Beyond the Big Five: 10 Alternatives to Safari in South Africa
South Africa is well known for its diverse wildlife. Animal enthusiasts from all over the globe jet in to Kruger National Park, armed with monstrously sized cameras, hoping to spot an elephant or a pride of lions. But while safari here is a magical experience, there’s more to South Africa than the Big Five. Here are our top suggestions for some great safari alternatives.
The wildflowers of Namaqualand
In spring (August to October), after a short burst of rain, the usually dry and arid landscapes of Namaqualand transform into a vibrant patchwork of colour as thousands upon thousands of flowers bloom across the mountainsides. To see the spectacle you’ll need to base yourself in Springbok, about five hours drive north of Cape Town, where Namaqua National Park is a popular viewing point. The spectacle changes daily, so be sure to call the ‘Flower Hotline’ on 071 320 7146 for up-to-date information on the blooming hotspots.
Hiking in the Drakensberg
Affectionately known as ‘The Berg’, the Drakensberg is a dramatic mountain range of towering plateaus that form a natural border between South Africa and neighbouring Lesotho. Not only does this area offer some of South Africa’s most spectacular scenery, but it’s also home to over 500 rock art sites created by the San Bushmen around 800 years ago. Hiking is the best way to see the sights, with trails ranging from an hour to two days, and some involving scrambles and precariously perched ladders over the rocks.
South Africa produces some of the world’s finest wines, surely the perfect excuse to taste a tipple or two. The Cape Wine Route follows the vineyard trail and, if you are looking for a base for the night, then Stellenbosch and Franschhoek should be your first port of call. Stellenbosch’s leafy streets and handsome Cape Dutch architecture are the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon spent sampling the Merlot and Chenin Blanc.
The Cango Caves
Deep beneath the surface, just outside the town of Oudtshoorn, lie the Cango Caves, an extensive two-mile network of tunnels and caverns, filled with impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Keen spelunkers have two tours to choose from – the Standard Tour which involves a gentle walk through the caves and learning about their formation, and the claustrophobia-inducing Adventure Tour. For this you’ll need to wear your oldest clothes as you crawl through impossibly narrow gaps and climb through dark tunnels with names like the Post Box and the Coffin, the smallest of which is only 27cm high. Best lay off the biltong.
The ostrich farms of Oudtshoorn
Speaking of Oudtshoorn, the town declares itself the ostrich capital of the world, and is home to numerous ostrich farms. In fact you can’t get away from ostriches here – you’ll see them running around the fields and see their leather, feathers and eggs (made into lampshades) monopolise the shops. Tasty ostrich burgers grace almost every menu, and we’d highly recommend you try one (good news for adventure cavers – they are low in fat). Visit an ostrich farm to learn more about these enormous birds, feed one and see just how strong their egg shells are (answer: very).
Visit the townships
Cape Town may have its glitzy shopping malls and swanky hotels, but to find the real beating heart of South Africa you’ll need to head into a township. Within the maze of alleyways, behind the ramshackle metal doors you’ll find an inspiring sense of community. Meet the locals, dance to the African beats in the taverns and try a homemade beer. Soweto in Johannesburg is the most famous township, not least due to its former resident Nelson Mandela, but there’s also Khayelitsha and Langa to choose from, both in Cape Town. A word of warning: do not attempt to visit a township under your own steam – they are best seen with a tour guide.
Stand on the southern tip of the world
Cape Agulhas is the southernmost tip of the African continent; nothing stands between here and Antarctica, a mere 3,810 miles away. This is also the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, and there’s even a marker to prove it. Although Cape Agulhas is geographically interesting, it’s perhaps a more rewarding experience to head down to the more famous Cape of Good Hope, 70 miles south of Cape Town, where dramatic cliffs, howling winds and thundering waves create a moody atmospheric scene.
Check out the Bo-Kaap
A neighbourhood of Cape Town, this colourful collection of houses and quaint streets was historically the residence of the city’s Muslim inhabitants, mostly descendants of Malaysian slaves. Houses here are painted all sorts of vibrant colours, with a diverting museum and a number of ornate mosques adding to the streetscape. But for most, the delicious Malay food is the big draw. Try the locally spiced samosas, curries and rotis, or even learn to make them yourself with a Cape Malay cookery class.
Walk across the bridge at Storms River Mouth
A rather rickety suspension bridge spans the mouth of Storms River, offering sweeping views of the coastline and a bird’s eye view of the crashing waves below. Storms River is all about the adrenaline sports, and fearless adventurers venture here to fling themselves off the 216-metre high Bloukrans Bridge, with nothing but an elastic band strapped to their feet as part of the world’s highest commercial bungee jump. Less scary, and no doubt less stomach churning, are the scenic hikes on offer in nearby Tsitsikamma National Park.
Abseil Table Mountain
At 1,085m, the flat-topped Table Mountain towers over Cape Town and the ocean beyond. When the famous tablecloth (a stubborn cloud that cloaks the summit) is absent, view-seekers can take the rotating cable car to the top, and some even walk. But once you’ve soaked up the panoramas, surely the best way back down again is to abseil? Strap on your harness and sail down the sheer-sided cliffs, one vertical drop after another, with the big blue of the ocean crashing below you. Breathtaking.