Last month we explored some of the lesser-known towns across SA, which visitors to the country may never have heard of, but that make up a fascinating part of Destination South Africa’s rich tourism offering.
Here are a few more to consider adding to an itinerary when visiting SA.
Most of the buildings in Matjiesfontein were established in the late 1800s, with the Milner Hotel – the only hotel in town now – being used as a field hospital during the Anglo Boer War. The whole village is a National Monument, with the Red Bus Tour is one of the highlights at Matjiesfontein, where a guide shows visitors the town in just 10 minutes. The Matjiesfontein bucket list includes the Laird’s Arms Pub, where guests can enjoy music while having a leisurely drink; the coffee shop which takes visitors on a step back in time; the Transport Museum which houses a collection of vintage cars; and the Marie Rawdon Museum which showcases the largest private artefacts and memorabilia collection from the Anglo-Boer War, in the world.
All roads leading to Oyster Bay are gravel roads, so this is truly off-the-beaten-track. It is a small coastal hamlet located between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay, and driving to Oyster Bay will take one past lush dairy farm pastures and a few wind turbines. Days can be spent relaxing on the beach or enjoying a day hike to the nearby ancient fish traps. If a visitor prefers something more adrenalin-filled, sand boarding is available down some of the dunes. Horse riding on the beach is also available, with fat bikes being another option.
Set on the Sunshine Coast of the Eastern Cape, Port Alfred features beautiful beaches and amazing boating experiences on the Kowie River. Fresh Fish Fridays are an institution in Port Alfred, where residents and visitors can go to any food outlet on a Friday night and enjoy the fresh fish. From pub fish and chips at the Highlander pub to gourmet seafood dishes at the affluent Thistle Restaurant at Royal St Andrews Hotel. There are also exceptional artists that live in and around Port Alfred, and one can source quirky pottery and sculptures to fine crockery – all locally made.
Within a short drive from Port Alfred there are amazing Big Five game reserves, and the village of Bathurst whose claim to fame is a Gigantic Pineapple and South Africa’s oldest pub – the Pig ’n Whistle. Bathurst is also home to an Eco Planet Bamboo plantation which supplies all Mantis properties with eco-friendly amenities and bamboo straws.
Eshowe and Mtunzini
The towns of Eshowe and Mtunzini are rich in history. Eshowe encompasses a rich zulu culture and history, with a forest in the centre of town – the Dlinza Forest – where the first Boardwalk built in SA was constructed. A Museum Village is host to the historical fort, dating back to the Anglo-Zulu war. It showcases the history of John Dunn – who was married to 47 Zulu wives and one Caucasian wife. It also shares the history of the early Norwegian missionaries, and the beautiful Norwegian Mission Chapel.
Mtunzini has a Raffia Palm forest, lagoon and pristine beach. Its abundant birdlife includes the rare Palmnut vulture, along with a variety of birds in the Ongoye Forest. For those who enjoy a more active side, the destination has a putt-putt course, and hiking and cycling trails.
Leydsdorp is known as the smallest city in South Africa, and is steeped in history. It was developed from a gold-mining camp, and was declare a city for a day by then-President Paul Kruger (hence its ‘status’). Buildings date back to the late 1800s, and the ‘city’ was used as a holiday destination for Kruger. The charming Leydsdorp Hotel is the heart of the town, but it is most well known for the size of its cemetery.
Hopefield, Moorreesburg, Koringberg and Philadelphia
Hopefield is the oldest town on the West Coast, and is known for its honey, not least because over 500 different species of fynbos grow here, and attract bees by the dozen.
The original road from Moorreesburg, en route to Piketberg, crosses the Berg River with the aid of a steel girder bridge – originally destined for Australia. A vessel carrying the bridge stopped in Table Bay in 1850 for repairs that entailed removing the bridge from its deck. The bridge was forever abandoned as the result of a battle to get it back on board, and today it rests on the only river wide enough for it to span.
Koringberg may be one of the lesser known villages in the Swartland, but the Koringberg mountain biking trail places it as a must-visit lesser-known-destination.
