There is something very special about winter in South Africa. With micro-climates varying from a snowy Matroosberg to a sunny Durban, we are spoiled for choice when exploring South Africa in winter. Enjoy warmer days and chilled evenings on the East Coast, or spend your days indoors on the Western Cape during their winter rains. Here are the 14 Best Winter Activities in South Africa.
Either way, the diversity of the South African winter affords endless opportunities and activities for all tastes, here are some of the most popular.
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Best Winter Activities in South Africa
1. Wine Tasting in the Cape
The Northern Cape is famous for producing world-class wines and its beautiful landscapes. Offering exquisite vineyards and restaurants on the Wine Route, it is a perfect getaway for winter. It is one of the 14 Best Winter Activities in South Africa.
Enjoy tasting some of South Africa’s international, award-winning reds and whites, with their recommended food accompaniments around a warm fire as you watch the rain fall over the vineyards. Plan your route by looking at the most loved wine farms in the Northern Cape.
2. Follow the Sardine Run
Occurring between May and July between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, the migration of millions of sardines along the East Coast makes for a fun spectacle for all ages. The schools of sardines bring with their seals, dolphins and sharks. View the dolphins from the beach, take a boat ride to find the seals or splurge on a helicopter ride to spot the sharks among the masses of sardines.
The warm weather on the East Coast during winter means you can make a day out of relaxing at one of Durban’s famous beaches while waiting for the sardines to arrive. This is also one of the 14 Best Winter Activities in South Africa.
3. The Durban July
Possibly the biggest event of the year in KwaZulu-Natal, the Durban July is a must if you have any interest in fashion or horse racing. The Vodacom Durban July brings people from all walks of life together – those looking to show off their latest attire or others hoping to score big with the racing on the day. It is one of the 14 Best Winter Activities in South Africa. Once again the beautiful Durban winters allow you to spend the day in the sun parading around in your best dress before leading you to one of the many exclusive after-parties thrown at the end of the day.
4. Clarens Winter Games
Spend some time hidden away in the picturesque town of Clarens while enjoying the two-day-long Winter Games. Based on Crossfit workouts, the games will provide hyped-up activity for all before heading off to the Clarens Brewery to taste some of their fine handcrafted beers. Nestled away in the Free State, Clarens is known for its unrivalled scenery and old-town feel.
5. Game Drives
As South African winters are relatively dry, animals in game farms flock to watering holes daily. This makes for perfect game viewing at one of many game lodges. Whether you are looking to spot some elusive wild dogs or find the Big 5 in one day, your chances in winter are quite high. End of your safari days with sundowners at the game lodge watching the famous South African sunset.
The Kruger National park is the most popular for tourists and visitors, and offers a wide variety of game lodges, have a look at them here:
6. Namaqualand Flower Route
Starting in July, the famous Namaqualand planes begin bursting with colour. The blooming of the flowers in this region takes place each year and is a true spectacle to behold. The plethora of flowers and colours will leave any person in awe. Visit the Richtersveld National Park or the Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve while driving through fields full of beautiful daisies and stop in at one of the homey B&Bs found along the way.
7. Go Whale Watching
Without a shadow of a doubt, whale watching is something you have to do during winter and one of the best and most renowned whale-watching spots in South Africa is Hermanus. Hundreds of Southern Right whales make their way to Hermanus’ Walker Bay every winter to breed and watching these majestic creatures of the sea can be quite an amazing experience. Carry a pair of binoculars if you want to spot the whales from land or get adventurous and take a boat ride out to sea to get a closer look.
8. Camp out in the snow
If you want to enjoy the ˜winter wonderland’ kind of experience in South Africa, head to the Golden Gate National Park in the Free State! The park is quiet during winter months and you can have an entire campsite to yourself with snow on all sides! In winter, the famous sandstone cliffs that are usually bathed in brilliant shades of gold are wrapped in a soft blanket of snow and the sight cannot be described in words. If camping in the chilly weather isn’t really your cup of tea, you can always stay in the nearby Golden Gate Hotel.
9. Indulge in Art
It takes place from 3 to 13 July, the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, is the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent. This 11-day event pays homage to every form of art. Starting from dance to music, street theatre, film and much more. The first festival was held in 1974 when the 1820 Settlers National Monument was officially opened. With the exception of 1975, a festival has been organized every year since then. Now in its 40th year, the National Arts Festival is where you go to see some of the finest talents come together. The festival takes place at approximately 50 venues scattered throughout the Grahamstown area.
10. Surf in the supertube
Go for surfing all year round in South Africa but if you are looking for some serious waves head to Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape during the winter months. Jeffrey’s Bay is one of the best surf spots in the world and every year surfers from across the globe make their pilgrimage to this mecca of surfing. At Jeffrey’s Bay, you bear witness to one of the most magnificent right-hand point break waves that the world has to offer. Waves include Supertubes, Boneyards, Impossibles and the Albatross. Waves here can break in excess of 20 feet.
11. Winter Safari
In many parts of South Africa, the drier winter months are actually the best time to view wildlife. Here, in Kruger, Madikwe, Pilanesberg and KwaZulu-Natal game parks animals are concentrated around water sources and are easier to spot in the thinned-out bush. In these regions the skies are clear. Most days are sunny, and there is little or no rain during these months, making it perfect for photo opportunities. It does get cold in the morning and night. Better to carry warm clothes when going on safari in an open vehicle during June, July and August.
12. Koo Koo Ka choo!
Although may not be a typical winter activity, it certainly is a lot of fun. Book a ride on an old steam train with the Reefsteamers, which is a non-profit organization affiliated with the Transnet Heritage Foundation (Railway Museum) that is dedicated to preserving and rebuilding old steam locomotives.
Reefsteamers offers train rides from Johannesburg to Magaliesberg and back. Their special ‘Winter Photo Day’ offers the unique opportunity to photograph a number of locomotives moving around Reefsteamers’ Germiston depot and in several authentic static positions around the depot in the early morning light. Seats are limited so booking is of the essence.
13. Winter Festivals
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.
You can also be a part of The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival which kicks off in Oudtshoorn in the 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.
You can also enjoy the food festival which is no further than the Knysna Oyster Festival on the Garden Route. 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 June, is full of good food, entertainment and family fun. But the real drawcard is the participation of over 40 wineries and tourist establishments offering tasting, pairings and cellar tours.
14. Surf a Super Tube at Jeffrey’s Bay
Jeffery’s Bay on the East Coast, close to 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.
At J Bay, the longest, most perfect right-hand point break on the planet”, you will find a series of no less than 10 distinct surfing sections. From Kitchen Windows, Magna tubes, 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 J’Bay 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 visit in winter. With numerous surf shops urging you into the water, offering boards, wetsuits and lessons J Bay is a great place to learn to surf or just sit back and be inspired by the locals and pros.