Experience the true South Africa

Lorna Cowan / 13 September 2018

Visit vineyards, explore the Garden Route, jump aboard a luxury train or indulge in nature in incredible South Africa.



When considering a holiday in South Africa, going on a safari in search of the Big Five is a popular priority. And there’s no doubt that seeing a lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo in a national park such as Kruger will be a highlight of any trip.

However, as you’d expect in a country that’s five times bigger than the UK, there is so much more to see and do in South Africa. During your break you could also visit vineyards, explore the Garden Route, jump aboard a luxury train or indulge in nature.

The best South African foods - as recommended by you

Raise a toast on a Winelands tour

Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or someone who simply appreciates an occasional glass of red, white or rosé, a holiday spent in the Cape Winelands will be both educational and immensely enjoyable. Just an hour’s scenic drive from Cape Town is a wonderful wine-producing area, regarded as the best in South Africa.

In the beautiful Franschhoek Valley, which can be explored aboard a quirky wine tram, you’ll find rolling countryside full of vast vineyards – and some of South Africa’s oldest and most distinguished wine estates, many of which have a French Huguenot heritage. Expert guides will explain the winemaking process, share their knowledge of local grape varieties, and, of course, allow you to sample a few.

The neighbouring region of Stellenbosch has nearly 200 wine and grape producers, and many of the estates boast grand Cape Dutch manor houses and equally imposing gardens.

At Stellenbosch Vineyards, which has an ideal climate and soil for winemaking, you may get the chance to sip The Flagship Petit Verdot, a deep ruby-hued wine with intense dark cheery and blackcurrant flavours. Or perhaps a limited-release Verdelho, a floral zesty wine with revealing peach and apricot flavours. Cheers!

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Travel along the Garden Route

Stretching almost 125 miles between Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the east, the legendary and magnificent Garden Route takes in highways, mountain passes and rugged coastlines. Lagoons, coves, gorges, forests ­– the landscape constantly changes as you meander along, with every stage of the journey providing awe-inspiring sights. If you’re not driving, keep your eyes peeled out to sea as you may spot a dolphin, southern right whale or great white shark.

Two national parks, Wilderness and Tsitsikamma, are also worth exploring – the latter is the home of the Knysna lourie, a bright green bird with a short, hooked bill and brilliant red wings. North of Oudtshoorn, there are no prizes for guessing what you’ll see at the fun Cango Ostrich Farm.

Visit the Cango Caves too, inhabited since the Early Stone Age. The caves are one of the greatest natural wonders of the world and the oldest tourist attraction in South Africa.

Plettenberg Bay has some of the coast’s most pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. Don’t just sunbathe and swim though, head to nearby Robberg Nature Reserve – rocks from this region date back 120 million years.

And add the nature reserve at Storms River Mouth to your itinerary. The Indian Ocean relentlessly pounds rocky shores here. Note that some Garden Route tours also take in Cape Agulhas, the spot where the mighty Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.

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Make tracks on a luxury train ride

There’s something incredibly exciting and romantic about stepping aboard a train, especially one with a historic past such as the elegant Pride of Africa. Owned by the private, family-run Rovos Rail, the train uses authentic rolling stock, some of which is over 60 years old. Carriages are air conditioned and tastefully decorated throughout, reflecting the opulence of the 1920s era.

An adventure could take you to Matjiesfontein via the Cape Winelands and Great Karoo plains – one of the four tunnels you pass through is around eight miles long. At Kimberley, the capital of Northern Cape province, a trip to the mining museum to see the world’s largest uncut diamond is a must. Look out too for the Big Hole, the largest hand-dug excavation in the world, the result of frantic diamond rush.

Alternatively, experience South Africa – as well as Swaziland - from the first-class Shongololo Express. A luxury train trip could take you from Johannesburg to Malelane, where you can visit Kruger National Park. En route you’ll stop at God’s Window, a vantage point high up on the Drakensberg Escarpment which looks down into a lush forest ravine. A game drive at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is also recommended, looking out for the Big Five, as well as wild dogs and cheetah.


Marvel at the beauty of wild flora

Arum lilies, pincushion protea, the orange clusters of clivia – many fascinating and beautiful flowers flourish in South Africa. The stunning strelitzia is one of the country’s favourites; otherwise known as the bird of paradise flower, its vibrant orange and blue blooms even appear on South Africa's 50 cent coin. The whole area of the Western Cape is a paradise for both keen gardeners and avid photographers, especially in spring when wild flowers appear en mass.

The same can be said for the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, situated on the slopes of the iconic Table Mountain, and just eight miles from Cape Town. The gardens’ grand setting is just a small part of the appeal though, as the attraction is also considered to be one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. South Africa’s national flower, the king protea, takes centre stage, but you can also see around 2,500 other species of plants. 

The Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens is a wonder too. The only truly succulent garden in the southern hemisphere, it displays a glorious collection of indigenous, rare and endangered flora, and cultivates a wide variety of arid plants. Also worth seeking out is the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, known for its West Coast fynbos, natural shrubland.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.