The Debengeni waterfall Photo: Carina van Wyk
  • Under the current government regulations, leisure travellers are still only allowed to take self-drive day visits in their resident province.
  • Business Insider looked at some of the top-rated attractions in each province on Tripadvisor - and found some less-expected options. 
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Holidays in South Africa are still banned. Under government’s latest lockdown regulations, leisure travellers are still only allowed to take "self-drive" day trips - and these may be only within your province of residence. 

Leisure travellers antsy to leave their homes for a day trip, while still abiding by the regulations, may feel like they already know all the major attractions in their respective provinces. But if global travel review website Tripadvisor is anything to go by, often the best-known attractions aren’t the highest ranked. 

Of course, the usual online review caveats apply. Like most online travel review websites, Tripadvisor uses a complex, and fairly secret algorithm to determine the popularity and ranking of various listings. 

Some attractions - like the guy who managed to have his garden shed rank as London’s top restaurant - are skilled at manipulating this algorithm to their advantage; or at the very least, put a lot of energy into enticing guests to leave glowingly positive reviews that will assist in their quest for online travel review dominance. 

But with these issues in mind, examining the top ranked attractions and their reviews, especially those voted "helpful" by other travellers, is a good way to get a broad idea of the best, and some unexpected, things to do in South Africa without having to leave your province. 

Western Cape 

Meiringspoort Pass

Meiringspoort Waterfall
Meiringspoort Waterfall. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

It may come as no surprise that the Meiringspoort Pass ranks as the top thing to do in the town of De Rust - it just edges out the local farm stall. But the pass also features surprisingly high in the entire province’s rankings - especially in the nature and parks category. 

At number 9 of 394, it’s higher than attractions like Kirstenbosch, the Knysna Heads, and fellow gorge Platteklip, in this section of Tripadvisor. 

One user says in her Tripadvisor review, rated as one of the most helpful, “No amount of photographs or videos can do this area justice - you have to be there to appreciate the sheer scale of those convoluted sandstone folds!” 

Many others have used the reviews section to compliment the quality of the road and lay-bys, and cast aspersions on the gravel roads of the Swartberg Pass. Even so, most combine a drive over Meeringspoort with visits to the Swartberg, and nearby towns like Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. 

Gericke's Point 

Although the Garden Route is not without notable attractions like the Knysna Heads and Wilderness Beach, Gerickes Point in Sedgefield is surprisingly favoured by online reviewers. It ranks top of things to do in Sedgefield, and 24th for the entire province in the nature category. 

One user says “The walk is interesting with rock pools, mussel beds and amazing features in the cliffs, where the wind has sculpted beautiful features in the sandstone.” 

Others confirm that there are nice views of the coastline and rock pools from the point, and interesting birdlife that includes the near-threatened black oystercatcher. 

First South African Perfume Museum

First South African Perfume Museum (Photo: Facebook)

The Western Cape’s more notable museums, like the Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation, don’t come close to the online ratings received by two smaller, more obscure museums situated in Franschhoek. 

The Franschhoek Motor Museum has for a long time been a favourite of classic car fans, but the First South African Perfume Museum has overshot this to become the top museum of 243 in the province. 

Although one review dismisses it as a place showcasing “some old perfumes”, more than 200 others, like Anna, offer such rave reviews as: “Be aware! This's so addictive. Totally different and unique experience. World class perfume making with wonderful hostess, amazing hospitality and beautiful surroundings.” 

Fernkloof Nature Reserve 

Fernkloof Nature Reserve

Most who visit Hermanus do so for the whales and the inland wine farms, but the second most popular attraction in the coastal town according to reviews is in fact Fernkloof Nature Reserve. The reserve, which ranks 20th for things to do in the province, is free to enter and has marked trails to explore on foot. Of the more than 450 above average reviews of the reserve, most praise it for its free entry and opportunity to escape the often busy town. 

Eastern Cape  

Mountain Zebra National Park

Mountain Zebra National Park Photo: Gabi Zietsman
Traveller24

The Mountain Zebra National Park is hardly an unknown or uncelebrated South African national park - but in the Eastern Cape it’s often overshadowed by a slew of high-end private reserves, or Addo Elephant National Park. 

Mountain Zebra National Park slots in beneath both, but still occupies sixth position on Tripadvisor in the province. 

