Plan a fun year with these 15 des­ti­na­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties in South Africa. Do one, do them all, but make sure you get in your car and ex­plore.

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Make 2019 your best year yet with these fun things to do and scenic places to see.

1VERNEUKPAN, NORTH­ERN CAPE Camp on a quiet pan

When last did you watch the sparks of your camp­fire fade into the Milky Way? Do you want to see a sun­set as if for the first time? Most peo­ple have heard of Verneukpan, but few have been there. Pitch your tent on the pan – chances are you’ll be the only per­son. Which is a good thing. Ev­ery now and then you need to hear the rush of your own blood to know you’re still alive. Cost: Camp­ing R150 per per­son. You can camp wher­ever you want to; there’s also a big wind shel­ter where you can braai, and a bath­room with a don­key boiler for hot wa­ter. TIP It sel­dom rains, but when it does the pan be­comes muddy and slip­pery. Call be­fore­hand to make sure the pan is dry.

2 GANNAGA PASS, TANKWA KA­ROO En­joy a good view and a good meal

I try to drive at least three new roads ev­ery year. The Gannaga Pass is one to add to your list. It winds up the Roggeveld Moun­tains from the Tankwa Ka­roo, about 35 km south of Mid­del­pos. The pass is 7 km long and has 45 bends! The road sur­face is usu­ally good, and you should man­age in any ve­hi­cle with de­cent ground clear­ance. Go slowly. Take pho­tos, pull over and take a deep breath. Half­way up the pass, you’ll see a bot­ter­boom for­est on the slopes. From the view­point at the top, look out over the empty plains of the Tankwa, to where the sun dis­ap­pears be­hind the Ceder­berg. It’s of­ten as much as 7˚ C cooler at the top of the pass than at the bot­tom, which can ei­ther be “re­fresh­ing” or “freez­ing”. Gannaga Lodge is 3 km from the sum­mit, where you can sip red wine in front of the fire­place or have a dip in the swim­ming pool. It’s a lekker place, what­ever the weather. Owner Jo­han Vis­agie, for­mer com­man­der of the Mid­del­pos po­lice sta­tion, heads up the restau­rant. On the menu you’ll find Ka­roo treats like sheep’s tails, skil­pad­jies, lamb neck and crack­ling. The pass is so scenic and the lodge so nice, you’ll for­get all about the roads you haven’t driven and come again next year! Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Kli­phuis (self-ca­ter­ing) sleeps four – two in a bed­room and two on a sleeper couch. The Farm­house has five en suite dou­ble rooms; The Stalls has six en suite dou­ble rooms. From R300 per per­son per night. 079 922 1688; gan­na­ga­lodge.co.za TIP The vil­lage of Mid­del­pos is about 30 km from the lodge. The Mid­del­pos ser­vice sta­tion has fuel and a work­shop, where you can get your tyres fixed if they’ve been dam­aged by the stony roads of the Tankwa Ka­roo. 073 260 5305 – Willem van der Berg

3 VAL­LEY OF DES­O­LA­TION, GRAAFF-REINET Be in­spired by a clas­sic view

From this iconic Ka­roo view­point, you can see the plains of the Camde­boo and the town of Graaff-Reinet far be­low. But that’s not all: You’re also sur­rounded by do­lerite pil­lars, some of which rise 120 m from the val­ley floor. These un­usual rock for­ma­tions are the re­sult of vol­canic ac­tiv­ity about 200 mil­lion years ago, fol­lowed by ero­sion over cen­turies. The Val­ley of Des­o­la­tion was pain­ter Pierneef’s muse in the 1940s. The view will also stir your artis­tic soul. Foot­paths lead left and right to views of Span­dau Kop in the south, Nqweba Dam in the north and Graaff-Reinet in the east. Cost: Camde­boo Na­tional Park con­ser­va­tion fee R43 per adult; R22 per child; free with a Wild card. 049 892 3453; san­parks.org TIP Come early if you want to feel the iso­la­tion that’s so char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Ka­roo. The rock tow­ers glow red in the late-af­ter­noon sun and you’ll get won­der­ful pho­tos, but you’ll have to jos­tle for space. – Jac Kritzinger

