Bathed in perennial sunshine, rich in unbridled natural beauty and replete with excellent cuisine and award-winning wine, South Africa has earned its place on wish lists the world over. And while temperatures may dip between May and September, there’s still plenty to fill an itinerary outside of the summer months. Among myriad reasons to visit South Africa during its winter season is the cosmopolitan allure of its coastal cities, a tightly-packed programme of arts festivals and, of course, the rugby. That’s not to mention the miles of sublime coastline to explore, wild animals to encounter and South Africa’s famously warm hospitality. A well-rounded destination for visitors of all interests, these are some of the many reasons to visit South Africa right now.
A world champion of sustainability
It’s no secret that South Africa has faced recent difficulties with power and water shortages, but this is a country that has established itself as a global pioneer in sustainable practices and has bounced back with admirable tenacity.
Water scarcity is not new to the tip of southern Africa. In recent years, many regions have experienced water shortages. But dam levels dropped dramatically last April in Cape Town, where 64 per cent of the Western Cape’s inhabitants live. As the water reached critical lows, Capetonians embraced new ways of reducing their water consumption and, looking ahead, city officials invested in sustainable alternatives for the future. As a result, South Africa has become a world leader in water conservation and alternative water security options.
Heavy rains eventually replenished Cape Town’s supplies, preventing the drought that threatened the city and ensuring its safety for years to come. Many countries are now devising their own water usage strategies based on South Africa’s progressive learnings. While restrictions have been relaxed on water consumption across the board, visitors are encouraged to consider their water use and practice water-wise tourism.
Committed to sustainability, The Twelve Apostles has implemented many methods to save water. Among these, bath plugs have made way for two-minute shower timers in guests’ rooms, while reusable ice cubes keep beverages cold. Systems to collect, store and reuse rain water ensure no drop goes to waste and signs detailing over 40 water-saving activities are clearly displayed throughout the hotel.
Scheduled periods during which various districts’ electricity is switched off, known as load-shedding, are a reality for South Africa. But the country is well-equipped to cope, having championed similar methods in the past. In an effort to ‘get off the grid’ and not be reliant on the state energy provider, most businesses and properties, including The Twelve Apostles, have generators, guaranteeing very little disruption to guests.
With a pleasant climate and a wealth of windswept coastlines, South Africa’s wind and solar power initiatives are rising to the fore. A model set out in the country’s Integrated Resource Plan demonstrates that wind could account for 42 per cent of the country’s total power mix by 2050, and solar could contribute 20 per cent.
A rewarding exchange rate
Convert British Pounds, Euros or US Dollars into South African Rand (ZAR) and the current exchange rate is another excellent reason to visit South Africa. Couple this with very reasonable entertainment costs and visitors are guaranteed an excellent return on their money, including world-class cuisine and superb wines. “A steak supper costs between eight and GBP10 in many of South Africa’s best restaurants”, says Michael Nel, the General Manager at The Twelve Apostles, while the smart five-course tasting menu at the hotel’s exceedingly popular Azure Restaurant is just GBP46. The spectacular and varied choice of activities that South Africa offers the whole family is also very easy on the wallet, with Cape Town said to be the fifth best-value city out of a study of 42 major travel destinations.
To really benefit from the favourable exchange rate, look to South Africa’s wine industry. Oenophiles have every reason to visit South Africa’s esteemed vineyards and explore its beautiful wine routes. Historic Stellenbosch, verdant Paarl and the vast sweeps of Constantia are home to numerous sun-soaked vineyards and wine estates, which are globally renowned and a huge draw for visitors. The Red Carnation Hotel Collection’s own winery, Bouchard Finlayson is found in Walker Bay, an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town, behind the coastal village of Hermanus. Established in 1989, the boutique winery spans 125 hectares and currently has 22 hectares under vine. At the helm is connoisseur Peter Finlayson, renowned for being the pioneer of South African Pinot Noir. Sampling Peter’s prized vintages at their source is an essential experience. Ask his team to pour you a crisp Blanc de Mer, and don’t leave without a sip of the award-winning Crocodiles Lair Kaaimangat Chardonnay, fermented in small French oak barrels.
Getting back to nature
But of course, all this is secondary to South Africa’s principle draw: its diverse wilderness and natural beauty—as stunning in winter as it is in the warmer months. In Cape Town, Table Mountain’s ‘tablecloth’—a duvet of clouds that swathes the plateau—forms due to the milder temperatures between May and November. Head up to Maclear’s Beacon, Table Mountain’s highest point, and witness the leading edge of the tablecloth surge towards you before sweeping down the escarpment. It’s one of the most memorable views you’ll ever have of the mountain. Novice hikers are advised to stick to the public paths as the tablecloth’s mist can hamper visibility—though not of Table Mountain’s most popular inhabitants, the rock rabbits, which can often be spotted nearby. Once the cloud clears, soak up spectacular vistas down towards the city and across the Atlantic.
