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Tourists flock to South Africa in ever-increasing numbers, usually to experience those attractions that the country is best known for: the Kruger National Park, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the Durban Beachfront and the V&A Waterfront among others.

But the country has so much more to offer.  With an unusually wide range of climate types and floral ecosystems within one country, coupled with incredible wildlife and bird populations, as well as eco-activities, it’s hard to tire of travel in South Africa.

Sharing some of his treasured spots – a bit off the beaten track – Nicholas Barenblatt, Group Marketing Manager of Protea Hotels by Marriott and African Pride Hotels, has some tips on how to find these hidden gems.

Kaapsche Hoop

Stopping off for an overnight stay at Kaapsche Hoop on the way back from a Kruger Park break is a great way to savour the beauty of Mpumalanga. You’ll love the green surroundings and charming buildings of this historic village.  A walk through the dorp on a lazy afternoon, stopping off for tea and pancakes at one of the charming eateries, offers wonderful relaxation. And make sure that you look out for the well-known wild horses of the area.

It’s just 31km from Nelspruit and close to the N4 highway, so there is no need for a long detour to get to the spot.

Tietiesbaai

The Cape Columbine Nature Reserve with its quaintly-named Tietiesbaai camping spot is a delight at any time of the year.  Take the gravel road from the charming town of Paternoster on the Cape’s unspoiled West Coast to this quiet spot.  The wild flower display in August and September is a must-see, and you’re likely to spot seals, dolphins and whales coming into the bay, too. The area is renowned for its seafood, so treat yourself to the local cuisine in Paternoster.

Northern Cape gems

Lovers of things botanical will thoroughly enjoy a trip to the Northern Cape towns of Niewoudtville and Vanrhynsdorp. With a focus on succulents and the magical wildflower display during the spring months, this is a veritable floral kingdom.

Stop off at the Hantam Botanical Garden, an International Biodiversity Hotspot, the Wild Flower Reserve, the quiver trees in the Kokerboom Forest and the Niewoudtville waterfall. Birds abound, too, so take along your binoculars and enjoy the natural environment in its untamed state. 

Hogsback

The Amatola Mountains surrounding the Eastern Cape town of Hogsback provide the sort of beauty generally associated with the Swiss Alps.  With thick forest areas, endless greenery, and incredible views of the waterfalls, a hike in the mountains is a great way to spend a few days enjoying nature.

Barrydale

Barrydale, a tranquil town in the scenic Tradouw Valley of the Western Cape, is great for a few days stopover when travelling along a number of routes: it’s easily reachable from the Garden Route by travelling along the stunning Tradouws Pass, and from both Montagu and Oudtshoorn via Route 62. Since Route 62 is packed with great experiences, there are plenty of activities to do in the area.

A mixture of fynbos and Karoo succulents are found in the surrounding mountains of this town steeped in history, and visitors can taste the fruit of the vine at a number of wine farms in the area.

So, when next on the road, veer off the highway and stop off at one of these gems.  You may enjoy them so much that, next time, you’ll arrange a holiday right there!

This article was first published by iAfrica on 13 January 2017.