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Best times to visit South Africa
SSince South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, it’s summer down here when it’s winter in Europe and North America. Summer begins in November and lasts till February, which if you think about it, makes this the ideal time to visit if you want to escape the cold weather.
Depending on where you’re visiting, the average day temperature in summer ranges from a minimum of 15°C ( 59°F) to a maximum of 28°C (82°F). In winter the average day temperatures are 19°C to 23°C (66°F to 73°F). Just ensure you have a jacket to put on as it can get chilly at night.
If you’re intending on going on a safari in Mpumalanga and Limpopo then the best time to visit would be in winter. Why? Because these two provinces are very pleasant as it’s sunny and warm during the day and dry and cool at night. Late winter is popular for game spotting because the vegetation is sparse and animals visit the waterholes to drink. Summer in the Lowveld can be extremely hot due to high humidity. Alternatively, you can go on a winter beach holiday in Durban or on the KwaZulu-Natal coast as average temperatures hover around the 26°C mark.
In Cape Town, the best time to visit is in spring and autumn, which is April and May or the beginning of September to October. Spring is particularly breathtaking as you’ll get to witness first-hand some of South Africa’s most beautiful indigenous flowers bloom. Autumn offers a relief from the summer heat while the vineyards of the Cape Winelands start to change colour. Winter in Cape Town is less attractive as it’s characterised by wet and windy spells when cold fronts pass through.
The sardine run (May to July)
Aptly described as “The Greatest Shoal on Earth”, the sardine run takes place every South African winter when millions of small silvery sardines surge from the cold Cape waters up to the warmer sanctuary of the KwaZulu-Natal coast. The reason for this hasn’t been determined however there are many prominent theories that attempt to make sense of this phenomenon. Whatever the reason, it is quite the spectacle as the shoal is approximately 15km long, 4km wide and 40m deep. It’s a feeding frenzy for dolphins, sharks, seabirds and other marine life – making it a watching frenzy for people interesting in marine life.
Whale watching (May to November):
Every year, from late winter through to early summer, different breeds of whales migrate to mate and calve in sheltered bays off the Cape coast. One of the best places to see these majestic marine animals is from the coastal town of Hermanus. It’s well known for a reputation of offering the best shore-based whale watching in the world. When you do decide to go, make sure you have a fully charged camera as you might consider being a full-time photographer afterwards with a portfolio of stunning whale shots.
Namaqualand spring flowers (late July to October)
This dazzling display of spring flowers in an arid semi-desert area of the Northern Cape is regarded as one of the world’s most dramatic and vivid natural spectacles. Stretching 500km north up the Cape coast and 100km inland, carpets of the brilliant colour burst into vibrant life. You’ll find that over 4000 species of plants have been identified here, so you will be spoilt for choice.
The National Arts Festival (July)
One festival you should look forward to is the National Arts Festival. This festival takes place at the Eastern Cape’s cathedral and university city of Grahamstown. It has become one of the biggest annual celebrations of the arts in Africa. So if you make it, you’ll be surrounded by world-class dance, music, drama, film, jazz and visual arts.
The Comrades Marathon (June)
What started off as a tribute to South African soldiers who lost their lives during World War I has now become an event not to be missed in South Africa. The Comrades Marathon is a long-distance running race that has gained traction around the world. If you’re still not impressed, at around 90km long, it is one of the world’s oldest and longest ultramarathons.
The Cape Argus Pick ’n Pay Cycle Tour (March)
Billed as the world’s largest timed cycle race, this event attracts a field of around 35 000 cyclists. The vast majority are ordinary people who want to take on the challenge of cycling around one of the most beautiful peninsulas in the world. However, over the years the race has also attracted its fair share of celebrities, including former Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar, who in turn persuaded American actor Matt Damon (who played him in the film Invictus) to ride.