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Travel Notes: Africa: South Africa Travel Notes

South Africa Travel Notes

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The Republic of South Africa has some of the most spectacular coastline on the continent; between Port Elizabeth and The Cape.

South Africa Travel and Tourist Information with links to official travel and tourism websites and state resources for visitors to South Africa.

South Africa Country Information

Countries neighbouring South Africa are: Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. The independent country of Lesotho forms an enclave in the eastern part of the country.

Map of South Africa

Weather in Africa:
Local weather forecasts for destinations around Africa.

About South Africa

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the African coast for a sea route to the East.

In 1652, the Dutch established a settlement on the Cape as a supply base for the Dutch East India Company.

As more Dutch settlers arrived, joined by French Hugenots fleeing persecution at home, the Khoikhoin slowly lost their lands.

During the Napoleonic Wars the British briefly occupied South Africa, then in 1814 purchased the Cape Colony from the Dutch.

Thousands of British colonists arrived to impose British law in the area, and give protection to the Khoikhoin. English became the official language in 1822.

The Boers resented this and started the Great Trek - a move north by 10,000 voortrekkers.

Bloody battles followed as the Boers sought fertile lands and able locals to work them. The British also pushed their protectorates further and increased the Boer loathing of them.

The discovery of Gold in the Boer controlled areas encouraged thousands of British prospectors to move up in search of fortunes.

They were taxed heavily by the Boers and denied the right to vote, causing a rebellion against Paul Kruger. The uprising was soon supported by soldiers from the cape colony and the Boer War broke out.

The British suffered large early loses, but the Boer commandos were gradually defeated, and the war formally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902.


The financial centre of South Africa is in the north-east of the country.

The city was founded in 1886, above the world's largest known gold deposits, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange soon followed.

Most of today's gold mining occurs elsewhere on the Witwatersrand, although corporate headquarters remain in Johannesburg.

Commissioner Street is the heart of the commercial area. Other important buildings can be found around Eloff Street's shopping thoroughfare, south of the city's railway station.

The Market Theatre complex includes several theatres as well as art galleries.

Gold Reef City is recreation of a Victorian-era mining town for tourists.


To the south-west of Johannesburg lies the black township of Soweto; established by South Africa's former white government to segregate the country's black and white populations.

There are organised tours to the township from Johannesburg.

The most famous national park in South Africa is the Kruger National Park.


The administrative capital of South Africa is well planned, with large parks and a number of landmarks commemorating the history of Transvaal.

The people here speak mostly Africaans.

Sir Herbert Baker designed the curving Parliament Buildings in Pretoria.

You can also visit the home of Paul Kruger, the president of the breakaway South African Republic, or Transvaal, from 1883 to 1900.

The Transvaal Museum contains natural history displays, while the Municipal Art Gallery features South African art and the Pretoria Art Museum has a collection of 17th-century Dutch art.

Other collections are housed in the National Cultural History and Open-Air Museum, and the Military Museum is located in the 19th century Fort Schanskop.

The National Zoological Gardens are also in Pretoria. No beaches in the capital though, for that you'll have to head out to Durban and follow the coast down to Cape Town.

Cape Town

Known as Kaapstad in Afrikaans, Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa.

Located at the northern end of the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town is one of South Africa's most popular holiday destinations; renowned for its scenic beauty and selection of beaches.

It is also a regular port of call for freight and passenger vessels rounding the Cape of Good Hope to the south.

There are many restaurants and tourist shops around the harbour, with street entertainers performing below the magnificent backdrop of Table Mountain.

You can get to the top of Table Mountain by cable car if you don't want to walk or drive. The view of the surrounding area is excellent.

On a Sunday, take the train out to Kalk Bay and enjoy your Fish Braai to live music.

The oldest buildings in Cape Town are the Castle, and the  Dutch Reformed Church.

The Malay Quarter on Signal Hill has interesting old Dutch-style buildings and mosques.

