What to do this summer in the 9 off-the-KeDezemba-grid cities of SA

2018-10-15 06:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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An old tram and the colonial buildings of the old

Kimberley is just one of off-the-keDezemba-grid cities you can take a sho't left to. (Photo: iStock)

Not everyone can go to Cape Town or Durban for the December holidays.

Some have to go to less glamorous cities to fulfil certain familial duties, while others are gripped by the panic of not having booked anywhere happening so late in the year.

You could even end up in a nowhere city on your way to somewhere more happening.

SEE: Budget alternatives for expensive cities: Trade Paris for Madrid and Greece for the West Coast

But what is there to do in these off-the-keDezemba grid cities? They may not have Table Mountain or the warm seas of Durban or the banging club scene of Joburg, but they still have some fun up their sleeves. Another upside is that it'll be cheaper and less crowded, and you'll up your Instagram game with lesser-known places that isn't a silhouette shot from on top of Lion's Head.

Each of South Africa's provinces has an off-the-grid city ready to surprise you, even if you end up there unwillingly.

Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal

KZN National Botanical Gardens: The beautiful and tranquil KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden specialises in the conservation of plants from the eastern region of South Africa and of rare and endangered species from elsewhere. One of the most spectacular features of the gardens is the avenue of London Plane trees, which form a breathtaking and romantic canopy over a leafy walkway.

African Bird of Prey Sanctuary: Here falconers enthral visitors with aerial displays of raptors, eagles and kites. The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates birds of prey, as well as run a Bearded Vulture Breeding Programme where discarded eggs in the wild are hatched and raised in captivity and released back into the wild when the chicks reach maturity. 

KZN Museum: This museum boasts a number of unique collections including natural and cultural history galleries, as well as a life-size T-Rex model. There are exhibitions dedicated to KZN history, geological and Paleontological material, a reconstruction of a Victorian street set in the late 1800's, and you can walk through a recreation of a Drakensberg cave with rock art drawings.

SEE: Quick guide to Madiba’s long walk to freedom: A day trek around KZN

East London, Eastern Cape

East London Urban Cultural Experience: The ELUCE package includes a range of activities and services hosted by nine, mostly black-owned businesses, fostering and boosting the city's tourism industry as well as its local businesses and entrepreneurs.  The tour includes art experiences, go-karting and sampling local food among other unique activities.

Gonubie Beach: Gonubie beach not only has a wonderful boardwalk that provides fantastic views across the sea, but the river mouth provides hours of beachcombing, man-made tidal pools and abundant vegetation.

East London Museum: East London Museum, established in 1921, is one of the most fascinating natural history museums in the country. The star attraction here is the coelacanth, a fish with limb-like fins that was believed to have become extinct more than 80 million years ago until it was caught in the Chalumna River, near East London, in 1938.

SEE: #ItsMySouthAfrica: Weave your way through East London's new tourism route 

Kimberley, Northern Cape

Kimberley Mine Museum: Although Museums have the reputation of being stuffy, the recreation of Victorian life at the Kimberley Mine Museum is really quite extraordinary. If you want to get a sense for the people that once lived here, the Belgravia historic walk stops at 33 places where the "opulent lifestyle of days gone past" are reflected and divulged.

Ghost Tour: Kimberley is quite an old city, and with it comes many a ghost story. The Kimberley Ghost Tour creeps to spooky spots like the Honoured Dead Memorial, dedicated to the British that lost their lives during the Anglo Boer War; the historic Africana library where a librarian's ghost roams the halls, and the Kimberley Club, where a couple of ghosts have made their eternal home.

The Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre: If you want to go even further back in time go on a visit to this community project which looks after over 200 rock art images. The site is surrounded by land owned by !Xun and Khwe San people and is a truly immersive experience where you can connect with an ancient past.

SEE: SA Road Trips Mapped: Highlights of the Karoo Highlands Route 

Mbombela (Nelspruit), Mpumalanga

Lowveld National Botanical Garden: What makes these gardens particularly spectacular besides its enchanting African rainforest and massive collection of Cycads, is the fact that both the Crocodile and the Nels River rush through them. Before these two rivers converge in the garden, they form spectacular waterfalls which can be viewed at the Cascades and the Nels viewpoints.

Sudwala Caves: As the oldest known caves in the world, it has amazing chambers with giant stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones that formed over 3000 years ago. Accessible to young and old, a one hour tour takes you on a 600-metre return trip 150 metres underground. The more adventurous can try the 4-hour crystal tour which takes you 2 000 metres into the cave to a crystal chamber with sparkling aragonite crystals.

