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Travel Guide: The best of South Africa

12th Oct 2011 1:53am | By Editor

If you're travelling around South Africa, you can easily spend a month picking out the highlights. NARINA EXELBY lists a few places that should definitely be on your list.

Greyton, Western Cape
For winter travel in South Africa, make sure you treat yourself to a weekend in little Greyton, a slow sort of place tucked up against the Riviersonderend Mountains. Be sure to take a good book, someone to cuddle up to and enough in your budget to indulge in a few bottles of red wine, and stay somewhere that has a fireplace. There's nothing that screams 'city', no supermarkets and no banks; you can count the number of tar roads on half a hand and you're bound to bump into all of Greyton's residents - and their dogs - when you take a Sunday morning stroll. Don't leave without having a cappuccino at the Post House, hiring a mountain bike and riding around town, or going for a walk in the mountains.
• Greyton Tourism +27 (0) 28-254-9414, www.greyton.net.

Rustler's Valley, Ficksburg, Free State
Rustler's is the archetypal travellers' joint. Once known for its weekends of music festival hedonism, it's mellowed into a perma-culture farm in one of South Africa's most beautiful valleys. It's the sort of place that brings out your inner hippy and feeds your free spirit; stay long enough and you'll join in the drumming circles and attend sweat lodges. People come here for two days and stay for months.
• Rustler's Valley +27 (0) 51-933-3939, www.rustlers.co.za.

Cape Town, Western Cape
When you're in Cape Town, buy a ticket to take yourself from the centre of the city all the way to Simon's Town on the train. You'll find yourself winding through concrete industria into leafy suburbs, past the Newlands cricket and rugby grounds and on to the coastline of False Bay - Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and the rest. Stop off at Kalk Bay and wander through the quirky (if touristy) streets, and have a beer at the Brass Bell. While any time is a good time to do the trip, you have a better chance of seeing whales when they grace this part of the coastline from June to November.
• Metrorail 0800-656-453, www.capemetrorail.co.za.

Nieu Bethesda, Eastern Cape
The trippy town of Nieu Bethesda was put on the map by Miss Helen Martin's Owl House. It's an odd sort of place, very compelling, with owls and candles and mirrors and concrete statues all facing east. This little Karoo town has no sealed roads and no street lights, so be sure to bring a book of astronomy as the night skies are amazing.
• Nieu Bethesda Tourism +27 (0) 49-892-4248, www.nieubethesda.info.

Soweto, Johannesburg, Gauteng
A township tour is an awe-inspiring experience and Jimmy's Face to Face will take you around Soweto - from the multi-million rand mansions to the most fragile of shacks, past barber shops, pavement stalls, down the street where Archbishop Desmond Tutu lives, past soccer stadiums and the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. A highlight is Nelson Mandela's house from the 1960s, now run as a museum by his second wife, Winnie.
• Jimmy's Face to Face +27 (0) 11-331-6109. Also see www.joburg.org.za.

Splashy Fen, Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal
The Splashy Fen music festival is held every Easter on a farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg; any South African band worth its mettle has played there. There are various stages but the best is the acoustic stage, where the audience sits on rocks in the long grass and listens to musicians play unplugged, with the southern Drakensberg mountains as a backdrop. Festival-goers camp in the fields and leave - with smoke ingrained in everything they own - a few days later.
• Splashy Fen +27 (0) 33-701-1932, www.splashyfen.co.za.

Barberton, Mpumalanga
To boggle your brain, make sure you spend some time in Barberton (if you visit Kruger National Park you might find yourself in the area). The old mining town boasts some of the world's oldest rocks, formed 3400-million years ago. Those rocks were around when the very first life forms - bacteria - started to form, and you can see remnants of these too, fossilised in the rocks if you do the 1.5 km Fortuna hiking trail (which also boasts about 100 different species of trees).
• Barberton Tourism +27 (0) 13-764-1177, www.barberton.info.

Sani Pass, KwaZulu-Natal
If you're the active type and a half-marathon is no biggie, then run the Sani Stagger. You'll start at the top of Sani Pass in the Drakensberg, with a view back into Lesotho and in front out into KwaZulu-Natal, and zig-zag down the 4WD track to the finish. Every after-race blister and aching muscle is worth it. There are three races: up, down or up and down - but if it's the view that inspires you to run, do it downhill.
• Sani Athletic Club (+27 (0) 33-701-1577; www.sanistagger.com)

Augrabies Falls National Park, Northern Cape
At Augrabies Falls, the Orange River churns its way through granite boulders in a spectacular display of aquatic power. They're best viewed in the early morning or late evening, when the low sun makes the granite orange. Surrounding the falls is the Augrabies Falls National Park, one of South Africa's loveliest parks. Here you can walk the three-day Klipspringer trail and watch wildlife while you're on foot.
• Augrabies Falls National Park +27 (0) 54-452-9200, www.sanparks.org/parks/augrabies.

What you need to know
• If you hire a car, don't be scared to venture off the national highways and travel along the smaller roads. As a reward you'll stumble across little-known towns and beautiful scenery. Look at a map and anything that has 'R' in front of the number (eg R62) will probably be tarred and in good condition.
• If you want to see some wildlife, check out South African National Parks' website, www.sanparks.org. This comprehensive site should have all the information you could want on the various parks - from maps indicating where they are in the country to what animals you can see, accommodation and availability (updated every morning), photographs of the parks etc. Don't just stick to Kruger - there's a lot more to see.
• For information on South Africa, visit the tourism website www.southafrica.net.
• To check the weather forecast while you're there, see www.weathersa.co.za or call 082-192.