11 Underrated Things to Do in South Africa If You Hate Safaris

Blyde River Canyon | Courtesy South African Tourism
Blyde River Canyon | Courtesy South African Tourism
There’s more to the country of South Africa than epic safaris. In fact, there are some truly remarkable attractions that even locals overlook. Most visitors head to one of the country’s famous game reserves, such as the Kruger National Park, up Table Mountain, along the Garden Route, to the Cradle of Humankind and to the V&A Waterfront. But there’s a lot more of the country to explore, even if you hate the idea of bouncing around a nature reserve in the back of an open vehicle. Whether it’s your first visit or your fifth, here are some of the most underrated things to do.

Explore One of South Africa’s Last Unspoilt Wilderness Areas

This World Heritage Site is where several important biomes meet, making it one of the most beautiful, and underrated, natural regions of South Africa. Baviaanskloof, Afrikaans for ‘valley of baboons’, is a narrow valley inland in the province of the Eastern Cape. Baviaanskloof may technically be a nature reserve, but that’s where the similarity to your traditional safari ends. Most who’ve travelled to this unique corner of the continent don’t do so to sip gin and tonics on the back of safari vehicles; they come here for the sheer unspoilt natural beauty and unique flora and to quell their unending sense of adventure. There are hikes, 4×4, motorcycle and mountain bike trails, rock paintings, and a scenic beauty unlike anywhere else in South Africa.

Baviaanskloof Courtesy South African Tourism

Bask in the Stark Beauty of Augrabies Falls

Augrabies Falls might feel as if they’re in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly their appeal. Situated in the sparsely populated province of the Northern Cape, many people overlook this unique attraction for more accessible alternatives. But those who’ve made the drive out here will tell you that it’s a unique region that deserves your attention. The waterfall itself is impressive: during the high season it has a flow rate greater than that of Niagara Falls. But it’s the stark, isolated natural beauty, the intoxicating dry heat and the sheer power of the Orange River in full flow that makes it a memorable experience.

Augrabies Falls Courtesy of South African Tourism

Take in the Views at the Valley of a Thousand Hills

Many who travel to the South African province of Kwazulu Natal head straight for Durban and its nearby coastal towns. But if it’s underrated attractions you’re after, head inland to the evocatively named Valley of a Thousand Hills. Though not exactly a hidden gem, this incredible location, named for its mountainous terrain, often falls off rushed itineraries for bigger-name attractions. The rolling hills are incredibly picturesque, there are several high-quality restaurants and accommodation options, it’s a culturally significant region for South Africa and its Zulu population and it’s a fantastic self-drive option.

Fly fishing in KwaZulu-Natal Courtesy of South African Tourism

See the Most Dramatic Mountain Range in South Africa

Though there are certainly regions of the Drakensberg that draw large tourist numbers, this vast mountain range also has areas that are ripe for exploration if you’re looking to get off the grid a bit. The Drakensberg stretches for more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) and acts as a natural border with neighbouring Lesotho. There are accommodation options to suit all needs and budgets in strategic locations throughout.

Drakensburg Mountains Courtesy of South African Tourism

Experience the Drakensberg’s Little Brother

If the Drakensberg is too mainstream for you, but you still want a dose of amazing South African mountains, head to the less-explored Wolkberg. This mountain range in the province of Limpopo is part of the greater Drakensberg system, and offers incredible views and plenty of adventure activities, with only a fraction of the tourist traffic.

Walk South Africa’s Most Unspoilt Coastline

That the Wild Coast is South Africa’s most spectacular scenic coastline is hardly a secret anymore. And yet, given its proximity and difficult access, many local and international travellers overlook it for the more obvious shorelines. But within seconds of arriving almost anywhere along the Transkei coastline you’ll be wondering why this isn’t near the top of every must-see list in the world, let alone South Africa. Rolling green hills, punctuated by huts, define the interior, and cows are often the only company you’ll have on the unpopulated and unspoilt beaches.

The Wild Coast Courtesy of South African Tourism

Bask in the Isolation of Small-Town Karoo

There’s no single town in the vast Karoo region of South Africa that’s necessarily better than the others. The sheer diversity and uniqueness of several towns, combined with the stark natural beauty between them, makes this prime road-tripping country. Regular favourites include Prince Albert, Graaff-Reinet and Nieu Bethesda, and each has its own quirks and appeal; but part of the charm of this drive is stumbling across an all-but-abandoned one-horse town.

Valley of Desolation outside Graaf-Reinet Courtesy of South African Tourism

Head into Apple Country

It’s true that the Elgin Valley is one of the most beautiful regions in South Africa’s Western Cape. There’s all the scenery you could wish for, hemmed in by dramatic mountains, small towns offering up craft beer, niche wineries, coffee shops and restaurants that could keep you absorbed for days on end. It’s also reinventing itself as an adventure sports hub, with mountain biking, hiking and trail running routes, and even an epic mountainside zip-line course. But it’s when you bite into a freshly picked apple from one of the many fertile valleys in Elgin that you remember that the simple things in life are often the best.

Ziplining in Elgin © Shawn Ugulu

Stand on the Edge of the Third-Largest Canyon in the World

The Blyde River Canyon may slowly be gaining popularity in local and international travel markets, but it’s remarkable that such an incredible natural feature hasn’t been at the top of must-do lists for dozens of years. It’s the third-largest canyon of its type in the world, and its sheer scale and dramatic beauty will leave an indefinable impression. If you’re up for an adventure you can embark on hikes in and around the canyon, but it’s equally spectacular as a brief stopover.

Blyde River Canyon Courtesy South African Tourism

Eat the Freshest Seafood Along the Sedate West Coast

If you are averse to physical activity and your idea of the good life involves oysters and champagne, then point your car in the direction of the often-underrated Cape West Coast. Many towns, such as Paternoster, have become veritable foodie heavens, with world-class restaurants set before remarkable panoramic ocean views. Seafood dominates the west coast, thanks to its fertile waters, but it’s the combination of this with the region’s tranquil charm and beauty that makes it a special destination to visit.

Paternoster Courtesy of South African Tourism

Sample World-Class Wines at Rock-Bottom Prices

It’s hard to overstate South Africa’s wine making prowess. Though a quick visit to a local winery is a regular addition to many tourists’ itineraries, the internationally celebrated wine, and the dramatic beauty of most estates, have many wishing they’d allocated more time to the attraction. Towns such as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are well known and worth a visit; the Robertson, Swartland and Elgin regions are often less explored for their wines, but are no less impressive.

Cape Winelands Courtesy of South African Tourism