South Africa’s attractions are as vast and each has its own unique appeal, so a visit to the Rainbow Nation will usually combine several of the parks and attractions listed below to create a diverse itinerary. On many people’s agendas will be the popular Kruger National Park and its private game reserves, the undeniably picturesque Garden Route starting from iconic Cape Town, with the backdrop of instantly recognisable Table Mountain. However these are just some of the more obvious choices, and those looking for an alternative South Africa can explore many other areas such as the Wild Coast, Kalahari and Madikwe.
Oudtshoorn set in the Klein Karoo is famous for the Cango Caves, one of the world’s true natural wonders. These caves have been sculpted through the ages with some stunning limestone formations to create a unique and vast subterranean complex, fully lit to bring out the kaleidoscopic colours found on the striking formations. Less visited, the Wild Coast that stretches up towards KwaZulu-Natal is one of pristine unexplored beaches and tropical forests and yet another area of natural beauty to explore.
Kruger National Park
This incredibly vast tract of land is Southern Africa’s most ubiquitous game reserve, attracting millions of visitors worldwide and, for many, a Kruger safari will be an integral feature of a South Africa itinerary for its appealing combination of thrilling game spotting and luxurious settings. The Kruger area actually comprises a cluster of enormous private reserves around the western border of Kruger National Park itself, and these reserves are renowned in their own right, allowing you to veer off the obvious route and deeper into the surrounding area. As fencing was removed years ago, this has enabled the abundant game to move completely freely between the national park and the reserves.The wildlife you are likely to encounter on safari in the Kruger area is undoubtedly magnificent and includes the ‘Big Five’ game.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
Situated in the Eastern Cape near Port Elizabeth, Kwandwe is one of the best malaria-free game reserves in Africa, offering the big five and 238 known species of bird, including the Blue Crane which the reserve is named after; Kwandwe in Xhosa is translated as ‘place of the Blue Crane.’The area’s history stems from a past booming ostrich feather industry, but the fall in this fashion, along with poaching left the land virtually desolate of wildlife. Ten years ago, enough was enough and the current owners of nine of the ostrich farms in Kwandwe formed Kwande Private Game Reserve, to protect wildlife through tourism.It’s conservation model is impressive and it has reintroduced over 7,000 animals including the endangered black rhino, all the big five, cheetah, serval, African wildcat and small spotted cat (amongst others).
Madikwe Game Reserve
Established in 1991, the malaria-free private game reserve of Madikwe is one of South Africa’s largest and is also arguably one of the best kept secrets in the country; the red earth of the Kalahari, dramatic escarpments and the vast open plains evoking a distinctly African feel and an alternative to the more obvious choice of Kruger National Park for your South African safari.Situated in the far north of the northwestern province of South Africa bordering with Botswana near Gabarone, the reserve comprises a total land mass of 75,000 hectares and is a relatively recent success story. After the land was declared unfit for farming due to unsuitable soil, it was regenerated and wildlife reintroduced under ‘Operation Phoenix’ – the largest translocation project of its kind over a six year period. It is also renowned for its excellent conservation work, with community owned and run lodges that ensure the local communities benefit from tourism activities.
The game viewing in Madikwe is somewhat reliable, with in excess of 8,000 animals roaming the vast plains, from over 66 large mammal species, including the ‘Big Five’, and in excess of 300 bird species. Animals that were located to Madikwe and which you are likely to see include elephant, rhino, buffalo, cheetah, spotted hyena, giraffe, antelope, hunting dog, zebra and other herbivores. The founding group of six wild dogs has flourished and there are now three known hunting packs in the reserve.
Phinda Private Game Reserve
Containing seven different ecosystems and an overwhelming array of wildlife, Phinda is located within the northern subtropical section of the province of KwaZulu Natal, nestled between the infamous game reserves of Mkuze, Hluhluwe Umfolozi and the St Lucia Wetland Park. A private game reserve that was established in 1991, the 185 square kilometres of land are managed and controlled to great effect, with the reintroduction of indigenous species and today it offers excellent game viewing, the chance to spot the renowned ‘Big Five’ and close proximity to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.With no less than seven ecospheres covering all types of topography from rare sand forest to open savannah plains, it is often referred to as the ‘Seven Worlds of Wonder’.
Part of one giant sand basin that stretches from the Orange River in Angola to Namibia in the west, Zimbabwe in the east and into South Africa. The landscape in this largely unexplored territory provides a marked contrast from the south and east of the country. Black-maned Kalahari lions are a highlight of the desert; found in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the southwestern corner of the country, they may be resting in the dry river beds or under the shade of the sparse trees. The environment here for the lions is more competitive than more luscious parts of Southern Africa, with less herbivores on offer to predators due to the restricted rainfall, meaning that only the strongest of these huge black maned beasts prevail. Imagine a vast red-hued expanse of desert where lions roam the plains and towering dunes carve into the skyline and vanishing horizon.
Whilst everyone has heard of the Garden Route, not everyone will fully understand or appreciate its beauty until they witness it for themselves. A narrow stretch of coastal terrain that offers mile upon mile of white sand beach, is punctuated by quaint coastal towns, reached by pretty lagoons that are crossed by low bridges, all with forest-clad mountains as a backdrop. This presents some of South Africa’s most revered scenery and understandably so. With dolphin and whale spotting opportunities, nature reserve walks and wildlife sanctuaries also available, there is much to explore in this natural playground.
Matusadona National Park
Massive Nile crocodiles sun themselves on the lake shore, bare trees - dead since the lake was formed - burst the water’s surface like sculptures and the watery sunsets are renowned for being some of the best in Africa. Matusadona National Park comfortably sits on the shores of Lake Kariba, one of several protected wildlife areas along the banks. This year-round destination is perfect walking safari territory, an exotic blend of pristine and rugged wilderness that has created a home for an abundance of wildlife.