Most people read the word winter and conjure up pictures of snow, ice skating, and frost, which is great if you like wintersports, but for most of us these images are not what we like to associate our summer holidays with. Yet winter in South Africa and holidays are not a contradiction in terms. There are some very good reasons why you should travel to South Africa during their winter season.
Winter in South Africa is fairly short: June-August in the Western Cape and May-July in the more northern regions. The Western Cape receives most of its rain in winter often combined with strong winds. However, in between these cold fronts the days are bright and sunny with temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius, just like the average British summer. At the higher altitudes of the interior plateau, winters are generally dry with sunny but crisp days (around 16-19 degrees Celsius) and cold nights with the occasional night frost. In KwaZulu Natal, most of Limpopo, and the Lowveld areas of Mpumalanga, winters are also dry with little or no wind and sunny warm days (early to mid 20 degrees Celsius). In the high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal however you can expect to get some snow.
Basically South Africa’s winter season is short and very mild and what makes it even more special is the Secret Seven:
From June to November, Southern right whales migrate in large numbers into the South African waters, especially along the Cape coast, for breeding. These gentle giants can be seen nursing their babies, mating, even giving birth, or just hanging out in the coastal shallows from land, as well as on one of the many boat whale watching cruises on offer. A truly magical experience not to be missed.
Winter is excellent for safari in e.g. Kruger National Park or Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. During the dry winters of these northern regions, water becomes a scarce resource and animals start congregating around the permanent waterholes. The vegetation also becomes thinner, making it easier for you to spot the wildlife during your game drives. Please remember to pack a warm jumper, beanie and gloves to stay warm on those chilly early morning and late afternoon/evening game drives.
3. Great white sharks
Great White Sharks are more active in winter and you can get up close and personal on a shark cage dive experience in either Simon’s Town or Gansbaai. For those like me, finding the Atlantic water in winter way too cold, you can sit on the boat’s deck and enjoy the spectacle from a dry and warm position. Also a great spot for those Jaws action pictures.
4. Flower Season
In the Western Cape, nature comes truly alive during its wet winter. The incredibly diverse Fynbos with its striking Proteas and Conebushes are in full flower during the winter. The West Coast has a very special, but short, flower extravaganza during August and September, when all the spring flowers start blooming more or less at the same time, creating multi-coloured carpets.
5. Activity holidays
Winter is a good time for the many hiking trails on offer in South Africa, such as the Otter Trail, Oystercatcher Trail, The Darling Stagger, Green Mountain Trail, or the Wild Coast hiking trail, as summer is often too hot for hiking. No crack of dawn starts, trying to find cover at midday, and carrying litres of water to avoid dehydration. Just enjoyable walking conditions.
Also, in winter the best conditions can be found for surfing and scuba diving (April to September), which doesn’t mean that you can’t surf or dive the rest of the year. A special event is the Sardine Run (May to July) off the coast of KZN, each year attracting many scuba-divers.
6. Northern Cape
Winter is an ideal time to visit the Northern Cape, when temperatures are more bearable. A visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with the black-maned Kalahari lions and/or the harsh environment of the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park with its unique quiver trees is a real treat for 4×4 enthusiasts and nature lovers. Both are true off-the-beaten track destinations, ideal for 2nd or 3rd SA timers, but are not for the fainthearted.
7. Low season
Although summer in South Africa sounds very appealing, you need to keep in mind that the main summer school holidays is from early December to mid-January. This is the time that many South Africans flock to all coastal areas to enjoy a family holiday, meaning congested roads, beautiful but crowded beaches, packed restaurants, and peak season prices. In winter, you can enjoy not only very good low season prices and winter specials, offering you great value for money, but also peace and tranquility. And what is better than enjoying an evening meal in front of a roaring wood fire?