It’s a new year, and that means new camping adventures. Soon the summer holidays will be behind us, and now it’s time to start looking to where we are going to hitch up and head out to next.
Caravan & Outdoor Life has put together a few destination ideas which we feel should be on your Bucket List for 2019.
1. THE SMALLEST DESERT ON EARTH
Port Edward, KwaZulu-Natal
At just 200m in diameter, Port Edward’s Red Desert is claimed by many to be the smallest desert on Earth. It seems awfully out of place along the coast, contrasting sharply with the surrounding greenery and the nearby Umtamvuna Estuary.
Many have speculated on its origins, with some kooks theorising an alien landing to be the culprit, but according to the custodians of the ‘desert’, it was created two centuries ago by creatures far closer to home – cows.
According to the Red Desert Nature Reserve, a vast herd of cattle belonging to a local Zulu tribe severely overgrazed the land, and with a little help from wind erosion, it became the desolate piece of red earth we see today.
It’s this contrast that makes it a unique travel destination, even by South African standards! Visitors can also enjoy a walking or cycling trail and spend the day exploring the estuary and admiring the Umtamvuna Bridge.
WHERE TO STAY
This is the South Coast at its best – comfortable, electrified camping under milkwoods, wild fig and coral trees, with the beach nearby and safe swimming ensured by shark nets.
The Pont Holiday Resort
Chalets and powered campsites with top-notch security, clean ablutions, and access to awesome water activities and excellent facilities.
2. STARGAZING IN THE CEDERBERG
Some of the best stargazing in the world can be done in South Africa, and although everyone knows about Sutherland, the Cederberg is a lesser-known astronomical observation hotspot. Couple that with the sheer natural beauty of the area, and you’ve got one heck of a holiday!
The Cederberg Astronomical Observatory lies between the Algeria Rest Camp and Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, near a little getaway known as Sanddif Holiday Resort. It’s a stargazer’s dream come true, with a selection of powerful telescopes on offer.
Each Saturday, a slideshow introduces visitors to the wonders of the night sky, with guidance from the observatory’s passionate staff. It’s a stark departure from the sheer scale of Sutherland’s SALT, but the quaint observatory reminds visitors just how small we are in the greater scheme of things. Plus, once the show is over, you still have the crags, arches and rock pools of the Cederberg to explore!
WHERE TO STAY
Situated on the banks of the Bulshoek Dam near Clanwilliam, the resort is a haven for relaxation and fun. Camping, water sports, fishing, bird watching, hiking, and of course stargazing are the order of the day (and night).
Situated in the heart of the Cederberg Wilderness Area, the resort is a peaceful, grassy area on the Rondegat River, with crystal clear pools to cool off in during the hot, dry summers.
3. THE MAJESTY OF MAGWA FALLS
Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape
Far along the northern reaches of the Wild Coast, a 1 800 hectare tea plantation hides a magnificent secret. A 144m tall waterfall plunges down into an ancient canyon, formed eons ago by movements in the earth’s crust.
The Magwa Waterfall is special among other Eastern Cape falls in that it’s relatively accessible, being just under an hour away from Port St Johns. Given its incredible beauty, it’s no surprise that it’s been compared to Zimbabwe’s great Victoria Falls, but believe it or not, it’s even taller than its more famous cousin!
It’s also not far from other Eastern Cape wonders like Mkambati Nature Reserve, Ntsubane Forest, and the tea plantation itself, which is the largest in Africa. Visitors can also experience the cultural village of Mbotyi, and several other gorgeous waterfalls in the region.
WHERE TO STAY
Mbotyi River Lodge
Luxurious hotel accommodation in log cabins and thatched units. Camping at the nearby Mbotyi Camp Site can also be done through the lodge.
Cremorne Estate Holiday Resort
Riverside campsites with electricity, water and shared ablutions. Enjoy a meal at the restaurant or enjoy the scenery from the pool.
