Dotted across the map, South Africa’s natural wonders offer insights into the long history of the region, breath-taking views and an opportunity to see a different side of the country.
Here are just five of South Africa’s top natural wonders destinations that should be added to your list of must-see places.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes in the Blyde River Canyon
The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest natural canyon on earth, situated on the northern Drakensberg slopes in Mpumalanga.
The route along the canyon offers some of the most breath-taking scenery; lush subtropical forests, gushing waterfalls and geological wonders. In addition to the popular stop at God’s Window with its panoramic valley views, the almost-moonscape rock sculptures of Bourke’s Luck Potholes is a must-see.
Situated at the junction of two rivers, the Treur and the Blyde, Bourke’s Luck red sandstone formations mark the start of the canyon route. Visitors can walk a number of foot-bridges over the potholes or for the more adventurous, longer hiking trails that wind down into the canyon for a closer look at the formations, soaking up the region’s diverse fauna and flora along the way.
Cederberg sandstone formations
Two hours from Cape Town, the Cederberg Mountains are a 70 000 hectare treasure trove of botanical diversity and cultural history.
Named a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2016 thanks in part to its variety of pre-colonial San rock art, the Cederberg has a number of unusual attractions including the endangered Cape Mountain leopard, its rooibos plantations, and the bizarrely shaped red sandstone cliff, caves and rock formations, such as the world famous Maltese Cross and Wolfberg Arch.
A popular destination for long-haul hikers, the area also offers challenging 4×4 off-road experiences and family camping.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Another of South Africa’s world heritage sites, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park stretches across 220km of KwaZulu-Natal coastline, from the Mozambique border in the north to Lake St Lucia.
The secluded natural wetland park on the Elephant Coast has a vast variety of plant and animal eco-systems that offer visitors a mix of adventure, rest and relaxation – a once-in-a-lifetime African experience.
Renowned for the world’s largest herd of wild African elephants that roam its beaches and sand forests, the wetlands park has the best of both worlds, offering some of the best ocean wildlife spotting in the world – whale watching at Cape Vidal and scuba-diving at Sodwana Bay – and game viewing on the Western Shores and bird watching, including nesting pelicans, at uMkhuze.
The Richtersveld is a unique mountain desert wilderness in the Northern Cape, home to the Nama people who co-own the area with South African National Parks. Its harsh and unpredictable landscape is only accessible by 4×4 vehicles.
The area is rich in both plant and animal life, despite its rugged terrain. Thousands of plant species, including over 5 000 rare and native succulents, and abundant birdlife are found here.
The Wondergat, a 20m vertical limestone sinkhole which holds a special mystical significance for the Nama, is but one of the natural wonders to see in the area, if you can find it.
Valley of Desolation
Close to the Eastern Cape town of Graaff-Reinet, the Valley of Desolation is part of the Camdeboo National Park, and renowned as having one of the best panoramic landscape views in Africa.
A collection of precarious vertical cliffs and columns of dolerite, some as high as 120m, dot the gradually descending valley, creating an otherworldly and haunting landscape.
A popular hiking route, the valley offers a diverse collection of fauna and flora, but it is the incredible one-of-a-kind views that attracts most visitors here.