10 Reasons to winter in Southern Africa
South Africa’s winter period runs from May to September. What most people don’t know is that due to the unique geography, and its location between two oceans, South Africa has a varied and mild climate making it a great destination all year round. Here is a list of ten things to do in South Africa from the mild to the marvellous.
No 1: Head to the beach
Durban is South Africa’s summer time holiday mecca. It’s pretty good in winter too. Winter temperatures in this Indian Ocean-lapped sea-side city average around 17°C. Not only is winter the dry season in KwaZulu Natal but the days in Durban are both frost and snow free. Read blue skies, golden beaches and balmy days.
Enjoy any number of activities in and around this bustling port city from the Fitzsimons Snake Park on the sea front to the Valley of a Thousand Hills, City Tour or Township experience, Durban is an unusual but richly rewarding winter getaway.
Lastly enjoy the relative tranquillity of being there NOT in peak season. December sees thousands flock to Durban from all around South Africa where they pack the beaches like sardines...
No 2. Sardine Run
Winter showcases the real deal with the Sardine Run; one of the greatest natural phenomena on the planet. At some point during June or July, shaols (and I mean numbers that will reach and exceed gazillions) of sardines migrate up the coast to spawn in the cool waters of the continental shelf. They come in so close to the shore and are so numerous, that you can scoop them up in a bucket!
You can take in the action from the beach, from a boat or from under the water or even from the air. The KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board hotline, 0839139495, is updated continuously to keep you informed about exactly where and when to be.
Featured on the BBC’s Blue Planet series, divers come from around the world to witness the spectacle and see first hand the feeding frenzy that it precipitates as sharks, dolphins and ganets gorge themselves on the baitballs. The energy generated by this phenomenon has been described as electric!
No 3: Winter Festivals
Because of the fantastic winter weather, warm sunny days and cold starlit nights, South Africa has a plethora of winter festivals on offer. From the weird and wacky to the scrumptious and fun, there is something for everyone.
The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival kicks off in Oudtshoorn in middle of April for a week long feast of over 150 shows. At the end of April Afrika Burn lights up the desert in the Western Cape with sculpture, music and a big dose of colourful and otherworldly fun. The National Arts Festival is however THE arts and culture festival. It has over 700 performances that transform Grahamstown into a mecca for culture lovers from around the country. The Grahamstown festival runs from the 29th of June to the 9th of July.
If you are looking for more foody experience then look no further than the Knysna Oyster Festival. From the 7th to the 16th of July, Knysna hosts everything from outdoor sports to family fun. There is entertainment and food aplenty. The Robertson Wacky Wine Weekend, 1st to the 4th of June, is full of good food, entertainment and family fun. But the real draw card is the participation of over 40 wineries and tourist establishments offering tasting, pairings and cellar tours.
No 4. Surf a Super Tube at Jeffrey’s Bay
Jeffery’s Bay on the East Coast, not far from Port Elizabeth, is a world famous surf spot. While it is a great place to surf year round, the winter months offer something a little bit different; special enough to draw enthusiasts from around the world.
What makes J Bay so unique is the existence of “the longest, most perfect right-hand point break on the planet”. The jagged muscle-coated basalt rocks of J Bay, make up a series of no less than 10 distinct surfing sections. From Kitchen Windows, Magnatubes, Boneyards and Supertubes to Impossibles, Salad Bowls, Coins, Tubes, The Point and finally Albatross, there is something for everyone.
The winter months bring the best swell and thus the biggest waves. From the 12th to the 23rd of July the JBay Winterfest celebrates the best that JBay has to offer with surf competitions, mountain bike racing, trail runs, a kite festival and live music.
However you choose to take it in, Jeffrey’s Bay is a great place to be in winter. With numerous surf shops urging you into the water, offering boards, wetsuits and lessons JBay is a great place to learn to surf or just sit back and be inspired by the locals and pros.
No 5. Go find Some Snow
While South Africa is not particularly famous for transforming into a cold and white winter wonderland, there are a few magical spots where some fire side cosiness is essential. The Eastern Cape’s inland towns are not only spectacularly beautiful but also a good bet for a dusting of snow.
