3 beautiful places in SA to visit in the winter holidays

Winter in South Africa means various things to various people, from snuggling under a duvet in front of the fire to taking advantage of the cooler weather to go hiking in one of our sprawling mountain ranges.

There’s so much to do in South Africa during the winter months. Avukile Mabombo, Group Marketing Manager of Protea Hotels by Marriott, gives her recommendations of places to visit this winter.

1. Hiking: One of only 19 waterfalls worldwide that fall directly into the sea

The Wild Coast is colourful and this shows in its people, exquisite beaches, waterfalls and famous landmarks. Image by Ondela Mlandu

The coastal region of the Eastern Cape is one of the mildest areas during the South African winter months with daytime temperatures around 21 degrees Celsius. Along the Wild Coast, which stretches from East London to the southern border of KwaZulu-Natal, lies a hidden gem that can’t be viewed by simply driving to a clearly-marked lookout point.

‘Waterfall Bluff is one of only 19 waterfalls worldwide that fall directly into the sea,’ says Mabombo. ‘Reaching it as part of a guided hike is not that hard. You can do it as part of a seven-day waterfall hike or as an element of the legendary 280km (25 days) Wild Coast Hiking Trail. The waterfall is a range of near-vertical cliffs south of the Msikaba River and hikers can get right to the waterfall and even behind the falls.’

The nearby Mkhambathi Nature Reserve has a lot to offer too. You can self-drive and view large numbers of grazing herbivores, such as the native eland and red hartebeest. Other species like blue wildebeest, blesbok and gemsbok have also been introduced here.

Because the weather is usually mild and dry, with cooler mornings and evenings, game stay active for longer, making winter safaris a favourite activity for visitors between May and August.

2. Stargazing: One of the world’s clearest night skies

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland, Northern Cape. Image: supplied

Sutherland, in the Northern Cape, lies in the western Roggeveld Mountains of the Karoo and was established in 1855 as a church and market town to serve the area’s sheep farmers. Snowfall is typical in the winter and the town is officially the coldest in South Africa, with the lowest reported temperature being -16.4 degrees Celsius on 12 July 2003.

‘What makes Sutherland different, and a rewarding destination to visit, is its night skies,’ says Mabombo. Here the night sky is among the world’s clearest and darkest. The town is the site of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and houses the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Guided tours during the day or night can be booked throughout the year.

Winter allows the best times to stargaze and several astronomers refer to it as an ‘observing season’. Mabombo explained that the reason for the brightness of a winter’s night sky is that cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air can. ‘Warm, humid air creates a haziness that makes stargazing difficult.’

Enjoying the starry winter sky demands protection against the low temperatures and visitors are advised to dress warmly.

3. Skiing and snowboarding: One of the Top 20 ski runs in the world

Tiffindell. Image: supplied.

Founded in 1993 in the Southern Drakensberg is South Africa’s only ski resort, and one of just two ski retreats in Southern Africa. Positioned at an altitude of 2,720m above sea level, Tiffindell Ski Resort is the highest resort in South Africa. In 2014 the resort was voted number 19 in CNN Travel’s ‘World’s Best Ski Runs’.

This interior Eastern Cape resort hosts a variety of slopes of around 1.3 km in total. The Gully Slope (a blue run) is suitable for beginners and a great place to learn the basics. The Main Slope (a red run) has been recognised by The International Ski Federation (FIS) for Slalom and Giant Slalom courses, and becomes steeper and steeper the higher you go.

Tiffindell holds the South African National FIS Championships between June and August each year and has successfully run the International Ski FIS Races since 2014.

Also read: 5 South African snow escapes

Other winter experiences worth mentioning:

Western Cape: Barrydale – Enjoy the magnificent views from the Tradouw Pass, and then head into town to savour one of the many great food offerings in this town, which is situated on the border of the Overberg and the Klein Karoo.

Mpumalanga: Kruger National Park – you just may be lucky enough to spot the Big Five at the waterhole across from the Protea Hotel by Marriott Kruger Gate.

KwaZulu-Natal: The Golden Mile – swim in the warm Indian Ocean at Illovo Beach or in the warm lagoon next at Karridene Beach on the South Coast. Winter is the time when the weather is at its best: warm enough to be outdoors and swim, without the humidity associated with the tropical summer weather.

North West: Lesedi Cultural Village – enjoy the spirit of Ubuntu and the warmth of traditional singing and dancing around a bonfire in the Boma

Free State: Vredefort Crater – the largest verified impact crater on Earth

Limpopo: Enjoy a range of animal adventures and ziplining from your base at the Protea Zebula Lodge.

Gauteng: Maboneng Precinct – groove in Joburg’s ‘place of light’, a revitalised part of the inner city which is home to trendy restaurants and art galleries and which has brought new life to the inner city.

Also read: Our guide to exploring the trendy Maboneng

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