For many travellers – even those who might not have been there – South Africa feels reassuringly familiar, like an old friend we have long known. Yet it is far from ordinary. To understand it better, and to look beyond the favourites of Cape Town and Kruger, we spoke to South African-born Greg Fox of UK tour operator Mahlatini Luxury Travel
With a host of game reserves throughout the country and a spectacular coastline, bordered by both the Atlantic and Indian oceans, it is very easy to combine beach and bush in South Africa. One of our favourites is in KwaZulu-Natal – where you can follow a Big 5 Zululand safari at Phinda Game Reserve with a secluded break on the lush Elephant Coast.
Bordering Mozambique, the area offers coastal dune forest, remote and unspoilt beaches, and world-class diving, kayaking and snorkelling in the Maputaland Marine Reserve. Thonga Beach Lodge is the perfect luxury eco-retreat where, from November to March, you can have the privilege of watching endangered baby turtles hatching.
Here, you really will feel like you have your own piece of South Africa to explore.
Aside from the Cape, which region would you recommend as a must-see?
KwaZulu-Natal must receive a mention here, not least because its seemingly endless summer allows visitors to enjoy the sand, sea and surf of the Indian Ocean beaches year-round. It’s an eclectic region – a ‘world-in-one-province’– offering the spectacular mountain ranges of the Drakensberg, the buzzing seaport city of Durban, the fascinating Anglo-Zulu and Boer War battlefields, protected marine reserves and Big 5 safaris. Culturally diverse, KwaZulu-Natal is the home of the proud Zulu nation, with flavours of Britain and India thrown into the mix.
What are the main advantages of visiting South Africa?
Mahlatini has arranged holidays to South Africa for nearly 20 years and the feedback we continually receive on the country is that it is wonderfully friendly, cost-effective and offers first-world facilities and excellent infrastructure – making it stress-free to travel around, despite its size.
How easy is it to travel to some of SA’s more remote places?
Very! South Africa has an excellent road network, with signage in English. While many visitors self-drive, there are also multiple tours and transfers for those who prefer not to. Several airlines fly to numerous domestic airports across the country, making it very easy to explore as much of the country as you like.
Where’s your favourite ‘secret gem’?
Tswalu Kalahari, in the Northern Cape, comes to mind. The largest private game reserve in South Africa, it is a magnificent expanse of pristine wilderness, spanning more than 100,000 hectares. With only 30 guests at any one time, you are assured absolute privacy and the chance to have the Kalahari all to yourself.
The Kalahari is not a true desert, as such. It comprises dusty plains interspersed by grassland and vegetation, capable of supporting a wider variety of species, such as white rhino, zebra, red hartebeest, the distinctive black-maned Kalahari lion and spotted and rare brown hyena.
You can explore Tswalu with your own personal ranger and tracker – either by Land Rover, on horseback or on foot – and luxuriate in the privacy and exclusivity of the accommodation with dramatic and expansive views.
What makes South Africa such an attractive destination?
I think it is the country’s melting pot of cultures and its rich history. The Rainbow Nation offers an authentic interaction with modern, urban African culture in its major cities, as well as a host of other cultural experiences, from rural tribespeople in Zululand to the Cape Malays in Cape Town.
Of course, South Africa should be on everyone’s bucket list for being one of the most diverse holiday destinations on the planet: offering Big 5 safaris, jaw-dropping scenery and endless adventure activities. And did I mention the climate? South Africa averages up to nine hours of sunshine a day, regardless of season.
Best value for money? Chitwa Chitwa, Sabi Sands Game Reserve
Best game reserve? Sabi Sands (staying at andBeyond Tengile River Lodge)
Best sense of freedom? Tswalu Kalahari
Best mountain getaway? Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse
Best self-drive route? Route 62 between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn
Best of something different? Jazz Safari, Cape Town, with Coffeebeans Routes
Best way to indulge? Cape Winelands Helicopter Tour with Explore Sideways
Best food market? Oranjezicht City Farm Market Day, Grainger Bay
Best walking escape? Table Mountain National Park
Best big adventure? Cape Peninsula Wet & Wild Adventure with Escape+Explore