South Africa’s Hidden Gems as discovered by bloggers

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We asked South Africa’s most influential bloggers to name their favourite hidden gems from across South Africa, ranging from iconic nature reserves to sleepy little towns, you can choose your own. Bear in mind, these off-the-beaten-track places won’t stay a secret for long…

We would love to hear about your hidden gems so feel free to leave a comment.

Recommended by Dawn Jorgensen – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Darling in the Western Cape

The Darling of the Swartberg is found an hour drive from North of Cape Town. Darling is a quaint and progressive village, home to a famous Evita Se Perron theatre, Darling Brew’s craft beers, a few art galleries, book shops, restaurants, museums, inspiring community projects and walking trails into the surrounding nature known for its wild flowers. You won’t want to leave.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credits/ @ashleygladwell
credits/ @ashleygladwell

Pongola Game Reserve in Northern KwaZulu Natal

Pongola Game Reserve in Northern KwaZulu Natal is where I fell in love with elephants. Located alongside Lake Jozini and surrounded by the Lebombo Mountains, the reserve is home to the gorgeous White Elephant Lodge. Offering safari drives, sunset cruises and elephant monitoring activities, it’s also home to the Space for Elephants program- a program responsible for reintroducing orphan elephants into the reserve.

Nearest Airport: Durban

credits/whiteelephant.co.za
credits/whiteelephant.co.za

Matjiesfontein, along the N1

Set 2,5 hours north of Cape Town on the N1 highway that joins the Cape and Johannesburg, Matjiesfontein is  more of a hamlet than a town. Home to a hotel that will make you feel like you stepped back in time, a railway station and number of fascinating museums, this is a must visit if you’re in the area. I visit every year, each time making a new discovery. Walk out to the hill (koppie) across the tracks where 10000+ English soldiers were stationed during the Anglo Boer War.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credits/ @mstickling
credits/ @mstickling

Recommended by Kim Gray – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Akasha Mountain Retreat

My favourite hidden gem! If it’s out of this world scenery and a little R&R you’re looking for, you can’t beat Akasha Mountain retreat. It will revive your soul. The beautiful courtyard-entertainment area will have you feel like you’re sitting in Morocco! Wild horses roam the farm where birds and wildlife abound among pristine fynbos. Chris & Elena are the most gracious hosts too! See Kim’s pics from Akasha Mountain here.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credit/akasharetreat.co.za
credit/akasharetreat.co.za

Gelukkie in Paternoster

If you’re looking for an intimate wedding/party venue – Gelukkie in Paternoster is the place. A short drive from the beach and town centre, you will feel instantly relaxed and secluded in a mini sanctuary. Banquet under the stars in an enclosed private cortyard.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

@kimgrayza
credits/ @kimgrayza

Recommended by Sarah Khan – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Mo & Rose in Robertson

Mo & Rose is an absolutely stunning sanctuary, with chic contemporary design and lovely views over a cactus garden.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

@dietenk
credits/ @dietenk

Le Petit Karoo Ranch in Oudtshoorn

Le Petit Karoo Ranch is a quirky little place to stay in Oudtshoorn, a collection of lovely tented suites with outdoor baths, set high atop a hill with spectacular Karoo views.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credits/ @BySarahKhan from southafrikhan.com
credits/ @BySarahKhan from southafrikhan.com

The Owl House in Nieu Bethesda

The Owl House in Nieu Bethesda is just a completely otherworldly place, straight out of a surrealist painting — the kind of place that has to be seen to really be believed.

Nearest Airport: East London

credits/ @simonemunnik
credits/ @simonemunnik

Recommended by Andrew Brauteseth – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Sedgefield

The Garden Route is a favourite drive for South Africans and international visitors and Plettenberg Bay and Kysna are some of its most picturesque destinations. One of my favourite stops along the way is Sedgefield. It’s surrounded by dense natural forests and meandering beaches dotted with some of the coastline’s most epic surf spots.

Nearest Airport: George

credits/ @sophiedonya
credits/ @sophiedonya

Elgin Valley

Elgin Valley is one of the most under-marketed wine areas of the Western Cape. It hosts some of South Africa’s award winning wine estates, adrenaline-inducing mountain bike tracks and remote getaway cabins which are all tucked away in a natural paradise. With the valley being slightly less polished than nearby Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, it retains a rustic farm community charm.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credits/lothianvineyards.com

credits/lothianvineyards.com

McGregor

McGregor feels like it’s built on rose-quartz. Something about arriving in this town just makes you feel good. Amongst heritage buildings and a local history percolating with myth and spook stories you’ll find a donkey sanctuary and a restful escape.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credits/ @dreamerpieces
credits/ @dreamerpieces

Recommended Sarah Duff – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Northern Kruger

The northern section of Kruger is the least-visited part of the park – most people prefer the south for its accessibility and wildlife density. The north, on the other hand, may have less big game, but it contains three quarters of the park’s diversity in just 1% of its area. What you’ll find are an amazing variety of birds, trees and plants, herds of elephant and buffalo, as well as beautiful landscapes – valleys of giant baobabs, fever tree forests and dramatic gorges – all without the crowds.  

