The beauty of South Africa’s natural wonders

25 Aug 21 | Lifestyle

South Africa has a rich history and cultural landscape and proudly boasts some of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has formally recognised 10 of the country’s gems as World Heritage Sites.

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (2003)

Mapungubwe is set hard against the northern border of South Africa, joining Zimbabwe and Botswana. It is an open, expansive savannah landscape at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Mapungubwe developed into the largest kingdom in the sub-continent before it was abandoned in the 14th century. What survives are the almost untouched remains of the palace sites and also the entire settlement area dependent upon them, as well as two earlier capital sites. The area presents an unrivalled picture of the development of social and political structures over some 400 years. Photo: Petro Kotzé.

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (2007)

The 160 000ha Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape of dramatic mountainous desert in north-western South Africa constitutes a cultural landscape communally owned and managed. This site sustains the semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood of the Nama people, reflecting seasonal patterns that may have persisted for as many as two millennia in Southern Africa. It is the only area where the Nama still construct portable rush-mat houses and includes seasonal migrations and grazing grounds, together with stock posts. The pastoralists collect medicinal and other plants and have a strong oral tradition associated with different places and attributes of the landscape. Photo: Petro Kotzé.

Robben Island (1999)

Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups, and a military base. Its buildings, particularly those of the late 20th century, such as the maximum-security prison for political prisoners, witnessed the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression and racism. Former president Nelson Mandela and freedom fighters such as Tokyo Sexwale, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki all spent time on the island. Photo: Digital Assets, South African Tourism.

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Khomani Cultural Landscape (2017)

Located on the border of Botswana and Namibia, in the northern part of the country, the Khomani Cultural Landscape coincides with the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. The large expanse of sand contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present and is associated with the culture of the formerly nomadic Khomani San people and the strategies that allowed them to adapt to harsh desert conditions. They developed specific ethno-botanical knowledge, cultural practices and a worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The Khomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region and shaped the site over thousands of years.

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (2018)

Situated in north-eastern part of South Africa, the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains comprise 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, one of the world’s oldest geological structures. The property represents the best-preserved succession of volcanic and sedimentary rock dating back 3.6-billion to 3.25-billion years and forms a diverse repository of information on surface conditions, meteorite impacts, volcanism, continent-building processes and the environment of early life. The self-drive trail has wonderful interpretive panels and viewpoints are clearly signposted. Photo: Taryn Arnott van Jaarsveld

Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (2004, 2015)

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004, the property is located at the south-western extremity of South Africa. It is one of the world’s great centres of terrestrial biodiversity. The extended property includes national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas, state forests and mountain catchment areas. These elements add a significant number of endemic species associated with the fynbos vegetation, a fine-leaved sclerophyllic shrubland adapted to both a Mediterranean climate and periodic fires, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region. 
Photos: Petro Kotzé.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park (1999)

Wind and water activity have produced a variety of landforms, including coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps, and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands. The interplay of the park’s environmental diversity with major floods and coastal storms and a transitional geographic location between subtropical and tropical Africa has resulted in exceptional species diversity and ongoing speciation. The mosaic of landforms and habitat types create breath-taking scenic vistas. The site contains critical habitats for a range of species from Africa’s marine, wetland and savannah environments. 
Photo: Neil Jansson

Vredefort Dome (2005)

Vredefort Dome, approximately 120km south-west of Johannesburg, is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure, or astrobleme. Dating back 2023-million years, it is the oldest astrobleme yet found on Earth. With a radius of 190km, it is also the largest and the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which had devastating global effects, including – according to some scientists – major evolutionary changes. It provides critical evidence of the Earth’s geological history and is crucial to understanding the evolution of the planet.

Maloti-Drakensberg Park (2000, 2013)

The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a trans-national property composed of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in South Africa and the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho. The site has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts, as well as visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars and rock pools. The site’s diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally important plants. The site harbours endangered species such as the Cape and bearded vultures. Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe also harbours the Maloti minnow, a critically endangered fish species found only in this park. This spectacular natural site contains many caves and rock-shelters, with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. They represent the spiritual life of the San people, who lived in this area over a period of 4 000 years.

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