Dinosaur Park: Take the kids! Even if you don't have the kids with you, head on over to check out the life-sized models of a variety of prehistoric animals like dinosaurs, amphibious reptiles, mammals and prehistoric man. It's right next to the Sudwala Caves, so you can do both attractions in one go.

SEE: #LoveSA: The best itinerary additions in Mpumalanga 

Vereeniging, Gauteng

Vaal River: This river is a tributary of the Orange River and runs into the Vaal Dam a little way outside of Vereeniging. You can explore its waters on a variety of cruises, including a restaurant cruise where you can enjoy lunch or dinner on the smooth waters. 

Vaal Teknorama Museum: This museum covers both pre- and modern history, exhibiting artefacts from the Stone Age, the region's industrial development, stories from the South African War and the Liberation Struggle including the signing of the new South African Constitution in 1996.

Sharpeville Memorial: Here we remember those that fell in the deadly 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, one of the darkest events in our history. You can reflect on the past at the memorial, or take a township tour organised by Vaal Teknorama Museum to learn more about the Pass Book resistance.

SEE: Vaal River luxury: Create your own Winelands escape in Gauteng this winter

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Down by the riverside!

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Paarl, Western Cape

Winelands exploring: Surrounded by wine farms, Paarl has a bounty of wine tasting destinations to hop through, as well as craft gin distilleries and its famous KWV brandy tasting room - perfect for trying out a variety of flavours.

Taal Monument: The Taal Monument looks at celebrating the Afrikaans language and the languages that it was rooted from. The entire monument comprises of pillars and structures that symbolise one of the root languages for Afrikaans.

Paarl Rock: One of the oldest settlements in South Africa was named after its pearl-like granite koppies - smooth rock hills with no vegetation growth. They make for a unique hiking experience, and if you're feeling even braver you can try your hand at rock climbing up Paarl Rock.

SEE: #DiscoveringPaarl: A day in the Winelands

Potchefstroom, North West

Sebrines Flea Market: This market takes place every Saturday where you can find some lekker homemade goods and plaas fresh produce for the kitchen. There are also second-hand gear and other bric-and-brac including art and furniture if you're looking for bargains.

Boskop Dam Nature Reserve: If you're looking to throw a line and kick back a few beers, the Boskop Dam is a popular angling and birding spot, with 250 recorded species and many antelope that roam around the dam. There's also camping facilities if you feel like staying outside of Potch.

Totius House Museum: Totius was a famous Afrikaans poet and theologian from the turn of the 20th century and responsible for the translation of the Bible and Psalms into Afrikaans. This museum was once his home from 1905 to 1924, furnished by his family's donated furniture and has a revolving bookcase where you can get some lyrical inspiration.

SEE: Road tripping for the hops: Craft breweries of North West 

Bloemfontein, Free State

Women's Monument: This is the first monument in the world dedicated to women and children. It was unveiled on 16 December 1913, and today still represents the incredible saying, ‘Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo', which means 'to strike a woman is to strike a rock'. 

Naval Hill and Franklin Game Reserve: You know those panoramic pics sweeping over the Bloemfontein horizon, with our Father of the Nation Nelson Mandela overlooking the view? That's Franklin Game Reserve in Bloem, and you simply have to see it for yourself. The best bet is to lace up your hiking shoes and take the road to the top with your feet, to get an up-close view of the giraffes and ostriches on your way up. 

Oliewenhuis Art Museum: This museum houses a permanent, uniquely South African art collection, complemented by regular temporary exhibitions by local artists. It also has a restaurant to enjoy a quick bite and coffee. The Museum is located in one of the most magnificent gardens in the city - a large section of the property comprises natural vegetation bordering on the Museum grounds.

SEE: A Day in the City of Roses: 10 Things to love about Bloem

Polokwane, Limpopo

Polokwane Game Reserve: Being a city doesn't mean you have to miss out on nature. There are 21 species of game roaming its grasslands and open savannah, like the white rhino, giraffes and other antelope. You can either take a self-guided drive through its bush or you can discover the reserve on horseback or by guided walking trails.

Meropa Casino: Where the rich and famous South Africans come to play, this Moroccan-themed entertainment centre is filled with concerts, fine dining, go-karting and a cultural village showcasing African life, dance and history. 

Bakone Malapa Open-air Museum: Learn more about the heritage of the Bakone people, a sub-group of the Northern Sotho. The museum is built in the style of a pre-colonial Sotho homestead around archaeological sites with ancient artefacts and rock paintings from around 1000 BC.

SEE: #MadeFromAfrica: Meet the face of Amarula in the Limpopo bush 

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