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The Pilgrim's Rest

Pilgrim's Rest is a small museum town situated on the magnificent Panorama Route in the Kruger Lowveld region of the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.  The area is richly imbued with a diversity of natural, cultural and historic gems. The entire town of Pilgrim’s rest has been declared a national monument. Here, visitors can relive the days of the old Transvaal gold rush.

The uniqueness of this historic village is vividly evident in its museums and historic sites.  It offers the visitor a fascinating window into the past, and captures the spirit of a bygone era and its people in their quest for gold.

Bank

The entire town of Pilgrim's Rest was declared a National Monument in 1986 as a living memory of the early gold rush days in South Africa during the late 1800s / early 1900s. Since then a dedicated team of historians, architects, curators and special interest groups closely monitor all developments and refurbishments in the village to maintain its historic appearance.

The history of this quaint and delightful village dates back to 1873 when a miner, Alec "Wheelbarrow" Patterson had found gold deposits in Pilgrim's Creek, on the farm named Ponieskrantz. Though the discovery was kept as a secret, once a second prospector named William Trafford also discovered gold close by, the inevitable happened. Soon after, optimistic panners and prospectors from all over the country and the World came to the area. The Valley proved to be rich in gold and by the end of the year, there where about 1500 diggers working in the area. As a result, Pilgrim's Rest became a social center of the diggings. 

Hotel

On 22nd September 1873 Pilgrim's Rest was officially proclaimed a gold field and the scatter of tents and elementary shacks soon grew into a flourishing little village complete with sturdy brick houses, shops, churches, canteens, a newspaper and the well-known Royal Hotel. Within a year there were 21 stores, 18 canteens, 3 bakeries and all sorts of other interesting establishments. Interestingly, the diggers called it Pilgrim's Rest because here, at long last, after so many failed dreams they had truly found their home.

Mining was active until 1971 when Beta Mine was closed down. Tranvaal Gold Mining Estates opened again in 1999 and there is active gold mining in the hills around Pilgrim's Rest.

Today, Gold Panning is still supported and practiced by people from all races, genders and ages. There is plenty to do and experience here. From exciting curio and craft shops to fascinating historical sights, one can never be bored. Interesting historical sites include old church buildings, namely Sacred Heart Church, St Mary's Church, Methodist Church and Dutch Reformed Church, Dredzen Shop and House Museum, Historic Cemetery, Joubert Bridge, Digging Museum & Gold Panning and the Printing Museum.

Garage

Mining was active until 1971 when Beta Mine was closed down. Tranvaal Gold Mining Estates opened again in 1999 and there is active gold mining in the hills around Pilgrim's Rest.

There is an abundance of gorgeous arts and crafts shops where one can purchase pottery, stained glass, weaving, hot glass and even custom crockery. Other exciting activities include horse riding, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking and golfing. The Mount Sheba Nature Reserve boasts a series of outstanding walks offering spectacular scenery.

There never was a more beautiful or romantic spot to have a gold rush than Pilgrim’s Rest. This spectacular area is richly imbued with a diversity of natural, cultural and historic gems. The uniqueness of this historic village is vividly evident in its museums and historic sites. The beauty here is unsurpassed. Pilgrims Rest offers all visitors a fascinating look into the past and captures the spirit of a former era and its people in their quest for gold. It is definitely well worth a visit.

South African Birdlife

South Africa is known the all over the world for its abundance of wildlife, not least of all its many birds. In fact, there is an established avi-tourism industry that invites birding enthusiasts from all over the world to indulge in top-class bird-watching.

Vulture

The sheer variety of birdlife in South Africa is impressive; made up of typical African birds, migrants, and Endemic Birds. Visitors can join up with a formal birding tour group or can explore the country and its species on their own. Of the approximate 850 recorded bird species in the country, around 725 are resident birds (or, at least, annual visitors). An impressive 50 avian species can only be found in South Africa, giving birders a prime opportunity to spot something very special. There are many intra-African migrant birds that hail from across the globe. Some have their origins in China, Europe and even the Arctic and Antarctic. Notable endemic varieties include the Black Oystercatcher, Blue Crane, Cape Parrot, Cape Vulture, Forest Canary, Ground Woodpecker, Jackal Buzzard, Knysna Turaco, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Protea Seedeater, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, White backed Moosebird, and the Yellow-breasted Pipit.

Crested

Avian enthusiasts are often lured to South Africa by the variety of endemics and endangered bird species. The endemic species can be found throughout the countryside and landscapes of this country; through grasslands, mountains and even dry desert regions.

Thanks to the abundance of excellent South African hotels and accommodation facilities, as well as an established transport infrastructure (including international car hire companies), South Africa is proving to be one of the world’s top birding hotspots.

Owl

South Africa boasts a multitude of nature reserves and game reserves like the Kruger National Park are home to an extraordinary array of wildlife, including many bird species. Many of these cater specifically to keen bird-watchers to make their experience as rewarding as possible. Added facilities in these parks and reserves may comprise bird hides, trails through their natural habitat, information sheets and experienced guides that are equipped to find more elusive species and point them out to visitors.

