It is true that South Africa is not a snow destination. If it’s snow you’re after then you usually head to Alaska, Canada, Switzerland, the Northern Rockies, the mountains of France, Austria and Italy, America’s Colorado, Japan, and even New Zealand. Not South Africa.
Yet South Africa is not without snow. And when it does fall in the high-lying inland regions of the country we behave as if we’ve won the jackpot; we’re so excited by the prospect of snow that we have a Facebook page devoted to the subject snowreportsa, and we circulate pictures of snow as if we cannot quite believe our luck – ‘Snow!!! Brrrr, it is SO cold’.
Our only ski slope, Tiffendell is hardly Aspen or Montana. In South Africa you count yourself incredibly fortunate to see snow fall at all or to walk and play in it for the couple of hours it remains on the ground. So when it does fall, we travel miles to see it.
So you would travel to South Africa to see the snow because the beauty of our landscapes give the snow a backdrop that is hard to beat. And these are 7 of the best places in the country to see snow this winter…
Photograph: Maple Grove at 3 Winding Lane, Hogsback
The village of Hogsback lies high in the Amatola Mountains; a feast of waterfalls, mountain views, and indigenous forests. The beauty of Hogsback and its surrounds are said to have inspired JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and the several snow falls in winter on the mountains around Hogsback only further the association with a typical English countryside.
Snow falls once or twice a year in the village itself, between June and August (but there are no guarantees).
Where to stay: Maple Grove at Winding Lane
Photograph: At Sani Valley Lodge at Sani Pass Road, Himeville
Sani Pass, Drakensberg
The southern Drakensberg Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highest mountain range in the country, are bedecked in thick snow every winter. Snow is most consistent in three main climbing zones – Rhino Peak, Sani Pass and Giant’s Castle – usually between June and August.
Up atop Sani Pass, also known as the Roof of Africa, the snow can lie for days. The gravel pass (although there is talk of tarring) is regarded as the ‘mother’ of all South African passes and you’ll need a 4×4 to reach the snow.
The highest pub in Africa will, no doubt, reward your efforts, as will the views. Conversely try ice climbing along formal pure water-ice routes formed by streams and seeping waters, and névé snow routes. But not on your own. Contact Drakensberg Ice Climbing.
Where to stay: Sani Valley Lodge
Photograph: Kinmel Guest Farm at Rhodes, Northern Ukhahlamba
South Africa’s Snow Valley
South Africa’s unofficial ‘snow valley’ lies in the high-lying remote parts of the Eastern Cape and includes the towns of Barkly East, Lady Grey, Indwe, Rhodes, Elliot, Maclear and Ugie.
These off-the-beaten track towns, particularly Lady Grey and Rhodes, are characterised by rugged mountains, including Glen McDhui peak, beauty, history and the guarantee of annual snow fall (Tiffendell lies in this valley).
Drive the circular route that includes Naude’s Nek to Barkly East, Elliot, Ugie, Maclear and Rhodes. You will need a 4×4 as the passes are steep and icy.
Where to stay: Kinmel Guest Farm
Photograph: Matroosberg Nature Reserve
The Matroosberg of the Cederberg
In direct contrast to its smouldering summers the Cederberg is another region of the country where one finds recurrent snow during winter. The highest peak in the Cederberg is known as the Sneeuberg (snow mountain) for this very reason (at 2026 metres one would expect no less) and there is consistently a light dusting of snow on this and other high peaks during winter.
The area’s endemic protea, the snow protea, grows only in those remote and high parts of the mountains where snow is found.
Where to stay: Eselfontein
Photograph: Middelfontein Farm at 19 Piet Retief Street, Sutherland
The little Northern Cape town of Sutherland is famous for two reasons: SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) is based there, and it is guaranteed that at some stage of winter it will snow. The coldest town in the country it is also often the first to receive snow, and, as a result accommodation is usually full by the time you decide to visit, or the snow decides to fall.
Those who live in Sutherland site August as the snow month, which does not mean that it won’t snow in June or July, it is just more likely to snow more often in August (but this is no guarantee, and snow fall varies from year to year).
Where to stay: Middelfontein Farm
Photograph: Mont Plaisir Guest Farm at Station Road, Fouriesburg
Golden Gate National Park
Snow on the mountain peaks of the Golden Gate National Park is a regular event – the park lies on the northern border of Lesotho. According to the park manager snow is recorded in these mountains almost every month of the year, including the middle of summer.
But during winter when overnight temperatures plummet to -15 degrees Celsius then snow lies like a blanket, transforming the amber-hued Malutis into something out of a European Christmas storybook.
Where to stay: Mont Plaisir Guest Farm
Photograph: Hillhouse at Hillhouse Farm, Dargle, Natal Midlands
Dargle is KwaZulu-Natal’s Sutherland. If it’s going to snow in the Midlands, then it is very likely to fall in the Dargle Valley at the back of the iNhlosane Mountain (if you live in Dargle then chances are you’ve also climbed this mountain).
No guarantees of snow, but if you cannot reach the Drakensberg and you live in KwaZulu-Natal, then Dargle is your best bet. And not a bad choice either; the little town, set amidst dairy farms, is worth more than a second glance.
Where to stay: Hillhouse