About South Africa - Geography


Occupying a broad swathe of Africa’s southern tip, South Africa is Earth’s 24th biggest country.  It’s lapped by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and Indian Ocean further east, while it shares northern borders with (west to east) Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, and also encloses the independent kingdom of Lesotho.

In terms of topography – as with everything else – South Africa is startlingly diverse.  Fringed by coastal reefs and countless miles of sandy beach, the country’s southern reaches are mostly a level plateau, with notable exceptions like the Tsitsikamma Mountains. 

Eastern South Africa is dominated by the jagged Drakensberg Mountains, the country’s highest range which rises to 3,400m-high (11,100 ft) Njesuthi.  The Drakensberg’s northern tip is lush Blyde River Canyon, a mighty ravine over 16 miles (26 km) long.  At the extreme southeast are subtropical wetlands and coastal forests

Atop northwest South Africa begins the Kalahari Desert, a sandy and scrubby savannah basin which extends far into Angola, Namibia, Botswana and even Zimbabwe.  Despite being extremely arid and desolate, the Kalahari supports an incredible range of durable wildlife.  Further west is the equally-dry Namaqualand, known for its incredible daisy displays.

In the middle of all this come leagues of bushveldt and grassier savannah, often interrupted by rivers and forests.  The most diverse ecosystems have mostly gone from hunting grounds to vast, protected national parks – places like Shamwari or Kruger – due to their freakish biodiversity, Big Five (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and white/black rhinoceros) status and photographic-safari suitability.

South Africa’s major waterway, the Orange River rises in the Drakensberg in Lesotho.  A 1,400-mile (2,200 km) westward journey takes in the southern Kalahari, before the river forms the Namibian border and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay.

South Africa's most famous landform?  That’s indisputably Table Mountain, a flat-topped peak overlooking Cape Town.  All around is the Western Cape, home to glorious vineyards (the Winelands) and prolific fynbos (floral areas).


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