Geography of South Africa
At the southernmost tip of the African continent lies a country that offers endless opportunities for adventure, relaxation and cultural sharing: South Africa. It is a large and scenically diverse country, ringed by beautiful beaches and the blue-green waters of two oceans.
With an area of approximately 1,218,000 km2, South Africa is larger than Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Holland put together and offers just as much cultural diversity.
South Africa has 2985 km of coastline offering plenty of opportunities for swimming and water sport. Some of the beaches host regular international surfing competitions and the harbours and marinas are popular destinations with yacht owners from all over the world.
South Africa shares borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Kingdom of Swaziland. The small Kingdom of Lesotho lies in the southeast of the country and is completely enclosed by South Africa. A well developed road and transport system and excellent accommodation and telecommunications facilities enable visitors to enjoy their stay with all the comforts and luxury they may desire against the backdrop of the unspoilt splendour of Africa.
South Africa offers an amazing diversity of fauna, flora and geographical features within its borders. This great diversity is a result of the climatic influence of the cold, north flowing Benguela current on the west coast and the warm, south flowing Mozambique-Agulhas current on the east coast. The east and west coasts of South Africa have significant differences in climate, vegetation and marine life.
South Africa’s surface is divided into two major physiographic features; the interior plateau and the land between the plateau and the coast. The boundary between these two areas is the Great Escarpment, the most prominent and continuous mountainous feature in the country. Its height above sea level varies from 1,500 m in the south-west to 3,482 m in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg Mountain Range. Inland from the Escarpment lies the interior plateau with its wide-open plains.
Within these contrasting zones some of the world’s most diverse animal and plant reserves are found.
Provinces: South Africa is divided into nine provinces, each with its own distinct character and identity.
The Eastern Cape is the second largest of the nine provinces and its diversity is ranging from the dry desolate Great Karoo landscape to lush forests, fertile valleys, sandy beaches and the mountainous southern Drakensberg region. The main attraction of the Eastern Cape is its astonishing coastline. With its wide sandy beaches, endless sweeps of rocky coves, secluded lagoons and towering cliffs, the Indian Ocean coastline provides the province with a rich natural resource, offering an attraction for every taste.
Embraced by other provinces, the Free State lies in the heart of the country. The Kingdom of Lesotho nestles cosily in the hollow of its bean-like shape. From the major cities to the rural village townships, the hospitality of the people is as overwhelming as the scenery is beautiful. The scenic beauty of the Free State reaches a climax in the Eastern Free State Highlands on the border of Lesotho. The amazing sight of cherry orchards clinging to the sides of sandstone-topped mountains that reflect the different colours of sunrise and sunset is something not to be missed.
Gauteng province is aptly named with the Sotho word, which means “Place of Gold”. Since 1886, when an unemployed miner bent down to pick up a stone and noticed traces of gold, adventurers and dreamers have travelled from all over the world to reach the province of Gauteng. Gauteng is geographically the smallest but economically the most significant of South Africa’s provinces. The modern Gauteng is a province of immense vitality, diversity and, above all, of opportunity. But the landscape is not only covered with modern buildings, Gauteng also has wide, open grasslands, unspoilt thornveld, rolling hills and mountains to offer.
This Zulu kingdom by the sea forms the east coast of South Africa and is often called South Africa’s garden province. From the peaks of the Drakensberg Mountain Range that hover protectively over the San Bushmen rock art heritage to the sandy beaches and subtropical greenery of the coast, it is an amazing sight to behold. Sheer physical beauty combined with a diversity of natural resources and an all-year round sunny climate make this a land well worth visiting. The warm Indian Ocean washing along the beaches makes it the winter-holiday province of the country.
Mpumalanga covers an area of immense natural beauty – a true African landscape. The combination of majestic mountain scenery, wide horizons, luscious forests and craggy rock formations, quickly brings the visitor under the enchantment of the mystery of Africa. In addition to its fascinating flora and fauna, Mpumalanga also offers the legacy of tribal legends and the gold rush fever of the 1870s.
Northern Cape Province is the largest province in South Africa but has the smallest population. Visitors quickly come under the calming influence of the vast open landscapes, the early-morning sunrise over rust-red dunes and the roaming herds of antelope. Much of this immense region is made up of rugged desert, but the mighty Orange River forms the Province’s northern boundary with Namibia and waters a highly fertile area where an abundance of crops are grown. South Africa’s veldflower extravaganza takes place here every year after the first spring rains, decorating the arid area with abundant natural colours.
The Northern Province lies within the area formed by the great elbow of the Limpopo River. This province with its dramatic contrasts, true Bushveld country and majestic mountains, indigenous forests and unspoilt wilderness area, is bordered by Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe on the west. The subtropical climate and high summer rainfalls have combined to create vegetation of breathtaking lushness and beauty. Distant mountains frame the endless landscapes of the true bushveld with its trees and thorny terrain housing the unique wildlife of the area. The province is a well-managed conservation area and is also host to such diverse nature features as wetlands and the Lowveld.
North West, the platinum province, is one of the smaller provinces. Together with the Vaal Reef Gold Mines in Gauteng, the platinum mines of the province account for nearly 60 per cent of South Africa’s economic activity. The fertile plains of the North West province are striped yellow and green by the sunflowers and mealies (maize) that grow abundantly in the hot sun, broken only by the Bushveld landscape covered with thorn trees. A journey through the wild Pilanesberg Mountains brings the visitor into the bowl of a crater where two of the country’s most popular casinos and holiday resorts, Sun City and The Lost City, nestle.
At the south-western tip of the continent of Africa, the Western Cape is an area of such beauty and contrast that few people can visit it without falling in love with it. Straddling the peninsula is the famous Table Mountain – a spectacular backdrop to the city of Cape Town. A landscape of majestic mountains, lush valleys, rivers and beaches, orchards and wine farms await explorers of this region. It is also home to “fynbos”, one of the six floral kingdoms in the world. The abundance and quality of the products of the wine estates, the spectacular Garden Route along the coast and the rugged landscape of the West Coast provide a playground suited to the tastes of all visitors.