Top Spots in South Africa for a Winter Break – you choose – warm or snow-filled. If the cold and rain are getting you down then there is no better cure than a holiday in a warmer clime. And South Africa, being the highly variable and impressively disparate country that it is, is not short of places, towns, villages and spaces that become optimal at different times of the year.
So, depending on the type of winter break you’re after:
- Enticingly icy, experienced in the midst of snow, clear skies and bitingly chilly winds with roaring fires, hearty food and feather-duveted evenings or
- A good deal warmer than back home, with sun-filled days that allow you to forget that you could be dressed something like a penguin, cemented in front of your heater in an attempt to forget that it’s cold out there
There is something for everyone, what ever your budget, the time you have at your disposal and your ingenuity at finding the perfect spot.
A number of tips when it comes to getting the ideal winter break:
- Take advantage of local, winter specials – accommodation venues slow down over winter and many have specials that fall mid-week / across a weekend that includes a week day, or outside of the school holidays. If they don’t have any advertised, ask – they may well introduce something for your benefit
- Go away outside of the school holidays – not always possible for those of us with children, but if you can, there will be better deals and more space all round
- Find the out of the way places – that are not as popular as other spots, as they will welcome visitors in the off peak season
Top spots if it’s a warm winter you’re after
North and South Coasts of KwaZulu Natal Coastline
The best part of heading to the coastline of KZN, is that you miss all that humidity that makes much of it uninhabitable for visitors during February / March. The downside, it must be said, is that you might strike it unlucky and head into a week of rain. But on the whole, you will get a much milder winter, and, if the sun comes out, even the beach becomes habitable – if you’re content to forgo swimming (despite the warmth of the Indian Ocean).
You might not want to head any further north of Durban than Umhlanga Rocks, or, if you’re more adventurous and enjoy the outdoor experience, you’ll head all the way up the Elephant Coast to Kosi Bay and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park – one of South Africa’s 8 World Heritage Sites – dropping in at Richard’s Bay and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve en route.
South of Durban the coast is littered with seaside resorts from Amanzimtoti through Illovo Beach, Umkomaas, Scottburgh, Pennington, Ifafa Beach, Hibberdene, Southport, Ramsgate, Glenmore Beach down to Port Edward. It’s everything beachside living during winter should be. And if you time it right, you’ll have most of the beach to yourself.
Nelspruit, Barberton, White River of Mpumalanga
Nelspruit, Barberton, White River and the other little towns of Mpumalanga lie in a tropical paradise in which wearing a jersey during the day is positively superfluous. Lined winter boots and coats are downright extraneous. If you’re heading into Kruger, you might need something warmer at night, and a fire is not unheard of in your hearth in the evenings – although it’s more to do with the idea of winter than to ward off anything resembling a chill.
Mpumalanga is large and varied, including a range of incredible landscapes from escarpment vistas to wetlands. It is far more than the ‘lowveld’ with which it is most associated, and more than the sum total of game lodges to which most visitors head.
Explore Blyde River Canyon, Echo Caves, God’s Window, and Sabi Sabi whilst driving the Panorama Route, and the Highlands Meander. Highlights include the Lowveld Botanical Garden in Nelspruit, elephant-back safaris in Hazyview, stone circles in and around Barberton, and the wild horses of Kaapsehoop.
Tzaneen, Haenertsburg, the Kruger of Limpopo
The Kruger National Park is not only accessible via the Limpopo – probably the most popular parts of the Kruger are entered from Mpumalanga, via gates at Malelane, Paul Kruger, Crocodile Bridge, Phabeni and Numbi. But the lowveld of the Kruger via Limpopo is debatably the more exciting part of the national park.
Certainly, you won’t be hindered by anything resembling winter chill in this province (except in the hills and mountain passes and in the evenings, perhaps). And, as with Mpumalanga, there are a myriad other highlights that make a visit to the province a must – Makapansgat Valley, Modjadji Cycad forest, a myriad hiking trails, baobab trees – including the world’s only pub inside one of them -, and the towns of Tzaneen, and Haenertsburg (our personal favourites, but certainly not the only towns worth a visit).
The Magaliesberg of Gauteng
No longer Jo’burg‘s secret weekend hideout the Magaliesberg, though admittedly not warm at night by any stretch of the imagination – highveld winters are decidedly chilly -, is almost guaranteed to enjoy sun-filled days with the intense blue skies that make Gauteng an obvious alternative to rainier climes in the country.
It might be a small area on the map, but there is plenty of accommodation to choose from, and even more to keep you busy in the Magaliesberg. Visit Hartebeespoort Dam, Hekpoort, Kromdraai and the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, the village of Magaliesburg, numerous nature and game reserves and Sterkfontein Caves.
Highlights include: hot air ballooning in Harbeespoort, the Magaliesberg Canopy Tour, the Ngwenya Glass Village and whitewater rafting on the Crocodile River. But if I were you, I’d find a little nook somewhere and simply park off.
Top spots for snow-filled winters
Whilst snow easily covers certain mountain peaks throughout South Africa during the cold months – the Drakensberg Mountains in KZN, the Matroosberg, the Swartberg Pass and other similar mountain passes in the Western Cape, Sani Pass and the Drakensberg in KZN, or the Maluti Mountains over the border in the kingdom of Lesotho – you will seldom find it on the ground. But when you do, it’s a winter wonderland.
Stutterheim, Barkly East, Lady Grey, Tiffendel, Hogsback of the Eastern Cape
The inland towns of the Eastern Cape are most likely to experience snow, when there is any snowfall in the country. And if you head there during June/July, or when the weather bureau warns of very cold conditions over the high regions of the Eastern Cape, you might well strike it lucky.
Hogsback, despite being further south, is set high up enough in amongst the mountains, that it too gets extremely cold during the winter months – so much so, that is well into January before the cold thaws. Certainly the Hogsback Mountain peaks experience cappings of snow, and the village regularly follows suite.
If all else fails, head to Tiffendel, just outside Barkly East, for a touch of winter skiing. They can receive as much as 10cm of snow during any given period of the winter, and if not then they fake it – snow guaranteed.
Sutherland of the Karoo
Nothing short of a dry and rather dusty Karoo town during summer, Sutherland is transformed during winter, sometimes seeing the thickest snow in South Africa when the looming Roggeveld Mountains that form the backdrop to Sutherland are blanketed in the stuff.
The clear skies overhead mean that SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) has its home here, and this disposition is probably one of the reasons why Sutherland records some of the lowest temperatures (as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius) in the country. Stay in contact with the locals and time your visit for when its at its coldest.
For further information, please refer to the following pages:
- South Africa’s Provinces and Regions
- South Africa Accommodation
- South Africa’s Attractions
- Game Reserves & National Parks
- World Heritage Sites
- Things To Do in South Africa