Autumn is around the corner for South Africa. With millions of tourists who have already booked their flight tickets home and the school holidays slowly winding-down, you can imagine the magnitude of the flood of people clearing out from the touristic areas like Cape Town, Garden Route, and Kruger National Park. But as a local, the Autumn air breathes a fresh opportunity to take the time out to explore some of the lesser-known regions of South Africa. If you are not a fan of the hustle and bustle, this is the perfect time to escape to the countryside. Whether you are planning to go on a road trip or seeking a nearby weekend getaway, these towns should definitely be on your list
Nieu-Bethesda is quite frankly an excellent location for a writer’s retreat. This is perhaps why it has been the hometown of two distinguished famous South African artists: Sculptor Helen Martens and playwright Athol Fugard. The former of the two has turned her house into a museum of life-sized sculptures before killing herself. The famous Owl House not only features these delicate artworks but also the tragic story of Helen Martens. Yet, the town is not limited to these. From its informative fossil museum to its lovely galleries and second-hand bookshops, Nieu-Bethesda is surprisingly eventful for such a small town in the Great Karoo.
Only 33 km outside of Cape Town lays a town so small that it only consists of 8 streets. This rural gem was built in 1860 by farmers who couldn’t afford to go to the churches in Cape Town. Ever since its establishment, it hasn’t quite expanded and doesn’t offer a major attraction. This is perhaps why you will have all the time to yourself to explore its lovely coffee and souvenir shops and historic buildings. One shop we would recommend is the magic mineral shop selling gemstones and crystals with therapeutic properties.
Vanrhynsdorp, like any other town South Africa’s West Coast District, is overlooked by tourists. Not only it serves as a central location to explore the district, but it also has a handful of surprises to offer. If you are into gardening, you must visit the two succulent nurseries Kokerboom and Ou Tronk & Knechtsvlakte Kwekery. The latter one is solid proof of how an old jail can be turned to something productive and lively. Then, make your way to the Latsky Radio Museum to see one of the largest old radio collections in the world. While you are there, go a bit further off the track and take the R27 towards Van Rhyns Pass to see the spectacular views of the vast expands of Namaqualand. Last but not least, don’t forget to have a traditional lunch at Baghdad Café, the only sign of life on the remote R27.
When you see Hamburg on South Africa’s map, you will probably think it’s a typo. In fact, this small town between East London and Port Alfred was indeed a settlement for German farmers who were brought here by the British. Once you reach the coast at the end of the gravel road, you will understand why they preferred to settle here. This coastal town is ideal for bird-watching and fishing along the Keiskamma River. Hamburg’s friendly people are just as worth appreciation, as you will find community projects for children’s education as well as coffee shops with handmade coffee. Since it’s summertime, don’t hesitate to take a dip into the refreshing waters of the Indian Ocean.
If you are a bookworm, you must have heard of Richmond – a.k.a “Booktown”. Richmond is not technically off the track because it lies right in the midpoint of N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Yet, so many people drive past without knowing what they are missing out. From its annual book festival Boekbedonnerd to its streets packed with quaint bookshops, Richmond lives up to its name perfectly. However, Richmond is not only about books. The town is literally an open art museum thanks to its Victorian-style houses and the Modern Art Project that placed artworks and murals on the streets. Another noteworthy sight is the Horse Museum, one of the only two in the world.
Western Cape has plenty of historic towns, but Matjiesfontein takes it to another level. The importance of this small town in South Africa’s history should not be underestimated. Not only it was founded as a railway checkpoint between Cape Town and the diamond mines in Kimberly, but it also witnessed important events. The first international cricket game in South Africa is one of many examples. Strolling on the streets of Matjiesfontein and visiting the museums, you will find out more about its history that involves important figures like the Queen and author Olive Schreiner. Just outside the town, Witteberg Nature Reserve is open to hikers of all fitness levels.
Regarded as the jewel of the Free State, Clarens deserves a top-spot on your South Africa bucket list for many reasons. The major attraction here is the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, where you will see the most unique sandstone formations like the one in the shape of a giant mushroom. The town itself teems with history and culture. It is particularly interesting due to the dinosaur fossils dating back to 200 million years ago. Besides, farm-style cuisine can be experienced in every restaurant, while the local breweries will provide you with South Africa’s best beer.
- COFFEE BAY
Although Hole in the Wall – an extraordinary natural arch on the Wild Coast – is one of the most desirable tourist destinations in South Africa, it is quite challenging to access. The area was not called the Wild Coast for no reason. The roads are swarming with potholes, animals roaming around freely, and even people sleeping on the side of the road. Once you get past the obstacles, you will arrive at a different South Africa. Among the colourful Xhosa huts nestled on the dramatic hills and cliffs, Coffee Bay is the definition of a laid-back lifestyle. You can determine your own pace by simply reading your book by the beach or joining one of the activities. The hotels and backpackers have guided tours into the natural wonders such as Mapuzi Caves and the beloved Hole in the Wall. On the cultural side, some tours take you to the nearby Xhosa villages for lunch or supper. Either way, Coffee Bay is guaranteed to make you appreciate the diversity of South Africa