The off-season is the best time to explore the hidden wonders that South Africa has to offer. Not only can you get great deals, but best off all, it is a blissfully quiet time, unencumbered by the buzz of the busy tourist season. The question is, where do you even begin to decide where to go? Here are a few suggestions.
Wildlife for the Wanderlust
During the winter months (off-season), when the sparse vegetation is usually teaming with animals, a proper wildlife experience is a definite must. For the adventurer lover looking for an ultimate bush holiday, Mpumalanga is your go-to-place.
Here you can breathe in the beautiful glory of the Blyde River Canyon (also known as Motlatse Canyon). There must be a reason why the early Dutch settlers named this third largest canyon in the world “happy”! With daring dips and drops into the river bed, the Blyde River Canyon offers awe-inspiring views; and for the love of nature, the canyon showcases an abundance of flora and fauna (including the big 5 of course).
There is no better way to truly experience the Blyde River Canyon than going in an organised helicopter tour. Taking off at the Lion Sands Private Game Reserve, the helicopter flies due west towards the Drakensberg mountain range and journeys over the Blyde River Canyon. Along the way you will be faced with spectacular views of the Berlin and Lisbon Falls. Rest assured you will also stop off for a delightful picnic lunch at the Pinnacle picnic spot, with panoramic views that stretch as far as Kruger National Park in the east. After the picnic, the helicopter will fly past God’s Window, Winder View, Panorama Falls, over Graskop Town and then arrive back at the Lion Sands Reserve.
The Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail is the perfect way to fully immerse yourself in the natural surroundings. This 3-5 day trail, starting at God’s Window and finishing at either Bourke’s Luck or Swadini (depending on whether you choose to hike an extra 2 days, which is 60 km in total). Winding it way through the Blyde River Canyon, you will meet a wealth of animals and plant life, nestled in unique rock formations. It is recommended that you hike this trail in a group and you will need to be reasonably fit. There are huts along the way to sleep over at night.
God’s Window is a popular lookout point en route to the Kruger National Park. Here, for a small entrance fee, you are granted entrance to several walks, hiking trails, horse rides and mountain bike trails, where you can truly feast your eyes on a multitude of exotic plants. Remember to bring along refreshments as the misty rainforests can get somewhat stifling and humid! Curio stalls and toilet facilities are available in the parking area.
There are a multitude of activity on offer at the Blyde River Canyon, such as boat trips, micro lighting, paintball,abseiling, hot air ballooning, quad biking and horse riding (to name a few).
You have a wide choice of places to stay in and around the Blyde River Canyon. The Blyde River Canyon Lodge offers you a proper African experience in the lap of luxury. For more, visit blyderivercanyon.co.za
At the heart of the Kruger Lowveld region of Mpumalanga lies Hazyview, a lazy African haven in the midst of subtropical fruit orchards. There are a wealth of things to do, from game-spotting day drives, adventure activities, restaurants, wellness, health spas and your pick of amazing accommodation options.
Don’t miss out on the 40% discount off luxury accommodation and exceptional game drives at Thando Safari Private Game Reserve for South African residents and neighbouring African countries. For more, visit thanda.com.
Explore the wonders of the Western Cape
Now that we’ve had our wild adventure time, why not go on a winter escape road trip around the Western Cape and soak up the seaside and enjoy the fruits of the farmland.
Gansbaai is a definite must this time of year. There are stunning beach walks, whale watching, quirky restaurants and your pick of plenty of B&B’s. We stayed at a place called Saxon Lodge, which was absolutely fab. The host was welcoming, friendly and best of all, he is a tour guide, so he gave us insight into the area and tips on best places to visit. The Saxon Arms Pub is an all-time favourite; and you can also enjoy a scrumptious seasonal meal on the deck of the Saxon Restaurant, while you drink in the breathtaking sunsets over Walker Bay. The lodge is also just a stone throw from the local shops and amenities. For more, visit saxonlodge.co.za
From Gansbaai, we would highly recommend you drive through the tiny historical town of Elim and further on to the Black Oystercatcher, where you will find a delightful restaurant offering you a fresh dining experience from this seasons best (produce sourced from their very own garden). Why not try out their craft beer (tastes the likes of Fraser’s Folly Pilsner, Pale Ale and India Pale Ale; as well as Moer Koffie Stout) or wine tasting (they have an exquisite selection of boutique wines). This is truly the most amazing place in the middle of nowhere! For more, visit blackoystercatcher.co.za
Why not then drive on to Struisbaai and Cape Agulhas. A bit further on you can enjoy the ride the Malgas Pont, which is basically a pulley type ferry that takes both you and your car across the river. This Pontoon ferry is the last one remaining in South Africa, so definitely worth a visit!
You can then travel onto Swellendam. Here, Wildebraam Berry Farm is a wonderful place to stay. Although during off-season there is no berry picking, you receive a free berry liquor tasting with your booking. They also have a lovely little shop, where you can buy a selection of homemade jams, chutney and berry liqueur of course. For more, visit wildebraam.co.za
For the love of cheesy goodness, the cheese padstal around the corner is a definite pace to stop.
You can also take the Tradouw mountain pass to the quaint little town of Barrydale. There are many great touristy places to stay in Barrydale. The Blue Cow is a cute coffee shop, where you can enjoy a hearty breakfast and a sensational selection of confectionery delights. There are also beautifully done traditional-style self-catering cottages perfect for a weekend getaway. For more, visit bluecowbarrydale.com
From here, continue your journey onto Montagu. You have to visit Montagu Springs at least once in your life! There are also tons of amazing self-catering and B&B options for all types of travellers, from simplistic to luxury living. We stayed at a place called Keisie Cottages, nested between the mountains. A really really lovely place, so homey and the perfect peaceful respite. For more, visit keisiecottages.co.za
Where are your favourite off-season spots in South Africa? Feel free to drop a comment, I’d love to hear from you!