Cape Town - Forget Cape Town’s Table Mountain, Durban’s warm beaches and Jozi’s culture from Soweto to Sandton.
Sure, all these places, sites and experiences are major in placing Mzansi on the cultural and natural map for must-visit travel destinations, but there’s really more to South Africa than these three cities.
And while we’re super proud of the offerings each of the major cities boast, our Rainbow Nation needs to take celebrating diversity to the next level by exploring more of the country’s lesser-travelled places – Mzansi’s underrated natural wonders and destinations.
From Mpumalanga’s spectacular Panorama Route, to the unique Overberg region of the Western Cape and the lush green hills of KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands, here are some of SA’s underrated wonders you can make a vacation out of over the upcoming long weekend.
Boasting remarkable natural landscapes, Mpumalanga is arguably the country’s most naturally beautiful province, and yet it is given little praise and exposure in comparison to other landmarks in South Africa.
Spectacular waterfalls, vast mountains, world-famous canyons, mind-blowing rock formations, sights and sounds of wildlife, and a mix of cultures can all be explored in Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route, situated in the small town of Graskop.
SEE: #FindYourEscape: Exploring the best of the Panorama Route
A 6-hour drive from Johannesburg, this scenic route is best explored through a casual road trip joining the N12 towards eMalahleni (Witbank) and head for Mbombela (Nelspruit), then come north, or you can also drive via the N4.
With so many detours to make along the way, the drive along the Panorama Route makes for an ultimate long weekend road trip - promising an adventure and one-of-a-kind experience whether you travel solo or with family or friends. A two-night stay is sufficient to see the major sites at each stop along the route.
ALSO SEE: Panorama Route: Exploring 'the place where the sun rises'
Blyde River Canyon, Bourke's Luck Potholes and God’s Window are sites that should be on every South Africans travel bucket-list. Click here for a full travel guide of the route.
Mpumalanga is also known for its Genesis Route, which allows visitors to step back in time and see what the planet would have looked like over 3.5 billion years ago.
The Genesis Route covers an area in the Makhonjwa Mountain Range and is a 220km route that connects the historic town of Barberton, the holiday destination of Badplaas and the agricultural area of Low’s Creek.
SEE: #LoveSA: Adventuring through Mpumalanga's Genesis Route
According to Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), the Route showcases the province’s diverse landscapes and spectacular viewpoints which include rolling Savannah grasslands, rocky mountainous ravines and indigenous forests.
Enjoy heritage walks, paragliding, cycling, nature hikes, cultural experiences and be mesmerised by scenic views.
Check it out:
Eastern Free State
The eastern Free State makes for an adventure getaway for holidaymakers residing in the province and travellers from other provinces looking for a quick escape.
SEE: Extreme exploring the eastern Free State of Adventure: 5 Things to do
With the Drakensberg Mountains, Maluti Mountains and Ash River close by, adventure activities in this terrain include white water river rafting, as well as caving, rock climbing and fossil hunting in the Motoulong or Fertility Cave in the Dihlabeng Rural area.
You can also explore the Golden Gate Highlands National Park on horseback, experience a quad bike safari to see spectacular views of the Golden Gate area and the mighty Maluti Mountains, or try out one of the many hiking trails to discover the unique landscape.
The lush, green hills of the KZN Midlands, basked in crisp air by day and serene mistiness at night, is a place where nature, culture and creativity unite to form a meeting place for local and international visitors.
Forget about the beach when in the interior of this warm province, which boasts everything from cultural crafts and natural wonders, to fine dining and adrenaline-packed activities.
SEE: A Meander through the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands
From zipping through the Canopy Tour at Karkloof, dining amid spectacular waterfalls, or shopping for local handmade leatherwork, furniture, quilts, ceramics or more, the Midlands offers a uniquely relaxing getaway.
The best way to truly discover what Overberg has to offer is through a good ol’ road trip, so travellers can explore off-the grid-spots at their hearts’ content. And when is it better to plan a road trip than over a long weekend?
The Cape’s Overberg region is most renowned for its quirky dorpies, whale-watching spots, shark-cage diving adventures and laid-back lifestyle – but there’s so much more to explore in Overberg’s coastal and inland towns.
SEE: Your ultimate Overberg road trip guide
From fine dining foodie experiences in tranquil mountainous regions and a myriad of activities for adrenaline junkies to feast on, to exploring isolated coastal spots and witnessing many awe-inspiring and selfie-worthy sights, you will get to see a whole new side of the Cape Overberg.
Begin your journey from Cape Town and head south-east for 70 km to reach Elgin where a trip through the Cape Canopy Tour is a must.
WATCH: Overberg must-do activities
Follow this with a stop at Hickory Shack – an eatery that honours the Texas tradition of “dry rub meat” with meals that feed not only your belly, but also your soul. This will fuel your journey through to Hermanus, Stanford, De Kelders, Gansbaai, Struisbaai, Arniston and Swellendam, before heading along the N2 for a 2-hour trip back to Cape Town.
For a full guide to begin your Overberg road trip, click here.
Bursting with a flavourful line-up of offerings, Paarl – the third oldest town in SA and among the largest towns in the Cape Winelands – makes an ideal family getaway for a weekend.
And if time is not on your side, then even a day-trip in Paarl will allow you to take in the sights, sounds and flavours of this quaint town.
SEE: #WinterEscape: Experience the flavours of Paarl
While the mountains of Paarl make for spectacular “Insta-worthy” pics, indulging your tastebuds in the many flavours of this town is the order of the day.
Try out small local restaurants boasting big flavour, such as Kikka - which is a family-owned coffee shop and well-known florist in Main Street with a menu fit for both the health-conscious eater and those who prefer more indulgent meals. Here, you can also shop for fresh flowers following a hearty meal.
Alternatively, you can spend a few hours tasting a variety of wines at Pearl Mountain Wines, try cheese and wine pairings at Fairview goat farm, or a variety of food and drink options at the Spice Route, including craft beer tasting, chocolate tasting and gourmet burgers.