Provinces

South Africa has nine provinces. These are:

Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape — a land of undulating hills, endless sandy beaches, majestic mountain ranges and deep green forests — is the second largest of the nine provinces. The region ranges from the dry, desolate Great Karoo to the lush forests of the Wild Coast and the Keiskamma Valley, and the mountainous southern Drakensberg region. Its natural diversity is second to none and it incorporates parts of all seven ecological zones that occur in South Africa and features all three of the country’s biodiversity regions, which is further enhanced by its 820 kilometers of untamed, if not wild, coastline. This heralds a colourful assortment of fauna and flora, including Africa’s Big Five; an abundance of birdlife, with hundreds of recorded species; and a rich and varied marine life, including 27 species of whales and dolphins all along the unspoilt “Wild Coast”.

(www.ectourism.co.za; www.portelizabeth.co.za )

Free State

The Free State, a province of wide horizons and blue skies, farmland, mountains, goldfields and widely dispersed towns, lies in the heart of South Africa. Between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south, this immense rolling prairie stretches as far as the eye can see. The Free State has many geological wonders to be explored. Shaped by time, some formed billions of years ago, these striking features are as visually awesome as they are significant to the history of the world. Two of the top geological attractions are the cliffs of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the northerly Vredefort Dome. The latter is the impact site of a major meteorite, believed to have struck earth two billion years ago. Scientists estimate that the meteorite was 10km in diameter. At between 250 and 300km in diameters, the crater is the largest verified impact crater on Earth.

(www.freestatetourism.org )

Gauteng

Gauteng, (a Sesotho word for “place of gold”) continues to serve as the economic engine room of the country and the subcontinent, responsible for over 34, 8% of the country’s GDP, although it is geographically the smallest province. Gauteng’s offerings are not limited to commerce and industry. Its tourism offering is equally impressive, with Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto, Cullinan and Magaliesburg all ranking as top Gauteng attractions. Anchored by the historical cities of Johannesburg (financial and cosmopolitan center) and Pretoria (Capital of South Africa and city of Jacarandas), Gauteng provides plenty in the way of shopping and entertainment through its network of malls, casinos, flea markets and suburban stores. Both cities house a number of museums, including the Hector Peterson Museum, Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, Museum of Military History, Pretoria Art Museum, Museum Africa and Voortrekker Monument. Both are also home to theatres and playhouses offering authentic South African musical performances, drama, ballet and local comedies. Soweto is a very popular Gauteng destination, largely due to the pivotal role it played in South Africa’s struggle for freedom, but also, because of the unique cultural experiences it offers. Adventure tourism is also taking off and visitors can bungee jump from Soweto’s iconic Orlando Towers. On the outskirts of these bustling metropoles, the cityscapes give way to Highveld grasslands that stretch out to the province’s borders. In Johannesburg, this extends south to the Sedibeng region and the Vaal River, and west towards the popular Cradle of Humankind, Sterkfontein Caves and the charming country village of Magaliesburg. At Pretoria, it extends north into the Dinokeng tourism region, which is home to the quaint mining town of Cullinan with its diamond history, and savannahs that feature a number of game reserves. Aside from township tours, visitors to Gauteng can also delight in cultural experiences, which include visits to the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village in Soweto, Heia Safari Ranch in Muldersdrift and the Zuluka Tribal Village just outside Pretoria where unique Ndebele art and beadwork can be found. Shopping is a must, with many excellent curio shops to be found at Sandton City, Rosebank Mall and Nelson Mandela Square — where you’ll also find the enormous statue of Nelson Mandela — great for photographs and lunch.In the MasterCard Insights Report on Urbanisation and environmental challenges, Johannesburg ranks 2nd among countries from Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

(www.gauteng.net; www.tshwane.gov.za; www.cradleofhumankind.co.za )

KwaZulu-Natal

KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa’s domestic tourism leader. South Africa’s garden province boasts a lush subtropical coastline, sweeping savanna in the east, and the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains in the west. The warm Indian Ocean washing its beaches makes swimming possible all year long and there are numerous swimming and surfing beaches to choose from, both to the North of Durban (Elephant Coast and Dolphin Coast) and South Coast (Hibiscus Coast). Heading along the North Coast, you will find the family-friendly beaches of Umhlanga, Umdloti, Ballito and Salt Rock. The South Coast is renowned for its pristine beaches, and there are a number of Blue Flag beaches on offer including: Margate Beach, Marina Beach, Ramsgate Beach, Trafalgar Beach, Lucien Beach, and Pumula Beach. 27 South African beaches were awarded Blue Flags, an international indicator of high environmental standards for recreational beaches in 2010. In 1991 South Africa had become the first country in the world to provide full protection status for the Great White shark. As home to the proud Zulu people as well as settlement of the first Indian indentured labourers, KwaZulu-Natal also boasts very rich cultural diversity and cuisine. The National and Provincial Parks Boards as well as exclusive private lodges cater for visitors to some of the finest game reserves to be found, also allowing for the “Big Five” to be seen or exploring the St Lucia World Heritage Site.

