Whether you like to actively engage with nature or admire it from afar, here are some of our best spots to visit this autumn.
The Jacaranda City may not be in full purple bloom at this time of the year, but you can indulge your love of colour at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa. Then visit the Wonderboom Nature Reserve north of Pretoria, once seen as a sacred place by the Voortrekkers. Here you can picnic beside the 5.5m trunk of a wild fig tree that has been growing for more than a thousand years while enjoying the antics of monkeys, dassies and birdlife. The gates open at 7am and close at 6pm. For more information call 012 543 0918.
In the eastern suburbs are the Pretoria Gardens that run across 76 hectares and will cost you R25 per adult. Fifty hectares are dedicated to a garden that uses almost exclusively South African plants and, as you stroll, you will experience at least three different biomes. The more adventurous can visit the Spiced Coffee Farm that sounds like a place you want to eat and manages to live up to that name quite easily thanks to the blended scents of coffee and roses alongside food and fun.
There are free tractor rides, a butterfly garden and a large children’s playground. It’s a farm in a sea of roses. For more information visit ludwigsroses.co.za. Then, end your day with a moonlit ride with the Pretoria Cape Riding Horse Club that bestows upon you a horse, a picnic and a candlelit treat in the darkest of the night. You have to book though, so send an email to [email protected].
If you thought Johannesburg was just traffic jams and road rage, you’d be a little bit right, but there are also magical gateways to beauty and calm. One of these is the Rietvlei Nature Reserve that was created during the Great Depression and is home to excellent hiking, fishing, game spotting and general nature watching. You can find out more by calling 012 358 1810.
Need a picnic spot instead? The Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden in Roodepoort offers a relaxing, beautiful, vivid, gorgeous and biodiverse oasis within the concrete jungle. The area is rich with bird life, small mammals and reptiles, and is an autumnal paradise.
The Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam in Emmarentia is another Jozi favourite and is usually full of walkers, runners, cyclists and dog owners taking advantage of the bright green grass and lovely surrounds. Entrance is free and finding a picnic spot will depend entirely on your mood and the size of your party. For both Walter Sisulu and Emmarentia Dam you can visit The Secret Kitchen in Sunninghill before you leave and order a gourmet picnic basket to take with you.
Melville Koppies has regular, planned walks that talk you through the flora and fauna and geology that goes back three billion years. You can see an iron-smelting furnace that was excavated in 1963 and areas where early Stone Age man camped.
The rules are quite strict, however: hiking only, with no bikes, picnics or radios allowed. Toadbury Hall, in Krugersdorp, has taken the idea of a picnic and made it into something rather decadent. You book at around R295 per adult and R170 per child and they will lay out blankets, cushions, tables, chairs and food. It’s an experience to be savoured and a meal that can be walked off around the lush gardens.
Those who don’t mind enclosed spaces can hop over to Sterkfontein where Mrs Ples and Little Foot reside, and the Sterkfontein Caves run deep into the Earth. The tour will introduce you to the archaeological finds and take you through an educational walk. The caves will re-open in April 2014 for visitors after routine stability testing.
The first place to visit in the Free State is a bit of a drive, but it is an experience. Tiger Canyons in the Philippolis area is the only free-roaming tiger sanctuary in South Africa. You can book game drives to spot these beauties and spend time with the people behind the creation of this amazing park. Send an email to [email protected] to find out more.
Soetdoring Nature Reserve is a bit closer to Bloemfontein for the more relaxed nature lover at only 40km outside town. There are lots of lovely picnic and braai spots as well as zebra, kudu, buffalo and birdlife to enjoy, or you can even take in a bit of fishing if the mood catches you. There is a pride of lions lurking nearby in an enclosure for an extra bit of adrenalin-induced fun.
No day out would be complete in the City of Roses without a visit to King’s Park, which is home to more than 4 000 rose bushes. Opened in 1925 by Edward VIII, it houses the Bloemfontein Zoo and offers the day-tripper everything from wild animals to conservation to a relaxing stroll through rose-rich gardens. Round off your weekend by contacting the Bloemfontein Tourist Centre on 051 405 8489/90 to book a township tour that will introduce you to some of the places that are an essential part of South Africa’s past: Visit Batho, where the ANC was founded, experience vibrant township nightlife and walk away with a sense of history.
Polokwane doesn’t mess about and has put its game reserve only 10 minutes away from the city centre. The Polokwane Game Reserve spreads out over 3 250 hectares and is one of the largest municipal reserves in the country. Fifty-two game and 200 bird species call this glorious panorama their home and you can enjoy a drive, a picnic, a hike and a cycle across the plains.