The expansive beauty of the park is what draws most of the compliments, as does wildlife not often seen in other national parks. 

The majority of online reviews sit between Very Good and Excellent, and include such glowing remarks as “relaxing and beautiful park”, “a little slice of paradise", and “speechless”. 

Dutch Reformed Church in Graaff-Reinet

Graaff-Reinet’s Dutch Reformed Church called the Groot Kerk sits only beneath the Valley of Desolation and the Reinet House as top attractions in the quaint Karoo town - and it still manages to hold onto a top 15 position for the entire Eastern Cape Province. 

The review voted the most helpful says: “Definitely worth a visit, the Groot Kerk stands majestically in the middle of the town, and is a must see in Graaff-Reinet. The building and property on the whole is very well maintained, it was lovely to visit.” 

Waterfall Trail 

The Eastern Cape is ideal hiking territory, and is the location for the world-famous Otter Trail. But there are several other less-known walks around the province that are easier to get into, and require slightly less multiple day hiking exertion. The Waterfall Trail is one of them, and it’s earned the position of 16 out of 338 possible top things to do in the Eastern Cape. 

One reviewer argues this trail is “an extremely underrated feature” of the Garden Route. “We opted for this over the suspension bridge and feel like we definitely made the right choice. This coastal hike across beach boulders was gorgeous on its own. But the views at the end of the hike was astounding.” 

Others say its proximity to the popular suspension bridge makes this a busy trail - especially during peak season - and although it’s no Otter Trail, it’s still requires a reasonable pair of trainers and level of fitness. 

Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre 

In the off-beat town of Nieu-Bethesda, more famous for its Owl House, is the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre that houses a wide display of fossils collected throughout the Karoo. This collection has earned a top 20 position in the Eastern Cape. 

Travellers say the museum was small, but informative and well set up, and also that the guided tours, which includes a visit to the riverbed where you can view some fossils in situ, adds to the significance off the area

Free State 

Free State National Botanical Garden 

Tourism to the Free State tends to congregate around such attractions as Golden Gate National Park, Clarens, and other outdoor, nature-based activities - with such additions as Vodacom Park, and the odd farm stall visit, also rating highly.  But reviewers rate the Free State National Botanical Garden as the third best thing to do in Bloemfontein, after the Anglo Boer War and Oliewenhuis Art Museum. 

Across the entire province, it also manages to scoop a top 10 placement, with most praising the garden for its paved walkways and colourful plants. 

One traveller from the United Kingdom says the garden is “worth a visit”: “I had just a few spare hours before my flight. So I spent an hour or so walking around here. Pleasant enough and maintained well. I enjoyed my visit.” 

Others, are a bit more enthusiastic: “Had a great time at the gardens. Especially enjoyed the garden with all the succulents. Good restaurant overlooking the dam. Magnificent spot for bird watching!” 

South African Armour Museum 

The South African Armour Museum would have a near perfect rating if its opening hours weren’t so erratic. Aside from this, most travellers rate this as a worthwhile “trip down memory lane”. 

“Loved all the machinery that we were able to see and it brought back a whole lot of good memories,” says one reviewer. “A definitive place to visit if you are into weaponry and scale modelling.” 

Gauteng  

Lindfield Victorian House Museum

Phoenix Paranormal South Africa
Lindfield House Museum, Johannesburg
Phoenix Paranormal South Africa

The most recommended museum in Gauteng may be the lauded Apartheid Museum, but the official number one spot, out of 157 things to do in Johannesburg, according to Tripadvisor is occupied by the Lindfield Victorian House Museum. 

It’s located in Aukland Park, and open by appointment only, but it aims to “tell a tale of Johannesburg during an era that, more than any other, shaped urban Johannesburg as we know it today”. 

Reviews are near unanimously praiseworthy, with one reviewer calling it “one of the best guided tours” that she’s been on. “Me and a friend spent a lovely hour with such a lovely and knowledgeable host just absorbing everything in the house. It was such a surprise to see how little we know of our past and also how different they lived back then and still how much we are still like them.” 

Hazel Food Market 

Sneaking into the top 10 for Johannesburg, after notable attractions such as the Apartheid Museum, Liliesleaf, Constitution Hill, and the South African National Museum of Military History, is a Pretoria food market that’s described as “uniquely international”. 

