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South Africa Overview


This country is still getting over many years of upheaval due to apartheid but is gradually becoming a major tourist hot spot. Dominated by Table Mountain, Cape Town, is the southernmost city of the continent of South Africa.

The Western Cape is situated on the southwestern tip of the African continent. It is a region of majestic mountains, well-watered valleys, wide, sandy beaches and breathtaking scenery.

The cold Atlantic Ocean along the west coast is a rich fishing area, while the warmer Indian Ocean skirts its southern beaches.

Visitors to the Western Cape can disembark at Cape Town International Airport or at the Port of Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain. A network of roads also leads to Cape Town, the capital, also known as the Mother City.

Other important towns in the province include Vredenburg-Saldanha, an important harbour for iron exports and the fishing industry; Worcester and Stellenbosch in the heart of the winelands; George, renowned for indigenous timber and vegetable produce; Oudtshoorn, known for its ostrich products and the world-famous Cango Caves; and Beaufort West on the dry, sheep-farming plains of the Great Karoo.

The Western Cape boasts one of the six accepted floral kingdoms of the world. Although the smallest of them all, the Western Cape Floral Kingdom, locally called fynbos, contains more plant species than the whole of Europe. These include the world-famous protea and heather.

The Knysna-Tsitsikamma region has the country's biggest indigenous forests. This is a fairyland of age-old forest giants, ferns and colourful birdlife. Products of the forests include furniture made from the indigenous yellowwood, stinkwood and white pear, and these are sought-after pieces.

The tourism sector is perceived as the most important growth force in the Western Cape.

More than four million people live in the Western Cape on 129 386 km2 of land. The majority of them are Afrikaans-speaking, while the other main languages are English and isiXhosa. The Western Cape has the highest adult education level in the country, with only 6,7% of people aged 20 years or older having undergone no schooling. The province has a strong network of higher educational institutions, including three universities, two technikons and many other training institutions.


South Africa is rich in wildlife and minerals, the country has some of the best game reserves anywhere in Africa. The Western Cape is rich in agriculture and fisheries.

The sheltered valleys between the mountains provide ideal conditions for the cultivation of top-grade fruits, such as apples, table grapes, olives, peaches and oranges. In the eastern part of the Western Cape region, a great variety of vegetables is cultivated.

The province can be divided into three climatic regions. The area around the Cape Peninsula and the Boland, further inland, is a winter-rainfall region with sunny, dry summers.

Towards George, along the south coast, the climate gradually changes to year-round rainfall, while inland, towards the more arid Great Karoo, the climate changes to summer rainfall.

The Western Cape is known as one of the world's finest grape-growing regions. Many of its wines have received the highest accolades at international shows. The Klein Karoo region around Oudtshoorn, besides being famous for its Cango Caves, is the centre of the ostrich-farming industry in South Africa. Fine leatherware, ostrich feathers and meat are exported from here to destinations all over the world. The Swartland district around Malmesbury and the Overberg at Caledon is the bread basket of the country.

The inland Karoo region around Beaufort West and the Bredasdorp district produce wool and mutton, as well as pedigree merino breeding stock.

Other animal products include broiler chickens, eggs, dairy products, beef and pork, while racehorse-breeding is another important industry.

The west coast of the province is washed by the cold Benguela Current. The plankton-rich current is considered to be one of the world's richest fishing grounds. This resource is protected against over-fishing by foreign vessels by means of a 200-km commercial fishing zone and a strict quota system.

It is for the exclusive utilisation of local inhabitants, and creates jobs for about 27 000 people who are directly dependent on the fishing industry.

The province is well known for its wide variety of seafoods offered at restaurants dotted along the scenic coastline. Snoek, Cape lobster, abalone, calamari, octopus, oysters and mussels are among the most sought-after piscatorial delights.

The head offices of all but one of South Africa's petroleum companies are located in Cape Town.

The city also houses the head offices of many of South Africa's insurance giants and national retail chains. With over 170 000 people employed in the clothing and textile industry, it is the single most significant industrial source of employment in the Western Cape.

The biggest segment of South Africa's printing and publishing industry is also situated in Cape Town.

The official unemployment figure for the province, 13,7%, is substantially lower than that of most other parts of the country.

While Epping, Parow, Retreat and Montagu Gardens have been the core industrial areas in the past, new developments are arising in the Saldanha-Vredenburg area, as a spin-off from the vast Saldanha Steel project.