4 DE HOOP, RICHTERSVELD Travel to the most re­mote cor­ner of the coun­try This camp­site on the bank of the Or­ange River is the most pop­u­lar place to stay in the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Trans­fron­tier Park. But “pop­u­lar” in this con­text is a rel­a­tive term… The Richtersveld is a moun­tain­ous rock desert in the north-west­ern cor­ner of South Africa. You’ll feel like you’ve en­tered an alien world when you drive through the gates. One year, I vis­ited the park of­fice at Sen­del­ings­drift in late Fe­bru­ary – no­body had re­ported to the gate in a week! Even when De Hoop is fully booked, it’s still quiet. There are only 12 stands, di­vided into two sec­tions: The up­per sec­tion is on a sandy beach on the river bank; the lower sec­tion is also on the bank with some thorn trees for shade. You can swim, cast a fly for yel­low­fish and watch grey herons stalk­ing among the reeds. When the sun starts to set, sit back in your camp­ing chair and watch the land­scape turn, pink, pur­ple, or­ange and red. Light a fire and count the stars un­til the Milky Way ex­plodes into a thou­sand glit­ter­ing lights. Cost: SAN­Parks con­ser­va­tion fee R71 per adult; R36 per child un­der 12; free with a Wild card. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Camp­ing from R243 per night for two peo­ple; R89 per ex­tra adult; R45 per ex­tra child (max six peo­ple per stand). Each sec­tion (up­per and lower) has an ablu­tion block with cold show­ers. 027 831 1506 (Sen­del­ings­drift); 012 428 9111 (book­ings); san­parks.org TIP Bring an in­ner tube and float down the river. – Pierre Steyn

5 BOUL­DERS, SI­MON’S TOWN Visit a pen­guin colony

It’s won­der­ful to sit on a beach at sun­set look­ing out over a se­cluded bay. It’s even more won­der­ful if one of the most en­dan­gered birds in the world swims out of the waves and wad­dles past you on its way to its nest. Boul­ders Beach in Si­mon’s Town is home to a colony of African pen­guins. There are fewer than 26 000 breed­ing pairs left in the world and 2 000 of them can be seen on this beach. They’re used to peo­ple so you can share the wa­ter with them. Boul­ders is part of Ta­ble Moun­tain Na­tional Park. Plant your um­brella on one of the shel­tered beaches, or walk along the board­walks to see the pen­guins and their chicks up close. Cost: SAN­Parks con­ser­va­tion fee R76 per adult; R41 per child un­der 12; free with a Wild card. Open­ing times: De­pends on the sea­son. Open daily in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary from 7 am to 7.30 pm. TIP Boul­ders is pop­u­lar over the De­cem­ber hol­i­days so come early if you want the beach and the pen­guins to your­self. 021 712 0527; san­parks.org – Pierre Steyn

6 QUIVER TREE FOR­EST, NIEUWOUDTVILLE Watch the sun rise over quiver trees

When the sun peeks over the hori­zon, the sil­hou­et­ted leaves of the quiver trees look like stars against the sky. Then the trunks come to life, glow­ing spooky white in the first light. As the sun climbs higher, it fills in the folds and cracks in the bark un­til it looks like the trees are wrapped in strips of golden foil. In June and July – when Na­maqua­land bursts into bloom – the quiver trees bear yel­low flow­ers. You can take pho­tos to your heart’s con­tent. But put down your cam­era af­ter a while, pour a cup of cof­fee and spend some quiet time with these an­cient plants. They were here long be­fore you were, and it’s likely they’ll be here long af­ter you’re gone. Where? Fol­low the R357 from Nieuwoudtville to­wards Lo­eries­fontein. Af­ter about 20 km, turn right onto the Ganna­bos dirt road. The quiver tree for­est is 3 km fur­ther, on the right. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Ganna­bos guest farm is 8 km fur­ther along the same road. Ka­ree­boom self-ca­ter­ing cot­tage (sleeps six) from R550 per per­son. Lux­ury ron­davel (sleeps two) R650 per per­son, break­fast in­cluded. Brand­kop guest farm is 3 km back to­wards town on the R357. The big farm­house sleeps eight peo­ple and the nearby cot­tage sleeps four. The cot­tage in the veld is more pri­vate and has two dou­ble rooms. From R350 per per­son per night. Ganna­bos 027 218 1249; ganna­bos.co.za; Brand­kop 027 218 1254; brand­[email protected]­tam.co.za TIP Stop at the Koker­boom Nurs­ery in Van­rhyns­dorp and buy a quiver tree for your gar­den. 027 219 1062; koker­boom.co.za – Sophia van Taak

