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South Africa

Main attractions

Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

South Africa is extremely rich with unusual archaeological and natural monuments.

Natural monuments

Geologically South Africa is interesting with its unique mineral deposits providing some of the best diamond, gold, platinum ores and other highly valuable mineral resources. Country has interesting impact craters as well as two waterfalls of international scale – the 948 metres high Tugela Falls and the powerful, roaring Augrabies Falls.

The biodiversity of South Africa is unsurpassed in many respects but also very endangered.

5% of country are taken by an unusual phenomenon – Cape Floristic Region – one of six floristic regions of the world and by far the smallest one. This area contains more than 9,000 species of plants, most of them endemic to this small area!

Rich and diverse plant and animal life is met also outside the Cape Floristic Region – beautiful examples are lush and biodiverse subtropical forests of KwaZulu Natal and the incredible concentration of large animals in Kruger National Park and other parks nearby.

Devil's Tooth in Drakensberg Amphitheatre
Devil's Tooth in Drakensberg Amphitheatre / Nick Castle, / CC BY 2.0

Canyons and cliffs

  • Amphitheatre in Drakensberg in KwaZulu Natal is one of the most impressive cliff faces on Earth. This enormous cliff is over 5 kilometres long and 1,220 metres high along its entire length, the highest part of the cliff is 1,830 metres high. 948 metres high Tugela Falls fall over Amphitheatre.
  • Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga belongs to most spectacular canyons of the world. Up to 1,400 metres deep, on average – 800 metres deep and 16 kilometres long. Swadini Buttress is the highest cliff of canyon – some 1000 metres high. Contrary to other largest canyons of the world Blyde River Canyon is covered with lush subtropical forest.

Caves

  • Boesmansgat – Northern Cape. At least 283 metres deep sinkhole, submerged in freshwater.
  • Cango Caves – Western Cape. Most famous tourist caves in South Africa with beautiful limestone formations. Length – 5,320 metres. Traces of ancient human settlement and petroglyphs at the entrance.
  • Sudwala Caves – Mpumalanga. The oldest known caves in the world, formed approximately 240 million years ago. As the inside of the cave is supplied with fresh air from unknown source, used as a shelter since ancient times.
  • Tshatshingo Potholes in Limpopo Province is unusual, 30 metres deep hole where disappears Mutale River, diving out again after some distance.
  • Wonder Cave in Gauteng. One of the most spectacular caves in South Africa, contains enormous cave chamber – 125 metres long and 154 metres wide. Most stalactites and up to 15 metres high stalagmite formations are still growing. Contained remnants of hominids.
Augrabies Falls
Augrabies Falls / Christian Wörtz, Wikipedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-2.5.

Waterfalls

  • Augrabies Falls in Northern Cape province. Here the Orange River falls 56 metres into a deep gorge. During a flood, this becomes one of the most powerful falls in world.
  • Howick Falls in KwaZulu-Natal on Umgeni River are approximately 95 metres high. Falls are special due to local legends of Inkanyamba – a giant serpent-like creature living in the large pool below the falls.
  • Kadishi Waterfall in Mpumalanga. Second highest tufa waterfall in the world, roughly 200 metres high. Tufa falls are created by water which contains much lime and is depositing it along the fall. The fall together with a cliff resembles a weeping face.
  • Tugela Falls in KwaZulu-Natal is the second highest waterfall in world. Total height of falls is 948 metres and the largest single fall is 411 metres tall, river is 15 metres wide.
Spring flowers in Namaqualand
Spring flowers in Namaqualand / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Biotopes

  • Biedouw Valley – Western Cape. Wast meadows, location of abundant spring bloom, covered with millions of colourful flowers.
  • Goegap Nature Reserve - Northern Cape. Some of the most impressive flower carpets in the land of flowers - Namaqualand.
  • Knervslakte – Western Cape. Hilly, arid terrain (48,500 ha), ground covered with quartz gravel. High level of endemism, 266 plant species are found only here. Especially interesting and diverse are the unique stoneplants – tiny succulents up to 10 cm high. Area of unusual beauty during the bloom of succulents.
  • Modjadji Cycad Forest – Limpopo Province. Largest cycad (Encephalartos transvenosus) forest in the world (560 ha), resembles a prehistoric world, area of unusual beauty. Some cycads reach 13 metres height. Closely connected to the history of local, legendary Rain Queens.
  • Orange Kloof – Western Cape. The largest stand of the unique Cape Afromontane forest. Area - approximately 285 ha. Restricted nature protection area. Contains numerous rare and endemic species.
  • Salt River – Western Cape. Isolated river which flows through forests. The brown water contains much tannic acid. In the river are found numerous primitive endemic species of aquatic insects.
  • Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve – Northern Cape. The 1000 hectare reserve is one of the best places to observe the beautiful floral carpets characteristic to Namakwaland. Every year from August to October the area is covered with colourful, mainly orange floral carpet.
  • Table Mountain – Western Cape. Flat-topped mountain surrounded by steep cliffs, approximately 3 kilometres long. Summit plateau is covered with the spectacular Cape fynbos – scrubland with some 2,200 species of plants well representing the smallest floral kingdom of the world – Cape floral kingdom. Numerous endemic species.

