4 September 2012 by Luke McCormick
It's no great surprise that South Africa draws more visitors than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. A warm year-round climate, convenient flight connections from the UK, accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets and a multitude of touring options all go towards making South Africa a popular choice for holidaymakers. More than just a safari destination, South Africa's sheer variety of sights and attractions are what make it stand out as a truly world-class all rounder.
Whether your interest is fine wines, gourmet cuisine, golf, hiking or just relaxing on the beach, South Africa's fantastic transport links and a user- friendly road network make it possible to fit a great number of diverse activities into a manageable two-week holiday.
South Africa is a foodie's dream and plays host to some of the world's finest gourmet restaurants and some incredibly talented chefs. Visitors searching for culinary excellence will not be disappointed, especially those heading for the Winelands and especially the Franschhoek valley. Here you'll find the delightful Reuben's restaurant and bar, where celebrity chef de cuisine Reuben Riffel serves simple, yet perfectly cooked food all sourced from the finest local ingredients.
Those looking for a uniquely South African dining experience should try Cape Malay cooking, a blend of Indian and Malaysian influences brought to South Africa in the 17th century on slave ships. Once thought of as working-class food, Cape Malay dishes can now be found on the menus of many top-class restaurants in Cape Town and beyond.
Some of the world's finest wines are produced in South Africa's vineyards. The picturesque Winelands towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl are perfect places to enjoy a tasting or pick up a bottle or two of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Pinot Noir or maybe some Cap Classique, South Africa's number one bubbly. Another notable region on South Africa's wine map includes the Constantia Valley to the south of Cape Town, where more of the country's oldest vineyards can be found.
South Africa has a rich golfing tradition and can proudly lay claim to some of the game's all-time greats, including the legendary Gary Player and current British Open champion Ernie Els. As well as great players, South Africa also has some fantastic courses to enjoy. Pezula and Fancourt golf clubs, located along the scenic Garden Route are two to look out for, but no matter where you are you won't have to travel too far to play a round.
For those looking to experience the country's magnificent and diverse landscapes, South Africa has a wonderful array of hiking trails just waiting to be explored. The stunningly beautiful Drakensburg Mountains have arguably the pick of the bunch with a range of walks to suit all levels, from gentle strolls along secluded woodland trails to demanding full-day hikes to the towering Cathedral Peak.
Whale watching has long been a favourite activity for visitors to South Africa. The pretty seaside town of Hermanus comes alive each year between July and October when Southern Right Whales come into the bay to calve. An organised boat trip with the chance to see these incredible mammals first hand, as well as some of South Africa's most beautiful coastal landscapes, is a must during whale season.
South Africa has a fascinating and turbulent history, one that will keep visitors enthralled as it leads a path to some of the country's most recognisable sights. Robben Island, the prison that housed Nelson Mandela for 27 years until his release at the end of apartheid, is now a World Heritage site, popular tourist attraction, and one of the most poignant reminders of South Africa's recent struggles.
In the east of the country, the rolling green battlefields of Zululand provide a fascinating insight into the brutal wars fought between the Boer, Zulu and British more than a hundred years ago. The Battlefields Route leads visitors through several of the region's highlights, including Rorkes Drift, Isandlwana, Blood River and Spionkop.
There are many ways to get under the skin of this remarkable country and culture vultures will not be disappointed. Township tours are particularly worthwhile and offer an interesting insight into the day-to-day lives of many South African families. Soweto is the best known, largest and most vibrant of the townships and can be visited easily from Johannesburg.
It's something of a cultural melting pot and is home to several important historical sites. Other popular cultural activities include visits to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, a Zulu Village or even a local school. The latter two can be arranged either locally or prior to departure from the UK.
South Africa has plenty to offer the adrenaline junkie. One of the world's highest bungee jumps, the formidable 216-metre Bloukrans River Bridge on the Garden Route, should be enough to get anyone's heart racing. There's also access to fantastic white-water rafting and kayaking, or for those looking for something a bit different, a cage dive with Great White Sharks has to be one of the most exciting wildlife encounters on earth.
Beach lovers will be spoilt for choice in South Africa as the country boasts several gorgeous stretches of sand. Camps Bay near Cape Town has some lovely restaurants, great accommodation and provides a welcome break from the hsutle and bustle of the city during summer. For year- round beach destinations, head for the coastline of KwaZulu-Natal, the perfect place to soak up some sunshine and indulge in a spot of swimming, surfing or fishing in the gorgeous azure waters of the Indian Ocean.
Travelling between Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa boasts two superb options for luxury rail travel. Rovos Rail offers a two-night journey in either direction with several interesting stops along the way, including a stop in the beautiful Cape Winelands and the diamond-mining region of Kimberley.
The super-luxurious Blue Train covers the same route but in less time, just 27 hours, and also stops in Kimberley. Rovos Rail operates a number of alternative routes and packages including a nine- day golf safari around Pretoria, Durban, Swaziland, Zululand and Sun City, taking in the region’s best golf courses and touring highlights such as the Zululand battlefields, Hluhluwe Game Reserve and the Kruger National Park.