Well lockdown remains in force, albeit with slight relaxations. Pundits are projecting a light lifting of travel restrictions, possibly from September, but more than likely only in November or December. A tremendous blow to the tourism industry and all the role-players and stakeholders. I feel that we will see a sharp rise in domestic tourism, with overseas travel in the foreseeable future possibly limiting itself to business and family trips.
Given that, you can either mope and feel sorry for yourself, or you can spend some time looking towards your next trip. Planning and making a booking could get hectic, so it’s worth the time to start thinking of where you would like to go and what you would like to do, be it staying in a hotel, lodge, B+B or simply camping.
Southern Africa is an all-year destination which is diverse. Especially in terms of locations, activities, pricing and accommodation. This article may be able to help you through the planning process. Prioritise items that are of interest to you. Try balance your holiday time and budget between wildlife, scenery or culture. The ideal time to travel depends on what you want to do. Be aware of the climate and weather patterns when planning your trip.
Most of southern Africa has temperatures that are relatively moderate, with the exception of the desert and semi-desert areas. The Western Cape has a Mediterranean climate with winter rainfall and some snow in the mountainous areas. Their summers are dry and pleasant. The mountain kingdom of Lesotho experiences heavy snow falls in winter and is popular for 4×4 snow tours. Sutherland in the Karoo has recorded the coldest temperatures in South Africa. Sutherland is also home to the South African Astronomical Observatory – the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.
- The sun beats down and it’s hot. Pack a hat and sunscreen.
- It can get cold, so pack warm clothing as well.
- A light long sleeve shirt is good protection from the sun and mosquitoes.
- Travel with dry snacks in case you are delayed and need to eat.
- Head torches are great hands-free options around a campsite.
- Always wear ‘proper’ shoes – a scorpion sting will ruin your trip and could be life threatening.
- Books are an essential for adults and children.
- Remember to take toys and games.
- Always pack your first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.
- Pack chargers and back-up batteries for your all your smart devices.
- Don’t ‘flash’ your money around and keep it hidden.
- Check vaccination requirements.
- Bring your own toilet paper.
- Get proper 4×4 insurance that covers and includes emergency medical repatriation, repatriation of your damaged vehicle and family
- Take certified copies of all-important documents.
- Check passport expiry dates and entry requirements before leaving if crossing borders.
- Be open-minded and ready to experience new things and new places.
Pre and Post Trip Inspections
- Maintain the manufacturer’s servicing schedule!
- Only use the manufacturer’s specified lubricants.
- Ensure you have your spare key readily available.
- Use the correct fuel and ascertain the availability of fuel on your route before departing.
- Inspect key components regularly.
- Maintain correct tyre pressure, do not forget to re-inflate tyres once back on tar or gravel.
- Check the condition of your tyres and take a repair kit.
- Know the vehicle’s coolant, fuel and lubricant capacities.
- Do not exceed your vehicle’s rated capacities.
Tools and Spares
- Carry a full set of spanners and sockets, screwdrivers, pliers and wrenches.
- Check your wheel spanner, jack and jack crank, as well as the vehicle’s reflective warning triangle.
- Have adequate replacement bulbs and fuses.
- Carry spare belts and radiator hoses.
- Carry a generic repair manual.
- Duct tape is critical.
- Epoxy glue is amazing stuff.
- Cable ties.
- Allen keys.
- Pre-drilled steel bars for emergency repairs (selection).
- A radiator seed net is an essential item.
- Fire extinguishers, two per vehicle.
- Wading sheet – you can improvise one using a bin bag and duct tape.
- You need a recovery kit, at least one per vehicle.
- Carry a collapsible hiking pole or a long stick to check mud and water depth.
- Carry at least two spades, both with rounded noses and short handles.
- An air-jack works well in water and mud.
- A comprehensive first aid kit is vital.
- Ensure that you have prescriptions from the issuing doctor that will allow you to cross borders if you are taking medication.
The Victoria Falls generally flood in May and June. An unbelievable volume of water cascades over the cataract at this time, sending a massive plume of mist into the air. This mist can typically rise to a height of around 400 metres and is visible up to around 45 km away. This phenomenon makes photography difficult. The best time for photography would be two or three months preceding and following this flood as there is less mist to drench you and your equipment.
The Okavango Delta is also at full flood in May and June. Camps are located in permanently flooded areas, and offer the full Okavango experience all year round. The large Makgadikgadi Pans fill with water from November through April, creating one of southern Africa’s most important breeding grounds for flamingo. During this period the surface is too wet and soggy to allow easy access. The best time to visit the pans is from late May through to October.
The Western Cape receives its rainfall from May through early September. The dry season extends from late September through to April. Grape harvesting in the Cape Winelands is typically in January and February. The fynbos floral kingdom blooms from late July through September.
Sossusvlei (in the Namib Desert) is amazing throughout the year. The coolest time to visit is from April to early September. The area’s sparse rains occur from December through March, adding even more colour to an already impressive location.
The Skeleton Coast features perhaps the most stable weather in southern Africa. Desert air cools and condenses over the cold Atlantic Ocean and is blown inland as fog, keeping temperatures cool and comfortable all year round. On rare days when the westerly wind does not blow the fog inland, it will be sunny and hot. The wet season falls within the summer months. The fog and winds keep the temperature mild. When the fog is absent, temperatures rise above average.
Special Interest Travel
Three species of whale (Southern Right, Humpback and Bryde’s) visit various points along South Africa’s coast. They breed and calve between June and October in natural bays, providing some of the best shore-based whale watching in the world. For birders, the summer months (November through March) are definitely the best. The region’s many feathered migrants return to breed. The Elephant Coast, stretching from St Lucia to Kosi Bay is known as ‘turtle country’. Female turtles nest at high tide on moonless nights in summer. During January and February baby turtles hatch and head back to the sea. Seeing this phenomenon is awe-inspiring. Great white shark viewing along the south western Cape coast is best from May through September. If you want to do some cage diving, please ensure that you use an ethical, compliant tour operator. The unique flower displays in Namaqualand and the Cederberg Mountains take place after the annual rains in August and September.
SANparks have numerous destinations that offer great accommodation and game viewing, and cities Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth have a lot to offer. The country is extremely diverse and worth exploring. Tick off the small towns and do not be afraid to spend time on gravel roads – they will take you to unbelievable beauty and amazing destinations.
Then there is the option to tick off our World Heritage sights. Unless you have a good deal of time on your hands, this could take a few years at least.
South Africa’s 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
- Robben Island.
- Cradle of Humankind.
- uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park.
- Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape.
- Cape Floral Kingdom.
- Vredefort Dome.
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape.