Meditate in Bali, ski in Switzerland, dive the Great Barrier Reef, hike the Inca Trail, witness the Northern Lights, explore ancient castles and see the Great Pyramid of Giza are some of the most popular destinations when it comes to bucket lists.
And it is easy to understand why it is so popular; some of these destinations hold the ultimate idea of rest and relaxation, Indiana Jones and nature within its name.
But have you ever considered how many non-South Africans have South Africa on their bucket lists? Have you ever considered how fortunate we are as South Africans to have a world of destinations, adventure and wonder wrapped up within our 1.22 million km²?
Mountains, nature, wonders, historic sites, ethical tourism, beaches, animals, night life, shops, open spaces, secluded spots, luxurious lodges, adventure and the list can go on and on.
I mean, geez.
How many more times can Cape Town be voted as the best city in the world? And can South Africa – and its cities, attractions and establishments - seriously squeeze in any more global titles where the words ‘best’, ‘top’ and ‘most’ are used?
Of course we can. We are over achievers.
So South Africans, tell me, is South Africa on your bucket list?
And if not, why not?
Forget about using all your savings, flight tickets, layovers, exchange rates and finding utopia and bliss in another country, because we have it all right here. We really do and we should count our lucky stars that we get to call this place home.
7 South African experiences to put on your bucket list:
Let’s forget about the top things to in South Africa for a moment; let’s forget about Table Mountain (I’m sure the Joburgers will be happy about that), let’s forget about Kruger National Park, the Cango Caves, bungee jumping at Bloukrans, Robben Island, wine-tasting, the waves at Jeffreys Bay and let’s dig into some other once-in-a-lifetime activities South Africa has to offer.
1. Paddle the Orange River
If you are after an exhilarating adventure in one of South Africa’s most striking areas, the Kalahari, then gear up and get ready to row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. The majority of tour operators offer 4-day canoe trips (no rafting experience necessary) on the Orange River over several rapids, through sandstone cliffs, gorges and majestic landscapes as you explore during the day and sleep under the stars at night and admire the glittery view. There are various starting points for this adventure (depending on which operator you are using) and a 4-day adventure usually includes all meals, equipment and a team of guides at a cost of more or less R4000 per person. If you are an avid fisherman, you might want to take a rod, die vis loop.
2. Road trip the Panorama Route
The Panorama Route is a stretch of postcard-perfect-picture upon postcard-perfect–picture. The Lowveld roads wind through spectacular views, impressive waterfalls and a dramatic terrain along the Mpumalanga escarpment and most visitors consider Graskop and a stop at Harrie’s Pancakes as the gateway to the Panorama Route.
Close to Graskop, there is also Hazyview where you can enjoy an array of adventure activities such as river rafting and abseiling. Between Graskop and the impressive Blyde River Canyon you’ll find the Berlin Falls and Lisbon Falls, but then there is also the Mac Mac Falls and for a picnic and quick swim in the cold mountain water you can stop at the Mac Mac Pools.
Be wowed by an almighty view from God’s Window and stop at the Bourke’s Luck Potholes that were formed over many years by swirling whirlpools. The Blyde River Canyon and its three Rondawels are probably one of the biggest highlights of the Panorama Route – and South Africa - in terms of scenery. If you want to take a step back in time, visit the old gold-mining town in Pilgrim’s Rest.
SEE: #FindYourEscape: Exploring the best of the Panorama Route
3. Go on a Meerkat Safari
Did you know that there is more to Oudtshoorn than just ostriches?
Devey Glinister, the meerkat whisperer from Meerkat Adventures has been studying and researching these wild creatures for nearly a decade and offer ethical meerkat safaris; no touching, no sudden movements and no loud sounds. Just before the sun rises, you grab a cup of coffee and rusks and walk into the veld with a camping chair under your arm; and then the waiting begins.
But before you know it the sun lifts its head and one meerkat after the other start crawling out of their burrows to get some sunshine on their bellies to start their day. It is a tour that takes anything from 2-3 hours (R600 per person) and it grants you the opportunity to be in the moment with these incredible creatures and to take incredible golden hour photos of meerkat.
SEE: #KarooSecrets: A long-weekend in Oudtshoorn
4. Hike the Otter Trail
The Otter Trail is South Africa’s most famous (and oldest) hiking trail and avid hikers are queuing to get their spot as bookings open a year in advance; and if they don’t queue, they get a spot thanks to a last minute cancellation. But what is it about this hiking trail that draws people day in and day out to its starting point with blister-free feet, 18 kg backpacks and quick-and-easy noodle meals? The rugged coastline, Tsitsikamma forest, serenity and sense of accomplishments are just some of the draw cards.
