Cape Town - This past week we hosted our #SpringTrips twitter chat to see what SA's travelling community had to suggest come September.
While the Northern Cape's Namaqua and the Western Cape's West Coast were all touted as some of the ultimate spring road trip experiences in South Africa - there are a few others you should consider during this time of year - that's more than just about the flowers.
Spring is after all the season when everything takes on a new lease on life - re-energise and refresh yourself by planning one of these road trips, whether to see the flowers or the unique attractions across the gorgeous country we call home.
We'll be delving even deeper into our local heritage as we inch closer to September - come join in our next twitter chat on Friday, 18 August when we'll be talking SA Heritage Travel.
1. Exploring the Wild Flower route of the Northern Cape
The wild flowers of Namaqualand are described as one of the greatest and most spectacular natural phenomena in the world.
Thousands of the legendary Namaqualand daisies along with an estimated 3 500 other floral species create a horizon-to-horizon carpet of wonder during springtime - not something you’ll easily experience anywhere else in the world, especially with South Africa’s unique biomes at play against the arid semi-desert backdrop of this part of the Karoo.
Spring Fact: Flowers only open when the sun is shining and the temperature is about 14°C.
Your road trip should take you through the towns of Springbok, Garies, Kamieskroon and Port Nolloth. This is the ideal self-drive, taking you about 350km from Cape Town in a 3- to 4-hour drive. Further along you’ll find the Namaqua National Park, about 495km from Cape Town in all.
Spring Fact: 1 September officially marks the start of spring but flowers can start blooming as early as mid-August until mid-October.
But the daisy carpets are not the only floral brilliance to delight in this region. The Northern Cape has a seemingly infinite collection of fleshy, small-leafed succulents.
Experience Northern Cape details how the San, drew latex for their poison arrows from the Euphorbia virosa, a member of the euphorbia family, spiky ornaments of the veld. More than 40% of the plant, bird and reptile species in the Succulent Karoo are found nowhere else on Earth.
Nama legend has it that the tall, slender prehistoric plants capped by rosettes of small leaves, is in fact reincarnations of these ancient land dwellers that fled from the north, crossed the Orange River. Longingly looked back on their homeland, their Gods took pity on them and transformed them into these succulents so that they could look at the land of their origin forever”.
Spring Fact: Namakwa, as part of the Succulent Karoo, is a biodiversity hotspot and the only arid hotspot in the world.
The 103 000 ha Namaqua National Park, 22km north-west of Kamieskroon, is open to the public throughout the year, but a conservation fee is charged during flower season.
The Namaqualand Route consisting of a variety of drives that you can easily do in a day and there is also an upgraded circular drive lets visitors experience a wide floral display.
Places of Interest:
Goegap Nature Reserve just outside Springbok and Namaqua National Park outside Garies are both great places to take a relaxed drive. Both of these parks are home to an incredible array of flower species and also have plenty of spots for you to pull over and snap a selfie among the daisies.
Branch off the N7 at Vanrhynsdorp to stop in at the 6 200-hectare Hantam National Botanical Garden. It is estimated that about 1 350 plant species have been recorded on the Bokkeveld Plateau with the brilliant blue pride of Nieuwoudtville (Geissorhiza splendidissima) taking pride of place.
Spring Fact: Known as the 'bulb capital of the world', its soil can yield nearly 100 geophytes in a single spade-full.
There are a number of floral hotspots along the way, including the Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve at Kamieskroon.
2. West Coast Gateway to SA’s natural diversity
The West Coast is definitely a destination worth visiting this spring, especially with the addition of its new routes.
Visiting the West Coast district, indeed, is a sensual experience that will get you attached to the people and their unique lifestyle. If you never had the pleasure of experiencing an oyster, mussel or even a pickled fish, the enticing new West Coast foodie route will definitely entertain your taste-buds.
Moreover, it is somewhat unusual for a smaller area to have staple foods...the people of the West Coast have a dedicated diet consisting of Bokkoms, kerrievis, roll mops and oysters.
Capture the season along unspoilt beaches and quaint coastal spots of Yzerfontein, Langebaan or Paternoster or try some high-flying kitesurfing or chilled-out kayaking - all sumptuously rounded off with evening seafood braais and West Coast ales and wines.
Spring Fact: The Langebaan lagoon stretches for 17 km from Saldanha Bay, past Langebaan to Geelbek in the South and is an official RAMSAR site
Nestled alongside the rugged-beauty of the coastline is where you’ll find the West Coast National Park or inland towards the north you’ll be spellbound by the Cederberg.
Bearvelac and the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Mountains will also not disappoint, while Boland towns such as Malmesbury, Riebeek Kasteel and Wellington are bursting with the colours of the season.
Spring Fact: The ultimate West Coast escapes can be taken between August and September but the destination lends itself to unique seasonal delights as well.