4. LEGENDARY BAOBAB
Up until quite recently, the Sunland Baobab was one of the most remarkable natural wonders in the world. Not only was it the world’s widest baobab, but it was also home to a fully-functioning pub! Sadly, in early 2017, the tree succumbed to an as yet unknown killer and collapsed on several fronts, leaving a once magnificent behemoth in several smaller pieces.
Thankfully, the tree still draws visitors, and thanks to the wonderful facilities at Sunland Farms, it’s still a fantastic local attraction.
The tree stood for more than 1 700 years, and its death has formed part of a wider die-off of these ancient overseers, sparking investigations as to what could cause such monumental plants to give up after so long. So far, climate change and fungi are the main suspects, but time will tell if these giants can survive the planet’s current ecological state.
In the meantime, pay your respects at the Sunland Baobab with a beer and a braai. It’s worth the journey, especially considering its close proximity to the Modjadjiskloof Cycad Forest and the Magoebaskloof!
WHERE TO STAY
Tzaneen Dam Nature Reserve
Simple sites near the Tzaneen Dam, with easy access to the woodlands and water. The area is an angling and water sports hotspot, so be ready to get wet!
The home of the Big Baobab can also accommodate 20 visitors in five chalets, with activities like quad biking, hiking, and lots more. There’s also a private honeymoon suite!
5.BLYDE RIVER CANYON
The focal point of Mpumalanga’s famous Panorama Route is undoubtedly the Blyde River Canyon, which winds its way from southern Limpopo all the wat to Graskop. Carved out by rushing waters over thousands of generations, it’s the gateway to wonders like Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Window, the Three Rondavels and Pinnacle Rock, all of which are worth thorough visits.
The canyon is home to an incredible array of biodiversity, including all five of South Africa’s primate species, all three species of loerie and plenty more incredible creatures and vegetation.
After the Grand and the Fish River, the Blyde River is the third largest canyon in the world, and its scale just has to be seen to be believed. It’s immense, and it’s no wonder then that there are so many waterfalls hidden along its cliffs and tributaries. Some of those cliffs drop off a whopping 800m – not for the faint-hearted, to say the least!
WHERE TO STAY
6. VALLEY OF A THOUSAND HILLS
Stretching between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the Valley of 1 000 Hills is not simply one attraction, but an entire region rich in living heritage, biodiversity, history, and sheer beauty. The name isn’t an exaggeration in the least – there are countless peaks, cliffs and hilltops towering over one another, with foothills rolling down towards the Umgeni River.
The valley has been home to the Zulu people for generations, feeding their growth with its fertile lands. Many Zulu families live in the region to this day, maintaining time-old traditions and creating a hub of Zulu culture that welcomes visitors with open arms.
The area is inundated with guests during the Comrades Marathon and Dusi Canoe Race, but at any other time of the year, it’s an ideal getaway from city life. There’s so much to see, in fact, that it can’t really all be done in one trip. But trust us, you’ll be back.
WHERE TO STAY
Queensburgh Caravan Resort
Just 15km from Durban, and not much further from the Valley of 1000 Hills. Powered, shaded sites with modern amenities.
Inanda Dam & Resort
A little further from the Valley, but an incredible view sets this resort apart from others in the region. Campsites and safari tents available.
7. THE PLACE OF GREAT NOISE
Augrabies Falls, Northern Cape
South Africa’s oddest waterfall cascades 56m down to the river below, but that’s not what makes it strange. Augrabies Falls’ party trick is that it’s in the middle of a desert! Like much of the mighty Orange River, this section floods its way through barren, sandy nothingness, making it all the more spectacular.
It might seem rather out of the way for a holiday destination, but it’s actually quite a convenient stop on the way to the Kgalagadi or the Namib. The nearby town of Kakamas supplies visitors to the national park with any and all amenities and goodies, and that’s a really good thing – because you may just end up spending more time at the falls than you planned!
The name Augrabies is derived from the Khoi word aukoerebis, which means “Place of Great Noise”. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the might falls, well, you’ll just have to see hear it for yourself.
WHERE TO STAY
Augrabies Falls Rest CampCampsites, cottages and chalets in the National Park itself, not far from the falls. Excellent, clean facilities.
