5 South African snow escapes

Posted on 6 August 2018

Whether you want to build carrot-nosed men, fling the stuff around, slide down it or just sit and look at it, here are the coolest escapes in South Africa this winter.

1. Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State

Golden Gate National Park.

No one is immune to the thrill of snow – not even Golden Gate’s hard-bitten rangers. They have been spotted making the odd snow angel or two. Senior section ranger Dhiraj Nariandas has witnessed the park’s seasonal changes over 10 years and says no matter how often it snows, ‘You still become a child when you’re in it.’

He says while annual snowfalls are usually substantial, with snow piling up on the ground, 2016 and 2017 had only light dustings on the peaks. Those winters were preceded by drier than- normal months and Dhiraj is hopeful that better rainfall in the past few months bodes well for good snowfalls this coming winter. Some years, the snow has been so thick in the park – at least 30 centimetres – that even Dhiraj himself has become stuck.

‘I took my car instead of the 4×4 and got stuck for about two hours.’ Guests love being in the snow and he says during good falls, the park becomes ‘littered with snowmen’. While he doesn’t recommend overnight hikes during snowy periods, short day hikes, such as Echo Ravine (about an hour) and Mushroom Rock (about 30 minutes) – which are within earshot and view of the hotel – provide an opportunity for guests to walk through the snow. – Helen Walne

Stay here Golden Gate Hotel & Chalets has a range of options, from chalets with views of the Brandwag Buttress to hotel honeymoon suites. From R1182 for a chalet (sleeps four). Guided horse rides R205 per person for an hour. 058-255-1000, sanparks.org

2. The Midlands, KwaZulu Natal

Snow scene near Nottingham Road.

Snowfalls in the last two years: About 15cm in 2016 and 14cm in 2017

When the temperature drops from 25°C to 20°C, Durbanites put on their beanies and puffer jackets and switch on their electric blankets. If it’s near the weekend and someone says, ‘I think it might snow’, everyone wraps their children in blankets, puts their puppies in crocheted jackets, jumps into their cars and heads inland. The Midlands is well-known for snow day trips, and cosy restaurants with  replaces and blankets.

Even as close to the coast as Hilton, a first glimpse of the Drakensberg will reveal that it too has covered itself in a big white blanket. It’s an amazing view for those accustomed to a warm climate, and sometimes just winding down the windows is enough for sensitive tropical types.

But venture a bit further for fields of snow to play in (make sure you stay out of private property). At the Balgowan turn-off, cars line the roads and people play. The joy of a snowball fight, a snowman and a perplexed cold puppy that dances and skids about cannot be underrated. – Jess Nicholson

Stay here A favourite self-catering spot is Hillhouse. It has three designer houses (two sleep 12, one sleeps four) overlooking Midmar Dam on 70 hectares of forested farm. From R1000 a night for two sharing. 084-530-5281, hillhouse.co.za

3. Witteberge, Free State

Moolmanshoek in the snow. Image: supplied

Snowfalls in the last two years: 9cm in 2016 and 5cm in 2017

Not to be confused with the Witteberge in the Eastern Cape Highlands, this narrow spine of mountains that stretches north from Ficksburg to Rosendal is a little less celebrated for its wintry wonders. Its highest point is significantly lower than its more southerly namesake but, like any South African peak or range with Witte in its name (there are several), its tips do see snow most years.

On the rare occasions when heavy snowfall does hit the area, you’ll experience something like nowhere else in the country – a snowbedecked Serengeti! This is because at its base, on the western side of the range, is the Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve, home to eland, wildebeest, oryx and zebra. It’s tough to predict their movements, says owner Wiesman Nel, but when the temperatures drop you’ll find many of them on the lower plains near the lodge.

