Don’t know your Hluhluwe-Umfolozi from your Soutpansberg? In this extract from TNT‘s online guide to South Africa,  NARINA EXELBY gives a guide to the best of every province.

Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is a backpacker’s dream. It’s an area largely ignored by the package-deal tourists and the prices of most things are pretty reasonable. The hostels along the Wild Coast are legendary, you can tick off the Big Five at Addo Elephant National Park and get your adrenaline going at Storms River.

Things to do

• Surf at Jeffrey’s Bay.
• Bungee from the Bloukrans Bridge, the highest commercial bungee in the world (216m).
• Spend time in Hogsback, the misty, forested village where JRR Tolkien is said to have gathered inspiration for Middle-earth. While you’re there, hike in the Amatola mountains.
• Watch the world’s largest land mammals at the Addo Elephant National Park.
• Get all arty at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
• Walk the beaches of the Wild Coast.
• Wander around the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda, once the home of eccentric sculptor Miss Helen Martins. The town still has no street lights or ATMs, and it’s said it’s the meeting place of many ley lines, imaginary lines connecting significant cultural sites.
• Take life at a very chilled pace in the teensy ‘towns’ along the Wild Coast – Cintsa, Haga-Haga, Gonubie, Morgan’s Bay, Coffee Bay and Kei Mouth.
• Check out one of the country’s oldest towns, Graaff-Reinet.

Free State

Not many people spend their holidays in Free State; those in search of mountains or the sea head elsewhere. But those who do take time to travel through this small, landlocked province get to drive through fields of sunflowers and huge rolls of hay bales, on roads lined with wild white, pink and mauve cosmos flowers. The Free State has small towns left behind in the past century, some decaying slowly, some trying desperately to keep up; there are nature reserves, intriguing roads and plenty of farms.

Things to do

• Visit the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
• Spend a few days in the artsy town of Clarens.
• Drive through the eastern highlands, an area that borders with Lesotho.
• Stay at Rustlers Valley, a real travellers’ joint tucked into a valley.
• Drive the regional roads and stop off at small towns on the map.


If you plan on flying into Johannesburg and then getting the hell out as soon as possible, chill. Check the place out – there is actually quite a lot to do. Gauteng’s the smallest of the country’s provinces, but is home to almost half its population; it’s the business centre of South Africa and the energy throbbing through its streets is contagious.

Things to do

• Take a tour of Soweto.
• Visit the Apartheid Museum.
• Watch a cricket match at the Wanderers Stadium.
• Visit Pretoria Zoo.
• Watch a rugby game at Ellis Park, where South African won the World Cup in 1995.
• Go to a jazz club.


KwaZulu-Natal is a travellers’ haven. It’s got awesome mountains, great beaches, excellent surf spots, loads of game reserves, a few arts routes, dams where you can indulge in water sports and a couple of breweries to boot. It’s also home to some of South Africa’s biggest sporting events: the Comrades Marathon, the Dusi Canoe Marathon and the Midmar Mile.

Things to do

• Hike, camp or chill out in the Drakensberg mountains.
• Ogle stingrays, jellyfish and dolphins, or swim with them, at uShaka Marine World in Durban.
• Surf, dive, swim or tan along the North or South Coast (north and south of Durban).
• Abseil the cliffs alongside the Howick Falls (107m).
• Witness the annual sardine run, a spectacle along the South Coast in June or July year.
• Get back to nature at the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park – or at Ithala, Mkuze, Lake St Lucia or the other reserves up in northern KwaZulu Natal.
• Get artsy on the Midlands Meander – and check out the breweries en route.
• Raft down the Tugela or Umkomaas rivers (during the summer).
• Eat bunny-chow (hollowed out bread with meat inside) in Durban.
• Whale watch along the coast between July and November.


If you want bush and wild Africa, Limpopo’s probably all you’ve been dreaming of. And if you plan to enter Kruger National Park through some of its northern gates (and so enter the quieter sections of the park), you’ll find yourself driving through this beautiful province.

