8 charming South African dorpies to add to your bucket list this Tourism and Heritage Month

A South African couple packs their luggage in the boot of their car and is getting ready to explore Mzansi. Picture: FreePik

A South African couple packs their luggage in the boot of their car and is getting ready to explore Mzansi. Picture: FreePik

Published Sep 13, 2023


Every township, village and dorpie has a story to tell. Our towns share South Africa’s heritage, culture and stories of who we are as a nation.

We are a multicultural and diverse group, hence why we are known as a rainbow nation. Our beautiful land boasts plenty of travel experiences waiting to be enjoyed.

It’s Tourism Month, Spring and also Heritage Month.

As such, this is the perfect time to explore our small towns or dorpies, as some call it, to discover our heritage.

Consider our dorpies as hidden gems that need to be uncovered and Antoinette Turner, the GM of Flight Centre South Africa.

According to Turner, the heartbeat of South Africa lies not just in its popular cities, but in the stories of its smaller, unique towns.

Turner said that from Western Cape to Limpopo, there are charming little towns worth exploring.

So if you’re looking for a guide on where to go to get know our beautiful and friendly country, here is a list of places on the South African map:

Western Cape: Swellendam

According to Turner, this small town is perfect for the ultimate Heritage Day getaway.

What makes Swellendam unique is its location in the shadow of the Langeberg mountains. It is also home to more than 50 provincial heritage sites.

Turner recommends going back in time with a visit to the Drostdy Museum and strolling through the town’s precincts to capture its storied past.

She also recommended spending a few days rejuvenating in Mother Nature at Bontebok National Park, keeping an eye out for the park’s namesake antelope grazing in the wild.

“Swellendam’s Under the Oaks market on Saturday mornings offers local delicacies at reasonable prices. Grab a picnic basket and fill it with fresh produce before you visit Bontebok National Park,” she said.

Eastern Cape: Nieu-Bethesda

Turner said that Nieu-Bethesda is perfect for the explorer with an artistic soul and what makes it unique is that it is an isolated community off the main tourist routes that was originally founded as a church town in the late 1800s.

For activities, she suggested visiting the The Owl House, once the abode of artist Helen Martins, and now a kaleidoscope of glass and light.

“Uncover Helen’s artistic narrative as you wander through this dreamlike space. Be sure to wear good walking shoes and carry a hat, as there are plenty of captivating garden sculptures (including her unique watchful owls) to admire in the gleaming sunshine,” she said.

Free State: Clarens

According to the GM, Clarens is perfect for the thrill-seeker as it’s the “Jewel of the Eastern Free State” and known for its sandstone mountains and blissful weather.

When it comes to activities, she recommends you dive into the world of craft beers at Clarens Brewery.

“Sample various brews, learn the brewing process, and understand the passion behind each pour. Outside, the Ash River promises an exhilarating white-water rafting adventure with a mix of challenging surges and scenic pauses,” she said.

KwaZulu-Natal: Nottingham Road

Turner revealed that Nottingham Road in the Midlands, is perfect for the rustic gourmand.

And its unique because despite its name, Nottingham Road, it is a town, not a road.

She said it offers world-class trout fishing and an assortment of wine cellars, cheese farms and chocolate shops.

When it comes to activities, The Midlands Meander (which includes Nottingham Road) promises a gastronomic and artisanal journey.

“Stop by local craftsmen, watch them work, and then relish gourmet dishes inspired by local produce,” suggested Turner.

She also added that some of the best eateries and artisanal shops are tucked away off the main roads so you should ask the locals for their favourites and they’ll happily guide you to lesser-known treasures.

North West: Groot Marico

If you’re the outdoor type and a cultural connoisseur, then Groot Marico is the perfect pick. Turner said what makes this dorpie unique is it is surrounded by towering blue gum trees.

“Groot Marico is a glamping go-to, promising the ultimate peaceful escape,” said Turner.

She recommended immersing yourself into the stories of Herman Charles Bosman at his dedicated museum (consider purchasing a book at the museum – reading it while you’re in Groot Marico makes the experience even more immersive).

“Later, join locals for a shot of fiery ‘mampoer’, the traditional liquor, discovering how it’s made and unravelling its rich legacy,” she said.

Gauteng: Cullinan

According to her, Cullinan is perfect for the treasure hunter and unique because it’s where you’ll find the world’s most important source of ultra-rare blue diamonds, the Cullinan Diamond Mine.

Turner suggested taking underground tours of the Cullinan Diamond Mine to reveal many unique geological and historical finds.

“Adorn safety gear, delve deep, and learn about the thrilling quest that led to the discovery of the world’s largest diamond. You can also touch raw diamonds and learn about their journey from rough stone to sparkling gem,” she said.

Mpumalanga: Dullstroom

For the leisure-lover, Turner recommended taking a sho’t left to Dullstroom. She said the town is unique as it is known as ‘Emnotweni’ (Place of Wealth) as Dullstroom is one of South Africa’s highest towns above sea level and also a fisherman’s paradise.

She said Dullstroom’s dams invite you for a laid-back afternoon of fly-fishing.

“Practice this fishing technique alongside local experts, from baiting to casting, enjoying the tranquillity of the still waters and chirping birds.

“Keep in mind that fly-fishing equipment can be expensive to purchase. Instead, rent gear from local shops – they often provide a quick tutorial, maximising your experience,” Turner said.

Post-fishing, she recommended a whisky tasting at Wild about Whiskey, the town’s specialist whiskey bar and shop.

Limpopo: Haenertsburg

And last but not least, Haenertsburg is perfect for the nature navigator.

Turner said Haenertsburg teeters on the edge of the Great Escarpment and is known for its annual September Spring Festival.

The festival will take place from September 23 - 24 this year, and tickets are R50 each.

She recommended a visit to Lekgalameetse Mountain Reserve, a realm of biodiversity.

“Trek through dense forests, spot endemic bird species, and pause at viewpoints to absorb the vastness. Interact with local communities, understanding their symbiotic relationship with this green wonderland,” she said.

Every town/ dorpie has its own charm. So swap the tourist hotspots for the hidden gems and celebrate Heritage Month by exploring the rich history our incredible country.