And, as the Otter Trail celebrates 50 years of existence in 2018 – and a 100% booking rate – it is definitely something to experience and if you get the opportunity, you better grab it with both hands and get those hiking boots on before someone else beats you to the starting point. The Otter Trail is a 4-night, 5-day trail with a distance of 45 km, it costs R1220 per person, plus a daily conservation fee of R54 (waived if you have a Wild Card). Just keep in mind that this is not a slackpacking trail, if you want to drink wine at night, you have to carry it yourself.
SEE: Is the Otter Trail really worth the year-long waiting list?
5. Feel the burn, the AfrikaBurn (and 4 other festivals)
Afrikaburn is South Africa's answer to the United States’ Burning Man Festival and it takes place in the Tankwa Karoo over a period of seven days. And while this might not be your typical grandmother’s cup of tea, the festival is a creative explosion of art, music and different personalities and it is a decommodified zone as it works on a gifting system where festival-goers bring something to share as a gift.
You can only buy ice, the rest is up to you. Whatever you’ll need during your stay – from tents to drinks – you need to bring with you and take home with you again (trash included). And if you want to shower, best you bring some extra water.
AfrikaBurn is scheduled for 23-29 April 2018 and general sales tickets are R1 645.
Other popular festivals to check out in South Africa include Oppikoppi in August in Limpopo, Rocking the Daisies in October in Darling, Mieliepop in March in Mpumalanga and Splashy Fen in April in KwaZulu Natal.
6. Go to Hell into Gamkaskloof
There’s only one place in the world where you can say “I’m going to hell” with a smile on your face and that’s in the region of the Swartberg Mountains, close to Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert.
Gamkaskloof – fondly known as ‘Die Hel’ – is a narrow isolated valley that has become a rite of passage for off-road enthusiasts; whether you are doing it on two wheels or four wheels. The 37km road will take more than 2 hours to complete (that’s if you show some compassion towards your tyres) and it snakes down through rugged mountain scenery and hairpin bend after hairpin bend before it ends in Gamkaskloof where you’ll find no signal, no electricity, no ATMs, no petrol pumps and no modern day amenities. If you’ve been looking for a digital detox for 2018, this place is your answer. It is recommended to stay over at least for one night (there are camping sites as well as cottages and a restaurant). Conservation fee is R40 per adult and R20 per child.
SEE: 6 Spectacular slackpacking trails in SA
7. Listen at Golden Gate Classics
Golden Gate Highlands National Park is known for its incredible scenery and for creating a bit of magic during sunset when the sun casts its golden glow against the sandstone cliffs. Now imagine the view, imagine the colours, imagine the Brandwag rock in all its glory against the backdrop of an orchestra and some of South Africa’s top classical voices. SANParks hosted its first FNB Golden Classics from 8-10 December 2017 at Golden Gate Highlands National Park; the first night the audience enjoyed a touch of jazz thanks to the voices of Timothy Moloi and Gloria Bosman – accompanied by the Jazz Trio at the Basotho Cultural Village – and the headline event saw the performance of the Free State Symphony Orchestra, Given Nkosi, Kelebogile Besong and conductor, Kultwano Masote. Even the Maluti Mountains were moved during the performances.
South African National Parks showcased that there is more to the parks than just the big five and Fundisile Mketeni, CEO of SANParks said, "We are about the environment, we are about the landscapes, we are about culture, we are about the people".
The date for the 2018 FNB Golden Classics is not yet confirmed but keep an eye out for this incredible outdoor event. There are various tickets options (some inclusive of accommodation) and dinner is served during the performances. And if you’re wondering what to get up to during the day you can always visit the quaint town of Clarens, walk around the shops, go beer tasting at the brewery or hike to the top of the Brandwag Rock.
So South Africans, tell me, is South Africa on your bucket list?
What about the flower season along the West Coast, or getting off the beaten path on the Wild Coast, going cheetah tracking in Mountain Zebra National Park, exploring Kgalagadi National Park, hopping on a boat to go whale-watching, going to one of our many markets, or events or galleries or theatres or music festivals? What about exploring Johannesburg instead of just passing through?
What about going glamping, going on day trips or visiting the Big Hole, sleeping in a houseboat, watching the Nama Riel, going to our provincial parks or the Sterkfontein Caves. What about South Africa? What about 1.22 million km²?
If South Africa is not on your bucket list, I have a lamb choppie bone to pick you.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- #AfriTravel: SA passport ranks 3rd strongest in Africa but slips in global power
- Remember your paddle for Up the Creek
- Airbnb hosts more likely to reject guests with disabilities - study