Trees

  • Glencoe Baobab, Limpopo Province was the stoutest baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) and possibly the stoutest tree in the world. Before the split of tree in 2009 its diameter was 15.9 m, height 17 m.
  • Sagole Tree, Limpopo Province. Largest baobab in South Africa. Circumference 33.72 m, height 22 m, crown diameter – 38.2 m.
  • Sunland Baobab, Limpopo Province. Enormous baobab with a circumference of 33.6 m. Inside the trunk there is made pub with enough space for 60 people and wine cellar.

Other natural landmarks

  • Lake Fundudzi in Limpopo Province is the only natural inland freshwater lake in South Africa, 15 square kilometres large. Lake is regarded as holy by Venda people and considered to be enchanted. No one can approach the lake without the permission of local authorities. Numerous crocodiles live in the lake.
  • Tswaing crater – Gauteng. Well preserved impact crater made by some 30 – 50 metres large bolid some 220,000 years ago. Astrobleme is 1.13 km in diameter and 100 m deep, the lake on the bottom has been used by people for salt collection over the last 100,000 years.
  • Vredefort crater – Free State Province. One of the largest known meteorite impact craters on Earth, 250 - 300 kilometres wide. The bolide which created it, was over 10 kilometres wide and hit the Earth some 2 billion years ago, creating an area of local volcanism.

Man made landmarks

Architectural monuments

The perplexed history of European settlement in South Africa has left some important, comparatively recent monuments. Especially should be noted some of the most impressive mining shafts of the world, whose depth by a significant margin exceeds any other mines of the world.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Parks and gardens

  • Cheerio Gardens in Limpopo Province contain thousands of azaleas and hundreds of Japanese cherry trees. Bloom of cherry trees in September – early October makes an unforgettable sight.
  • Brenthurst Gardens in Johannesburg, Gauteng are some of the most magnificent private gardens owned by Oppenheimer family. 18 hectares large garden is tended by 45 gardeners.
  • Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden near Cape Town, Western Cape is located in magnificent site at the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Area – 528 ha – includes natural forests and fynbos, in cultivated part only indigenous plants are grown representing the unique and extremely rich plant kingdom of Cape. UNESCO World Heritage monument.
Traditional Ndebele village
Traditional Ndebele village / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Other monuments

  • Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, Western Cape is the oldest European building in South Africa. This impressive star fort was built in 1666 – 1679, replacing an older fort. Extensive restorations have turned the building into magnificent and impressive attraction.
  • Kimberley’s Big Hole in Northern Cape is an enormous hole excavated by miners. This diamond mine was made with picks and showels in 1871 – 1914 and yielded 2,7 tons of diamonds. Initial depth – 240 metres, now partly infilled and flooded with 40 metres deep lake.
  • Mapoch Ndebele Village (Mabhoko) in Gauteng is great example of unique cultural tradition of Ndebele people. They were relocated out of Pretoria in the 1950s and the village started to develop in 1953. Architecturally unusual and visualy pleasing adobe buildings and fences are covered with bright ornametal paintings.
  • Owl House in Eastern Cape. Owner of the house in 1945 – 1976 made her house and garden obsessively decorated. Inner rooms are covered with colourful crushed glass and garden is filled with ghostly, east-facing sculptures of owls, people, camels.
  • Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, Gauteng, is magnificent example of Art Deco style. This tribute to Voortrekkers, people of European descent settling in inner South Africa in the 1830s – 1840s, is built in 1937 – 1949.
  • TauTona in Gauteng is the deepest mine in the world, currently 3,9 kilometres deep. Gold mine in total is some 800 kilometres long and employs some 5,600 miners. Without the air conditioning the temperature in the mine would be 60° C. The bottom of the mine can be reached after 1 hour long descent.

Archaeological monuments

This biologically and geologically diverse country has been a home to interesting cultures. South Africa is rich with some of the oldest known remnants of both modern humans and extinct humanoid species.

In more recent times the unusual, ancient San (Bushmen) culture evolved, leaving behind an extremely rich array of rock art. Bantu people started to develop their first states and trade networks in the north-east of contemporary South Africa sometimes around 1200 AD, building stone walls and houses.

