Five unmissable South African attractions

July 11th, 2010 in African travel by Terry Lee 2
The Cradle of Humankind where our earliest ancestors were found

After Spain and the Netherlands battled it out to be World Cup champions (well done Spain!!) we’re reflecting on what a brilliant competition South Africa has put on. In honour of this incredible country we give you five of our favourite South African attractions. It’s difficult to choose just five so we’ve gone for something slightly more unusual than the likes of Table Mountain and Robben Island (though both of these are pretty good as well of course).

The Cradle of Humankind just over an hour from Johannesburg is literally the birthplace of humanity the Cradle of Humankind has provided the most valuable evidence of the origins of humankind ever found. The earliest human remains were found at the site Mrs Ples more than 2.5 million-years-old. This brilliant interactive museum holds 1,000 hominid fossils and one million year old stone tools, and teaches you about the origins of humankind. There are many interactive displays (great for children) and a fun boat ride through the brimstone and fire in which the world was created. We enjoyed the ride so much we ran back round to the start with childish enthusiasm to do it again!

Moyo restaurant, just outside Cape Town, is set amid the splendour of the Spier Estate in the heart of the winelands. Surrounded by  magnificent mountain landscapes you can savour an unusual African dining experience, buffet style and can do a bit of shopping too. Moyo  is styled on a large outdoor safari camp so there are big fires dotted about, and African dancing and drumming and you can even get your face painted – but this is no theme park. Moyo is an entertaining slice of African culture and the food’s pretty amazing too.

The Lion Park near Johannesburg is not a game reserve or a zoo, the park is split into two areas – one for animals such as zebra, giraffe, antelope and wildebeest to roam freely. While the other areas houses more dangerous animals like the cheetahs, jackals, hyenas, lions, and the beautiful but rare white lion, which number just 50 in the whole of South Africa. We drove through the lion enclosure to view them up close as they patrolled next to our car. It is an eerie but unforgettable experience to look straight into the deep yellow eyes of a lion from less than a metre away. Their intimidating stares make you feel utterly insignificant.

Reaching the lion cub enclosure you feel slightly less intimidated and can actually play with the young, but still solidly built, babies, although you know that in only a month or two they would be too powerful to get this close to.

Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum is an essential stop on any visit to South Africa – a great lesson in the country’s racially segregated past. The museum holds no punches in throwing you straight into the realities of apartheid. As you enter you’re given tickets stating either black or white and you are directed to an entrance reserved for your colour. Although it was only symbolic it was nevertheless chilling and all the more so as I am white and Sarah is black and under the old regime this segregation would have been our reality.

It is a powerful museum but to understand South Africa’s past and present is to learn of the realities of this terrible era. You’ll be appalled by the discrimination, repression and violence, yet also heartened at the capacity of human beings to rise above adversity and to build anew.

The Overberg in the Western Cape was one of the most impressive, dramatic yet desolate landscape we encountered in South Africa.

We started our journey through the Overberg in Franschhoek, a small town nestled in a valley, with wonderful Dutch colonial architecture. It is in the wine lands which is always a welcome attraction and has the most magnificent mountains as its backdrop. You just can’t go wrong in a town which produces  both chocolate and wine, unfortunately we did not have time to take the Huguenot fine Chocolates tour.

Driving away from Franschhoek we began winding our way up and over the Overberg. As we climbed higher the weather patterns changed with blue skies turning into clouds which descended and cleared frequently. The sense of isolation was strangely intimidating as we drove for almost an hour and saw only four vehicles desolation. The beautiful scenery kept changing from green foliage, colourful flowers and wide open spaces more than made up for it.

As we came off the Overberg we made our way down into the seaside town of Hermanus, renowned for its whale watching, we only saw heavy clouds and rough squally seas. The scale of the Overberg and surrounding area requires a car to be be able to get around and see all it has to offer – however you will be  rewarded with majestic memories.

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