Couple that with snowfall and it makes for a rather unique sight – zebras in the snow! The catch, as with most snowfall in South Africa, is that it doesn’t last very long. At these altitudes rain often follows snow, which means it can turn to sludge quickly. Plus the winter sun is still warm enough to melt all but the most stubborn of snow pockets. But it’s an hour closer to Joburg than Lesotho’s Afriski and that makes it the kind of snowy escape worth watching the weather for. – Tyson Jopson

Stay here You can explore the reserve by 4×4, on horseback (there are more than 200 horses on the farm, for every level of rider) or hike the trail to the top of the mountains (your best chance of getting close to snow). The accommodation – think big-stone architecture, farm-style hospitality, great food and grand rooms – makes this an unforgettable winter experience whether there’s snow or not. Horse riding from R200 per person per hour, the 4×4 trail is R250 per vehicle and hiking is free. From R1980 for two sharing DBB. 051-933-2220, moolmanshoek.co.za

4. Rhodes, Eastern Cape

Tiffendell. Image: supplied.

Snowfalls in the last two years:  Around Tiffendell, 220cm in 2016 and 55cm in 2017. Less in town.

Like pestered parents, Rhodes residents stay mum when you ask them why it isn’t snowing yet. The first time we trekked to the slopes of the Witteberg and Ben Macdhui Mountain, we timed it with a snow warning for the Eastern Cape. But the fluffy flakes were shy.

While we gazed longingly at the sky, we found this tiny village to be a place of plenty: tennis, hikes, fishing, horse rides, mountain biking. And a particularly cute Clay Café, which offers classes and quirky ceramics for sale. If you do wait in vain, weather machines will provide it for you.

Nearby Tiffindell Ski Resort makes its own snow three months a year. There you can toboggan, ski and snowboard, and there is a fun-park, ski instructors, glühwein and hot chocolate. You can hire any snow gear you need. The second time we went to Rhodes, in November 2017, the town had vanished – it was covered, head to toe, in snow! Passes were being closed and traffic cops had to guide us over Naude’s Nek. Snow hung on the trees like a northernhemisphere Christmas wonderland, thick enough for knee-high boots and snow angels. – Jess Nicholson

Stay here Self-catering cottages in Rhodes range in price (between R200 and R450 pp) and cater for up to 11 people. Some are pet friendly. Contact Margie at the Rhodes tourist centre: [email protected] or 045-971-9003. Alpine Swift is a selfcatering complex just outside the town, with a bungalow, chalet, training facility rooms, tennis court and gym. Owner Hylton Dunn is an ultra-athlete and always keen to head into the snowy mountains with guests. From R200 per person sharing. 072-529-2747, alpineswifttrails.co.za

5. Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal

Snowfalls in the last two years: 9cm in 2016 and 18cm in 2017
Durbanite Craig George is mad about snow. He has a Mitsubishi Colt 4×4, everything you need for camping in mild to heavy snow – including a gas heater for his children’s tent – and a lot of good tips. Craig says he heads to Lesotho as often as he can, via Underberg and Sani Pass. He takes his snowboard.

Conditions on the way up last year were good enough for his kids to wear the owl beanies he’d brought back from a ski resort in Italy, virtually build an igloo, and for him to get on his board and attempt to surf the hills (although it’s probably safer not to). Underberg resident Tibs Tedeschi says the further up the mountain you go, the more you’re guaranteed fun in the snow at Drakensberg Gardens or Bushman’s Nek. – Jess Nicholson

Stay here Head into the snow zone at Gooderson Drakensberg Gardens Resort. From R780 per person sharing B&B; ask about three-night specials. 031-368-5353, goodersonleisure.co.za. Craig highly recommends the self-catering Mkomazana Mountain Cottages at the foot of Sani Pass. Weekend rates are R1070 (two sleeper) and R2300 (six sleeper). mkomazana.co.za

For up-to-date snow reports, visit snowreport.co.za

This story first appeared in the May 2018 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our May 2018 issue features the ultimate Karoo road trip, magical Qolora on the Wild Coast, a Lesotho shootout (wild versus luxury); hiking, boating and fishing on the Gariep Dam, we explore Scotland’s Isle of Skye, plus lots more.


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