The West Coast Investment Initiative, which forms part of the Government's spatial development initiative (SDI) programme, was launched on 25 February 1998.


The eastern cape is where you will find the capital, Johannesburg, and most of the industrial areas, especially the famous gold and diamond mines. The Eastern Cape, a land of undulating hills, endless sweeps of sandy beaches, majestic mountain ranges and emerald green forests, is in surface the second largest of the nine provinces.

The region boasts a remarkable natural diversity, ranging from the dry desolate Great Karoo to the lush forests of the Wild Coast and the Keiskamma Valley, the fertile Langkloof, renowned for its rich apple harvests, and the mountainous southern Drakensberg region at Elliot.

The main feature of the Eastern Cape is its astonishing coastline lapped by the Indian Ocean. With its long stretches of undisturbed sandy beaches, rocky coves, secluded lagoons and towering cliffs, the coastline provides the province with a rich natural tourist attraction.

The graceful curve of Algoa Bay provides an ideal setting for the Port of Port Elizabeth while there are also good harbour facilities at East London. The province is serviced by three airports situated at Port Elizabeth, East London and Umtata.

The architecture of many of the cities and towns reflects the rich heritage of the people.

The capital is Bisho. Other important towns in the province include Uitenhage, which has important motor vehicle-manufacturing and related industries; King William's Town, rich in early settler and military history; Grahamstown, also known as the City of Saints because of its more than 40 churches; Graaff-Reinet, with its interesting collection of historic buildings; Cradock, the hub of the Central Karoo; Stutterheim, the forestry centre of the province; Aliwal North, famous for its hot sulphur springs; and Port St Johns, the largest town on the Wild Coast.

In the Eastern Cape, various floral habitats meet. Along the coast, the northern tropical forests intermingle with the more temperate woods of the south. This makes for an interesting forest habitat of various species endemic to this region alone.

Age-old forests occur at Keiskammahoek, Dwesa, Port St Johns and Bathurst; dune forests are found at Alexandria; and mangroves along the Wild Coast.

Rolling grasslands dominate the eastern interior of the province, while the western central plateau is savanna bushveld. The northern inland is home to the aromatic Karoo succulent bush.

With its almost seven million people, the Eastern Cape has the third-largest provincial population, living on about 169 600 km2 of land.

The language spoken by most is isiXhosa, followed by Afrikaans and English.

The province has five universities, three technikons and 20 technical colleges. Despite the high quality of educational facilities, 20,9% of those aged 20 years or older have never received any schooling, while 4,7% have completed some form of higher education.


Farming and timber are the main agricultural industries in this area. The Eastern Cape has excellent agricultural and forestry potential. The fertile Langkloof valley in the southwest has enormous deciduous fruit orchards, while the Karoo interior is an important sheep-farming area. Angora wool is also produced.

The Alexandria-Grahamstown area produces pineapples, chicory and dairy products, while coffee and tea are cultivated at Magwa. People in the former Transkei region are dependent on cattle, maize and sorghum farming.

Extensive exotic forestry plantations in the high rainfall areas of Keiskammahoek provide employment for large numbers of the population. The province is a summer-rainfall region with high rainfall along the coast, but becoming gradually drier behind the mountain ranges into the Great Karoo.

The Eastern Cape fishing industry generates about R200 million a year. The basis of the fishing industry is squid, some recreational and commercial fishing for line fish, some collecting of marine resources, and access to line catches of hake.

The metropolitan economies of Port Elizabeth and East London are based primarily on manufacturing, the most important being motor manufacturing.

The province contributes approximately R30 billion to national GDP and is widely regarded as having the potential to substantially increase this contribution as South Africa moves towards an export-led industrial strategy.

With two harbours and three airports offering direct flights to the main centres, and an excellent road and rail infrastructure, the province has been earmarked as a priority for growth and economic development.

To facilitate integrated planning sensitive to the environment, the province is implementing a consultative process involving community participation. It includes the Fish River SDI and the Wild Coast SDI, and two industrial development zones (IDZs), namely the West Bank (East London) IDZ and the Coega IDZ. The latter, 20 km east of the Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage metropole, was the first IDZ to be earmarked and is one of the biggest initiatives ever undertaken in South Africa. Plans for the development of the area as an export-orientated zone include the building of a deepwater port.

The Eastern Cape offers travellers unrivalled beauty and experiences beyond their wildest dreams. Below is a list of MUST SEE highlights and icon sites.