As well as the houses of Parliament, Cape Town has a good selection of museums to visit; most notably the Michaelis Collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings.

Cape Town - The Fairest Cape:
As a destination and gateway to the rest of South Africa or the Western Cape region, Cape Town continues to grow in popularity with international travellers. And with good reason.

Robben Island:
The Robben Island Museum was established as a National Monument and National Museum, by the Cabinet of the South African Government, in September 1996. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there before he became President, and revisited his former cell to light a candle for democracy as part of South Africa's Year 2000 ceremony.

Somerton Manor:
Furnished with period pieces and original artworks, this home offers a unique combination of old-world charm and ultra-modern facilities. Somerset West, on False Bay.

Renta-VW Cape Town:
Affordable car rental vehicles for local and international clients. Although Cape Town is a beautiful place, there is a lot of crime. When driving around, keep your windows closed and door locks at all times.

Visiting Cape Town

There is a lot of things to think about when planning your trip to Cape Town.

Cape Town is not your average city. You can stay there for a week and not experience everything that you wanted to; so plan ahead wisely.

Book your accommodation close to the city centre or within the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront - a good option because you can move freely around in a secure environment.

What to See and Do in Cape Town?

There are a lot of tour operators that provide Cape Town Tours (if you do not go the packaged route) and normally this will enable you to cover quite a lot of ground with an expert tour guide.

Like Eating Out?

Well, so does Cape Town. The city has got some really good eateries and the locals love being seen there, so make reservations early (even before you depart), to avoid not sampling some amazing food.

A good restaurant guide to use is Eat Out Magazine.

Choose The Time of Year Wisely

Summer months (December to March) are great but normally the city is quite packed and the hotels charge quite a bit; whereas the winter months (May to August or even September) you will find much less people and the rates for hotels drops considerably.

Winters in Cape Town are not too cold and you can often be lucky and find some really nice days. Going on safari in South Africa is best in the winter, as less grass which makes game viewing easier.

There are a lot of seasonal activities which needs some considering when visiting the Mother city:

Whale season (June to November).

West Coast flower season (August to October).

Beach season (December to April - remember that the Atlantic is quite cold and not conducive to swimming).

Meta-Travel Members By Shaun Scrooby - Adventure Africa.


Located in KwaZulu-Natal Province, Durban is a seaport and whaling station on the Indian Ocean. It is also a popular beach resort.

Durban is blessed with balmy weather all year round, making it a perfect holiday paradise. The beachfront is bordered by five star hotels and luxury apartments, all of which have an idyllic view of the Indian Ocean.

The official site of the KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority.

East London

East London is another popular beach resort, halfway down the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa.

It was used as a British garrison during a war between the British and the indigenous Xhosas in 1847.

Port Elizabeth

Fine beaches are also found at Port Elizabeth, further south of East London.

The King George VI Art Gallery has collections of British and South African art, while the Port Elizabeth Museum has natural history exhibits, an Oceanarium, and a collection of reptiles.

You can also visit Fort Frederick, built by the British in 1799, and the nearby Addo Elephant National Park.


The capital of the Free State is the judicial capital of South Africa; home to the highest court in the land.

The beautiful natural setting helped to give Bloemfontein its name: 'Fountain of Flowers'.

Getting Around South Africa

South Africa by Rail

The railway system in South Africa links all main centres.

The Blue Train:
The Blue Train has an aura of mystique about it. Kings and presidents have travelled on this magnificent moving five-star hotel. The route between Pretoria and Cape Town is a 27-hour journey of 1,600 kilometres (994 miles), through some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery offered by the African sub-continent.

South Africa by Road

The best way to enjoy the scenery is to travel down South Africa, along the coast.

Baz Bus:
One of the most significant developments of the backpacking industry in South Africa has to be the Baz Bus. Specifically designed for budget travellers and backpackers, the Baz Bus picks them up and drops them off at backpacker hostels or lodges around the country.

