“I go back to South Africa to both lose myself and gain awareness of myself. Every time I go back, it doesn’t take long to get caught into a very different thing….you find these cultural collisions that result in art and music, and it’s pretty amazing.” Such are the musings of Johannesburg-born musician, Dave Matthews, and he’s not alone in finding inspiration in this complex land. 1994 saw an end to the brutal years of apartheid, and although there is still a way to go, the rainbow nation is making strides towards creating a more equal, safe and diverse society, attracting growing numbers of curious travellers, especially from Europe and the US, escaping the northern hemisphere winter.
This increase in demand inevitably leads to crowded sites and inflated prices, so travelling in low season is an enviable way forward, right? Ah, perhaps, it’s not quite that simple. South Africa’s unique position on the continent’s tip results in complicated climatic conditions. The Western Cape experiences a Mediterranean climate with peak period sun-filled summers November to March, and low season cool wetter winters. In contrast, the interior plateau has dry winters ideal for the safari loving crowds, and wet summers traditionally considered low season for game viewing. The good news is there are great opportunities year-round, from iconic bucket list items to hidden surprises.
At LST we suggest you decide the main focus for your South African adventure and build an appropriately timed itinerary. If you really want to mix it up, spring and autumn will catch a good balance of shoulder seasons for both Cape and safari. Please forgive such a generalisation for a country so vast and varied. Nuances do exist with the sub-tropical north-east remaining warm year-round, Durban’s beaches experiencing daytime temperatures of at least 20°C throughout, while spring and autumn are peak times for exploring the 200km mountain range of Drakensberg.
Boasting great game viewing including a chance to see the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo, South Africa has been home to the quintessential safari experience, since 1929 when Kruger National Park opened. Other popular reserves include Addo Elephant Park on the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal’s Hluhluwe Umfolozi, and Pilanesberg in the north-west. From luxury lodges to rustic camps, self-drive or guided options, the parks are very well organised but don’t exactly come cheap. The dry winters June to September attract the highest prices with accommodation booked up well in advance as lush greenery recedes and animals arrive at watering holes. Consider instead the wetter November to May low season. Apart from Christmas, you’ll see fewer tourists, particularly at the more remote sites of Kgalagadi, Madikwe, and Mapungubwe, and better rates too. At this time you’ll enjoy the odd dramatic tropical storm, a beautiful landscape, tons of migratory birds and witness the incredible birthing of young animals. Guides at the parks are very experienced offering tips and hints about low season game viewing.
Cape Town & the Western Cape
Against the imposing backdrop of Table Mountain, lies a vibrant city so rammed full of activities, it can alone fill a dozen holiday must-do lists. Discover Cape Town’s busy Victoria & Albert Waterfront, stunning Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Two Oceans Aquarium, historic Bo-Kaap area, and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years. Explore the rugged Cape Peninsula where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans collide and meet the squabbling penguins of Boulder’s Beach. Crowds are drawn by summer’s warm long days and big festivals but the shoulder and low seasons offer more reasonable prices for some amazing experiences. March and April, the summer crowds depart, and except the marathon and Easter weekends, this a great time for good weather and fewer folk. Even in May, beach days are still possible and the sea warm. Wetter weather arrives June to August, but temperatures remain in the mid-teens. At this time you’ll avoid queuing and crowds, and although some eateries take a maintenance break, others will entice you with tasty discounted winter specials. There are plenty of sunny dry spells between the showers when you can hike the Instagramable Lion’s Head or ocean trails along the 12 Apostles coastline or Muizenberg to Kalk Bay.