Visit the Polokwane Bird and Reptile Park which features snakes, lizards, birds and crocodiles. You can rest with a picnic or sit peacefully in a viewing hide, just soaking up the atmosphere. You can also straddle the imaginary geographical line that marks the Tropic of Capricorn near Polokwane. This southern boundary of the tropics is marked by the Tropic of Capricorn Monument and is wrapped in gorgeous scenery to boot. It’s a photo opportunity, a Facebook update, a hike and a picnic all in one. How could you resist?
Polokwane dwellers get to appreciate the incredible Makapan Valley, where the earliest evidence of life in the area can be found at the Cave of Hearths fossil site. This is ideal for miserable weather because you’ll spend most of the time inside the cave where you will be transported to another era. The strata are around three to two million years old and reveal early hominid, australopithecus africanus settlements from some 2.8-million years ago.
And no trip to this area would be complete without a stay at Sequoia Gardens in Haenertsburg where day visitors can take free strolls through absolutely astonishing scenery. You can organise a personalised guided tour for R100 per half hour or you can just walk through the autumn colours of this magnificent landscape with your soul soaking up the silence. Here you can spend some time overnight, which is highly recommended, email [email protected] to make a booking.
For tropical vegetation and verdant life, you can’t do much better than the lush areas of KwaZulu-Natal. The province boasts some spectacular places for visitors to go to during the day and over the weekend. One of the best is the iSimangaliso Wetland Park that includes eight interdependent ecosystems with remarkable biodiversity.
The 332 000 hectares became South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999 and it famously plays host to the elephant, the coelacanth, the rhino and the whale. You are able to camp, hike, dive, view game, bird watch and cycle plus you can choose from a day trip to a lengthy visit depending on your available time.
Oribi Gorge is for adrenalin and visual junkies. Dive off cliffs, mountain bike along the varied terrain, white water raft down the river or just relax and enjoy the experience. Everyone from the photographer to the runner to the gourmet picnic lover will find something here. Thirty-five minutes from Durban is pheZulu in the Valley of 1 000 Hills. The village offers you the chance to view old Zulu artifacts and cultural relics, enjoy traditional dancing, a crocodile and snake park and the chance to meet Ramesis, a 90-year old Nile crocodile.
Those more interested in the scenery will love the Valley of 1 000 Hills in the autumn as the colours shift and the rivers of grass rolling down the hills seem to sway in the wind. Take walking boots and a map, food and bike and get exploring. You can download an electronic brochure that details everything you need to know from the official website zulu.org.za
Cape Town is the spot that has possibly the most famous botanical and picnic spots in the country. Voted as one of the top five places to visit before you die by the BBC, it has its beaches and biomes celebrated across the globe.
One such spot is Buiten- verwachting in Constantia, which has long set trends on the gourmet and luxury picnic front and is still an outdoor destination of choice. Oak trees and gardens alongside platters of tasty food make it a fantastic day out for all ages. Warwick, in Stellenbosch, is open 365 days of the year and offers a Big 5 Wine Safari. This guided tour takes you on a 4×4 adventure through the vineyards at R50pp or R85 if you fancy a wine tasting. Kids enter for free and the picnic on beanbags and cushions beneath the trees is around R299 for two.
Of course, you can’t miss out on a day at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which is one of most biodiverse in the world with plenty of entertainment options to choose from — live music, picnics, restaurants and walks, they’re all here for the discerning visitor. Then there is Cape Point, the most southwesterly tip of Africa. It is a stark, beautiful and perfect for nature lovers in autumn, open from 7am to 5pm from April to September with a charge of R105 per person for adults.
Arderne Gardens are also beautiful with a Japanese garden, romantic nooks, giant Norfolk pines and exotic shrubs – all for free. The Garden Route The Garden Route is one of South Africa’s national treasures with secret spots and stunning spaces scattered along the way. Your autumn should start with calm and peace in one of only 147 towns listed by slow town movement Cittaslow — Sedgefield.
The April Slow Festival will soothe your city nerves with everything built around leisure and outdoor fun. Tsitsikamma Reserve has thrilling treetop platforms and cable slides and the famous Otter Trail, Wilderness has abseiling, Oudtshoorn has the Cango Caves and Hermanus has whales (although only in October).
Wilderness has spectacularly beautiful beaches and a 2 500 hectare national park. Every stop along this route will pretty much have a secret (or not so secret) spot where you can indulge in gorgeous foliage, diverse wildlife and a variety of activities.