Introduction to South Africa

View from the top of Table Mountain.
While all of its diverse regions offer many opportunities for adventure travel, the focus in South Africa - as in much of sub-Saharan Africa - is the safari.

South Africa - General Info

South Africa is one of the most geographically varied countries on the African continent, comprising territory that ranges from the rolling, fertile plains of the highveld and the wide-open savannah of Mpumalanga to the Kalahari desert and the peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains. In addition to possessing two of the world's most renowned wildlife reserves, the Kruger and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the country contains over a dozen smaller regional parks and reserves. With its excellent road and rail systems, its abundance of top-rated accommodation, and its bountiful farmlands, vineyards, and pristine beaches, South Africa truly offers "a world in one country".

South Africa History & Culture

South Africa has been occupied by modern humans for approximately 100 000 years, with the first known inhabitants being the San people. About 2000 years ago saw the arrival of the BaNtu speaking people from Central and West Africa, who brought with them cattle, the ability to smelt iron, and a pastoralist life-style. Although early European explorers, such as Diego Cao (1480's), made stops along the coastline to hunt, it was only with the Dutch settlers (1652) that Europeans starting making an impact on what is now South Africa. Although the country became independent in 1910, due to political attitudes from 1948 onwards (the policy of Apartheid), democracy only came in 1994, and with it saw the election of the first Black President, Nelson Mandela.South Africa's population of some forty nine million is three-quarters black (African) and about 15% white (European), with the remaining 10% comprised of people of mixed white, Malay, and black descent and people of Asian (mostly Indian) descent. The African majority is composed of many different ethnic and language groups, the largest of which are Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, and Bapedi. South Africa is a very large and extraordinarily diverse country, offering the visitor an almost unlimited selection of activities. From diving and white-water rafting to mountain climbing, trekking, horse riding, and game walks. For most visitors, however, adventure travel in South Africa means safari travel.

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa. It is roughly the same size as Israel or Wales, and covers some 20,000 square kilometres. It extends approximately 350 kilometres from north to south and approximately 60 kilometres from east to west. To the west and south of the Park are the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is Mozambique.The Kruger National Park is now part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (with a total area of 35 000 square kilometres). This peace park links the Kruger with Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, and with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. The Park is justly rated as one of the world's finest game reserves. Kruger is home to more species of wildlife than any other game sanctuary on the continent. Well over a thousand lions, and large populations of leopard and cheetah, roam freely here, along with substantial numbers of elephant, zebra, rhino, giraffe, hippopotamus, impala, and kudu - more than enough to satisfy even the most shutter-happy photographer. Kruger is also an outstanding destination for birdwatchers, offering a scarcely believable diversity and abundance of species.Founded in 1898, the park has been well managed, and carefully developed. Unlike many reserves and sanctuaries, it is blessed with an excellent road network. Of recent years, its perimeter fencing has been substantially reduced, allowing for greater wildlife movement. Stretching along the park's western border are a number of private reserves, supplementing the land available to Kruger's game.

Geography and Climate

South Africa is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Indian Ocean on the south and east. Along its northern border, from west to east, lie Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and to the northeast are Mozambique and Swaziland. Wholly enclosed by South Africa, and situated in its eastern central plain, is the independent kingdom of Lesotho.Almost South Africa's entire 1.2 million square kilometres (472,000 square miles) lie below the Tropic of Capricorn and the country is geographically composed of three primary regions: an expansive central plateau, a nearly continuous escarpment of mountain ranges that ring the plateau on the west, south, and east, and a narrow strip of low-lying land along the coast. Most of the central plateau (and most of the country) consists of high (1,220-1,830 m/ 4,000-6,000 ft), rolling grassland known as highveld. The highest points of the mountainous escarpment are found in the stunning Drakensberg (dragon's back) Mountains, where the tips of dragon's back can exceed heights of 3,050 m (10,000 ft).In the northwest, South Africa's Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park extends into the red sands and scrub grasslands of the great Kalahari Desert. In the northeast, the highveld plateau descends to the Bushveld and Limpopo River basins. The Bushveld comprises South Africa's extensive savannah, in which is found the country's marvellously rich and diverse game reserve, the world-renowned Kruger National Park.Although South Africa's climate varies considerably across its various regions and environments, temperatures remain comfortable throughout the year. The best time to visit for a safari is between May and August, when there is less rain, and the vegetation is less dense, which helps to improve wildlife sightings.

Minimum Temperatures

  • December, January, February: 20 degrees Celsius/ 70 Fahrenheit
  • March, April: 19 - 16 degrees Celsius/ 66 - 61 Fahrenheit
  • May, June, July, August: 6 - 10 degrees Celsius/ 43 - 50 Fahrenheit
  • September, October, November: 13 - 18 degrees Celsius/ 55 - 64 Fahrenheit

Maximum Temperatures

  • December, January, February: 33 degrees Celsius/ 91 Fahrenheit
  • March, April: 31 degrees Celsius/ 86 Fahrenheit
  • May, June, July, August: 26 - 28 degrees Celsius/ 79 - 82 Fahrenheit
  • September, October, November: 29 - 32 degrees Celsius/ 84 - 90 Fahrenheit

Money Matters

The currency of South Africa is the Rand, commonly abbreviated to R, officially ZAR. R 1 = 100 cents.
Denominations:
Notes
- R 10, R 20, R 50, R 100, R 200.
Coins - 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent, 50 cent, R 1, R 2, R 5.There is a bank at Skukuza Restcamp, which has currency exchange facilities. Otherwise, you can arrange to get ZAR before you travel, or it can be obtained at the Airport, upon arrival in South Africa. However, it is always a good idea to travel with Traveller's Cheques, and the major Credit Cards (Visa, Mastercard, Diners, American Express), are widely accepted.Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged, at a current rate of 14%. International visitors can claim VAT back at the Airport, upon departure, on items being taken out of the country. Items have to have a value of more than R 250-00, and you have to have the original receipt/ invoice of purchase.

Time Zone

South African standard time: 2 hours ahead of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), formerly known as GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

Electricity

220/ 230 volt AC, at 50 cycles a second. The plug outlets are 15 amps, 3 pin (round). Electrical points are available at the campsites, if you need to charge camera/ video batteries.

Languages

Although there are 11 official languages spoken in South Africa (Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Ndebele, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana, and Venda), English is widely spoken.

Public Holidays

  • 01 January - New year's Day
  • March/ April (Easter) - Good Friday, Family Day (Easter Monday)
  • 21 March - Human Rights Day
  • 27 April - Freedom Day
  • 01 May - Worker's Day
  • 16 June - Youth Day
  • 09 August - National Women's Day
  • 24 September - Heritage Day
  • 16 December - Day of Reconciliation
  • 25 December - Christmas Day
  • 26 December - Day of Goodwill

Suggested Reading

  • Stevenson-Hamilton, J: South African Eden. Struik, Cape Town (1993)
  • Fitzpatrick, P: Jock of the Bushveld. AD Donker, Parklands (1993)
  • Bulpin, TV: Lost Trails of the Transvaal. Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg (1989)
  • Paynter, D & Nussey, W: Kruger: Portrait of a National Park. Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg (1992)
  • Scholes, B: The Kruger National Park: Wonders of an African Eden. Struik, Cape Town (1995)
  • Hilton-Barber, B & Berger, L R: The Prime Origins Guide to Exploring Kruger. Prime Origins (Pty), Ltd, Cape Town (2004)
  • Carruthers, J: The Kruger National Park, a social and political history. Interpak Books, Pietermaritzburg (1995)

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