Things to do

• Photograph a baobab tree at sunrise.
• Melt into one of the mineral baths in the Waterberg area.
• 4WD the African Ivory Route.
• Hike in the Soutpansberg and Blouberg mountain areas.
• Fish for bream, barbel and yellowfish in the Limpopo River.
• Get back to nature in one of the many game reserves.
• Visit Crook’s Corner, the northernmost part of Kruger; also where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique share a border.
• Canoe among crocodiles and hippos on the Limpopo River.
• Do a mountian bike trail through the Ben Lavin Nature Reserve.


The North-West Province is slowly gathering reasons for travellers to visit its flat Kalahari grasslands. If you’ve got the time to spend in a place where vast open spaces don’t come in short supply, head on up here for a few days.

Things to do

• Go walking in the Magaliesberg mountains.
• Gamble your hard-saved travel cash away at Sun City in the Pilanesberg area, then frolic in the Valley of the Waves in the Lost City.
• Go natural in the Pilanesburg National Park.
• Tick off the Big Five in Madikwe.


Mpumalanga is the place where you’re bowled over by natural beauty. The province lays claim to the lower half of the Kruger National Park, the Blyde River Canyon, a whole host of waterfalls and some rather picturesque little towns. It’s all about nature, with a little adventure thrown in, too.

Things to do

• Visit the Kruger National Park – but don’t just chase the Big Five. Take time to watch the antics in an impala herd and spend some time bird-watching.
• Check out the (rather twee) old gold mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest.
• Mountain bike the trails around Sabie.
• Rock climb at Waterval Boven.
• Chill out in the Nelspruit National Botanical Gardens.
• Snap the Mac Mac, Lisbon and Berlin waterfalls as well as Bourkes Luck Potholes.
• View the world through God’s Window.
• Raft the Blyde River.
• Fly fish in Dullstroom.
• Haul out your camera at God’s Window and the Three Rondavels.

Northern Cape

Travellers tend to overlook the Northern Cape and head straight to its glamorous neighbour, the Western Cape. Although it’s a fairly wild and empty space, the province tucked up under Namibia has some well-kept secrets. This is big sky country with a lot of desert – and in the spring, the wild flowers scribble the bare lands into a frenzy of colour.

Things to do

• Watch the Orange River churn through granite outcrops and lizards sunning themselves on the rocks at the Augrabies Falls National Park.
• Raft along the Orange River, which forms the border between South African and Namibia, and camp under the stars.
• See the spring flowers blanket the landscape (they’re usually out between August and October).
• Photograph the odd-shaped quiver trees near Springbok.
• Experience the wild Richtersveld.

Western Cape

The Western Cape is a province of gorgeous beaches, winelands, semi-deserts, ragged mountains and rolling farmlands. It’s home to Cape Town and the famous Table Mountain, the Garden Route (a stretch of coastline from Heidelberg in the west to the Tsitsikamma National Park in the east, which includes the towns of Knysna, George, Wilderness, Nature’s Valley and Sedgefield) and the Wine Route (in and around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek).

Things to do

• Walk up Table Mountain (because anyone can take the cable car).
• Go wine tasting in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
• Stand at the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Point.
• Visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many of the country’s top politicians were imprisoned during the apartheid era.
• Hang out with the bodies beautiful at Clifton and Camps Bay.
• Visit the penguins at Boulders Beach.
• Hike in the Cederberg mountains.
• Travel up the Garden Route.
• Pack a picnic and a few bottles of wine and watch the sunset during an open air concert at Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town.
• Whale-watch in Hermanus from July to November.
• Photograph the brightly coloured houses in Cape Town’s Bo Kaap district.
• Drive along Route 62 and spend time in the little Cape towns (Worcester, Bonnievale, Swellendam, Montagu, McGregor) – great for wine tasting.
• Paraglide off Lion’s Head, next to Table Mountain.
• Kite surf at Langebaan.
• Take the train from Cape Town station along the coast to Fish Hoek, getting off at the stations along the way.
• Eat fresh fish and chips in the West Coast fishing village of Paternoster.
• Hire a mountain bike and take to the trails around Knysna.
• Party up a storm at the bars in Cape Town’s Long Street.
• Visit an ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn.
• Visit the Knysna Elephant Park.