Sites of early humans

  • Border Cave in KwaZulu-Natal contains traces of human settlement over the time period of 200,000 years. Found skeletons of several people, remains of 43 mammal species, including extinct ones. Unique find – 35,000 years old counting tally with 29 notches – possibly a kind of calendar, the oldest of its kind in the world.
  • Kokwane Prehistoric Footprints – Limpopo Province. Unusual solidified footprints of animals and seemingly giant humans. Splashes of solidified rock around the footprints, showing that this is not engraving or result of weathering. Similar sites are nearby.
  • Langebaan Lagoon Footprints – Western Cape. Approximately 117,000 years old human footprints in hardened sand-dune deposits, the oldest known modern human footprints in the world.
  • Sibudu Cave in KwaZulu-Natal is a very important Middle Stone Age site. Found the oldest known bone arrow and needle (both 61,000 years old) and traces of heat treated gluing of stone and wood (72,000 years ago).
  • Sterkfontein in Gauteng is the richest site for early hominids in the world. Found remnants of some 500 hominids, mainly up to 2.3 million years old remnants of Australopithecus africanus. In the site on-going longest continuously running fossil excavations in world, started in 1966. Cave contains lake.
  • Swartkrans – Gauteng. Extremely rich find of archaeological material, especially – remains of hominids, such as Telanthropus capensis, Homo habilis, Paranthropus up to 1.8 – 2 million years old. The oldest known evidence of the use of fire (some 1 million years old) is found here.
Bushman rock art near Perdekop
Bushman rock art, Perdekop Farm / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Rock art

  • Blombos Cave in Western Cape contains the oldest known artwork in the world - at least 70,000 years old engraved pieces of ochre, also 75,000 years old beads of shell.
  • Driekops Eiland – Northern Cape. Important site or rock engravings. Here a cliff, partly inundated by a river, is covered with more than 3,500 engravings, mainly geometric images. The stye of engravings differs from that of nearby rock art sites, what has caused much discussions among specialists and enthusiasts.
  • Eindgoed rock art site – between Upington and Prieska, Northern Cape. 62 petroglyphs, showing animals, paintings, cups.
  • Game Pass Shelter rock art site – KwaZulu Natal. One of the most outstanding Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg petroglyph galleries. Contains drawings of eland – large antelope and people as well as a group of unique drawings – metaphoric depictions of shamanic practices. The site has opened a valuable insight into the ancient culture of San people.
  • Perdekop Farm rock art, Northern and Western Cape. Valuable monument of San art, includes scenes of hunting.
  • Sebaayeni Cave rock art – KwaZulu Natal. This prominent rock art site contains 1,146 individual San (Bushmen) paintings. One of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg rock art galleries – in total there are some 500 sites with approximately 20,000 paintings in area.
  • Wildebeest Kuil – Northern Cape. More than 400 engravings over a sacred hill of local people. Engraved animals, some human figures and symbols, made by San and Khoekhoe people. Engravings are made in several periods and are up to 1800 years old.
Dzata Ruins, South Africa
Dzata Ruins / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Other monuments

  • Adam’s Calendar – Mpumalanga. Possible megalithic stone setting, a group of stone slabs set upright. Cause of much controversy due to pseudoscientific publications.
  • Dzata Ruins - Limpopo Province. Remnants – stone ruins of royal village of Venda Nation, built around 1400 - 1700 AD, culturally important site to Venda people up to this day.
  • Mapungubwe Hill – Limpopo Province. Ruins of abandoned seettlement on the top and at the base of steep-sided hill, precursor to Great Zimbabwe. Remnants of stone walls at the base of the hill. Important cultural centre in 1075 – 1270 AD. Here has been found golden rhino and numerous other gold artefacts – testimony to existence of wealthy kingdom.
  • Sedan Beehive stone huts – Free State. Group of unusual, corbelled stone huts from Iron Age, from the 1600s.
  • Thulamela site – Limpopo Province. Stone walled settlement from 1200 – 1550 AD, descendant of the Great Zimbabwe culture. Gold smelting workshop.

List of described attractions by provinces

South Africa is divided into nine provinces.

Provinces of South Africa

Eastern Cape
Free State
Gauteng
ArrowTswaing craterImpact crater
KwaZulu-Natal
ArrowTugela FallsWaterfalls
Limpopo
ArrowGlencoe BaobabTree
ArrowSagole BaobabTree
ArrowSunland BobabTree
ArrowSwartwater TreeTree
Mpumalanga
North West
Northern Cape
Western Cape

External territories

South Africa has one possession located 1,700 km to the south from the African coast:

Prince Edward Islands

Map of South Africa

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