7 TAFELBERG, CEDER­BERG Climb the sec­ond-high­est moun­tain in the Ceder­berg

Ta­ble Moun­tain in Cape Town is 1 084 m above sea level at its high­est point; Tafelberg in the Ceder­berg is nearly twice as high at 1 964 m – the sec­ond­high­est moun­tain in the range af­ter Sneeu­berg. It’s a 14 km hike to the sum­mit and back from the Welbe­dacht park­ing area. There are streams where you can fill your bot­tle, but take enough wa­ter just in case (about two litres per per­son). The last few hun­dred me­tres at the top in­clude chains and a rock chim­ney to wrig­gle through. You need to be fit. If all that sounds a bit too tech­ni­cal, hike to the neck be­tween Tafelberg and The Spout on the right if you’re fac­ing the moun­tain – it looks like a ket­tle made from stone (GPS: S32.41431 E19.20988). From the neck, you can look east over the Langk­loof and its end­less val­leys, all the way to the vil­lage of Wup­perthal. Fol­low the same route back. Cost: Con­ser­va­tion fee R70 per adult; R40 per child. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Driehoek guest farm is about 2 km from Welbe­dacht. Camp­ing from R320 per night for four peo­ple; R90 per ex­tra per­son (max six peo­ple per stand). Cab­ins from R470 per night for two peo­ple (shared bath­room) or from R610 for two (pri­vate bath­room). Self-ca­ter­ing house R800 (two peo­ple) to R2 200 (12 peo­ple). 027 482 2828; ceder­berg-ac­com­mo­da­tion.co.za TIP The Ceder­berg is very hot in sum­mer and very cold in win­ter. Visit in spring or au­tumn. – Sven Hugo

8 OT­TER HIK­ING TRAIL, GAR­DEN ROUTE Book your spot on a top trail!

On the 45 km, five-day Ot­ter Trail be­tween Storms River and Na­ture’s Val­ley, you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence a range of land­scapes: cliffs, forests, river cross­ings… It’s not easy: There are steep sec­tions that will leave you out of breath, but you don’t cover long dis­tances each day and the views from the hik­ing huts are so spec­tac­u­lar you won’t be­lieve you’re ac­tu­ally al­lowed to sleep there. It’s a pop­u­lar hike and you might only get a spot for next year, es­pe­cially if you’re a big group. But make that book­ing now – the sooner you do, the sooner you can start get­ting ex­cited… Cost: R1 302 per per­son, plus a con­ser­va­tion fee of R59 per per­son per day (no con­ser­va­tion fee with a Wild card). Max­i­mum 12 peo­ple per group. Ev­ery overnight stop has two huts with six beds each, a com­mu­nal lapa and a cold shower. TIP If the full trail is booked out for 2019, you can get a taster on the Wa­ter­fall Trail from the Storms River rest camp. It’s ba­si­cally the first 3 km of the full Ot­ter Trail and leads to a wa­ter­fall with a nice pool. Fol­low the same route back. 012 426 5111; spe­cialise­dreser­va­[email protected]­parks.org; san­parks.org – Suzaan Hall

9 ST BLAIZE TRAIL, MOS­SEL BAY Walk high above the waves

It’s hard to be­lieve that this day hike be­tween Mos­sel Bay and Dana Bay is free – you get fresh sea air, fields of fyn­bos and 180-de­gree views. You oc­ca­sion­ally hike over stretches of sand, but mostly you walk along the cliff tops with views of the ocean. Look out for whales and dol­phins. The trail is 13,5 km long but it’s not tech­ni­cal. And you can take it slow… Where? You can hike in ei­ther di­rec­tion. Start in Mos­sel Bay if you want the morn­ing sun be­hind you. Park at the light­house at The Point. The hike starts at the St Blaize Cave – fol­low the oys­ter­catcher signs. Ar­range to have some­one pick you up in Malva Road in Dana Bay – there’s a sign point­ing to the trail. TIP Take drink­ing wa­ter, snacks, a hat, sun­screen and a wind­breaker. There isn’t much shade or shel­ter from the el­e­ments. 044 691 2202 (Mos­sel Bay tourism) – Lawrette McFar­lane