Begin your spring adventure the unique Cape West Coast Biosphere, which starts from SANCCOB in Table View to Paternoster and back around the Darling Hills between the R27 and N7 highways.
The West Coast Way's routes run through a type of mega Nature Park, easily offering over 101+ things to do and see - making it easy to tap into this unpretentious, culturally rich and fascinating adventure along this western part of South Africa.
Easy start with one of these five routes - click here for more info
Places of Interest:
Sandboard in Atlantis along the stretches of white sand dunes as far as the eye can see. But if you’re not into sandboarding, you can also hire 4-wheelers and ramp over the dunes.
Also savour real West Coast goodness by stopping in at Darling Breweries or for fine wine visit Riebeek Valley, Groote Post and Trawal. You can also set aside some time to do the Heritage Hiking Trails in the Cape West Coast, from Blaauwberg Nature to the tranquil lagoon of the West Coast National Park.
3. Whale Coast Route, Western Cape
September is the height of whale watching season in the coastal Overberg region, so head out along the super scenic Clarence Drive between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els, pulling over ever so often to seek out the gentle giants of the deep as they blow, spy hop and breach.
From here wind your way further along the coast and maybe hop on board a whale watching boat in Gansbaai or a kayak in Hermanus.
Whale sightings are of course the main attraction and in celebration of this, the Two Oceans Hermanus Whale Festival set to take place from 30 September to 1 October.
Spring Fact: The best time for watching the southern right whale in South African waters is from June to November along the South Africa’s coastlines.
Places of Interest:
This route will take you past or through the towns of Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond as you make for the whale watching capital of Hermanus. Pringle Bay has a delightful array of restaurants and coffee shops, Betty’s Bay a burgeoning penguin colony and Kleinmond some spectacular elevated views over Walker Bay where Southern Rights love to frolic.
Spring Fact: Betty's Bay's Stony Point Nature Reserve is home to one of the largest successful breeding colonies of African Penguin in the world
Once in Hermanus, be sure to check out the Whale House Museum where you will be able to learn all about the town’s controversial whale hunting history and also find out more about conservation efforts, migration routes and the intriguing life cycle of these creatures. If you head on a bit further into Gansbaai, a boat cruise on board Marine Dynamics’ Whale Whisperer vessel comes highly recommended.
4. Pretoria historical route, Gauteng
Well, there is no official route quite like this, as far as we can tell. However, we think there should totally be one, allowing visitors to spend a day hopping from one historical site to another in South Africa’s administrative capital. While it would be pretty cool any time of year, the streets of Pretoria take on a breath-taking purple haze during late spring, when the Jacaranda trees burst into bloom.
Places of interest:
Start your adventure at the Voortrekker Monument and be sure to take a selfie on the koeksister bench, from there head to the Kruger House Museum to find out more about the Old Transvaal, its President Paul Kruger and the wild days of the 1880s gold rush.
Finally end off by heading to the Union Buildings to marvel at the perfectly maintained gardens and check out the impressive 9m Nelson Mandela statue ‘embracing the nation’ from the amphitheatre – you know the one that used to have a rabbit in its ear. All the while you would either be travelling among Jacarandas or be able to see their purple glow from afar. Wrap up your day of exploring by taking a drive/stroll down Herbert Baker Street to see the rare collection of white Jacarandas.
5. Route 62, Eastern Cape section
Stretching from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, Route 62 offers road trippers a delightfully ‘plattelandse’ alternative to the more traditional N2 option.
While the entire route is filled with quaint spots to stop over for a meal, pretty scenery and loads of intriguing accommodation, we think the Eastern Cape section is by far the best bit of the road in spring, as wild flowers brighten up the otherwise thirsty Karoo plains and all sorts of adorable baby farm animals can be spotted romping as you drive.
Places of Interest:
The Eastern Cape section of Route 62 takes you through completely underrated dorpies like Kareedouw, Uniondale and Joubertina. Carrying all the charm of the likes of Barrydale, McGregor and Montagu that have gained popularity recently, these towns are still relatively undiscovered and uncrowded.
Spring Fact: Route 62 is the longest wine route in the world, meandering between the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.
If blossoms are what you’re after, you can head into the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve with its 500 000ha of varied vegetation and be sure to include Joubertina in your itinerary. The town is famous for its apple orchards
SEE: SA Insider: The Complete guide to the Cape Route 62
6. Skukuza to Lower Sabie, Kruger National Park
The southern region of Kruger, especially around the Sabie River, is widely known to be particularly rich in wildlife – with big cat sightings being more common here than in any other area of the park. There are two routes you can take between Skukuza and Lower Sabie – the often crowded H4-1, which is considered to be the main river road and then the less-travelled Salitje dirt road. We would definitely suggest the latter.
Spring Fact: Skukuza comes alive with baby animals in spring. It is the largest rest camp in South Africa and also the largest rest camp in the Kruger National Park.
Since this route is known for its wildlife it’s probably also the best bet for seeing the littlies!