Baz Bus Routes:

Johannesburg or Pretoria to Cape Town, via Swaziland or Drakensburg.

Cape Town to Durban.

Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.

Johannesburg or Pretoria to Durban, via Swaziland and Drakensburg on a 'Loop Ticket'.

South Africa by Air

The busiest airport is Johannesburg, but you can also fly to Rio de Janeiro from Cape Town.

Airlines & Airports:
South African Airways is the major airline, and the country is also served by several smaller carriers as well as foreign airlines.

South Africa Tourism

Coast to Coast:
Colourful backpackers guide to southern Africa.

SA-Venues - South Africa Explored:
Available in both English and German, one of the largest online travel guides for South Africa has been assisting travellers with their South Africa travel plans since 1999.

Northern Province

Coach House:
Offers luxurious five star accommodation and renowned cuisine amidst spectacular mountain scenery. Close to Kruger National Park, in the heart of wild Africa.

Situated in the heart of the Valley of the Olifants in the Lowveld of the Northern Province, South Africa, Phalaborwa forms the central gate to the world-renowned Kruger National Park and is known as The True Gateway to Game and Golf.


This vast dominating range of mountains, stretching in a mighty panorama from east to west across the northern reaches of the Northern Province of South Africa, is unique in its splendour and beauty.

The Ranch:
The privately run Ranch Hotel is situated on 1,000 hectares of South African bushveld, only 2 hours drive north of Pretoria (on the N1) and 20 minutes south of Pietersburg.

South Africa Accommodation

Hotels in South Africa:
Find hotels in South Africa with special online rates.

Paradise Found - Knysna:
Bed and Breakfast or self-catering accommodation; with an heavenly view of Knysna Lagoon.

The Place On The Bay:
This cosmopolitan retreat, perfectly positioned on the Atlantic Seaboard, offers exclusive, luxury, self-catering apartments in the heart of Cape Town's trendiest suburb; Camps Bay.

South Africa Travel Tips

Planning a trip to South Africa

Make sure you plan your trip to include two thirds of your time on the Eastern side of South Africa. This is rural Africa rich in cultural heritage, history and the oldest game park in Africa - Hluhluwe-Umfolozi.

Home to the Zulu Nation, the Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal has everything from mountains to beaches, from nature to buzzing city life (Durban).


Phalaborwa is surrounded by game farms and natural wonders. The area is a natural heritage site and evidence of ancient copper workings by tribes such as the Ba-Phalaborwa people can still be seen.

Play 18-holes of golf on the championship Hans Merensky Golf Course, while giving way to wildlife.

Skydiving, river rafting, river cruises, 4x4 trails, bird watching, hiking, horse safaris are some of the activities on offer.

Phalaborwa is a safe and peaceful town with all the modern facilities to make your stay comfortable.

Best Time to Visit South Africa

It all depends on what you want to visit. In general between April and May, or September and November; when the weather is at its best. This falls into South Africa's Autumn and Spring.

The rainy seasons for the Kruger Park is in December-January and for Cape Town during June and July.

South Africa's Winter runs from the end of May to the end of August. Then you can expect very cold temperature and snowfalls on the mountains.

What To Take When Visiting South Africa

Comfortable clothes!

In summer, wear something cool with a warmer clothing for the evenings. In Winter, a bit of both, since during the day temperatures can get warm, but evenings are cold.

In general: Some comfortable Shoes to walk with, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.

Safety in South Africa

Crime is a problem in any country. Please make sure to leave valuables in the hotel safe. Don't travel with large amounts of cash at a time.

Stay in groups and out of dark lonely alleys.

Will we be able to travel by ourselves?

Yes, the roads in South Africa are in a good condition.

Rental Cars are available with unlimited kilometres.

The South African Search Engine.

Eastern Cape Province

Eastern Cape and other provinces links and travel information sent in to Travel Notes by Gareth Yearsley, an Eastern Cape Province resident.