10 WA­TER­FALL BLUFF, WILD COAST Watch a wa­ter­fall tum­ble into the sea

It’s a re­lief that ma­jor de­vel­op­ments haven’t yet reached the Wild Coast. The land­scape is still pris­tine, but see­ing the sights re­quires ef­fort – you need to put on your hik­ing boots or drive a cor­ru­gated dirt road. Wa­ter­fall Bluff, about 35 km north of Port St Johns, is one such place. The Mkozi River tum­bles about 60 m, di­rectly into the sea. (It’s one of only a hand­ful of wa­ter­falls in the world that do this.) You can reach the wa­ter­fall in two ways: Hike about 11 km from Mbo­tyi Lodge, past Cathe­dral Rock (a rock arch with one foot in the sea) or hike 4 km from Lu­phuthana Camp (you need a 4x4 to get to Lu­phuthana). Take your swim­ming cos­tume and swim in the so-called Mamba Pools at the top of the wa­ter­fall – it’s a set­ting straight from The Jun­gle Book. If the sea is calm, you can also swim in the pool un­der the wa­ter­fall. Cost: Hik­ing with a guide is rec­om­mended – book at Mbo­tyi River Lodge: R400 per day for two peo­ple. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Camp­ing at Mbo­tyi from R140 per per­son; self-ca­ter­ing ron­davel with com­mu­nal bath­room from R850 per night (max six peo­ple). Mbo­tyi Lodge is next to the camp­site – rates from R885 per per­son shar­ing, full board. 082 674 1064; mbo­tyi.co.za Lu­phuthana Camp has en suite sa­fari tents with a com­mu­nal kitchen (from R360 per per­son). Bring your own bed­ding, food and drinks. 011 888 1160; green­fire.co.za TIP If you’re se­ri­ous about pho­tog­ra­phy, you’ll want a long-ex­po­sure shot of the wa­ter­fall. Take a tri­pod and a neu­tral den­sity fil­ter.. – Evan Naudé

11 HLUHLUWE-IM­FOLOZI GAME RE­SERVE See rhi­nos by the dozen

If you want a guar­an­teed rhino sight­ing in South Africa, you can ei­ther head to the near­est zoo or to the old­est game re­serve in the coun­try – Hluhluwe-iM­folozi. The R511 tar road cuts the park in half – iM­folozi is in the south and Hluhluwe in the north. iM­folozi is white rhino coun­try. This sec­tion of the park is home to the con­flu­ence of the White iM­folozi and Black iM­folozi rivers – the area be­tween the two rivers was once the pri­vate hunt­ing ground of King Shaka. Tsetse flies kept other hun­ters and farm­ers out of the area for many years. When white rhi­nos were nearly hunted to ex­tinc­tion in the 1800s, a group of about 500 was dis­cov­ered in present-day iM­folozi. All the white rhi­nos in the world are de­scended from this group. White rhi­nos graze in the flat­ter ar­eas of the park. Black rhi­nos are smaller and more shy – they pre­fer the moun­tain­ous Hluhluwe sec­tion. If you’re still not sure which is which, the black rhino is the one with the grumpy look on its face… Cost: Con­ser­va­tion fee for both sec­tions of the park R110 per adult; half­price for kids un­der 12. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Mpila rest camp (iM­folozi): Sa­fari tents and self-ca­ter­ing units from R1 030 per night; the tents and units sleep two peo­ple each. Hill­top rest camp (Hluhluwe): Self-ca­ter­ing ron­dav­els from R720 per per­son; self-ca­ter­ing chalets from R2 700 per night (each unit sleeps three peo­ple). Pri­vate lodge from R5 400 per night; sleeps six peo­ple. TIP Stop for a cof­fee at Mpun­yane restau­rant in Hill­top camp, Hluhluwe. Put R5 in the view­ing binoc­u­lars and see if you can spot the dunes of St Lu­cia in the dis­tance. 035 550 8476 (iM­folozi); 035 562 0848 (Hluhluwe); kzn­wildlife.com – François Haas­broek

12 MAPUTALAND Watch tur­tles lay their eggs

In Novem­ber, on the beaches be­tween St Lu­cia and Kosi Bay in north­ern KZN, fe­male leatherback and log­ger­head tur­tles re­turn to the same place they were born to lay their eggs. The tur­tle will dig a hole about a me­tre deep in the sand, above the high-tide mark, and lay about 100 eggs. Then she’ll re­turn to the sea, leav­ing the ba­bies to fend for them­selves when they hatch. About two months later, be­tween Jan­uary and March, golf-ball-sized hatch­lings tackle the long and dan­ger­ous jour­ney across the beach to the sea, dodg­ing hun­gry seag­ulls and ghost crabs. You have a good chance of see­ing the tur­tles on a tour be­cause the iSi­man­gal­iso park of­fi­cials keep a close eye on the nests and the guides know the beaches well. It feels like a mir­a­cle when the guide’s torch lands on a sandy spot and a tiny tur­tle pops out its head. It blinks and tries to make sense of the big, new world. Good luck, lit­tle one! Cost: The nest­ing sites are in­side iSi­man­gal­iso Wet­land Park; you can only look for tur­tles with a guide. Sev­eral op­er­a­tors of­fer tours (about R600 per per­son). Depend­ing on the time of year, you’ll ei­ther see tur­tles lay­ing eggs or the eggs hatch­ing. Rates de­pend on the size of the group and ex­tras like pic­nic bas­kets and trans­port. Visit isi­man­gal­iso.com/ac­tiv­ity/ tur­tle-tours Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Kosi Bay Lodge has en suite sa­fari tents with a com­mu­nal kitchen (from R280 per per­son) and self-ca­ter­ing chalets (from R400 per per­son). 083 262 4865; kosi­bay­lodge.co.za TIP Bring a head­lamp and a warm jacket. It can be cold and windy on the beach. – Evan Naudé