Places of Interest:
The Mafotini Waterhole is a great spot to just pull over and spend some time waiting on animals. Heading out on this route early in the morning comes highly recommended, as your chance of encountering lions and hyenas returning from an evening of hunting/scavenging is pretty good.
If you decide to take the H4-1 route instead, be sure to duck into a number of the loops overlooking the Sabie River – keep an eye out for leopards lazing in the trees and you’re almost certain to spot herds of elephants. Stop at Nkuhlu picnic spot for a late morning skottelbraai brunch.
7. Free State escapes worth trying this spring
With the favourable climate of spring is also the ultimate time to check-out SA's less-explored wonders like the Free State.
Tranquillity seekers will find peace in the long stretches of emptiness and adventurers return time and time again for the pleasure of exploring the Drakensberg Mountains, surveying the slopes of the Maluti Mountains or discovering where the Ash River leads.
We suggest taking the winding road heading to Clarens, The Golden Gate Highlands National Park, The Basotho Cultural Village and Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge.
A short two-hour drive will take you to the foothills of the majestic Maluti mountains, a stone's throw from Bethlehem and the mountainous Lesotho, to the little arty town, Clarens. Often visited for a tranquil weekend away exploring art galleries and unwinding, some might look right past the opportunity for an adventure! But with the Ash River’s year-round flow, a river rafting adventure beckons!
Also don’t forget to stop in at the Clarens Brewery, they will cool you down with their selection of craft beers and ciders and refresh you with charming company. Also pay a visit to 278 on Main for a true Free State brekkie, the first art and wine gallery in SA, Art and Wine Gallery on Main and peddle out the Bokpoort mountain bike trail.
Spring Fact: The annual Cherry Festival takes place in nearby Ficksburg and is a must-do spring attraction.
Places of Interest:
Adventure seekers and embracers of the Free State's ever stretching vistas will appreciate the unhindered Golden Gate Highlands National Park or "the jewel of the Free State". Visitors to the park usually take to abseiling, canoeing, game drives, nature walks, horse riding or swimming, but the park also welcomes motorcycle fanatics for scenic breakaways.
And finally, get your fix of culture at the Sotho heritage, the Basotho Cultural Village in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a great place to learn about the traditional lives of the Basotho people, who have lived in the vicinity and just across the border in Lesotho.
As a tribute to this prominent tribe in SA, SANParks has a reconstructed village complete with beautiful Basotho huts and age-old traditions.
8. Exploring KZN: Driving the Drakensberg
While not entirely a spring trip for its floral appeal, Durban and surrounds are seen one of South Africa’s top destinations for a number of other reasons. From scenic coastlines and wild nature, to rich culture and delicious food - you beat the festive season rush in this season of reawakening and one thing you’ll know for sure is that it will be warm.
Exploring the Drakensberg sees a journey that is just as breath-taking as the destination, and you’ll be hard-pressed deciding on where to stay.
The Northern Drakensberg can be reached in 3 hours from Durban and is home to the Royal Natal National Park. Within this park is the famous ‘Amphitheatre’ range where the world’s second-tallest waterfall, Tugela Falls is located. The falls are divided into five tiers with a combined total drop of over 900 meters.
The town of Bergville is a great place to hang your hat after a day of exploring the area.
Spring Fact: Central Drakensberg is home to Cathedral Peak, one of the most climbed peaks in the area, and Giant’s Castle, named so because of the peak’s resemblance of a sleeping giant.
Places of Interest:
Explore the fascinating rock art at the San Bushmen Cave Museum, which features 500 rock paintings that date back 800 years.
The Southern Drakensberg is best known for the Sani Pass, which starts at 1544m, rises 1332 vertical meters, and summits at 2876m. The towns of Himeville and Underberg are idyllic villages from which to set up camp. Otherwise, make your way to the Sani Mountain Lodge and enjoy a beverage in the highest pub in Africa.
The Drakensberg offers adventures in nature and a look at important cultural sites. It was declared a World Heritage Site for both nature and culture in 2000.
But spring adventuring from Durban doesn’t end there.
The Elephant Coast takes you to the town of St Lucia - a perfect base from which to discover South Africa’s first World Heritage Site – the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The park is nature-lovers’ and photographers’ mecca for wildlife and natural beauty. It contains three major lake systems and eight interlinking ecosystems, which all seem re-energised in spring.
A game drive in the reserve offers unique opportunities for spotting game like bush babies, honey badgers, giraffe, buffalo, and even leopards and hyenas.
Spring Fact: Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa.
A short drive from St Lucia to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, gives you the opportunity to experience the Big-5 in this lush area that was once the royal hunting ground for the Zulu kingdom. With Hluhluwe in the hilly north andiMfolozi in the south near the two Umfolozi rivers, the biodiversity found here is endless. There is only the Hilltop Camp situation in the park, but several options on the outskirts.
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