What to do in South Africa

Hogsback – a slice of magical Middle Earth in the Eastern Cape

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Just whisper the name “Hogsback” and someone’s bound to pipe up: “Isn’t that where Tolkien grew up?”

It’s a common misconception that Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien grew up in rolling green hills of this lush corner of the Eastern Cape – and the Hogsback locals don’t do much to discredit this. In fact, there is such an atmosphere of magic about this quaint village that it’s not disappointing in the least to find out that, in fact, it is the Amatola Forest that’s in the same area that is claimed to have inspired this iconic writer’s dark, mysterious Mirkwood in his classic novel.

 

Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site

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The Lost City:

In April 1933, a remarkable archaeological find was made in the Transvaal: a grave of unknown origin containing a considerable amount of gold was discovered on the farm ‘Greefswald’, where the international borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet.   This discovery, along with the later excavation of the famous Golden Rhino and other significant artefacts, tells the story of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, a flourishing Iron Age metropolis ruled by an African king almost a thousand years ago.

This sophisticated, ancient society prospered between 1200 and 1270 AD. Although the area was already inhabited by a growing Iron Age community from 900 AD, Mapungubwe became wealthy through gold and ivory trade with faraway places like Egypt, India and China.

 

Augrabies Falls National Park – Place of Great Noise and Spectacular Scenery

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The Khoi people call it ‘Aukoerebis’ which means Place of Great Noise, and in fact few sounds are as deafening, or sights as breath-taking to behold as that of the Augrabies Waterfall when the Orange River is in full flood. Unleashed from its rocky surroundings to thunder 56m into the abyss of the Orange River Gorge, the Augrabies Waterfall is not easily forgotten.

The 55 383 hectares on both the northern and southern sides of the Orange River make up the Augrabies Falls National Park and provide sanctuary to a diversity of species, from the very smallest succulents, birds and reptiles, to springbok, gemsbok, giraffe and the endangered Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra.

 

Haunted: South Africa’s most notorious ghosts

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Without a doubt, South Africa’s most well-told ghost tale is that of the Flying Dutchmen, or better known as Der Fliegende Hollander. It’s a story as old as the seas: in 1641 a Dutch trade ship is said to have sank just off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope after sailing into a fierce storm, it’s cargo-hold packed full of treasures from the Far East. Legend has it that whoever spots the phantom Flying Dutchman at sea will die a horrible death quite soon. And there have been sightings throughout history: by the crew of the Royal Navy in the late 1880s, by a German submarine during WWII and many holidaymakers claim to have spotted her tattered sails (or is it just an optical illusion?).

 

Robben Island: a small island with a big history

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Mention Robben Island, and immediately Nelson Mandela’s 27 years incarcerated their as a political prisoner at the institution and his long walk to freedom comes to mind. This 5km2 island just off the coast of the city of Cape Town, and can easily be seen from the iconic Table Mountain.

This small rocky outcrop has seen many ships wrecked along its reefs over the centuries, and Jan van Riebeck, who led the Dutch colonisation of the Cape in 1652, was the first to light fires on Robben Island to warn incoming vessels of the danger. Today, a lighthouse lights the way from Minto Hill, the highest point on the island.

Robben Island has been many things since the Dutch arrived in the Cape in the 1600s. It served as an animal quarantine station, leper colony and a hospital for the mentally ill, and during World War 2 it was a military base, standing ready to defend Table Bay in the event of an attack. But Robben Island has always been used primarily as a prison.

 
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