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A Backpacking Itinerary to Explore Undiscovered South Africa

Written by Milly Whitehead on 28 / 10 / 2016

Gap Year Advice

A Backpacking Itinerary to Explore Undiscovered South Africa.

We have been told by those in the know that a 'gap year in South Africa' is ‘rocking and trending' all over google - who would have thought it … South Africa giving Asia and South America a run for their money.

So, ever helpful and keen to see what all the hype is about we have done our research and looked beyond the tourist highlights of South Africa to find some hidden gems, which strung together will give the intrepid backpacker a fantastic, off the grid itinerary.

You won’t regret heading off the beaten track in South Africa, frankly it's the only way go...

Flying into Johannesburg:

Kwa Madwala: A Private Game Reserve

Starting with the first reason to go to South Africa - wildlife.

You know you can’t visit South Africa without spotting Ellie the Elephant or Gerry the Giraffe, it’s just one of those ‘when in South Africa’ things you have to do. But going on safari is perhaps the most expensive thing you can ever do in one’s life – literally, not joking and so you have to be creative about this.

Kwa Madwala might just be the answer - it's nestled along the southern border of the world famous Kruger National Park and has 3 of the big 5 on the reserve: leopard, elephant and rhino. But its not just about the wildlife - the reserve is an area of outstanding natural beauty - from drinking in panoramic views of the nearby Drakensburg Escarpment at ‘God’s Window’, to enjoying a sun downer on Fort Rocks - here you’ll be surrounded by landscapes to take your breath away. Heaven.

We have been sending volunteers to work here on their conservation projects for years but recently they have been kind enough to take our leapers into the Krugar on safari to see the big 5 up, close and personal. The ultimate safari experience in South Africa.

Find out more ->

"Our base, bush house, is in the heart of the reserve, surrounded on all sides by wildlife and offers a completely immersive safari setting. (In fact it has a little plunge pool to help wash away the dust!). From here you’ll be treated to encounters with game almost every day during bush walks, open vehicle safari’s and whilst traveling to and from your conservation projects."

Lesotho (pronounced ‘Lee-Soo-Too’)

A mere 6-hour drive south from Johannesburg, this secluded ‘mountain kingdom’, landlocked by the surround South African plains, is most definitely an underrated travel destination.

Most of the mountainous villages are only reachable on foot, by air or horseback, and so pony trekking on the famed Basotho pony is a definite must-do activity for the full ‘Lee-Soo-Too’ experience.

Whilst there:

Make sure you head to the Sani Pass, at 9500 ft above sea level for the tremendous views and to meet the friendly Basotho people. But most of all enjoy a taste of the local Maluti larger in the highest pub in Africa - the Sani Mountain Lodge, perched at the top overlooking its kingdom. Heaven.

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Garden Route

This refers to the South African coast line between Plettenberg Bay in the east and Mossel Bay in the west - a 300km stretch dotted with excellent beaches, inland lagoons, lakes, rolling hills and eventually the mountains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma ranges that divide the Garden Route from the arid Little Karoo.

Whilst there:

The ancient indigenous forests that line the coast from Wilderness to Knysna offer adventure trails and hiking, bird watching, canoeing on the rivers, sliding through the tree canopy or simply taking an easy walk through the forest to gasp at the size of a yellow wood trees that are over 600 years old.

With such a diverse range of things to do in this renowned region, it’s not surprising that the scope of accommodation comes up trumps. The downside is the high volume of people in the most popular towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, so book early and don't miss out.

For more information ->

Langebaan Lagoon

North of Capetown, is the quaint town of Langebaan sitting in between the coast and the incredible Langebaan Lagoon. 17km of white sandy beaches and clear water, the salt water lagoon acts as the focal point of South Africa's West Coast National Park.

Whilst there:

Protected against the elements, the mild conditions of the lagoon make it a popular spot for sailing, kite surfing, kayaking and fishing. When’s best to visit? Depends on your interests: the most popular time is August to September, known as the ‘spring flower season’, simply because of the beautiful array of heavenly flowers; If you’re a keen whale spotter, then October to November is your time.

Find out more->

Take a look at our program that enables you to spend 4 weeks living in Langebaan to work on surrounding conservation and community projects. A safari to Namibia can also be organised from here...

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Augrabies Falls

Traditionally referred to as ‘Ankoerebis’ (‘The Place of Big Noise’) by the original Khoisan people, the 60m high falls located on the Orange River in the Augrabies National Park offers nothing less. Something you could only understand by visiting the high wall of tumbling water first-hand.

Whilst there:

Trek up to Moon Rock for the panoramic view. Walk along the trails through the national park to seek out the bird and wildlife. The best time to go i.e. when the hurl of water is the loudest, is during winter (March – October).

Find out more ->

Your South African Itinerary in a Nut Shell:

Fly to Joburg, first stop Kwa Madwala - bus to Lesotho - followed by the garden Route. Reach Capetown - spend a few days seeing the highlights - then bus up to the Langebaan Lagoon - get stuck into conservation and community volunteering project- then up to Augrabies Falls - Back to Cape Town to fly home or beyond. Simples.

If you need help piecing something like this together around South Africa - just get in touch, happy to help.

If you need any more help with your gap year planning, download The Gap Adventure Blueprint our comprehensive gap year advice guide, contains several chapters on gap year preparation, where to go and what to do.

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Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning 'planet saving' programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

Reducing plastic in our oceans, protecting turtles and saving the rhino is just the tip of the melting iceberg.

All experiences include a mix of projects and adventures, travelling with a team and, of course, are risk assessed.

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Got a burning question?

Got a burning question you can't find the answer to? Filled with panic about organising your gap year? Or maybe you just fancy a friendly chat and some advice about your options? We're here to help.

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Yes please, let's keep life simple.