Autumn – the secret season. A time of year that, in South Africa, stretches across March, April and into May, marked by cooler mornings and evenings.
Dried, crisp, brown leaves litter kerbsides, roads and gardens – blown by the wind or the insistent whine of garden leaf blowers. The presence of vivid colour that marks autumn elsewhere in the world – the reds and ochre of deciduous trees – is not as prevalent here; the season’s passing not as marked.
And that is because much of our indigenous flora comes into flower during autumn. Plant bulbs, autumn-flowering ericas, buchus and coleonemas, roses encouraged to flower again, diclyptera eenii spouting purple flowers beside riverbeds and in amongst thorny scrub, cosmos that litters the roadside…
Autumn is the season when one can bathe in the sun. Basking on a bench, late afternoon light glinting off the sea or a nearby river, the rain and cold of winter still to come; these moments are perfect enough to bottle and sell.
Autumn turns the grape vines of Franschhoek, Paarl, Pniel, Stellenbosch, Klapmuts, Wellington and Tulbagh a vivid red, ochre and brown. Catch them at the right time and the winelands, rather than exhibiting overgrown green, leafy boughs hung low with grapes as they are in summer, are a hodgepodge of burnt amber, orange, yellow and brown; the gnarled crevices of the backdrop mountains defined now that the glare of the summer sun has passed.
- Taste wine on the Franschhoek Wine Route, Paarl Vintners, Stellenbosch Wine routes, Wellington Wine Route
- Head for the Greater Simonsberg Wine Estates and Tulbagh Wine Estates
- Visit the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve
- Do the Cape Winelands Walk
- Play on De Zalze and Devonvale golf courses
- Drive the Du Toitskloof and Helshoogte passes
- Take in the history of Groot Drakenstein Prison, the last place in which Nelson Mandela was incarcerated
- Walk the Jonkershoek, Limietberg, Mont Rochelle and Paarl Mountain nature reserves
- Do the Franschhoek Wine Valley food and Wine Route
The Overberg landscape, its fields refined shades of light sienna – now devoid of wheat – and purple; broken only by the browns and greens of trees and the silver of telephone lines, is sumptuous in autumn. The Overberg’s hills sweep to meet the brilliant blue of the sky, round bales of hay in rows giving a sense of order and restraint to the otherwise moving landscape.
- Drive the Caledon Blue Crane Route, and the Overberg Fynbos Route
- Visit De Mond and Greyton Nature Reserve
- Taste wine at the Elgin Valley wine estates
- Explore Platbos Forest
- Follow the great historical walk of Bredasdorp
- Sip beer at the Birkenhead Brewery
- Hike the Caledon Wildflower Trail
- Do the Cape Canopy Tour
- Visit De Hoop Nature Reserve
- Buy handmade rugs at Genadendal Handweavers
- Buy fresh and free-range at the Greyton Market, Hermanuspietersfontein Farmers’ Market and the Napier Farm Stall
This narrow sweep of land, bordered by the Swartberg and the Langeberg mountains, is the southern sibling of the Groot (larger) Karoo. It has earned the byline of ‘the unhurried region’ with good cause. The Klein Karoo is remote, quiet and peaceful.
It has many memorable features: gravel roads, weathered barns alongside farm fences, odd pink and purple flowers that add colour to the rich blue of the sky, the grey green tufts of grasses that intermingle with rare plants and succulents found only in this region, the access to wildlife and the Cango Caves.
- Explore the Swartberg World Heritage Site
- Visit Karoo towns of: Prince Albert, Matjiesfontein, Ladismith, Barrydale, Calitzdorp, Klaarstroom, De Rust, Oudtshoorn, and Uniondale
- Drive through the Anysberg, Gamkapoort and Gamkaberg nature reserves
- Explore the Swartberg, Bosluiskloof, Garcia’s and Cogmanskloof passes
- Vist the Cango Caves
- Drive the Gouritz Biodiversity Meander
- Attend the Klein Karoo National Art Festival (end of March over a week)
- Taste wine on the Klein Karoo Wine Route
The Waterberg is a mountainous area that stretches for thousands of kilometres in the Limpopo, a place of valleys and escarpments that does not always make it into South African marketing brochures, overshadowed by such highlights as Cape Town and the Kruger National Park.
Its features include deep gorges, kloofs, rock formations, clear mountain streams and dry deciduous forest, or bushveld. And in autumn, whilst the mornings and evenings are chilly, the days are enviable.
- Touch and feed elephants in Bela Bela
- Drive the Bokpoort Pass
- Taste beer at L’abri Fountain Brewery
- Visit the Palala Rhino Sanctuary
- Watch potters at work at Pedi Potters
- Ride on the backs of horses with Savannah Horse Trails
- Hike the Stamvrug Hiking Trails
- Drive the Waterberg Meander
This part of the country does ‘rustic’ like no other. It lies between Pietermaritzburg and the mountains of the Drakensberg – almost guaranteed to take your breath away with its sumptuous farmland, charming towns and a renowned arts and crafts route.
The Midlands are particularly attractive during autumn, with the sapping heat of summer a thing of the past. Country cottages, farm fare, scenic drives and a myriad reasons to stop and visit on the meander routes mean you will be hardpressed for time no matter how long you stay.
- Stay in the pleasant villages of Balgowan, Baynesfield, Currys Post, Dargle, Hilton, Howick, Nottingham Road, Richmond and Wartburg (amongst others)
- Drive the Midlands Meander
- Explore Nottingham Road Village
- Hike the Howick Falls Gorge Walk
- Visit Craigie Burn, Impendle, Kamburg and Karkloof nature reserves
- Spot the rare Cape parrot in Marutswa Forest
- See the Nelson Mandela Capture Site