May 16, 2019 by DAVE JACK
I have written quite a few blogs on why I think South Africans should holiday at home so I thought I would condense my views on this.
Firstly, one of the main reasons is the cost factor. It has become extremely expensive to holiday abroad. Think of the cost of airfares alone. Most destinations would cost you more to get there than an entire two week holiday in South Africa.
Secondly, why is it that foreign visitors come to South Africa? Do they know something we don’t know that brings them here? Obviously they do or they wouldn’t come here while we travel overseas in search of a fairly expensive holiday destination. I am not talking about those of us who go to visit family overseas. I am talking about a pure overseas holiday.
Allow me to look at a few of the options we have in this country.
We have an estimated 30,000 B&Bs in this country and that doesn’t include the new Air BnB concept or hotels. What I’m saying is that we have accommodation to suit every pocket from 5 Star to non graded establishments. In October 2018 a group of us travelled from Johannesburg to Gansbaai in the Cape on Harley Davidsons and we spent 8 nights in various types of accommodation and the cost per couple was, including dinner in 5 of the 8 establishments, under R13,000. Add the cost of dinner for the remaining three nights at R500 per couple (and it was actually lower than that) and we are looking at a 9 day holiday for under R15,000. Obviously we had petrol costs to add to that but it was still substantially less than the average return airfare for two people to most European destinations.
I’ve always thought there are two types of holiday that one could have more or less anywhere in the world. A destination holiday or a touring holiday and there’s no better place than at home, right here in South Africa.
What I mean by a destination holiday is that you can either go to your destination and stay there for the duration of your holiday or you could make a particular destination your base and from there short daily drives allow you to explore the area.
In our case in 2018, it was a touring holiday where we took in some beautiful parts of the country including 10 passes, one of which was Kaaiman’s Pass outside George in the Western Cape. That trip is described in detail in a blog about the scenic passes.
On our 10 Passes trip we didn’t spend more than one night in any one place so as a result we saw a great deal of the country in the time we were travelling. The downside is that you don’t have too much time to explore the town or area in which you find yourself. This sort of travelling can be very tiring but we did no more than 400km a day and that is something quite easy to do and isn’t tiring because your driving day is generally over by around lunchtime.
A destination holiday is as the word implies. Go to one specific place and stay there, or base yourself there so that day trips are possible, for the entire duration of your holiday, so let’s look at the options for destination holidays and in South Africa, just as it is with touring holidays, there are literally dozens of options.
Most people choosing a beach holiday choose the beach to which they want to go based on individual requirements – and all types of beaches are available around the country’s coast but again even with different types of beach holidays there are options.
If it’s white sandy beaches and sun tanning you want then it’s the Cape Beaches every time.
This is a destination favoured by many foreign visitors and it’s not unusual if you visit the famous V&A Waterfront in Cape Town to hear the many different languages of the visitors from all over the world who are drawn to this country for their holiday in Cape Town.
CLIFTON BEACH CAPE TOWN: PHOTO: capetownmagazine.com
The problem with the Cape beaches is that unless you are a person who doesn’t mind cold water, the waters around Cape Town are very cold so not the ideal destination if one has young children who want to go into the sea all the time. The cold Atlantic current meets the warmer waters of the east coast at Cape Aghullas (the official meeting place of the two oceans although it is commonly thought to be Cape Point) so even the waters at the beaches that you hear are “on the warmer side” are still pretty cold.
There are however parts of those waters that cater for specific activities and I’m thinking of things like shark cage diving in Gansbaai where you can go into a cage under the water but you are wearing wetsuits for some warmth and you see the sharks very close and it’s not uncommon to see a shark of up to 4 metres in length right alongside you.
SHARK CAGE DIVING IN GANSBAAI. PHOTOGRAPH – specialtours.co.za
If you prefer to stay above water, there are places like Hermanus, and again Gansbaai, in whale season between May and early November where operators offer boat trips that allow you to get “up close and personal” with these magnificent creatures and if you are really fortunate you could be very close to a mother and her young.
WHALE WATCHING IN GANSBAAI: PHOTO: unknown
The big plus of whale watching is that if you are in the right place you can still get a good view from the shore.