Nature loving tourists are well-rewarded when they visit this country, and are reminded to bring their binoculars and identification aids.

Best Time to Visit South Africa

When is the best time to visit South Africa, you ask? Well, how many seasons are there in a year? When it comes to pinning down the best time to visit the Rainbow Nation, you’ll find a year-round vacation destination whose varied landscapes and kaleidoscopic attractions promise a thrilling getaway no matter what time of year you visit. South Africa is a large and diverse country with a climate that varies from region to region: Cape Town and the Western Cape experiences winter rainfall (June to August) and a largely bone-dry hot summer while much of the rest of the country, including the Kruger Park area, have heavy summer thundershowers (December to March) and a dry winter period from May to October. The Garden Route and Eastern Cape on the other hand can experience rain at any time of year.

Spring, September – November
The birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming! Spring in South Africa sees visitors flock to the West Coast to see the magnificent springtime flower displays on offer. Prime destinations for this include the Namaqualand Flower Route and the West Coast National Park. Photographers and nature lovers alike are sure to be wowed by South Africa’s flower season. Meanwhile, Cape Town is warming up nicely in time for the sun-drenched summer months but is still devoid of some of the larger tourist crowds that flock to South Africa’s darling city. Up the east coast of the country, whales are spotted, making it a great time to head to towns like Hermanus on the Whale Route. Spring is also a superb time to visit South Africa if you want to go on safari, and Kruger National Park, in particular, promises excellent wildlife sightings.  KwaZulu-Natal‘s game reserves are winners at this time of the year, just before the summer months when the sub-tropical climate makes it a bit too hot and humid. Towns such as Ballito and Durban along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline are the perfect spots from which to take many a dip in the warm Indian Ocean’s waters.

Spring

Summer, December – February
Oh yes, its summer! The days are long, the holiday cheer is plentiful, and the sun shines down on the landscape day in and day out. Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations if you visit South Africa during the summer months, and if you don’t mind the crowds, it’s certainly the place to be.  In Kruger, the babies born a few weeks before are now more confident and playful, and the park is dotted with various antelope and their minims strutting about. That said, danger is always lurking thanks to resident big cats and the most vulnerable members of any herd are always the young. 

Summer

Autumn, March – May
The sunlight hours are becoming fewer and the evenings may require a cardigan, but the days are still filled with warmth. Cape Winelands destinations such as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, with its cobbled streets and oak-lined avenues, are truly a sight to behold when trees turn the buttery, warm hues of autumn. KwaZulu-Natal has cooled down again, and the breezes coming off the ocean almost make you think that Mother Nature is breathing a sigh of relief, too, at the lowering humidity. This is also rutting season so safari spectacles can be quite exciting with the quest for dominance spurring many a head-on in the antelope community.

Autom

Winter, June – August
Wildlife sightings are easier than ever in winter with safari destinations, such as Madikwe and Kruger, being hit by their dry season. The foliage thins, the river and water sources dry up, and wildlife is forced to cluster together and search a little harder for food and water – which is great news for safari-goers! Nearby, the most picturesque self-drive route in the country, the Panorama Route, is at its most appealing after the rains. The rainy season often brings mist, ruining the incredible viewpoints that dot the area, from God’s Window and the Three Rondavels to the Blyde River Canyon. This area is also a perfect add-on to any Kruger itinerary, with both areas conveniently at their best in the winter months. Countless winter specials and the city all to yourself certainly take the chill out of a Cape Town winter, so don’t discount the Mother City between June and August when you visit South Africa. In Hermanus, the Whale Season is ongoing with sightings of humpback and southern right whales all along the Western Cape coastline. 

Winter

All in all, there’s something to see whatever time of year you decide to visit South Africa, making this wonderfully diverse and intoxicatingly beautiful country an incredible year-round holiday destination. Contact your travel expert Travel2Africa today for more advice on what to do and where to go on your South African vacation.

Knysna Tourism and Holidays

Knysna stands out on South Africa's famed Garden Route thanks to the sandstone cliffs that dramatically separate its tranquil lagoon from the pounding surf of the Indian Ocean. It's also home to the country's largest indigenous forest. Hop aboard a ferry for a ride through the scenic highlights. The Millwood Mines at Jubilee Creek, site of a major gold rush in 1885, provide a picturesque spot for a picnic. Be sure to try some local oysters during the renowned annual festival.

This buzzing and interesting town is a popular holiday destination throughout the year for both tourists and locals alike. Best known travel destinations and is an excellent stop-over whilst touring the area.  Located in the Western Cape province of South Africa, Knysna is a buzzing vibrant town throughout the year.

Lagoon

Knysna’s indigenous forests, fynbos, lakes, rivers and mountains, combined with a temperate climate, makes this area a natural Garden of Eden.  As a little-known fact, the indigenous forest consists of the largest complex of closed-canopy forest in Southern Africa.

This is a natural paradise of lush, indigenous forests, tranquil lakes and golden beaches. She nestles on the banks of a breathtakingly pretty lagoon, now a protected marine reserve that is home to the extraordinary sea horse and over 200 species of fish.

