South Africa

 

The Republic of South Africa is a country located at the southern tip of the African continent. South Africa has a great variety of climate zones, from the extreme desert of the Kalahari near Namibia to lush subtropical climate along the border with Mozambique. The interior of South Africa is a giant, mountainous, and sparsely populated scrubland Karoo plateau, which is drier towards the north-west along the Kalahari desert. In contrast, the eastern coastline is lush and well-watered which produces a climate similar to the tropics. The extreme south west has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers. This area also produces much of South Africa's wine.

Bourke’s Luck, God’s Window and The Three Rondavels
In Mpumalanga Province, you can visit the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, an area of land approximately 290km2. There you will find breathtaking topography, such as Bourke’s Luck Potholes and God’s Window. Bourke’s Luck (pictured) is a series of potholes eroded by the action of strong underwater currents creating a vortex (known as a kolk) at the place where two rivers, the Blyde and the Treur, meet. Visitors flock daily to see these interesting shapes, also known as giants’ kettles, which can be viewed from above by crossing the gorge on footbridges.
God’s Window (pictured), found in the far south of the nature reserve, is another popular vantage point. A 700-metre sheer drop to the plains below reveals a view of this Eden-like landscape, where a multitude of flora and fauna can be seen: impala, wildebeest and zebra roam the lower area, while higher up the plateaus are home to mountain reedbuck, baboons and rock hyraxes. The river plays host to many fish species, and consequently to fish-eating birds as well, such as the African fish eagle. In the low woodlands colourful birds such as the emerald cuckoo, the purple-crested lourie, and the red-backed mannikin dwell, and in the forests there are many more: owls, eagles, and vulture species.

Around 1,000 plant species have been identified in this area: various orchids, lilies and ferns, as well as the rare Blyde River Cycad.
The Three Rondavels (pictured) are so-named because they look exactly like traditional African huts, only much, much larger. They tower 700 metres above the surrounding countryside. Thought to be formed by the erosion process, they are composed of slate and quartzite.

Lisbon Falls and Pilgrims Rest
There are many waterfalls to be found in Mpumalanga, among them the dramatic Lisbon Falls (pictured), located just on the outskirts of the nature reserve. After gold was discovered in the area in around 1800, hopeful miners arrived from all over the world to find their fortune. Lisbon Falls is named after those arriving from Portugal; nearby, there is also Berlin Falls, which is just as spectacular.
Not far away, you’ll find Pilgrims Rest (pictured), a small protected heritage town. Pilgrims Creek was officially declared a gold field in 1873, and the population of the tiny Pilgrims Rest ballooned to 1,500 as gold speculators arrived in the hope of becoming rich. Gold mining was eventually closed down in 1971, and since then it has been a tourist attraction, with little of the town’s architecture changed.

The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Town
The Cape of Good Hope (pictured) is not actually the southernmost point of the continent; that honour falls to Cape Agulhas. Instead, the Cape of Good Hope marks the point where a ship, when rounding it, begins to be sailing more eastward than southward – it is for this reason that it used to be considered the dividing point between West and East.
Its original name was ‘Cape of Storms’, so named by the first navigator to round it – Bartolomeu Dias in 1488. It was later renamed ‘Good Hope’ because of the promise it brought in terms of trade between the western and eastern worlds.
Cape Town (pictured), the legislative capital of South Africa, is located about 50km north of the Cape in Table Bay, having been established in 1652 as a resupply camp for the Dutch East India Company. Cape Town is the second most populated city in South Africa, and the economic hub of Western Cape Province. In 2014 The New York Times named it the best place in the world to visit, and it is certainly an attractive tourist destination: the most popular in Africa as a whole, thanks to its Mediterranean-like climate and well-developed infrastructure.
Table Mountain, the flat-topped mountain presiding over the city, can be reached by cable car and offers spectacular views of the bay and the city.

Stellenbosch and Paarl
Stellenbosch (pictured), the second oldest European settlement after Cape Town, is about 50km east of its counterpart. Its university is one of the best in the country, hosting about 25,000 students. Today it is the primary location for winemaking and wine research, and attracts a large number of wine tourists every year.
Nearby Paarl is also prominent in winemaking, but equally famous is the Taal Monument (pictured) that overlooks the town. Otherwise known as the Afrikaans Language Monument, it opened in 1975, and commemorates Afrikaans being recognized as an official language of South Africa in 1925. There are two inscriptions on the monument, written by prominent South African poets, and its tapering convex and concave design is intended to symbolize all the different cultures and languages of South Africa.

Pretoria
The administrative and de facto capital of South Africa, Pretoria is located in Gauteng Province. Peace treaties to the Boer Wars were signed in Pretoria, but in recent years there has been strong disagreement over and opposition to a name change for the city – to Tshwane, to match the municipality.
Pretoria’s varied architecture has been influenced by many different cultures, ranging from colonial to art deco, as well as South African. There are a number of historical buildings and monuments in Pretoria, such as the Vortrekker monument (pictured), inaugurated in 1949 to commemorate the pioneers who left the Cape Colony in the 1800s to populate further inland.
The Union Buildings (pictured) are the official seat of government and contain the President’s offices. Also a national heritage site, these imposing buildings are an emblem of democracy in a country whose troubled past is all too well known throughout the world.

Useful website: South African Tourism

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