Nearest Airport: Skukuza

Girrafe

Northern Cape

Our biggest and least populated province is also our most underrated. If you love big open spaces, spectacular desert landscapes, night skies awash with stars and carpets of wildflowers in spring, the Northern Cape should be on your list. I love it for the barren beauty of the Richtersveld, canoeing on the Orange River and a wonderful guest farm called Papkuilsfontein near Nieuwoudtville, which is all about Karoo hospitality at its best.

Nearest Airport: Upington

credits/ @cederseun
credits/ @cederseun

Recommended by Melanie Van Zyl – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Leshiba Wilderness, Soutpansberg 

There are plenty of accommodation options at this incredible spot of lush bushveld beauty. You can hike and bike around the gorgeous mountainous property and the Soutpansberg area is a biodiversity hotspot, home to more tree species – 350 species of flora – than any other ecosystem in South Africa, including Kruger. It’s also a spiritual spot, home to the Venda culture. It is an absolute sanctuary. Read more about Soutpansberg.

Nearest Airport: Johannesburg

South Africa's Hidden Gems as recommended by bloggers 4
credits/melanievanzyl.com

Papkuilsfontein, Northern Cape

The wide open spaces of the sparse Karoo never fail to stir my soul and the authentic farm feel of Papkuilsfontein is incredible. There are several self-catering options on the farm, but do yourself a favour and order the home-cooked karoo feast and eat it by a candle light, it makes for a getaway you’ll remember and recommend to everyone.

Nearest Airport: Upington

Landscape at Skilpad through the mist from the Korhaan Trail

Sable Hide, Kruger National Park 

Come nightfall, this bird hide can be rented as a wild, off-the-grid bush camp with no electricity or luxuries. Elephants are known to slurp from the water just metres away from the hide and you’ll be sure to hear hyaenas howling as you tuck in for the night.

Nearest Airport: Skukuza

Herd of elephants playing in a river

Recommended by Beatrice Chan – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Franschhoek

For the sophisticated and discerning travellers with a love of good food and wine, Franschhoek is the place to visit. Nestled in a valley, surrounded by spectacular mountains, the region is rich with wine estates and some of the finest cuisine for the pleasure of your palate. It’s no wonder top chefs and exquisite hotels abound there. I love Franschhoek because it provides me with a relaxing atmosphere and much beauty for my eyes. I always leave feeling invigorated, refreshed and inspired. It naturally teaches you how to slow down and enjoy the finer things in life. Choose to spend your time there tasting wine or MCC, olive oil, cheese or take in the scenery at a picnic spot on any of the beautifully manicured lawns of the wine farms.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credits/ @charlton_b
credits/ @charlton_b

Swellendam

Swellendam is a picturesque town, ideal to experience country life at its best. Part of the Overberg region, it lies at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains and is conveniently located to other quaint towns and villages. I love Swellendam for its rich heritage, culture and the sense of community that is almost palpable among the locals. The locals are so friendly and welcoming. There is a variety of excellent accommodation as well as good restaurants, including the award-winning 16-seater Italian restaurant “La Sosta”.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credits/ @lily_vanillie
credits/ @lily_vanillie

Plettenberg Bay

Originally named as “Bahia Formosa” by the early Portuguese explorers, Plettenberg Bay is not to be missed while driving along the Garden Route of South Africa. It is a very small town and yet, there’s so much you can do and experience there! There are many activities one can do ranging from water sports, fishing, the Elephant Sanctuary, bird-watching, wine tasting and polo. Home to beautiful beaches and lagoons, its mild climate makes it great to visit year-round.

Nearest Airport: Plettenberg Bay

credits/ @pedrogallinamadera
credits/ @pedrogallinamadera

Recommended by Vaughan and Lauren Manuel McShane – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Bulungula

A truly surreal off-the-grid spot along the Wild Coast. The journey over hills and through dirt roads far from the main highway is so worth it even if you don’t have a 4×4. You’ll stay in a hut overlooking the meeting of a river with the ocean, enjoy freshly-made pancakes on the beach at sunrise and savour the sun setting over the hills as farmers herd their sheep and cattle home.

Nearest Airport: East London

South Africa's Hidden Gems as recommended by bloggers 1
credits/ @simon_lotz

Hogsback

While Hogsback is not hidden, it is beautifully tucked away within the Amatola Mountains and blanketed with dense forest and more waterfalls than you can count. Go mountain biking on trails through the evergreen, stand atop waterfalls and hike in one of the greenest places in South Africa.

Nearest Airport: East London

credits/ @rebbyjaymay
credits/ @rebbyjaymay

The Beach Camp, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve

Everyone goes to Paternoster, but not many people know about the gem that lies close by with the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve. Unplug in A-Frame tents right on the beach and spend your nights stargazing beside the fire and your mornings walking right out into the cool ocean. There’s no electricity but gas-heated showers. Pure bliss up SA’s West Coast.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town

credit/ beachcamp.co.za
credit/ beachcamp.co.za

Recommended by Anje Rautenbach – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

De Hoop

To visit De Hoop is to go off the beaten path of the N2; it’s a place where you can immerse yourself in nature, get active, relax and have a digital detox…all at the same time. PS: It’s a hotspot for whale-watching.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town, George

credits/ dehoopcollection.com
credits/ dehoopcollection.com

Gamtoos

The whole Gamtoos Valley is quite underrated with all of its natural beauty, history and Khoi San culture. Nothing beats a Gamtoos sunset and a walk on a beach where there is basically no one in sight.

Nearest Airport: Port Elizabeth

South Africa's Hidden Gems as discovered by bloggers 4

Bethulie

Bethulie is one of those small towns in the Free State that will surprise you in the most unexpected way – once you’ve experienced a sunset on the DH Steyn Bridge you’ll return again and again. Bethulie also boast history, amazing talented local poets and singers and nature-based activities.

Nearest Airport: Bloemfontein

South Africa's Hidden Gems as discovered by bloggers 5

Recommended Colleen Blaine – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Kaapsche Hoop – Mpumulanga

This tiny little Highveld escarpment town is the perfect place for a long weekend. Full of charming paved roads, leafy avenues and broekie-lace stoeps, it has that “yet to be discovered feel about it”. There is a focus on eco and nature related activities with numerous hikes and horse trails; but a handful of delightful eateries and plenty of accommodation options make it a great little getaway destination. If anything just go and eat pancakes all weekend.

Nearest Airport: Nelspruit

credits/ @apienaar1989
credits/ @apienaar1989

Breede River Valley – Western Cape

While already a fairly well-known and visited area, famous for wine tasting, I have included it in my list of hidden gems for this year purely because it has become one of South Africa’s premier and award winning olive oil producing regions and deserved to be visited again and again. Aside from the magnificent scenery along the Breede River, towns such as Worcester, McGregor, Montagu and Robertson all play host to some of South Africa’s leading olive oil producers such as Rio Largo, Olyfberg and Willow Creek. It is also South Africa’s leading race horse breeding area.

Nearest Airport: Cape Town, George

credits/ @ebenreaper
credits/ @ebenreaper

Karoo National Park – Western Cape

This often under-rated national park deserves a lot more attention than it gets. It has an award-winning campsite (think seriously luscious grass and broad shady trees), uninterrupted scenery, plenty of wildlife (yes some of the big 5) and a few gorgeous Karoo koppies that you can hike up and spend a few hours gazing out over the endless views. Can’t think of anything more I’d want from a nature reserve.

Nearest Airport: George

credits/ @livewithwillie
credits/ @livewithwillie

Recommended by Meruschka Govender – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Wild Coast

Visit the Wild Coast for it’s scenic beauty, rugged cliffs, quiet beaches, warm people and Xhosa culture. It’s an off the beaten track destination, where time goes slowly. My favourite place to unwind is Bulungula Lodge, a small eco lodge in a remote rvillage. It’s simple, yet lovely. The lodge is community own, there’s no cellphone signal so it’s the perfect place for a digital detox. There’s spectacular hiking in this area – one of my favourite hikes is the 2-day Coffee Bay Bulungula hike passing ‘Hole in Wall’, a rocky archway made up of shale and sandstone – an iconic site not to be missed! 

Nearest Airport: Margate

credits/ holeinthewall.co.za
credits/ holeinthewall.co.za

The Karoo

Visit the Karoo for it’s arty small towns, big open landscapes, starry nights and artisanal country cuisine. My favourite small towns in South Africa are here – Nieu Bethesda, Graaff Reinet and Prince Albert. Nieu Bethesda is an arty little town, famed for it’s fossil exploration centre and the Owl House, a quirky museum dedicated to the life of artist Helen Martins and it’s fossil park. Athol Fugard, one of the world’s greatest living playwrights, has a home here and two of his best know plays are set in this quirky little town. Graaf Reniet is a charming historical town within easy access to the magnificent Camdeboo National Park. Don’t leave the Karoo without feasting on it’s amazing lamb! Visit Prince Albert for it’s food – this is the Check out the weekly Saturday farmer’s market and pick up delicious olives,  preserves and organic fruit or take a Karoo cooking course at African Relish.. At the musuem you can sample witblitz, a South African ‘moonshine’ made from grapes! 

Nearest Airport: Cape TownGeorge

South African Tourism, Karoo Windmill via Flickr CC BY 2.0
South African Tourism, Karoo Windmill via Flickr CC BY 2.0

What are your favourite Hidden Gems in South Africa?

South Africa’s Hidden Gems as discovered by bloggers was last modified: March 9th, 2016 by Yanis Zisis
Author: Yanis Zisis (1 posts)

eCommerce specialist with a travel addiction to weekend breaks and beach destinations.