Lesser known gems in SA ‘s travel crown

Published in High-Flyer Magazine November 2011

Prospectors of old often discovered South Africa’s mineral wealth by chance, from giant diamonds to the world’s biggest gold deposits. When it comes to travel destinations there are many hidden gems in the folds and valleys of our countryside. I set out to discover a few.

Lion

For the first time in over 100 years there are free roaming lions in Gauteng in Dinokeng Game Reserve

 Dinokeng Game Reserve, Gauteng:Only a 60 minute drive from Johannesburg lies the trendy Dinokeng Game Reserve, an 18 500ha eco-friendly retreat, that brings the big five within shouting distance of Egoli.

Overflowing with affordable (from R350/night) to luxury accommodation, this jewel shines brighter than most. Camps can be reached with own transportation, but if you want to get to know the Big Five a bit better you should book a game drive, quite affordable at R150pp for approximately one to two hours.

With activities ranging from archery and horse riding to fishing and boat cruising, suffering from boredom is out of the question.  Dinokeng has a number of restaurants with beautiful views overlooking the lake or the Red bush willow-layered veld, ensuring that you don’t miss some unforgettable sunsets.

 

ATKV Eiland  Spa, Limpopo:

A six hour drive from Johannesburg,  68km East of Tzaneen, lies an Island— a virtual oasis from the scorching bushveld sun—with a natural water source, that doesn’t only help visitors relax but allegedly has an actual healing effect on the human body. The Eiland is a budget travellers dream. Comfortable rondavels (from R500/night)ensures you are well rested for the activities on offer.

For overnight guests, all activities are included and visitors only have to pay extra for horse riding and game drives through the neighbouring Hans Merensky Nature Reserve on the banks of the Letaba River.  The Eiland is only an hour’s drive (120km) from the Kruger National Park’s Phalaborwa gate should you want to take a detour over a weekend visit.

 

Howick, Drakensberg, Kwazulu Natal:

Green, almost superficial, pastures dotted with horses…this is the sight that greets visitors to Howick, the green jewel of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The place of many waterfalls owes its splendour to the uMngeni River and its tributaries that power and tumble their way from the majestic Drakensberg mountain range down hundreds of gorges in search of the Indian Ocean.

The most impressive of all the falls and Howick’s main attraction, is the Howick Falls that plunges more than 100m into the gorge below. It’s a spectacular sight in almo

st the centre of the charming town.

Howick is situated in the centre of the Midlands Meander and the town overflows with quaint shops of weavers, potters, woodcrafters, artists, herb growers, cheese makers and craft beer brewers.  There is truly much to explore for visitors to the Midlands Meander including the sparkling waters of the Midmar Dam and the ominous but breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains itself just around the corner. Accommodation is widely available at budget matching prices.

 

Keurboomstrand, Garden Route:

Lighthouse

Keurboomstrand Lighthouse

Like the Keurboom’s exquisite pink flower protected by its green leaves, this little holiday town is just as sheltered from the world by the many nature reserves surrounding it.  Keurboomstrand is a little jewel of nature, with its rich and beautiful fauna and flora. For budget accommodation from R117 pppn, remember to book well in advance.Keurboomstrand is only 10km away from  the popular Plettenberg Bay. For groceries it’s still necessary to go into town but the rest of the time visitors are sheltered from civilization to a large extent. For those who enjoy hiking, the region is home to one of the best collections of hiking trails in the world. Except for the Robberg trail which costs a mere R25, the rest are free. Other popular attractions include the Birds of Eden and Monkeyland (adults R192 combo package) and Elephant Sanctuary (adults R295). You can end a day with pizza and wine at the well known local eatery Ristorante Enrico.

Gansbaai, Western Cape:

Good things come in small packages and this is a perfect description for the tiny village of Gansbaai. Gansbaai started out as a small fishing village and is famous for the well-known Birkenhead wreck, a  ship that ran ashore here in the 1800’s.

Accommodation is still quite easily accessible and affordable, however bookings should be made well in advance to ensure visitors get the best deals. Adventure seekers can enjoy their own near death experience by looking at Great Whites through the thin bars of a diving cage(R1350 for max 3hours), or climbing the stairs in the Danger Point Lighthouse. (Closed on weekends).

Spoil yourself with a picnic and a tour guided hiking trail in the Platbos Reserve for as little as R50pp. To end off a perfect day, you can appreciate whales frolicking in front of you whilst you sip away at a sun-downer at local eatery, Coffee on the Rocks, at de Kelders, or if you’re in the mood, try the locally brewed Birkenhead Beer at a harbour-bar.

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