IN PICS | Seven other SA destinations that'll give you overseas getaway vibes
Taking international holidays continues to be complicated thanks to Covid-19. Luckily our country boasts beautiful places that can easily rival far-flung locales
FOR A FALL:
Niagara Falls vs Augrabies Falls
The world-famous Niagara Falls, spanning the border between the US and Canada, need no introduction. Technically they are made up of three waterfalls - the largest being Horseshoe Falls, which straddles the international border of the two countries. The smaller American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls lie within the US. Altogether, the falls span a distance of 1,039m and the Horseshoe Falls boast the tallest drop at 57m. The Canadian side offers the best panoramas of both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls and, unsurprisingly, are Canada's top tourist destination.
Dropping from 56m - just 1m less than the Niagara Falls - SA's Augrabies Falls are impressive in their own right. The Khoi people called them "Aukoerebis", meaning "the place of great noise". While the 24m-long waterfall on the Orange River is much smaller than Niagara overall, it is still magnificent to behold in full flood, usually from February, when 19 separate waterfalls converge into one drop down a single ravine.
FOR A WEE RAMBLE
The Scottish Highlands vs the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands
In the north of Scotland, the Highlands are known for swathes of green grass, mountain ranges and wide-open spaces. Similarly romantic scenes can be found in the heart of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands between Pietermaritzburg and the foothills of the Drakensberg. Both offer magnificent opportunities for hikes and misty drives along meandering roads.
For history buffs, both regions are home to bloody battlefields, which today can be visited on evocative tours. A popular Scottish one is Culloden Battlefield, the site of the last battle between the Jacobites and British troops in 1746. The Midlands, meanwhile, offer several spots including Isandlwana, site of the first battle of the Anglo-Zulu War on January 22 1879. The Battlefields Route covers numerous battlefields, museums, forts and places of remembrance. See battlefieldsroute.co.za
While the Highlands are famous for their numerous lochs, local water lovers can take to the Midmar Dam. And while any visitor in Scotland will want to swing past the famous Loch Ness to try to spot the legendary monster Nessie, Howick Falls allegedly has a monster of its own. According to local legend, a serpent-like water monster known as the Inkanyamba lives at the bottom of the falls.
FOR UNDERGROUND ESCAPADES
Mammoth Cave National Park, US vs Cango Caves
Located in the US state of Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is a Unesco World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. The park offers cycling, hiking, canoeing, fishing and horse riding, but its big drawcard is the world's longest known
cave system - more than 640km of passageways have been explored.
SA's best local match is the Cango Caves in the Swartberg Mountains, 30km north of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape. Though the system of tunnels and chambers is nowhere near as extensive - going on for about 4km - they are the biggest show-cave system in Africa (a cave that has been made accessible to the public for guided visits) and claim to be SA's oldest tourist attraction. The cave system is believed to be 20-million years old.
They are temporarily closed under lockdown level 4 but, when open again, visitors can take a guided tour of the beautifully illuminated caves with their impressive display of strange formations. See cango-caves.co.za
FOR A FRENCH CONNECTION
Bordeaux, France vs Franschhoek
Bordeaux is such a quintessential French wine region that it even has a blend named after it. While few other regions in the world compare, SA has a certain French-wine connection in Franschhoek ("French corner") in the Western Cape, in whose valley a community of French Huguenots settled after fleeing the French Wars of Religion in 1685. The Huguenot Memorial Museum is a nod to its French Huguenot heritage and many of its excellent wine farms still bear the original French names.
It even has an annual Bastille Festival, an event that took place virtually last year. It may not have a wine blend named after it, but Franschhoek is well known for its MCC producers and even boasts a Franschhoek Wine Valley Cap Classique route.
Perhaps a little more oblique but certainly not to be sniffed at, Franschhoek also has a perfume museum - and no country in the world is more famous for its perfume than France. See firstsouthafricanperfumemuseum.com
FOR A DATE WITH THE ANCIENTS
Stonehenge, UK vs Adam's Calendar
The mystery of Stonehenge in the south of England has long confounded historians and archaeologists. Believed to have been constructed from around 5,000 years ago over 1,500 years, the Unesco World Heritage Site is made up of massive upright stones placed in a circle. It is thought to have been a religious or burial site.
Perhaps not as well known but certainly of great importance locally, you can find Adam's Calendar on a plateau above the town of Kaapsehoop, Mpumalanga. Sometimes referred to as "Africa's Stonehenge", this circle of stones is described by authors Johan Heine and Michael Tellinger in Adam's Calendar (2008) as the oldest man-made structure as well as the oldest working sun calendar on Earth, dating back 75,000 years.
Though others reject their claims as "preposterous" (read, for example, the "Adam's Calendar" entry on sacredsites.com), you can tour the site with Tellinger and decide for yourself. See stonecircletours.co.za
FOR A DREAMY OCEAN DRIVE
Great Ocean Road, Australia vs Chapman's Peak
As far as coastal drives go, the 240km-long Great Ocean Road in Australia is bucket-list stuff. Snaking its way along the Pacific between Torquay and Allansford in the southeastern state of Victoria, it takes in beach towns, surfing spots, rainforest landscapes and towering cliffs.
A popular stop along Great Ocean Road is an offshore feature known as The Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks - some as high as 50m - that were once part of the surrounding cliffs but emerged due to erosion by the sea. Despite the name, the site never had 12 stacks. There are currently seven, down from the original eight after one crumbled in 2005.
At home, you can visit Cape Town's Twelve Apostles mountain range which forms the back of Table Mountain. Again this is a misnomer, as there are in fact 18 peaks. To take in the full extent of the range, take a drive along Victoria Road between Sea Point and Hout Bay.
Our ultimate coastal road, of course, is Chapman's Peak Drive, which starts in Hout Bay and winds along the coast to Noordhoek - so spectacular that it was named one of the world's most beautiful road-trip routes by Pentagon Motor Group earlier this year, as was Australia's Great Ocean Road.
BIG ON JAPAN
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Japan vs Durban North Japanese Gardens
Japan is well known for its meditative gardens, whose typical features include ponds and water features, stones, lanterns and bridges. Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo's largest, most popular parks, where more than a dozen different cherry trees blossom from around March.
For a little taste of Tokyo at home, try these Durban gardens. As a blog post on umhlangarockstourism.co.za explains, the subtropical climate is too warm for many of the species you'd find in Japan, but the designers tried to replicate the feel with many traditional Japanese features.
Gardening legend Keith Kirsten, who worked there from about 1969 to 1971, is quoted as saying they "tried to get the exotic colours of cherry blossoms" in other plants, such as the Tabebuia rosea, "a very beautiful tree with amazing pink bells", and a vivid yellow version of Tabebuia chrysantha.
The garden is open seven days a week and entrance is free. Phone 031-311-6975.