Beaches, lakes, mountains and rivers provide endless opportunity for leisure and outdoor adventure. Within the town, craft shops, flea-markets and cosy cafés beckon with small-town charm and hospitality. The area around Knysna is a veritable Garden of Eden. This is home of the only forest elephant in South Africa, the rare Pansy Shell, the brilliantly coloured, and elusive, Knysna Loerie, a plethora of waterfowl and forest birds, dolphins and visiting whales.

The indigenous forests in Knysna constitute the largest complex of closed-canopy forest in southern Africa, whilst the remarkable richness of the Fynbos vegetation contributes over 8000 plant species to the Cape floral kingdom. Exploring the Knysna forests, along demarcated walks, with the occasional call of the Loerie, provides a complete escape into a former time when many elephants trod these paths, particularly if you’ve read Dalene Matthee’s ‘Circles in a forest’.

Kynsa

Today a mere three elephants are reputed to still roam the forest. The Knysna Elephant Park has brought the elephant back to Knysna and all the elephants are former orphans rescued from culling operations in the Kruger National Park, except for Thandi who was born in the park.

A visit to Knysna would be incomplete without a trip to the heads - a striking geological feature made up of a pair of huge, brightly coloured cliffs lying at the mouth of the lagoon, flanking a channel of potentially treacherous water that flows into Knysna’s lagoon. The eastern head houses a lookout with spectacular views of the lagoon, Leisure Isle and Knysna whilst the western head is a privately owned nature reserve called Featherbed Nature Reserve. Visitors can get to the reserve via ferry. The Featherbed Nature Reserve provides scenic views of Knysna and The Heads from the opposite shore of the Knysna Lagoon

The harbour area and the Knysna Waterfront is also home to most of Knysna’s nightlife, with several bars, restaurants and clubs where patrons can enjoy a cocktail while watching the sunset over the heads. Golf enthusiasts will find the area a treat, with several world-class courses on offer both in Knysna itself, and in neighbouring towns. 

Meet South Africa’s Small 5

Interestingly tourists coming to South Africa are always keen to see the country's celebrated Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino) neglecting a wealth of smaller wildlife. Entire vacations are planned for the sole purpose of spotting them. But I would like to introduce you to the lesser known “Small 5”, whose names relate to their bigger counterparts, this is called the Little Five: elephant shrew, ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver and leopard tortoise.

The Elephant Shrew

The Elephant Shrew
Getting its name from the elongated snout that resembles an elephant’s trunk, the elephant shrew (pictured above) is the most adorable of the Small 5. It is also the hardest to spot. Weighing around 28 g, they are active during the day and are said to be highly nervous and intolerant of trespassers. To avoid nasty tempers, they prefer going unnoticed by remaining absolutely still. Their long legs make them proficient at lightning-fast sprints away from danger.

The Antlion

The Antlion
Named for its lion-like method of ambushing prey, the ferocious antlion is an insect with about 2 000 species worldwide. ‘Antlion’ is a term actually reserved for the larval stage of the insect’s life cycle. Adults closely resemble dragonflies. The antlion larva has a masterful art of digging conical pits in dry, soft sand that is easy to shift. It will take some effort to get a glimpse of this Small 5 predator, but you should see its little cone-like sandpits on the ground. If you’re patient, you may be rewarded with a spectacular display of ambush in action. Whether you spot one or not, you can impress friends with this useless fact: An antlion larva never poops.  It waits until it is an adult before excreting all the left-overs from its time as an underground predator.

The Buffalo Weaver

The Buffalo Weaver
Buffalo weavers live in the dry savannah and acacia woodland areas, where they forage omnivorously on the ground, often following the trail of buffalo herds. A beautiful find among bird watchers, these social birds tend to form large, loosely ordered colonies. Weavers build massive communal roosts in tall acacia and baobab trees, which can be easily spotted for their untidy appearance. There are two species of Buffalo Weaver.  More common is the noisy Red-Billed Buffalo Weaver and there is the White-Headed Buffalo Weaver.

Leopardtoir

The Leopard Tortoise
The large leopard tortoise gets its name from its attractive black and yellow speckled shell, clearly resembling a leopard’s spots. The slow-paced tortoises are one of the easiest to spot of the Small 5 (you’ll hardly miss one lumbering across the road). They are typical grazers, found in semi-arid, thorny and grassland habitats throughout sub-Sahara Africa. Many African cultures see the tortoise as a sacred symbol, but they are also widely eaten and considered a delicacy.

beetle-rhino

The Rhino Beetle
Another Small 5 insect is the rhino beetle, which gets his name from the distinctive horn-like structure on its head. Both sexes have horns, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them. The horn makes an excellent digging and climbing tool, while the males also use them in combat during mating season. Adult rhino beetles are an impressive 2.5 – 5 cm long. Not only are they one of the largest beetle varieties in the world; they are also proportionally the strongest animal in the world, known to lift 850 times their own weight.

Have you spotted any of the Small 5 creatures before? Give it a shot next time you’re on safari in the Kruger National Park!