Insight /

South Africa

Undiscovered South Africa Our expert Stephen reveals hidden gems

Unearthing South Africa’s hidden secrets with Real Holidays’ resident expert Stephen Meek

Stephen grew up in South Africa before embarking on world-wide adventures.

However, he was drawn back to the country he calls home, and made it his mission to discover in-the-know spots, local hangouts and the best places for wine, food and animal-spotting. Like a walking, talking guidebook, filled with years of locally-gleaned information, there isn’t much that Stephen doesn’t know about this diverse and awe-inspiring country.

Here are Stephen’s tips for getting the best out of South Africa.

    Take the Alternative Garden Route

    The Garden Route is one of the most famous road trips in Africa, possibly the world. Unsurprisingly, it gets busy, and who wants to be stuck in a traffic jam on holiday? Stephen recommends heading inland on Route 62, before dropping down onto the coast at Mossel Bay. The landscape of the semi-desert Little Karoo roll through dramatic mountain passes, nature reserves and plateaus flecked with fynbos, giving a glimpse to a rural and little-seen side to South Africa.

    You can visit legendary Ronnie’s Sex Shop, a bar belonging to eccentric owner Ronnie who decided not to change the graffiti that was added to his sign! Locals and tourists alike drop by this iconic stop, leaving unusual mementos. Stay in Barrydale, a charm-laden town with a bohemian flavour, seen in its art galleries, home-spun craft shops and kooky restaurants. Not far from here are hot springs, best taken at dusk, where a mineral soak in one of the five pools as stars begin to prick the sky, will quickly soothe weary travellers.

    West Coast Winners

    Visitors often head East, lured by the gleaming garden route. But the West coast has bags of hidden charm, and less tourists mean you can have a more meaningful experience at family-run places who’ll welcome you into the fold. From mid-July to August, the wildflowers that carpet this region are reason enough to visit Postberg, you can hike the narrow trails past granite boulders bordered on both sides by rainbow-hued flowers, with the turquoise Langebaan lagoon shimmering in the distance.

    At the West Coast National Park, canoeing the azure water of the Langebaan gives a wonderful perspective of the wildflower meadows.  Stephen’s not-to-be-missed tip is a long, lazy lunch at family-run beach restaurant Strandloper, a rustic right-of-passage for anyone passing through.  Settle down for a four-hour meal including mussels, smoked fish and grilled crayfish, accompanied by local musicians. If you’re craving activity head to Sunset Adventures, a traditional farm dedicated to outdoor fun and hosted by hospitable owner, Johan. Follow him on quad bikes adventure, or try archery, slingshot or clay pigeon shooting before a customary braai.

    Wineries With More

    The winelands of South Africa are well-known and for good reason. But in the last couple of years, producers are moving away from the formality of wine tasting and giving visitors a more authentic and well-rounded experience. Often in the family for generations, these wineries are opening their doors to showcase their way of life. Once such property is colonial Waterford, with its attractive Dutch architecture, and stunning setting on the slopes of the Helderberg mountain.

    This winery is trialling innovative wine tastings which pair with chocolate. Guests are also encouraged to explore the surroundings, either on a designated ‘Wine Drive’ through the estate or a hike through the fynbos with tastings on a picnic lunch. At Chamonix which overlooks the Franschoek valley, tastings can be combined with game drives – sauvignon blanc and springbok-spotting anyone? Peter Falke’s family vineyard In Stellenbosch, home to Stephen’s favourite Pinot Noir, has informal tastings. Here the wine speaks for itself, simply relax into a beanbag on the lawn, savour smooth vintages from this boutique estate and enjoy the mountain views.


If you’d like to discover more about South Africa why not plunder Stephen’s extensive knowledge yourself? Stephen can design a trip that’s perfectly right for you, with hotels, lodges or farmhouses that fit your requirements.

Take the alternative Garden Route. The landscape of the semi-desert Little Karoo roll through dramatic mountain passes, nature reserves and plateaus flecked with fynbos, giving a glimpse to a rural and little-seen side to South Africa.

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