Table Mountain is not South Africa’s only photogenic look-out point. The Drakensberg region in Kwazulu-Natal and God’s Window in Mpumalanga offer a generous variety of scenic wild trails for hikers. For those who prefer the ocean to the peaks, there are miles of unspoilt shores to discover. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean might be bracing, perhaps even more so at this time of year, but no dip is more refreshing than one on a wild, deserted coastline.
For a beach experience that’s a guaranteed talking point, wander among the African penguins at Boulders Beach in False Bay, the only corner of the globe where it’s possible to take a dip with the characterful, monochromatic birds. Less than an hour’s drive from The Twelve Apostles, these soft, white sands, immense, granite boulders and sparkling waters set the scene for colonies of penguins to waddle over the rocks, dive into the sea and mingle (tentatively) with sunbathers.
Offshore, South Africa’s bounty is just as impressive. Hermanus is one of the best land-based destinations in the world to see southern right whales between June and November. The season peaks in September, when keen naturalists flock to the seaside town for the preeminent Hermanus Whale Festival, this year held between 27 and 29 September. Discover how South Africa is preserving its oceans with demonstrations from the experts, and marvel at the stars of the show breaching off the coast. The best time to meet humpback whales off Cape Town is between May and November, as the mammals migrate from the polar regions to Mozambique and Madagascar to breed and give birth. Trickier to spot are Bryde’s whales (who dive deep for long periods of time before surfacing briefly), but the mysterious, charcoal grey mammal is glimpsed every now and then by lucky observers year-round.
Head inland to encounter mammals of a different kind. With cooler climes from May, South Africa’s winter is ideal for wildlife watching. Instead of escaping the fierce heat to snooze in the shade, often out of sight, many animals converge around the watering holes during the day, which makes for a rewarding game drive. From the wilds of Kruger National Park to the elephant-roamed Addo, the country’s sprawling nature reserves are revered the world over and are a major reason to visit South Africa. Needless to say, the country knows how to put on a great safari. Prides of lions, elusive leopards, grazing rhinos, herds of elephants and mud-lazing buffalo make up the Big Five, and South Africa’s parks teem with them.
A rich and vibrant culture
South Africa’s 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are yet another reason to visit during the winter season. Cape Town provides easy access to Robben Island, where the country’s former president, Nelson Mandela, was held captive for 18 years of his 27-year sentence. In the Northern Cape, the wide desert landscapes of Richtersveld are claimed by the nomadic Nama people as their traditional land. The desert’s temperatures are much cooler and it’s more pleasant to visit at this time of year.
Those interested in contemporary culture should head for the cosmopolitan cities of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, each a reason to visit South Africa in their own right. Cape Town consistently scoops the Best City in the World accolade, and it’s easy to see why—mountains, beaches, vineyards and a buzzing art scene, the metropolis has it all. Explore its creative edge at its many art galleries and concept design stores, and sample some of South Africa’s best cuisine in its world-class restaurants.
It’s not just the big cities that enjoy South Africa’s flourishing arts culture. A thriving countrywide festival scene presents yet another reason to visit. Calendar-worthy highlights include the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden’s enthralling outdoor concert series from November and the multi-textured National Arts Festival in the university town of Grahamstown (27 June–7 July). Meet international authors at the Franschhoek Literary Festival (17–19 May), sample fresh-from-the-sea delicacies at the Knysna Oyster Festival (21–30 June) or take a seat at a performing arts extravaganza in Darling’s Voorkamerfest (6–8 September). The free-spirited should seek out AfrikaBurn (29 April–5 May), set in the remote Tankwa Karoo National Park, for a full-throttle onslaught of wild music, outlandish costumes and colossal new-wave art installations.
Sporting types are in excellent company in South Africa, with rugby and cricket being among the nation’s favourite pastimes. World-class pitches such as Newlands Rugby Stadium and Newlands Cricket Ground—with a stunning mountain backdrop—bring in sports fans year-round to cheer high-octane matches such as the Rugby Sevens, as well as the Queen’s Plate and The Sun Met horseracing days.
To bring all the action home, active families can press play on adrenaline-packed adventures in South Africa throughout the year. Hike or mountain bike through pine-fragranced forests, kayak along tumbling rivers, zip-line through mountain peaks or duck under the waves on a scuba dive to experience the country’s immense diversity. For adventures of a more hair-raising kind, test your nerves on a cage dive with sharks off the coast of Cape Town. Those preferring to stay dry can take a leap of faith—the bungee jump from Bloukrans Bridge is the world’s highest at 216m, and there’s always Table Mountain to abseil down if you lose your nerve with the jump.
Uncover South Africa’s incredible natural beauty and diverse cultural charms when staying at Red Carnation Hotels’ The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa.