Avoid the Crowds - Alternate South African Destinations for an Early 2021 Getaway
We often dream of holidays on a deserted island, a wooded forest with sparkling clear streams or on a mountaintop with endless views. Today these dreams are becoming a reality as we learn that social distancing is not only the safe way to travel but also a desirable alternative to our previous frenetic lifestyle.
While Covid-19 remains prevalent, we need to concentrate on making the best of the ‘new normal’. This is our opportunity to be introspective and recreate travel dreams that comply with the basic rules which have been applied to keep us safe.
Airlines, car rental agencies, taxis and hotels have all embraced the new protocols for travel to ensure that their services and their staff all conform with the new rules and the new traveller is encouraged not only to abide by the rules but to also point out safety lapses when they occur.
All that is left is for you to start planning your next holiday. Blow away the cobwebs of 2020 and relish in the beauty of our wonderful country – all the while adhering to social distancing, sanitizing and wearing masks.
Here are some suggestions for relaxing South African destinations off the beaten track, and out in nature:
Route 62 Western Cape
With beaches currently closed, this is the time to fulfil that promise to take a drive along Route 62 in the Western Cape – our very own Route 66 of the USA, and just as interesting. The starting point in the west is Montagu and you could not find a more charming town on the edge of the Little Karoo.
Spend a night or two here and then cheat a little by turning off the 62 to sleepy Bonnievale and historic Swellendam with its delicately restored buildings. The town is a hive of activity with serious eateries, galleries and craft shops. The magnificent Tradouw Pass will get you back on the 62 and wildlife enthusiasts can stop over at luxurious Sanbona Wildlife Reserve with its famous white lions.
Now head for Calitzdorp, but do not be shy to stop over for a snack at famous Ronnie’s Sex Shop en route, what started out as a prank is now a Route 62 icon. Calitzdorp is the port capital of South Africa and there is much to see and do including the Calitzdorp Spa with natural warm springs. The 62 ends in Oudtshoorn with its feather palaces and the famous Cango Caves and the Safari Ostrich Farm.
Cape West Coast
The West Coast is great for a slow meander without a specific plan – rather about finding local gems as you go.
If you prefer a more structured trip, then these old favorites that never fail to deliver: Churchhaven and Langebaan in the West Coast National Park; Darling, made famous by Evita Bezuidenhout; Paternoster with its white-washed cottages on the beach; St Helena Bay where you may see dolphins and Southern Right Wales; Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel in the magnificent Riebeek Valley which is home to olive festival and quaint markets selling olives and fresh local produce; Ceres where you can hike in the Watervalberg Nature Reserve; Tulbagh, renowned for its well preserved Cape Dutch buildings; and lastly the historic Baines Kloof pass on your way to Cape Town, which is little changed since it was built in 1854.
The Drakensberg is far more than just the well-known Central Drakensberg around Winterton. This area is easily reached by car from Gauteng, the Free State and KZN and is well served by superb hotels and resorts. Here you can choose from 5-star luxury hotels to more modest family chalets but for all holiday makers the views are spectacular.
There are activities to suit all ages including hiking (various degrees of difficulty to choose from), horse-riding, quad-biking, swimming, fishing and golf. Family resorts like Little Switzerland, Cathedral Peak Hotel and Aha Alpine Heath Resort cater for families and have daily entertainment programs for all ages.
On the Free State side of the ‘Berg’ Clarens is the best place for accommodation with many activities in the area including visits to the Golden Gate National Park and also excellent golfing.
The less well-known Southern Drakensberg has access to the famous and grueling Sani Pass and the quaint towns of Himeville and Underberg. This area is well supplied with excellent golf courses and the natural beauty of the area demands closer inspection.
Mpumalanga is largely a mountainous province with many scenic drives. It is of course also home to the world famous Kruger National Park. Should you wish to avoid restaurants, the chalets are equipped for self-catering and there are braai facilities for you to create your personal boma with complimentary night-time animal calls.
While you are in the area it is well worth travelling the aptly named Panorama Route which includes some of the most scenic parts of the province. Start in the north at the Blyde River Canyon with dramatic views into the valleys below. There is a great photo-op from a large protruding rock overlooking the so-called three rondavels, but not for the faint hearted. The route also takes in Bourkes Luck Potholes - a sculptural erosion in the river, God’s Window with panoramic views and the quaint town of Sabie and Graskop. The latter is home to the new gorge lift which takes you down to walks on the valley floor. Pilgrims Rest is a carefully restored mining town which has retained its rustic feel and you can even go panning for gold.
These suggested itineraries should keep you both safe and entertained. Call Thompsons for accommodation packages including the Kruger National Park or you might want to splash out at one of the private game reserves in the area.