Philadelphia is a small town on Cape Town’s doorstep, that boasts a quiet main street with two cafe’s and a few art studios, as well as a restaurant in a restored mill. Established in the 1860s, this historic little town has managed to retain its charm and many of the original buildings have been converted into restaurants or little shops.
Loxton is situated in the Upper Karoo, and one can explore the entire town on foot. Visitors can see the original jail, built in 1900, a tiny ‘hoestoep-huisie’ (house with a high verandah) that looks like a doll’s house, a replica Dutch castle and windmill outside of town, and enjoy birdwatching on farm dams. The town offers hikes, 4x4s, mountain biking and star gazing through clear skies.
The town boasts historical sandstone buildings, and is extremely popular during the wild flower season. Just outside of town is the Nieuwoudtville waterfall, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. Hantam Botanical Garden is also worth visiting. In addition to these attractions there is the quiver tree forest, local sandstone ruins, glacial pavement, the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve and activities such as bird watching, hiking and star gazing. While in the area, also visit the small towns of Loeriesfontein, Calvinia, Vanryhsdorp, Wuppertal, Garies, Doringbaai, and Papendorp.
Pofadder, Pella and Onseepkans
These small towns offer big attractions, including wilderness rafting trips on the Orange River; Pella date plantations, cathedral and community-based tourism; Red Rock River Camp and rafting day trips; Onseep 4x4 Camp; table grape farms; Kolerboom forests; star gazing; and hiking.
Clanwilliam has a number of tourism routes that take travellers on a journey through the offerings and history of the town. From its renowned Rooibos tours including the Rooibos Route and Buchu and Rooibos Tour, to birding, Clanwilliam also has the Cederberg Brewery and wine cellars, along with a visit to the Elandsberg, Cederberg Wilderness Area, Ramskop Nature Garden, Ou Tronk Museum and the grave of the renowned poet. Louis Leipoldt. Rock art trails and an interesting shoe factory are just some of the many experiences available in Clanwilliam.
Recently receiving a ‘tourism brand makeover’, Darling offers craft beer and a taproom at Darling Brew; olive and olive products to be tasted at Darling Olives; a cheese shop in the Main Road along with a wine shop; wine tasting at Ormonde, Cloof, Darling Cellars – and Groote Post along with its long established, family-friendly Hilda’s Kitchen. The San centre at near !Khwa ttu shares the history of the San people with tourists; and a visit to the Yzerfontein beach is a must. The Darling Museum is also worth a visit. And Darling is well known for its food, with coffee shops like Bistro Seven, Marmalade Cat, Café Mosaic, Chicory Cheese Café, Brig’s Barn and The Flying Pig. There is ample accommodation, and for those with a sweet took, a toffee and caramel tasting can be enjoyed at Darling Sweet.
Jongensfontein, close to Stilbaai, is a quiet seaside village with a surprising tourism offering. From hiking trails to arts and craft shops, the village also has some prime whale-watching spots as well as surfing and fishing boat charters. Seasonal activities include flea markets, a river cruise, disco, touch-rugby festival and various performing arts. Jongensfontein is known for its spring a short distance from the beach, which was important for people and their cattle in the 1700s.
Just two hours’ drive from Cape Town, Lambertsbay is a seafood mecca and is known as the Diamond of the West Coast because of its white beaches, wildlife and lobsters. The historic tour takes visitors through the rich history of the early inhabitants of the West Coast at Steenbokfontein caves where the oldest known examples of wall paintings in SA can be found. Hear the love story of Martjie and the ghost stories of the sandstone quarry; and visit the Royal Navy Ship, the HMS Sybille, which ran aground on the rocks during the Anglo Boer War in 1901. A tour of the town will take visitors through the gardens of the Dutch Reformed Church with its pulpit shaped like a fisher's boat. Visitors can see the Sandveld Museum and explore the oldest buildings in town; then visit the only Gannet breeding island out of six in the world. Finally, the Namaqua wine and beer tour takes visitors on a flavour journey through the vineyards, experiencing wine pairings with chocolate and biltong, seafood, and enjoying the local craft beer breweries.
