans hunting and gathering food are also frequently depicted. Rock art sites open to the public are StadsaalTruitjieskraal, Southern Arch and Varkkloof. 

8. Snorkelling at Umdloti Pools

KwaZulu-Natal 

The warm waters of the Indian Ocean are a good place to start if you’re looking to explore South Africa’s diverse marine life. Snorkelling allows you to view marine creatures in calmer waters closer inshore, without the necessity of diving gear and training.

But if you’re a real novice or simply looking for relaxing glimpse into the underwater world, the best place to find your footing is in a tidal pool teaming with life, such as those found on the North Coast near Umdloti.

The swimming beach is protected by a rocky offshore reef, which provides excellent snorkelling sightings. If you’re brave enough to venture deeper into the bay, you’ll be greeted by a variety of larger fish and other sea life. 

9. The Big Baobar

Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo 

Nestled inside one of the largest baobab trees in the world, The Big Baobar is unlike any other bar in the world.

The tree itself is remarkable, standing 22 metretall with a circumference of 47 metres, it is estimated to be around 6 000 years old, based on carbon dating, which would make it older than the Pyramids of Giza. 

Sitting one meter below ground level within the hollow trunk, The Big Boabar serves ice cold drinks alongside live entertainment and is the perfect place to enjoy liquid refreshment in a truly unique location. 

10. Tswaing Crater

Gauteng  

Tswaing is the home to one of Africa’s most impressive meteorite impact craters.

The crater, which is 1.4 kilometres in diameter and 200 metres deep, was formed when an asteroid the size of a soccer field crashed into the earth, over 220 000 years ago.

Today, the Tswaing crater is surrounded by a conservation area and holds a lake at its centre. In the conservation area is one of only four meteorite crater museums in the world, and it has three hiking trails for the energetic. 

Wherever you decide to go, let SAA get you there. Book your tickets today!

Words by Nicole McCain

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