The Garden Route of South Africa encompasses a large region of the south coast of the country, starting just east of the Cape Winelands.
The Mapungubwe National Park is named after the famous Mapungubwe hill, an archaeological site of a thriving kingdom that settled here some 700 years ago. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe is thought to have risen from the ashes of the Mapungubwe Kingdom after its short 80 year stint. The kingdom is most famous for its gold artifacts class-based society, as well as its trading relations with kingdoms as far afoot as China, India and the Middle East. Very little is known of the people of Mapungubwe, though the site, and the wildlife of the national park, leaves much to be admired.
This little village has been set up to allow visitors to learn about and experience Tsonga culture. The Tsonga people, or Vatsonga, are a major ethnic group in South Africa, famous for the skirts their women wear, the difficulty of their language and the bright colours of their clothing, though the latter they share with many South African ethnic groups. A day trip to this cultural village is a great opportunity to learn of their customs, social structures, art and language, and expose yourself to a culture likely very dissimilar to your own.
Twyfelfontein is the site of the largest San Rock art site in the world. Located an hour’s drive or so from the Namib Desert, this place seems rather desolate from a distance. Upon closer inspection, however, the place is like an art gallery, preserved over 6000 years from the time of the first San hunter gatherer’s in the region. Visitors here have the opportunity of witnessing remnants of an often forgotten past in the history of humankind.
Shakaland is a hotel built to resemble a traditional Zulu homestead, in the Entumbeni hills near Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal. Here, guests can experience local Zulu culture and customs, and see the traditional decorations and architecture of the largest Empire in pre-colonial Southern Africa. The lodge was built for the filming of the series on the Empire’s most famous king, the famous Shaka Zulu, and retains much of the authenticity and detail that was evident in the series itself.
The Basotho Cultural Village is located in the Golden Gate National Park, a protected area of the southern Free State highlands near the Maluti Mountains. The area was once home to many Sotho clans of the Sotho kingdom, a rich heritage encompassing hundreds of years that is on display in the cultural Village within the national park. Here, foreigners unacquainted with Sesotho, the language of the Basotho, and the iconic Sotho blankets can immerse themselves in the local culture and history.
The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO world heritage site north of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa known for the many early humanoid fossils that have been found in the region. The name ‘Cradle of Humankind’ was chosen because the area is thought to have been where the earliest human species evolved. This site has attracted much attention over the last 50 or so years, with numerous new species being discovered to shed some light on the early evolution of humans, including Homo Naledi and Australopithecus Sediba most recently. If you are in the area, this site is recommended and well-worth the drive, with trips down to the caves that held many of the early fossils great displays in the museum to look forward to.
The Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg can be thought of as the Brooklyn of the Johannesburg, an area once plagued by crime and urban decay, revitalized very recently. Today the area now re-branded as ‘The Maboneng District’ is home to some of Johannesburg’s best restaurants and art galleries, with performance artists and business people seen walking along its streets in what could be a great cultural experience to any visitors. The name ‘Maboneng’ means ‘place of light’ in a local South African language, Sotho, and that is exactly what the area hopes to become.
The site of the first encounter between the Zulu Empire and the British Empire in the Anglo-Zulu war of the early 19th century took place here in what became known as ‘the battle of Isandlwana’. This historical site documents the fall of the British in their first invasion of Zululand, one of their greatest defeats throughout the expansion of their empire. The Zulu army of King Cetshwayo fought bravely that day, despite eventually being overcome by the technologically superior British.
The Mphebatho Museum in the near the Pilanesburg National Park in the North-West Province of South Africa showcases the history and journey of a tribe of Tswana settlers, known as the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela that arrived in the area around 250 years ago under the chieftainship of Kgosi Pilane. Their story is a less well-known and less told one, though exciting nonetheless, as they encountered Afrikaner settlers in the area, made alliances and enemies, and eventually claimed ownership of some of the most platinum-rich land on Earth. The community-run Mphebatho Museum tells the story of their history from their perspective, and definitely warrants a visit.
The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, showcases the early history of the European settlers that would later come to be known as the ‘Afrikaners’. The monument celebrates the Afrikaner settlers who migrated north from what was then the Cape Colony, to escape colonial rule and form their own republic in what came to be known as ‘Die Groot Trek’ in Afrikaans, or ‘The Big Trek’ in English. The monument was built in the mid 20th century, long after the event. Its purpose was to serve as a symbol of the goodness of God and the protection he offered these ‘Voortrekkers’ so many years ago.