Oudtshoorn is known as the ostrich capital of the world, with ostriches being at the centre of the town’s offerings. Being known as the national centre for creativity, art galleries showcase some of the most beautiful art in the country, along with local crafts and ostrich products and crafts. A variety tours include birding, mountain bike tours, tours into the Swartberg Mountains, and ‘the road less travelled’ tours. Outdshoorn has a number of adventure activities including a visit to the spectacular Cango caves – Africa’s largest show cave system; ostrich riding; game viewing; skydiving; eco-tourism; and zip lining, amongst others. A cultural village offers visitors the opportunity to experience the lifestyle of the local township of Bongulethu – including traditional Xhosa activities, culture, cuisine, dance and story-telling during a visit to the Cultural Village. Birdwatching and 4x4 routes, visiting local wine estates, and then relaxing at one of the three health and beauty spaces, offer a wide variety of experiences for travellers.
The Overberg takes you on a journey where mountains, sea and people tell their story. A drive will take visitors up the picturesque Hottentots Holland Mountains via Sir Lowry’s Pass; along stretches of coast with beautiful beaches; and bring one into contact with vineyards, orchards and fascinating geological formations. The Overberg caters largely for sports enthusiasts and eco-adventurers, offering 4x4 trails, golf clubs, horse riding, sunset cruises, flyfishing and whale watching. Visitors can also test their courage with a shark-cage-dive. The Caledon hot springs are also within close range of the Overberg.
Paarl and Wellington
Paarl and Wellington, known as the ‘pearl of the Winelands’ and ‘heart of the Winelands’ respectively, offer myriad off-the-beaten-track attractions for tourists and visitors, ranging from arts and culture, food and wine, to heritage, outdoor, adventure and eco and nature options. The Winelands Meander takes visitors through some of the most beautiful and renowned wineries in the region. Just outside Paarl is the Drakenstein Prison, where Nelson Mandela spent his last years of captivity, and from which he completed his ‘long walk to freedom’.
Wellington is well known for its historic Bains Kloof Pass, which has stunning scenery, indigenous flora and fauna, and is an excellent destination for hikers and fly-fisherman.
Pearly Beach is known for its white beaches, ideal for swimming, long hikes, cycling and other beach activities. From July to December, the Southern Right Whales and their calves can be seen playing close to the shore; and the area also boasts abundant wildlife and indigenous foliage. Close to Pearly Beach is Dyers Island, a breeding colony for jackass penguins; and close to this is Geysers Island – a breeding ground for seals.
Close to Velddrif you will find the West Coast Fossil Park, which gives insights into the ancient world, with fossils of bears, sabre-tooth cats, and short-necked giraffes. The park also offers tours of fossil digs, fossil sieving, wildflower ramble, mountain bike trails, bird watching, horseriding trails and other activities. The SA Fisheries Museum highlights the history of fishing on the West Coast, from whaling to pelagic fishing and rock lobster catching. The building dates back to the late 1800s, and exhibits include a unique collection of artefacts, photo exhibits, processing methods, models of trawlers, as well as interesting tales of the sea and the intrepid seamen who sail on her. Velddrif is 25km from the Rocherpan Nature Reserve, a coastal birding haven, with over 180 bird species including the Great White Pelican and Greater and Lesser Flamingos – all listed as endangered species. Velddrif is also situated on the Berg River Estuary, which has 210 bird species. Activities here include boat and bank angling, water sports, and bird watching.
En route to Yzerfontein, stop at the two white Lime Kilns of which only a few can be found on the West Coast. Mussel shells were burnt and the cinders were ground and used as cement or used to white-wash buildings. At the entrance of the town is the New Fish Market, where visitors can buy fresh snoek. Yzerfontein offers and indigenous garden, whale-watching, and views of Dassen Island – the largest island on the South African West Coast. Schaap Island allows visitors to walk to the island at low tide, and let children play in the tidal pools. Yzerfontein offers a number of watersports, birdwatching, walks and hikes, and a unique culinary offering.
Don’t see your town or city here? Let us know, and we’ll add the destination to the map. Email firstname.lastname@example.org