Buffalo City:
Buffalo City forms the central hub of the Eastern Cape, with the Sunshine Coast tourist route leading west for about 300km from Buffalo city to Port Elizabeth and the Wild Coast route leading from Buffalo City, north-east towards Durban.

Eastern Cape Tourism Board:
The Eastern Cape is situated along the south-eastern coast of South Africa. With approximately 820 km of coastline, the beaches of the Eastern Cape stretch from the Tsitsikamma National Park on the south coast, across St Francis Bay, Jeffreys Bay and Algoa Bay, up to the pristine Wild Coast and south-eastern coast to Port Edward. Added to the diverse coastal experiences are a number of national parks and private game reserves.

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism:
Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, Despatch and Colchester), an excellent value-for-money-family-fun-in-the-sun-holiday destination, named after Nelson Mandela - humanitarian, freedom fighter and world icon of peace - is located 763km east of Cape Town, is regarded as the 'official' gateway to the scenic Eastern Cape Province and the world renowned Garden Route and is sometimes referred to (by the people who know her best) as the 'friendly city' or the 'water sport capital of Africa'.

The Wild Coast:
The ruggedly beautiful Wild Coast stretches north from East London for 270km and offers peaceful, laid-back holidays away from the tourist hoards with enough footprint-free beaches, lazy lagoons, natural wonders and rocky headlands for everyone to enjoy.

Other Provinces

Cape Town & Western Cape Tourism:
The Western Cape offers nearly everything a traveller could want. From buzzing night-life in Cape Town and Stellenbosch to wonderful beaches and many outdoor options. So the basic itinerary should include some days in Cape Town, a visit to the Cape of Good Hope, wine tasting in Paarl or Franschhoek or Robertson, Swartland and Overberg, and a trip along the Garden Route.

The Free State in the heart of South Africa is rich in history with diverse cultures and a variety of activities.

Gauteng Tourism Authority:
Gauteng Province is a dynamic, sophisticated, cosmopolitan hub containing three large cities and numerous smaller towns. It is the economic and social powerhouse of South Africa.

KwaZulu-Natal Tourism:
See and experience true Zulu culture, interact with Indian people and get a taste of traditional English culture still practised by residents whose descendants came to the territory in the nineteenth century. Tourist attractions range from the steamy beaches in the busy metropolis of Durban to mountain resorts in the majestic Drakensberg Mountain Range.

Limpopo Tourism:
The Limpopo (Northern) Province portrays untamed Africa - ancient baobabs guarding vast expanses of mountains and bushveld and offers a mosaic of tourist attractions. There are many archaeological sites where the mysteries of the past and ancient peoples are still haunting this harsh landscape.

Mpumalanga Tourism:
Mpumalanga - 'the place where the sun rises'. The province is situated in the north eastern part of the country and borders both Mozambique and Swaziland. It is an area of immense natural beauty and diversity - a land of mountain splendour, wide horizons, forests and plains, rock formations, caves and waterfalls.

Northern Cape Tourism:
Experience the beauty and tranquillity of numerous nature reserves, the adventure and excitement of 4x4 routes, hiking trails, or river rafting expeditions, the waterfalls, the world renowned flowers of Namaqualand or the richness of a diverse cultural heritage, the Northern Cape has something unique to offer.

Tourism North West:
Whatever your preference, there is bound to be an adventure to keep you happy. The North West is outdoors country, with a glorious climate & challenging adventure venues. We offer attractions and facilities equal to the best in South Africa - unique opportunities for white water rafting, canoeing, diving, hot air ballooning, hiking, fishing, rock climbing, abseiling, hunting, apart from conventional sport like golf, or other outdoor activities like bird watching, to name but a few.

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Lonely Planet Southern Africa (Travel Guide) Top 10 Cape Town and the Winelands (DK Eyewitness Travel Guide)

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