Campsites, glamping and self-catering accommodation along the Orange River, with many activities available on request.
8. SOUTHERN-MOST POINT OF AFRICA
Agulhas, Western Cape
While many mistakenly believe that Cape Point is the southernmost tip of Africa, a quick glance at a map of South Africa will show you that the real title holder is in fact L’Agulhas, formerly known as Cape Agulhas.
Why the name change, you ask? Well, it simply avoids confusion with the Cape Agulhas Municipality, which is the greater area. Agulhas simply means “needles”, a name given by compass-wielding Portuguese explorers of old. It may have also referred to the jagged coastline, but that’s all in the past, now.
The tiny holiday village is home to the tiny Agulhas National Park, which recognises and preserves the town’s unique distinction and heritage. That heritage includes the famous old lighthouse, as well as the infamous Meisho Maru shipwreck. Outside of holiday seasons, the hamlet is a sleepy as they come, but there are still a number of restaurants and curio shops to keep you occupied. If that’s not enough, join a local game of Jukskei on a Saturday morning!
WHERE TO STAY
L’Agulhas Caravan Park
A typical municipal campsite by Cape standards, with one exception. It’s the southernmost in Africa! A great base of operations for fishermen, thanks to a number of cleaning stations.
Die Dam Holiday Resort
Not in L’Agulhas itself, but not too far away. A popular countryside summer destination, just down the road from Gansbaai.
9. VALLEY OF DESOLATION
Camdeboo, Eastern Cape
Nestled just outside of Graaff-Reinet, Camdeboo National Park is home to one of South Africa’s most aptly-named landmarks. The Valley of Desolation is a vast drop-off into the Karoo plains beyond, flanked by ancient dolerite columns, formed by volcanic activity and erosive forces over the course of millions of years. Some of them are up to 120m tall!
It’s an eerie place, but quite beautiful, as well. The park itself is home to several dozen interesting mammal species, such as the endangered Cape mountain zebra, as well as 220 species of birds and 336 different types of plant.
Visitors can explore the park by road or foot, and there are several picnic sites from where you can appreciate the scenery. It’s a landscape photographer’s paradise, and a fantastic reason to visit this lesser-explored side of the Karoo.
WHERE TO STAY
Camdeboo National Park
Electrified sites with a communal kitchen and shared ablutions. A glamping camp is also available in the park.
Carochalets Campsites & Chalets
A pit-stop along the N9, especially if you’re coming from the north. Powered sites with shared ablutions, and a selection of cute chalets named after nearby mountains.
10. THE ORIGINS OF HUMANITY
Makapansgat Caves, Limpopo
South Africa is extremely rich in archeological sites, and the area around Mokopane is no different. Just a few kilometres northeast of the town is Makapansgat, a World Heritage Site first discovered by Clarence van Riet back in 1937.
It soon became obvious to Van Riet that he had stumbled upon a crucial find, one that had preserved a piece of Stone Age culture in Southern Africa. Along with fragments of bone and some stone tools, he discovered evidence of fireplaces, hence the name of the first site – Cave of Hearths.
Further excavations resulted in the discovery of an ancient hominid mandible, and much more in the years since. Makapansgat now forms part of the Cradle of Humankind.
The area derives its name directly from a species of pygmy buffalo whose fossils were found in the cave – Bos makapania. Other important discoveries include an underground lake and a large colony of long-fingered bats in Peppercorn Cave, as well as giant dassie fossils in Katzenjammer Cave. In total, there are around a dozen distinct caves in the Makapansgat Valley.
Very few of the Cradle’s visitors make it as far as this treasure trove of fossils, but they should!
WHERE TO STAY
Waterberg Wilderness Reserve
A handful of campsites and safari tents within a private reserve, with self-drive game viewing 4×4 trails and beautiful walks.
Self-catering accommodation and bush campsites with ablutions, just outside of Mokopane. The ranch boasts 25 different species of game, including buffalo, giraffe, leopard and eland.