WHALE WATCHING FROM THE SHORE: PHOTO: experiencehermanus.co.za
The whales seem to know when they have an appreciative audience and a good show can often be expected with whales breaching and if you have never seen that, it is a magnificent sight to see these creatures lifting about 20 tons of their own weight out of the water.
BREACHING WHALE: PHOTO: capewineandleisuretours.co.za
For warmer waters where you can swim, you need to travel further north in the direction of South Africa’s east coast and there are dozens of places along the entire coast all the way to Zululand which offer good relaxing holidays and warm water that makes swimming in the sea a pleasure.
Most of the Kwa Zulu-Natal beaches have shark nets and lifeguards to make swimming safer. A word of warning though, the seas can get rough so stay within the designated swimming areas and on shark net protected beaches. You will find Blue Flag beaches all along the coast and in many places you could not only swim but also snorkel and one of those is at Umzumbe a little north of Port Shepstone on the KZN South Coast.
UMZUMBE BLUE FLAG BEACH ON THE KZN SOUTH COAST: PHOTO: PUMULA BEACH HOTEL
I made a discovery some years ago. People head for Mauritius and other island destinations for their holidays and whilst very pleasant, seem to be getting more expensive all the time and I have been to two of the Indian Ocean islands a couple of times but on my last visit I realised that Mauritius is a wonderful destination for people younger than I am.
Younger people who want to do all sorts of fantastic water activities – and they are fantastic – but when one gets a bit older (OK, let’s face it – a lot older) you tend to want to sit and chill and not get involved in the water activities enjoyed by the young and on my last visit to Mauritius which is now quite a while ago, I realised that to sit on a lounger under an umbrella, reading a book and watching the sea which is what I did, can be done just as easily at home.
I have also discovered the most charming family type hotel on the lower KZN South Coast that is perfect for doing what I did on my last trip to Mauritius and at considerably less cost. I am able to sit and relax and stare at the sea and it’s not unusual to see a school of dolphins playing in the waves close inshore. In fact during the whale season from around May to early November, whales are also spotted there at times.
The hotel I’ve discovered is not the only one like that on the KZN coast though. There are several family as well as luxury hotels on both the south coast as well as the north coast, Durban generally being regarded as the place where the coast splits into north and south. A word of advice though. If you don’t have children and you can manage it, then go in the “off season”. It’s way cheaper and much quieter!
Durban itself has been attracting more and more holidaymakers over the past few years, possibly because if you are driving there, it is considerably shorter from Johannesburg to Durban than it is from Johannesburg to Cape Town and also if you fly from Johannesburg to Durban it’s half the flying time of the Cape Town flight.
Something unique that KZN offers are the numerous cultural “villages” where a short drive from Durban gives you the opportunity to experience Zulu culture, and many of these villages with “guides” who talk you through it all and explain everything.
The spectacular Valley of 1000 Hills is one of the places you’ll find these types of cultural villages and that’s only a short drive of about 40km from Durban. There are also restaurants along the route of the Valley of 1000 Hills where one can spend a very pleasant lunch or tea time looking out over the tranquillity of the valley.
VALLEY OF 1000 HILLS IN KZN
Then of course there’s the fishing and most areas of the country offer different types of fishing and one of the fishing highlights of the year is the annual sardine run that can be seen off the KZN south coast. Literally tens of thousands of sardines that appear between April and June usually as far north as Durban.
BEACHED SARDINES IN KZN: PHOTO: sapeople.com
Nobody knows where they come from or where they go but there are so many of them that they will “beach” in their hundreds to be scooped up by fishermen and non fishermen alike.
And then for those more interested in game fish, you will find a lot of game fish following the sardines and if that’s your interest then “deep sea fishing” is for you and there are plenty of companies offering ski boat fishing trips.
DEEP SEA SKI BOAT: PHOTO: nautitechsuzuki.co.za
If the beach is not your thing, you can find magnificent mountains in both the Western Cape – and that’s where the world famous Table Mountain is – and in the Drakensberg in Kwa Zulu- Natal.
