When William Burchell's two-volume Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa was published in 1822 only 500 copies were printed and few have survived in pristine condition.
Other copies have sold for R100,000 and the book is sought after for its hand-drawn maps and hand-coloured illustrations depicting a long-lost South Africa.
Burchell was the first European to describe many local species of wildlife, including the Burchell's zebra - commonly seen in South Africa - and the Burchell's coucal, otherwise known as the vleiloerie.
His book has been acclaimed by historians for its "sympathetic" description of the people of South Africa, said AntiquarianAuctions.com owner Paul Mills.
"If you're collecting travel books from around the world, Burchell is one that you absolutely have to have if you want one or two of Africa," he said.
Burchell departed from Cape Town on June 19 1811, and by the time he returned four years later he had completed a 7000km round trip as far north as Kuruman and through much of Eastern Cape.
The book has a detailed, meticulously drawn metre-square loose map and cartographer Roger Stewart said the explorer could easily have written two more volumes.
"He was hugely impressed and deeply in love with South Africa. He was enthralled with the natural history and with the people. He got on extraordinarily well with the indigenous people and the colonials here," said Stewart.
Burchell's books accompanied Charles Darwin on his Beagle voyage, during which the father of evolutionary theory developed his ideas.
After his South African trip Burchell in 1819 testified before a select committee of the British House of Commons established to determine whether South Africa was suitable for emigration. British settlers first arrived in the Eastern Cape in 1820.