Its Tripadvisor listing has hundreds of favourable reviews - one of the most popular of which says visitors are “Spoiled for choice at this market - truly! There is everything from smoked meats, to cheese, to artisan breads and pastries, coffee, spices, grains and legumes, veggies, and an entire range of crafts and clever gadgets. Once you are done buying groceries, you can choose from any number of food stalls: Greek, sliders, sushi, Dutch croquettes and frites, cakes and cookies, smoothies, pizza, flatbread sandwiches. It was really difficult to choose just one thing.” 

Satyagraha House 

Sneaking into the top 10 things to do in Johannesburg is Satyagraha House - a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, in his onetime house from 1908 to 1909. 

Reviews are mostly positive, and one calls it a “must visit” in the city: “Well kept, informative and a must visit. Gandhi is an integral part of our history but we found a lot of information which we had not heard of before. The property is neat and very serene. Must see museum.” 

KwaZulu-Natal 

Talana Museum 

The Talana Museum is a jack of all trades regional history museum - it covers everything from agriculture and mining to industry and domestic life. It’s also the number one thing to do in Dundee, and KZN’s number 13 - and is described as a “fabulous historic museum”, or something similar, by most reviewers. 

In spite of its high placement and hundreds of positive reviews, some suggest it may need a bit of upkeep soon. “Obviously set up by a very interested and concerned group of experts. Feel somehow the displays are getting old and looking a bit tatty. The mining exhibition is good but mannequins are old and really look dead!”  

Thompson's Bay Beach

Thompson's Bay in Ballito.
Thompson's Bay in Ballito. Source: Skyline Webcams

The number one thing to do in Ballito, and just outside the top 20 things to do in the entire KwaZulu-Natal province, is Thompson's Bay Beach. 

Although Umhlanga Main Beach beats Thompson’s Bay Beach by two places, many praise this as a better alternative. One of the reviews voted most helpful of the beach points out that there are lifeguards and a large tidal pool, and also “a unique walkway at the seaward side of the pool (or south side) that can be rather exciting at high tides.” 

Limpopo 

 

Debengeni Waterfall

The Debengeni waterfall Photo: Carina van Wyk

Limpopo’s top things to do are obviously dominated by the province’s prolific wildlife reserves, but sneaking into the top 10 amongst these is Debengeni Waterfall. Reviews describe moss-covered pathways, picnic tables and braai facilities. 

“We visited the place on a Sunday afternoon with a friend,” says one review. “It was our first time going there and we were blown away. The falls are beautiful... totally beautiful. They have place for picnics as well as ablution facilities. Definitely worth visiting!” 

Bakone Malapa Open-Air Museum 

The third most popular attraction in Polokwane (after various safari-related activities) is the Bakone Malapa Open-Air Museum. It’s a living museum that takes the form of a reconstructed Northern Sotho village, and it has a small but glowing collection of reviews. 

One says it was a wonderful experience: “I took four children on my own. We spent four hours at Bakone and they were constantly entertained by the amazing tour guide. So many hands on experiences and no limitations on experiencing the museum. Dressing up, traditional games and so much more. More than value for money. Love visiting this spot.” 

Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail 

Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail comfortably makes it into the top 20 things to do in Limpopo. There are various trail options available in the area, including overnight trails that can last from two to five nights. 

Although one reviewer says it’s “Nice but not stunning”, the trail has an above average rating from most others. One review says: “Idyllic surroundings. Well maintained and safe trails. Variety of fauna and flora. Don't miss out on this extreme tourist attraction. 

Mpumalanga 

Lowveld National Botanical Garden 

Mpumalanga’s top attractions on Tripadvisor are primarily game reserves - both private and public. But Nelspruit’s Lowveld National Botanical Garden, at the confluence of the Crocodile and Nels Rivers, is a surprising top contender. It sits at number seven across the entire province. 

Although some reviews mark it as unsafe, most are favourable. One traveller who had a few hours to spare in the city says her visit was a “treat”: “It was quiet and too beautiful for words. I walked the paths past gushing waterfalls, saw butterflies and birds, crossed the suspension bridge and meandered along the canopy walk way through the trees.” 

 

Graskop Gorge Lift Company

gglc
Entrance to the Graskop gorge lift. (Graskop Gorge Lift Company)

Extraordinary elevators are surprisingly popular tourist attractions around the world, and the Graskop Gorge Lift Company is looking to tap into this. 