In Kwa Zulu-Natal, there are a variety of different types of accommodation ranging from self-catering cabins to luxury hotels in the mountains.
My favourite part of the Drakensberg is in the Cathedral Peak area where you are basically at the foot of the Drakensberg. Most of the resorts or destinations in the Drakensberg are designed as holiday spots where you spend your entire holiday and some of the best hiking routes in the country.
Many of the hotels also offer facilities like golf and bowls and several offer helicopter “flips” to the top of the escarpment and that in itself is a wonderful experience.
CATHEDRAL PEAK: PHOTO: places.co.za
In the Western Cape the mountain holidays differ a bit. If going to the top of Table Mountain is what appeals then it’s Cape Town and you can go to the top in one of two ways. Firstly you could hike but be careful not to climb the mountain unless you’re in a group for security.
The second and much more relaxed way to get to the top is in the cable cars that rotate as you head for the top so that you have a 360 degree view and the views from up there are quite amazing.
TABLE MOUNTAIN: PHOTO: smithsonianmag.com
Further inland from Cape Town there are some beautiful mountains to view plus you have the added advantage of the wine route in areas like Stellenbosch, a delightful town with a long history where lunch at one of the wine estates is a must. All the wine estates also have facilities where you can buy their wines.
STELLENBOSCH – WESTERN CAPE: PHOTO: thatbackpacker.com
Or you might prefer Franschhoek that sits nestled at the bottom of the mountains and a drive up the Franschhoek Pass of certainly worth it for the views you get over the valley and both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are either destination holiday spots or are easily within reach from Cape Town if that’s where you are based.
FRANSCHHOEK: PHOTO: visitwinelands.co.za
South Africa is world renowned for its game reserves and top of the list is the Kruger National Park in South Africa on the border with Mozambique and most people enter “the park” through Mpumalanga, our eastern-most province and as the name suggests “the place where the sun rises” in the Swazi, Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages. Mpumalanga also has many other places that make ideal destination holidays.
LIONS IN KRUGER PARK: PHOTO: africageographic.com
It’s not only the Kruger National Park that is a drawcard. You could visit the Pilanesberg National Park adjacent to that wonderful holiday destination, Sun City, which is also always worth a visit. The Pilanesberg National Park is much smaller than Kruger but it does have “the big five” and they are usually easier to find in the smaller game reserve.
PILANESBERG NATIONAL PARK: PHOTO: mountziontours.co.za
Move into KZN and there’s the Hluhluwe Game Reserve in Zululand home to some of the “big five” and Hluhluwe is not that far from St Lucia where you can see an abundance of hippos and crocodiles as well as plenty of birdlife. Something like 1250 hippos in the estuary.
HIPPOS IN ST LUCIA ESTUARY
WHY HOLIDAY AT HOME?
I have given you just a small idea of what is available in terms of destination holidays but one could easily add many more. The wild flowers that come into bloom in huge numbers around August and into September in Namaqualand close to the Namibian border and the town of Springbok makes a good base.
THE NAMAQUALAND FLOWERS
Further north heading towards Kimberley near the village of Kakamas you can find the Augrabies Falls.
AUGRABIES FALLS: PHOTO: experiencenortherncape.co.za
A couple of hundred kilometres further along that road you’ll get to Kimberley, arguably, the diamond capital of the world and the big hole where diamonds were mined. A visit to the Big Hole is certainly worthwhile even though diamonds are no longer mined from it. There is a fascinating museum at the Big Hole as well as a few shops selling diamond jewellery that will no doubt please the ladies.
THE BIG HOLE IN KIMBERLEY
In addition, Kimberley has a rich history and there is a huge amount to keep the holidaymaker busy. Kimberley projects itself as a significant tourist destination, the ‘City that Sparkles’, boasting a diversity of museums and visitor attractions. It is also a gateway to other Northern Cape destinations including the Mokala National Park.
In fact the options for holidaymakers in South Africa are numerous and I have given you just a few ideas for destination holidays where you could either stay for your entire holiday or take day trips to look around the area. Whether you decide to do that or simply stay at your destination spot is up to you. As I’ve said, the option is entirely yours. Touring holidays are covered in detail in other articles on this blog.