No matter which experience you choose, make sure you get to see the following:

Nelson Mandela Museum
Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, at the Museum's opening.The museum was officially opened on the 11th of February 2000, at a function to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the release from prison of Mr Mandela in 1990.

Addo Elephant Park
Situated 73km from Port Elizabeth in South Africa's Eastern Cape, the conservation success story of this park is world famous.


Valley of Desolation
The Valley of Desolation is the product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over 100 million years.Just a few kilometres north-west of Graaf-Reinet lies the Valley of Desolation. A steep and narrow road leads into the mountains that surround the valley.

Grahamstown National Arts Festival
Come to Grahamstown and enjoy South Africa's largest Arts Festival. Africa's largest and most colourful cultural event offers a choice of the very best of both indigenous and imported talent. (See What's Related - National Arts Festival for more details)

Hole in the wall
Near Coffee Bay is a prominent rock formation with a big hole in the middle, which has become a symbol for the Xhosa of a great historical tragedy, the "Great Cattle Killing".
It is a unique structure with a huge detached cliff that has a giant opening carved through its centre by the waves. The local Xhosa call this place "izi Khaleni", which means "place of thunder".

Tsitsikamma National Park
The Tsitsikamma National Park is also known as "the place of much water". Where the booming breakers of the Indian Ocean relentlessly pound rocky shores, where temperate high forest and fynbos roll down to the sea in an unspoilt verdant carpet, where ancient rivers carve their paths to the ocean down rocky ravines…this, "the place of much water", is the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Highest Bungee Jump in the world
Bungeeeeeeeeeeee! Bloukranz adrenalin rush! Throw yourself off the world's biggest bungee jump located at Bloukrans Bridge on Storms River, in South Africa's Eastern Cape. A 180m freefall that takes seven seconds traveling at 193kmph - even the rebound is higher than the Victoria Falls.

Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area
The Baviaanskloof or the "Valley of Baboons" is rapidly assuming national conservation and heritage prominence.The Baviaanskloof is a wilderness area situated on the eastern border of the Cape Floral Kingdom, some two and a half hour's drive from Port Elizabeth.

The Owl House
Explore the "Camel Yard" and enter a magical world at the Owl House. The owl house, in Nieu-Bethesda just outside Graaf-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, was where Helen Martins, or "Miss Helen" as she was known to the locals, spent the latter part of her life in the house where she was born. Regarded as an eccentric and deeply interested in Eastern philosophy, she lived a hermit-like existence, devoting her life to her beloved Owl statues, and "the search for light and brightness".

Jeffreys Bay - Supertubes
Experience the perfect wave in J-bay.
Probably South Africa's longest and most consistently good wave. It's ordained by ocean deities as a mecca for surf and began in the late 60s and early 70s as a hippie hangout from whence came the surf dynasties: Rip Curl, Billabong, Country Feeling and so forth.

Snow Skiing
Hit the slopes at Tiffendell - the only ski resort in South Africa! Imagine snow skiing and snow boarding in Africa! Well now you can - at Tiffendels, the only ski resort in South Africa! Tiffindell ski resort is situated in the Southern Drakensberg on the slopes of the highest mountain peak in the Eastern Cape (3001m).The resort was started in 1994 with basic small accommodation, a rough road and few facilities, offering exciting snow fun in SA.

The Eastern Cape offers 800km of untouched and pristine coastline along with some of the world's best beaches. Port Elizabeth alone has 40 km of magnificent beaches and, with its perfect combination of warm water, calm sea and fair breezes, it is one of the best sailing venues in the world, and a Mecca for all beach and Watersports enthusiasts.

The Southern Beaches offer safe and sheltered swimming, body surfing, sunbathing, boardsailing, excellent waves and surfing opportunities as well as interesting inter-tidal sealife, while the Northern Beaches offer vast stretches of sand and dunes ideal for long beach walks and superb angling and swimming opportunities.

The beaches include King's Beach, Humewood Beach, Hobie Beach, Pollock Beach, Brighton Beach, Bluewater Bay, St George's Strand and Wells Estate.

Humewood Beach is linked to Happy Valley - a walk through garden with landscaped lawns, lily ponds and trickling fresh-water rivers.
On the south side of the city Schoenmakerskop - a picturesque seaside village - offers scenic picnic spots, coves, rock pools and holiday resorts with safe bathing and fishing in tidal pools.

