Cape Town's iconic Camps Bay beach.

Cape Town's iconic Camps Bay beach.

Cape Town’s iconic Camps Bay beach. Photo: iStock

There’s this amazing destination, and it’s about a 14-hour direct flight from the east coast of Australia.

That’s the same as LA, or Dubai. It’s closer than Lima or Rio de Janeiro. Far closer than London or New York. And the flights are cheap, too – keep an eye out for fares and you’ll get one for less than $1500 return.

And when you take that flight, you’ll arrive somewhere like no other place in the world. You’ll find a mix of cultures; a mix of landscapes. You’ll find a destination that feels completely foreign, and yet strangely recognisable. And it’s so cheap – at least half the price of Australia for everything.

Stunning Cape Town.

Stunning Cape Town. Photo: iStock

You can swan about in fancy hotels there, or you can camp out under the stars. You can eat at some of the world’s best restaurants, or you can cook your own food over a fire. You can surf, or hike, or drive, or cycle, or jump off high things, or just hang out at a bar. It’s great.

And yet the weird thing is that Australians don’t care about it. They don’t go there, and they’re not interested.

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This amazing place is southern Africa. Though you, like most Australians, are probably not interested in going there, or maybe even hearing about it. I had to trick you with the headline of this story just to make you read it. What gives?

Australians just aren’t big on travelling to countries like South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique. Stories on those destinations on Traveller.com.au don’t get half as many reads as places like New York or Bali. And those destinations never go anywhere near the top 10 destinations that Australians like to visit.

I’ve just returned from a month spent driving and camping around southern Africa, and you know how many fellow Australians I met in that entire time? Two. I met hundreds of Germans, and Swiss, and Dutch, and even a few Americans and Canadians. But pretty much no Australians whatsoever, even in world-famous tourist destinations such as Cape Town, Etosha National Park and the Okavango Delta.

Compare that to the experience you’d have in Peru, or Vietnam, or the UAE, or Italy. You’d bump into loads of your compatriots, whether you wanted to or not.

But no one cares about southern Africa.

It seems crazy to me. These are legitimately some of the best destinations on the planet, and we don’t visit. They’re affordable and accessible. There’s no language barrier. They’re also extremely friendly and surprisingly safe – Namibia and Botswana both get the Smart Traveller’s green “exercise normal safety precautions” stamp of approval, while even South Africa is only rated a yellow “high degree of caution”.

King of the road: An elephant roams in South Africa's Kruger National Park.

King of the road: An elephant roams in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Photo: iStock.

Read also: The island where the earth will move for you

And yet, when I announced I was going to southern Africa for a month, a few friends asked me, completely seriously, if I was taking a gun. To shoot what? People? Elephants? Lions?

The only explanation I can come up with for Australian travellers’ lack of a care factor over southern Africa is that it has an image problem here. People think of it as this violent, scary place. Which it’s not. They associate it with things like Ebola, even though London is closer to the source of that outbreak than Cape Town. They think malaria will get them, which also isn’t true.

The Kalahari Desert, Namibia

The Kalahari Desert, Namibia 

People seem intimidated by southern Africa, thinking you’d never want to drive yourself around there, never want to risk camping there, or going out on the town there. But that’s just a weird assumption that Australians seem to make. The Germans don’t think that way, and neither do the Swiss nor the Dutch. They’re all driving around there with little to no experience, having a ball.

Maybe Australians also haven’t got their heads around what’s so great about southern Africa. Maybe they’re not picturing the wide-open spaces, the landscapes that go from barren desert to savannah plains to coastal beauty. They’re not thinking about places like the Okavango Delta and Kruger, or Etosha and the Kalahari, places you can visit for a very small amount of money and have the time of your life.

Read also: The home of perfect coffee, but they can’t make a decent cup

The view from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.

The view from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: iStock

A week ago, I was sitting around a campfire in Botswana, drinking a whisky, when an elephant wandered in to our little clearing, rubbed itself up against a tree, munched on a few leaves, and then disappeared into the darkness. And that’s just a normal thing.  

And then you have Cape Town, where you can dine at Luke Dale-Roberts’ restaurant, The Test Kitchen, which was just named number 22 in the world by the 50 Best, or you can hang out at the Woodstock markets with all the hipsters. You can tour wineries in Franschhoek.

You can go dune-bashing near Swakopmund in Namibia.

You can explore the colonial architecture of Maputo in Mozambique.

I’m not saying these experiences are necessarily better than those you’d have in, say, Japan, or Peru, or Italy. But they’re up there. Easily up there. Which makes you wonder why no one cares about southern Africa.

Have you travelled in southern Africa? Did you meet many Australians? Why aren’t more people interested in going there?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: Three amazing countries tourists won’t go to

See also: The one dish you won’t be able to eat

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