If you head to the tiny hamlet of Hogsback this June or July, you are likely to run into a winter chill. Nestled in the Amathole Mountain range, not far from East London, Hogsback is high enough to experience snow. The magical forest setting has its fair share of intrigue and when the Hogs are capped with snow, the village often follows suit. With or without snow, Hogasback is a special place with loads to keep you enthralled and entertained.
There is of course a backup plan and if the snow fails to find its way to Hogsback, you can make your way to Tiffendel. Tiffendel is Soutth Africa’s premier (and only) skiing destination and while it may be cheating, the website proudly proclaims “If Mother Nature doesn’t provide it – we will”. It is a rare thing to boast of a skiing holiday in Africa, but at Tiffendel that is exactly what you will get!
No 6. Sutherland of the Karoo
Sutherland was, and is a small dust bowl that lies about 350kms from Cape Town. In the summer , this Karoo dorp (small town) bakes. In winter the ground cruches with frost underfoot. The reason that Sutherland should be on everyone’s winter to-do list is because of SALT.
Since the 1970s, Sutherland has been home to an observatory of huge proportions. Today it houses SALT or the Southern African Large Telescope. This telescope is one of the largest in the world and is the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere at 11 metres in diameter.
Chosen for its remote location, free from light pollution, Sutherland in winter offers bitingly cold nights with some of the best stargazing in the world. Book a tour of the telescope and spend some time in the Karoo, soaking up its unrivalled beauty.
No 7. Winter Botanical Splendour at Kirstenbosch
Usually, flower-time is synonymous with spring time. Here however, in the southern-most reaches of Africa – in the richest floral kingdom in the world – we are blessed with fynbos. Fynbos is peculiar to the region and what most people don’t know is that fynbos is at its best in winter.
At Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, which merges seamlessly with the indigenous slopes of Table Mountain National Park, you can experience all the best that fynbos has to offer. Proteas, sugarbushes, pincushions and conebushes all come into flower between July and August, attracting an amazing variety of colourful birdlife.
Though Cape Town does experience higher winter rainfall, there are plenty of sunshine filled days to spend walking in this gem of a garden. Soaking up the stunning views of the mountain yiu can really get a feel for the plant life that makes the entire Cape Floral Kingdom a UNESCO world heritage site!
No 8. Go Whale Watching
Hermanus is an easy hour and a half drive from Cape Town. From July Southern Right Whales make their way into the shallower and slightly warmer waters of South Africa’s Western Cape coast. Because of the ease of whale watching WWF has named Hermanus as one of the best whale watching destinations in the world.
One of the biggest draw cards of Hermanus is the 12km long Cliff Path. The hiking trail runs from the Harbour all the way to Grotto Beach and offers some of the best land-based whale watching available anywhere in the world. There are astounding views of Walker Bay and the Mountain range, beautiful spots to stop and watch the whales, numerous beaches along the way and even a restaurant to dine at the end of the trail.
The hiking trail isn’t however your only option. You can take a relaxing and scenic flight, catch a boat or even kayak if you are feeling a little more adventurous. Whether you come for the whales, the view or the seafood, Hermanus has a lot to offer every visitor.
No 9. Winter Safari
The winter months in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal are the dry months. Dry months mean limited water supply and sparse vegetation. In terms of game viewing, both of these are gold to Big Five hopefuls.
In Kruger, Madikwe, Pilanesberg and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi (to mention only a few) this is the best time to go game viewing. Because of the limited water supply, animals tend to cluster around water holes. The thinned out bushveld mean that they are easier to spot too. The result is amazing opportunities to see and photograph African Wildlife at its best.
Blue skies, mild sunny days, chilly mornings and evening camp fires conspire to make winter a pretty special time of year…
No.10. Travel in the Budget Season
To cap it all off, surprisingly – despite all that winter has to offer – winter in South Africa is low season. The low season May through August has two excellent benefits for every visitor.
Firstly, there are always winter specials and travel deals to be had. It is possible to get cheaper flights and better packages no matter where you choose to go and what your heart desires. Secondly, winter, being the low season has fewer tourists. Game Parks aren’t as packed, the pace is slower and generally you’ll have more space to spread out and enjoy yourself without the crowds.
Wherever you choose to go in Southern Africa this winter it’s a win win win no matter where you end up.