Goal.com Traveller’s Guide To South Africa: The Seven Natural Wonders

With the influx of fans coming to South Africa later this year, they would be wise to check out some of the amazing natural wonders of the country….
The World Cup is less than five months away now, and soon South Africa will be buzzing with tourists from all over the world, ready to experience a new culture whilst soaking up the football extravaganza.

As a result, Goal.com have introduced a new section that will entertain and educate our readers about the beauty and uniqueness of the rainbow nation.

This section will be called the Traveller’s Guide To South Africa, and it will be made up of information about the country, it’s people and life in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

This week Goal.com have decided to share the beauty of the host nation with our readers, as we present the Seven Natural Wonders of South Africa.

The Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in Africa. It covers about 18,989 square kilometres (7,332 sq mi) and extends 350 kilometres (220 mi) from north to south, and 60 kilometres (37 mi) from east to west.

To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is Mozambique. It is now part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Kruger National Park with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, and with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.

The park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by UNESCO (the United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve (the "Biosphere").

Lovers of wildlife coming to the country for the World Cup cannot miss the opportunity to enjoy nature and discover the animals in their natural habitat. Take a drive during the day or at night with a game ranger and see how many of the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) you can find. South Africa is home to them all.

The Cradle of Humankind is rich in fossils and riddled with caves. It is one of the world's most significant halfway stations on the road to our evolution as a species.

Where did life begin on this planet? Well, if one were to decide based on the earliest evidence of human existence, the proof would take you to the Sterkfontein Valley. Some three million years ago, when cities like New York and London were under permanent ice caps, Sterkfontein was populated with man's ancestors. The Cradle of Humankind, as the valley is now known, became famous in 1947 when Dr. Robert Broom discovered the first known adult cranium of an 'ape man', dating back two-and-a-half-million years, in the Sterkfontein Caves.

These sites have produced an abundance of scientific information on the evolution of the human being over the past three-and-a-half-million years, his way of life, and the animals with which he lived, and on which he fed. The landscape also preserves many features of that prehistoric period.

Named a World Heritage Site because it is one of the most productive paleontological sites in the world, the valley has continued to produce record-breaking finds, including 'Little Foot', a complete skull and skeleton found in 1997, in an area still under excavation. In 2003, a team of South African and U.S. scientists, using a revolutionary new dating method, placed the age of Little Foot at 4,170,000 years old, a million years older than first thought - fuelling one of the most strident debates raging in South African science. These are the most easily accessed hominid digs in the world.

Cape Point is the spot where Africa ends or begins, depending on your perspective. Some say you can breathe the freshest air in the world here, as it blows in straight from the Antarctic. The point is about an hour's drive from the centre of Cape Town. Head southwest until you just can't head southwest anymore. Please note, you must not forget your camera as this is one of the most photogenic spots that the world has to offer.

Table Mountain is another of the beautiful landmarks in South Africa that towers above the Mother City. If you miss this sight whilst in Cape Town, you should probably consult an optician immediately. It stands at 1,086 metres above sea level at its highest point, and is visible from 200km out at sea. The top part of the mountain is made up of rocks that were deposited by an ancient glacier hundreds of millions of years ago.

From this wondrous site, a 50km range reaches southward to Cape Point, forming the backbone of the Cape Peninsula. This Mountain chain is a botanist's paradise, with roughly 2,250 plant species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. There is even a patch of land, about the size of a footbal field and known only to a handful of lepidopterists, on which the world's only colony of certain species of butterfly exists.

Named Table Mountain because of its distinctive shape, it offers an amazing view of the city below. For a clear view, an early morning visit is best. Even then, you may find that the top is wrapped in the famous ‘tablecloth’ and covered with clouds. You can walk to the top or take a cable car.

The Blyde River Canyon is a beautiful masterpiece situated about 25km north of Pilgrim's Rest in Mpumalanga. Stretching for 25km, featuring towering cliffs, terrifying rapids, and steamy tracks of subtropical jungle, the world's largest green canyon offers views to take your breath away and make you believe in the beauty of nature.

At the meeting point of the Blyde River (river of joy) and the Treur River (river of sorrow), water erosion has created one of the most phenomenal geological phenomena in South Africa. The ‘Bourke’s Luck Potholes’ have taken thousands of years to form strange cylindrical sculptures carved by swirling water. The smooth red and yellow rocks contrast with the dark pools.

Words cannot do this area justice, but go see for yourself and take a few photos to make your own personalised postcards from South Africa.

God’s Window is a popular vantage point along the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga. It is situated at the southern extremity of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. This place has majestic cliffs that plunge over 700 metres to the Lowveld and the game reserves which have made the area one of Africa’s prime wildlife destinations.

From this Escarpment - a 250km long rampart of sheer cliffs - opens a vista into a plush forest, the Eden-like aesthetic appearance of which prompted the name. On a clear day it is possible to see over the Kruger National Park towards the Lebombo Mountains on the border with Mozambique.

God’s Window played an important role in the plot of the 1980 cult film The Gods Must Be Crazy. Near the end of the movie, the Bushman character Xi travels to God’s Window, and due to some low-lying cloud cover believes it to be the end of the Earth.

The Klein Karoo's Cango Caves, is only one of the natural wonders of the Klein Karoo & Oudtshoorn. Situated in a limestone ridge parallel to the well known Swartberg Mountains, you will find the finest dripstone caverns, with their vast halls and towering formations. An underground jewel in the heart of the Swartberg Mountain Range, here one is guaranteed an unforgettable experience of true beauty as you explore the Cango Caves - crawl through narrow spaces and slide into a neihgbouring chamber.

Now you know seven of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places on earth, found in South Africa, and even if you are not able to come and experience them first hand during the World Cup, these places will still be there. So come anytime and find out exactly why these places are considered wonders by all those who have visited.

Clyde Tlou & Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com