13 BARBERTON GEOTRAIL Travel back in time You can do the Barberton Geotrail again and again and learn some­thing new ev­ery time, even if it’s just new ge­ol­ogy jar­gon. It’s a chal­lenge to wrap your head around not only the names of the rocks (aren­ite, baryte, lapilli), but also how an­cient the Barberton green­stone belt is. It’s es­ti­mated to have been formed about 3 bil­lion years ago. Ev­ery stop on the trail has in­for­ma­tion boards and graph­ics to ex­plain what you’re look­ing at, and how it fits into the big­ger pic­ture – ev­ery­thing from tidal sand­stone for­ma­tions to biomats, the first signs of prim­i­tive life on earth. The trail starts where the R40 and R38 in­ter­sect out­side Barberton; you’ll drive over the steep Sad­dle­back Pass for about 45 km to just be­fore you reach the Josefs­dal bor­der post to Swazi­land. The Geotrail will you put you in your place – in a good way! Cost: Free. Buy a trail guide (R120) at the Barberton tourism of­fice in Pil­grim Street. A guided tour by ge­ol­ogy ex­pert Tony Fer­rar ( 072 376 2581) costs R200 per group per day (max six peo­ple). TIP Set aside at least half a day to drive the trail. Pack a pic­nic bas­ket. There are braai fa­cil­i­ties at some of the view­points. The one at Le­bombo/ Makhon­jwa is 1 800m above sea level and the view gets five stars. A sum­mary of the trail, and all the in­for­ma­tion, is also avail­able in braille. – An­nemarie van der Walt Punda Maria, the north­ern­most rest camp in the Kruger, has an old-world feel. It cap­tures the pioneer­ing spirit of the early days of the park. Maybe it’s the orig­i­nal pole-and-clay houses built in 1931, which still have com­mu­nal braai fa­cil­i­ties. Or the sto­ries of big game hun­ters and ivory smug­glers who made their own rules in this wild cor­ner of the coun­try. Plan your visit for sum­mer when mi­gra­tory birds visit the north­ern parts of the park. You may see rare birds like Eurasian golden ori­ole, African golden ori­ole, broad-billed roller and even pen­nant-winged nightjar. Go look for an­i­mal ac­tion on the S64 to the Lu­vu­vhu Bridge and the S63 to Crooks’ Cor­ner. The S63 runs along the Lu­vu­vhu River, and through a fever tree for­est. When I drove this route, I saw so many birds: Burchell’s cou­cal, bee-eaters, red-backed shrike, green wood-hoopoe, fish-ea­gles and an African har­rier-hawk. Get out of your ve­hi­cle at the Crooks’ Cor­ner view­point and look out over the con­flu­ence of the Lu­vu­vhu and Lim­popo rivers (crocodiles should be lurk­ing). On the other side of the river you’ll see Mozam­bique, Zim­babwe and the rest of Africa, wait­ing to be ex­plored… Cost: Kruger con­ser­va­tion fee R93 per adult; R47 per child un­der 12; free with a Wild card. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Camp­ing from R243 per night for two peo­ple; R89 per ex­tra adult; R45 per ex­tra child (max six peo­ple per stand). Self-ca­ter­ing unit with com­mu­nal kitchen from R888 per night for two peo­ple. Sa­fari tent from R1 055 per night for two peo­ple. 013 735 6873 (Punda Maria); 012 428 9111 (book­ings); san­parks.org TIP Not in the mood to look at your neigh­bour’s game-drive pho­tos? Do the Fly­catcher hike. The trail starts be­hind the re­cep­tion of­fice and there is a bench un­der some trees about half­way along. He’ll never find you there. – Esma Marnewick

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