A little further along is Sardinia Bay, a Marine Reserve with miles of unspoilt coast-line and crystal clear water - excellent for diving, horse riding and scenic walks and hikes.

The Swartkops River Estuary is a unique Watersports playground - ideal for power boating, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and angling. King's Beach, Hobie Beach, Brighton Beach and Wells Estate also offer other entertainment options for the entire family.

Malaria Free Big 5 Game Viewing
Visitors get up close and personal with some Rhino without the risk of Malaria.

When coming to Africa many tourists are weary of getting Malaria - and rightfully so. Now you can rest easy…view the "Big Five" in a malaria free environment!

The Eastern Cape boasts the most concentrated elephant reserve in Africa. Home to a herd of 300 elephants, the 'Addo Elephant National Park' allows close quarter viewing.

Whether at the exclusive Shamwari Game Reserve, the large Addo Elephant Park or the Mountain Zebra National Parks, the East Cape offers unequalled game viewing in conditions suited to the traveler.

Further north, along the Eastern Cape's east cost, we find the Wild Coast untamed and beautiful, this is the perfect holiday destination.


Fishing and tourism work side by side in this area of coastline. Fishing more than anything else, draws holiday-makers to the Wild Coast. In summer, catches include huge reef fish such as musselcracker. In autumn, the annual sardine run brings fighting game fish. Totally unspoilt and uncommercialised, the Wild Coast offers a pleasant climate, mild seas and family resorts where fresh seafood features on most menus.

Southern right whales and their calves are regularly spotted from the high dunes, usually between May and November, and common and bottlenose dolphins are often seen close to shore, providing a wonderful treat for people who want more from the sea than food. Coffee Bay is easily accessible from the N2 and is popular among surfers, anglers and shell collectors. The lagoon offers safe bathing.


The northern cape is a diverse landscape, with arrid desert, fast flowing rivers and fertile agricultural land. The Northern Cape province lies to the south of its most important asset, the mighty Orange River, which provides the basis for a healthy agriculture industry. The landscape is characterised by vast arid plains with outcroppings of haphazard rock piles. The cold Atlantic Ocean forms the western boundary.

This region covers the largest area of all the provinces and has the smallest population. The major airports are situated at Kimberley, the capital, and Upington. The Northern Cape is serviced by an excellent road network, which makes its interior easily accessible from South Africa's major cities, harbours and airports.

Important towns are Upington, centre of the karakul sheep and dried fruit industries, and the most northerly wine-making region in South Africa; Springbok in the heart of the Namaqualand spring-flower country; Kuruman founded by the missionary Moffat; De Aar, hub of the South African railway network; Sutherland, the coldest town in the country; and the sheep-farming towns of Carnarvon, Colesberg, Kenhardt and Prieska.

Apart from a narrow strip of winter-rainfall area along the coast, the Northern Cape is a semi-arid region with little rainfall in summer. The weather conditions are extreme ­ cold and frosty in winter, and extremely high temperatures in summer.

The largest part of the province falls within the Nama-Karoo biome with a vegetation of low shrubland and grass, and trees limited to water courses. The area is known world-wide for its spectacular display of spring flowers which, for a short period every year, attracts thousands of tourists.

This biome is home to many wonderful plant species, such as the elephant's foot (halfmens), tree aloe (kokerboom) and a variety of succulents.

The province has several national parks and conservation areas. The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, together with the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, is Africa's first transfrontier game park, known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is one of the largest nature conservation areas in southern Africa, and one of the largest remaining protected natural ecosystems in the world.

The Park provides unfenced access to a variety of game between South Africa, and Botswana and has a surface area of more than two million hectare (ha).

Nowhere is the Orange River more impressive than at the Augrabies Falls, which ranks among the world's greatest cataracts on a major river. The Augrabies Falls National Park was established to preserve this natural wonder.

The people
The Northern Cape is sparsely populated and houses some 873 000 people on 361 830 km2 of land. About 69% of the people speak Afrikaans. Other languages spoken are Setswana, isiXhosa and English.

The last remaining true San (Bushman) people live in the Kalahari area of the Northern Cape. The whole area, especially along the Orange and Vaal rivers, is rich in San rock engravings. A good collection can be seen at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley. The province is also rich in fossils.

Agriculture and industry
The province shares the rich Benguela Current with the Western Cape, but in the past did not derive great benefit from this marine resource. In 1998, however, the provincial government started encouraging the development of and investment in the marine industry.