Although not the highest or the fastest (one review praises it for being “efficient”), it may well be one of the most scenic. It’s located in a forest along the famous Panorama Route, and dips down off a grassy plateau into a deep gorge. 

“Doesn't look like much from the outside but what a magical experience when you enter,” says one reviewer. “This forest is enchanted. Nothing short of magical. We loved our visit. We'll definitely be back.” 

Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail 

Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail is, according to one reviewer, perfect for the “geography type person”. It’s a hiking trail in the Barberton area that features in 25th position for the province - but has near universal praise from those who’ve visited. 

“Whoever designed this and organised getting it done, built or whatever deserves a special mention,” says one of the most helpful reviews. “Easy to see and follow, informative, interesting, and something you could relate to. I'm no geologist, but this was fascinating. Very worthwhile stop for all ages.” 

Lone Creek Falls 

A visit to Lone Creek Falls is the number one thing to do in the town of Sabie, and in the top 10 for the province. Reaching the falls requires a short walk through an indigenous forest, after which hikers receive a good view of the 68 metre high waterfall. There’s also the option to walk a circular route that includes the opportunity to take a dip in the pool below. 

Aside from complaints about upkeep and a new nominal entry fee, most seem satisfied with the experience - with one reviewer going so far as to award it the accolade of “the best waterfall in Mpumalanga”. 

Northern Cape 

Goegap Nature Reserve 

The Northern Cape’s list of tourist accolades tends to focus around unsurprising inclusions like the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Augrabies Falls, Kimberly, and Sutherland - but there are a few surprise inclusions, like Goegap Nature Reserve, that may well rival these. 

Goegap Nature Reserve is located in the remote town of Springbok (where it’s the top of three things to do there), and it ranks in the top 10 for the province - one place below the famous Namaqua National Park. 

One traveller says the quiver trees and landscape in Goegap Nature Reserve are its most notable attractions, while another says “So much effort has gone into making this nature reserve an interesting and attractive destination.” 

Mokala National Park 

Mokala National Park may not rank as high as other national parks in the country, but travellers using Tripadvisor have put it just outside the top five for the province. It’s South African National Parks’ newest addition, and they’ve given it the appealing tagline of “Where endangered species roam”. 

“The park exceeded our expectations,” says one reviewer. “Whilst it is probably the newest in the country it is well stocked with game including rare antelope species and many buffalo.” 

Magersfontein Battlefield 

Magersfontein was the site of a battle that took place in 1899, and the location of this has risen to become one of the most popular tourist attractions just outside of Kimberly - and in the top 10 for the Northern Cape province. 

“If you like war history especially the Boer war, you can take a look at the tiny museum, watch a short film about the battle here and then walk to the battle site which has a few monuments and not much else,” says one Floridian traveller. “You have to use your imagination what the battle must’ve felt like…” 

North West  

Aerial Cableway Hartbeespoort

Aerial Cableway Hartbeespoort

The top spots in North West Province are primarily dominated by the expected nature reserves and animal conservation centres - some more dubious than others. But the consistent favourite among travellers - and even ranked in the top 10 above the likes of Sun City and its Valley of Waves - is the Aerial Cableway Hartbeespoort. It’s no Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, but for Joburgers looking to get out of town for the day it appears to hit the spot. 

“The view from the top as well as the information about the area is really interesting and great for all to know,” says one reviewer. “We had a drink at the top and the staff were great, friendly and helpful, the facilities are clean and well run both at the bottom where you start your trip in the cable car to the top and back.” 

Van Gaalen Kaasmakerij 

Just one place below the North West’s famous Sun City Casino is Van Gaalen Kaasmakerij, which appears to have tapped into the mountain biking, chess eating fraternity to garner some positive reviews. 

It’s essentially a cheese factory and picnic spot, with a few popular mountain bike trails, and in 17th position, it’s just below all of the North West’s better known attractions. 

Along with a handful of comments ranging from terrible to average, they’ve managed to keep their ranking up with some positive remarks, like this one: “Visited to see the farm and buy some cheese. Had a nice brunch before continuing our travels. Interesting place that gives talks on cheese making and has a shop selling cheese(obviously) and many other items.”

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