(www.zulu.org.za; www.drakensberg.org.za; www.durbanexperience.co.za; www.stlucia.org )

Limpopo

In the extreme north of South Africa, Limpopo or the “Great North” as it is referred to, is a province of dramatic contrasts: bush, mountains, indigenous forests and plantations. The province shares borders with the neighbouring SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) countries of Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Its proximity to these countries makes Limpopo the perfect springboard for exploring the riches of this exciting part of the African continent. On the surface, it is a broad, boundless area, a landscape tanning itself in the heat of the African sun. However, let this not deter you because a look beyond reveals a land of immense beauty that brings interest and entertainment in generous amounts. These are ancient lands, attested by the recently proclaimed Mapungubwe World Heritage Site in the Limpopo Valley and Makapans Caves. It is a typical African landscape and has as such become a favourite destination for leisure and adventure travellers worldwide. Come to a region of infinite scenic beauty with a great diversity of natural and manmade attractions, rich cultural heritage and an abundance of wildlife and nature-based tourism opportunities. Our network of protected areas and nature reserves are amongst the best on the African continent. Through these nature reserves, we seek to preserve our natural heritage for future generations and for sharing with the international community.

(www.golimpopo.com )

Mpumalanga

Mpumalanga is aptly called “Paradise Country” and people are drawn to the province by the magnificent scenery, the fauna and flora and the saga of the 1870 gold rush era. Mpumalanga (“Place Where the Sun Rises”) is bordered by Mozambique and Swaziland in the east and Gauteng in the west. It is situated mainly on high-plateau grasslands, which roll eastwards for hundreds of kilometres. This is also Big Game Country, the setting for dozens of sanctuaries teeming with wildlife and birds. Visit the world’s most famous game reserve, climb the world’s third-highest canyon, explore the world’s oldest cave and spend the night in the world’s best private game lodges. The entire Mpumalanga area offers exceptional opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, horse-riding and fishing. Streams once panned for gold have become the haunts of eager anglers and lazy trout. Steeped in the history of pioneers, hunters and fortune seekers, fascinating gold rush towns like Pilgrims Rest take you into the misty mountains of past times. The pristine valley of "God’s Window is aptly named. The major hub, Nelspruit, is surrounded by fruit farms in a sub-tropical region, but also gives access to the Kruger National Park, as large as the state of Israel and where humans are only on visitors. Mpumalanga offers something for everyone.

(www.pilgrimsrest.co.za; www.sanparks.org )

Northern Cape

The Northern Cape is noted for its San rock art, diamond diggings, 4×4 safaris and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is a large, dry region of fluctuating temperatures and varying topographies. The Northern Cape lies to the south of the mighty Orange River, which provides the basis for a healthy agricultural industry. Away from the Orange, the landscape is characterized by vast arid plains with outcroppings of haphazard rock piles. The province is renowned for its spectacular display of the Namaqualand spring flowers, which, for a short period every year, attracts thousands of tourists. The diamond town of Kimberley is also in the Northern Cape and home to the Kimberley Mine Museum. Part of the museum includes viewing decks overlooking the famous Big Hole, the biggest man-dug hole in the world. A number of historic buildings, old shops, bars, restaurants, churches and banks appear exactly as they were during the diamond digging days and are preserved as a “living museum”.

(www.kimberley.co.za )

North West

North West borders Botswana, fringed by the Kalahari Desert in the west, and the Witwatersrand in the east. A province of varied attractions, North West is home to some of South Africa’s most visited national parks, the celebrated Sun City and Lost City resorts, picturesque dams and dense bush. Magaliesberg, Hartbeespoort and Pilanesberg are popular weekend getaway spots where paragliding, windsurfing, water skiing and jet skiing attract thrill-seekers. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve, near Sun City and developed on an extinct volcano with an area of 500 square km, contains most mammals of southern Africa and 350 bird species. Then there’s Wondergat, an extensive underwater cave network where many divers have honed their skills. Historic Mafikeng and the Groot Marico (“mampoer” or moonshine country) are also worth visiting.

(www.tourismnorthwest.co.za )

Western Cape

The Western Cape’s natural beauty, complemented by its hospitality, cultural diversity, excellent wine and colourful cuisine, make the province one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions. Cape Town, the legislative capital, was named the top tourist destination in the world in the 2011 Traveler’s Choice Destinations awards. It has the fifth-best blue sky in the world according to the UK’s National Physical Laboratory. The buildings of Parliament, the famous Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, the bustling Waterfront with fine dining, nightclubs and exclusive shopping, “Mediterranean” Camps Bay, the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for a breathtaking view over the peninsula, Chapman’s Peak drive to Cape Point, passing the fishing town of Hermanus and returning via the naval base of Simonstown and stopping at Muizenberg or Gordon’s Bay, are all essentials. On Robben Island the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years can be visited. Other important towns in the province include Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek, known for their winelands and fine restaurants’ Hermanus where whale-watching and oyster festivals abound, Arniston fishing village and Cape Agulhas, the most southerly tip of the African continent. George is renowned for its world-class golf courses and Oudtshoorn, known for its ostrich farms (ride an ostrich!) and products and the celebrated Cango caves. In the Western Cape South Africa is the only country to house an entire floral kingdom (Fynbos), one of only six on the planet. This is where the exotic indigenous Protea flower also blooms.

(www.tourismcapetown.co.za; www.oudshoorn.com; www.tourismcapewinelands.co.za )