The Government and stakeholders have united to form an association aimed at promoting mariculture and fishing development projects, in an attempt to alleviate the widespread poverty of communities along the coast.

The economy of a large part of the Northern Cape, the interior Karoo, depends on sheep-farming, while the karakul pelt industry is one of the most important in the Gordonia district of Upington.

The province has fertile agricultural land. In the Orange River Valley, especially at Upington, Kakamas and Keimoes, grapes and fruit are intensively cultivated. Wheat, fruit, peanuts, maize and cotton are produced at the Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme near Warrenton.


The Northern Cape is rich in minerals. The country's chief diamond pipes are found in the Kimberley district. In 1888, the diamond industry was formally established with the creation of De Beers Consolidated Mines. Alluvial diamonds are also extracted from the beaches and sea between Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth.

The Sishen Mine near Kathu is the biggest source of iron ore in South Africa, and the copper mine at Okiep is one of the oldest mines in the country. Copper is also mined at Springbok and Aggenys. The province is also rich in asbestos, manganese, fluorspar, semi-precious stones and marble.

Tourist safety
Though the Northern Cape is a "safe" haven for tourists, we urge you to take the same precautions you would in any other city or town. Avoid the unnecessary display of valuables and do not walk in deserted places or go out alone at night.

Every spring, wild flowers burst out of the Northern Cape's arid earth. To find out where the best displays are on any given spring day, telephone MTN Flowerline 083 910 1028 or (027) 712 2011.

Most banks are open Mon-Fri 09h00-15h30 & Sat 09h00-11hoo. Autobanks are found in bigger towns.

Petrol (Gas)
Though widely available in most towns, we recommend filling up before travelling long distances. On major routes and in bigger towns, petrol stations are open day and night.

Kimberley has air and rail links with most major South African cities. The airport is eight kilometres out of town and there is no bus shuttle into or out of town. Major car hire companies, however, have rental kiosks at the airport. Taxi services are also available on request. Tel: (053) 861 4015 and Rikkis Taxi: Tel: 0833422533.

The capital city's railway station is in Florence Street, close to the city centre. The luxurious Blue Train travels from Pretoria to Cape Town via Johannesburg and Kimberley, where passengers can board or disembark. The Kimberley Tram Service - a vintage tram dating to the turn of the century, carries passengers from the City Hall to the Mine Museum from 09h00-16h00 daily. Tickets are sold on the tram. Tel: (053) 832 7298.
Upington also has air links with all major cities in South Africa.

The Weather
A sun for all seasons
Though we live in a semi-desert, don't let it fool you into thinking we have no plantlife. The western areas of the Northern Cape, including Namaqualand, a small section of the Green Kalahari and Calvinia, Niewoudtville and Loeriesfontein in the Hantam Karoo fall into the rainfall area, ie April-Sept. Sharing the same climate as Namaqualand, it's not surprising these two subregions will give you breathtakingly beautiful and flamboyantly explosive displays of wild flowers during spring (July-November). Not to be outshone by floral splendour, the eastern summer rainfall areas unleash majestic, rolling thunderstorms. Booming across the wide plains, they threaten to shred the sky's dark curtain, their mighty bolts of lightning mercilessly stabbing the innocent earth. Fading swiftly, they melt back into a quiet, cobalt sky.

The Northern Cape's weather is typical of desert and semi-desert areas. We live in a large, dry region of fluctuating temperatures and varying topographies. Our scant annual rainfall (50-400mm) is unreliable and very much lower than evaporation and, in January, afternoon temperatures are usually between 33-40º Celsius.

In 1939, at Goodhouse on the Orange River, an all-time high of 47.8º Celsiuswas recorded! Though somewhat unusual, summer temperatures do sometimes top the 40º Celsius mark. Winter days are warm - the onset of night bringing dew and frost to supplement our low rainfall. Sutherland, in the Hantam Karoo, is one of the coldest towns in southern Africa. Its average minimum is -6º Celsius! In winter, snow often blankets its surrounding mountains. In general, though, take it that you'll enjoy hot summer days, warm company and chilly nights.


South Africa has some amazing natural wonders, incredible architecture, beautiful wildlife and a warm people. There are many hotels and lodges from where you can take everything from a city break to a full safari. Travel links into the country are excellent and the public transport is clean and efficient.

This country is largely still unexplored and is a perfect place for anyone with a sense of adventure.

(some text courtesy of the SA Tourism Board)