Sept 2015

South Africa’s eight wonders

Written by Ursula Graaff

Sport, arts and culture

South Africa is not only home to some of the world’s best scenic views, coastlines and wildlife but also boasts eight heritage sites as determined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee.

A heritage site is a place of cultural or natural significance that is recognised as being of outstanding international importance and deserving of special protection.

All South Africans should make time to visit one or all of the sites.

The eight heritage sites are:

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is South Africa’s first world heritage site, and is situated in KwaZulu-Natal’s central coast of Zululand. Previously known as Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to a range of species of plant and animal life. With its exceptional beauty, the park contains lake systems, interlinking ecosystems, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system and coastal dunes. That would probably explain why its name would be translated to “miracle and wonder”.



Robben Island

Robben Island has become a symbol of “the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression”. The island is situated offshore from Cape Town and is also home to the Robben Island museum. Many political prisoners, including former president Neslon Mandela, were held on the island during apartheid. In 1999 the World Heritage Committee declared Robben Island a World Heritage site of cultural significance.


Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind lies in Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and surrounding areas. These regions have one of the world’s richest early human fossils or remains thereof. These fossils are as old as 3.5 million years old and these fossils and remains of ancient plants and animals, stretch over a distance of 47 000 hectares. The area provides important information on early humans who appeared 5 million years ago.



Maloti Drakensberg Park

The Maloti Drakensberg Park is known as a mixture of both cultural and natural significance. Culturally because of its rock paintings, and naturally because of its location in the Drakensberg mountains. The park is situated west of KwaZulu-Natal on the Lesotho border. For more than 4 000 years, the mountains have been home to South Africa’s indigenous people, the Khoisan. This would explain the rock paintings, “the largest collection in Africa”. These rock paintings are educational as they shed light on how the San people viewed the world they lived in.


Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape

Mapungubwe, situated in Limpopo, means “place of the stone of wisdom”. It was known as South Africa’s First kingdom where people of affluent status traded with Egypt, India and China. Mapungubwe is situated in the grasslands of the Mapungubwe National Park, which is at the joining of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers in the Limpopo province. It borders, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, which would explain the reasons for it being a trading centre.



Cape Floral Region

The Cape Floral Region contains 3 per cent of the world’s plant species. It consists of eight protected areas, surrounded by land and sea, stretching from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Cape. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, which is part of the region, became the first Botanical Gardens to be part of a world heritage site. The Cape Floral Region has a large number of diverse plant and animal species, ranking South Africa as third highest in biodiversity. This region is also home to many indigenous plants not known to any other place on earth. Although small in landmass, the region is home to 20 per cent of Africa’s plant life.


Vredefort Dome

Near the town of Vredefort in the Free State, some 2 billion years ago a meteorite hit the earth and created an enormous impact crater, today known as the Vredefort Dome. Although in the top three for crater structures, the Vredefot dome is the oldest and largest meteorite visible on the planet. The original crater must have been about 250-300 kilometres in diameter, but has eroded away over the years. The original impact of the meteorite was 380 kilometres across, which consists of three circles of uplifted rock. The inner circle was named a world heritage site and is visible over the range of hills near Parys and Vredefort.



Richtersveld Cultural Landscape

This landscape covers 160 000 hectares of rocky desert. A unique feature about this site is that it is owned and managed by a community, known as the Nama people. Although the temperatures in this area are very high, it provides a semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood for the Nama people. The Nama people are descendants of the Khoisan people.  Due to the land restitution programme of South Africa the Nama people were given back their land a few years ago. Today the Nama people live in the land and conserve its natural surroundings. The Nama people are still nomadic to this day. 

*Information obtained from the Department of Arts and Culture and

*Pictures obtained from

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