Weather in South Africa
Located at the southern tip of the African continent, South Africa enjoys five main climatic zones. This southern hemisphere country enjoys a typical desert climate on its western coast along the Atlantic Ocean and a Mediterranean climate in the Western Cape and parts of the Garden Route. The Highveld areas around Johannesburg experience warm summers and icy winters. The east coast of South Africa is warmed by the Indian Ocean, this region experiences hot, humid summers and warm winters. Finally, the Karoo area is well known for its arid scenery, hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters.
As a southern hemisphere country South Africa’s seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere. Spring in South Africa is from September to October, while South Africa’s summer months run from late November through December, January and February. Autumn in South Africa tends to be short lived and takes place in March, April and early May. Winter in South Africa arrives in late May or early June and covers July and August as well.
Peak holiday periods in South Africa tend to fall in mid winter and in summer. The Christmas holiday season spans December and January. This is the hottest time of the year across South Africa with high humidity levels in Durban and along the east coast. The rest of the country experiences varying degrees of dry heat and soaring temperatures of up to 40°C (104°F) in the interior regions. Cape Town’s summer is characterised by high temperatures and strong winds.
South Africa’s climate is easy to predict by simply looking at the different regions within the country.
Weather in the Highveld and the Lowveld
South Africa's inland climate tends to be cooler than areas of similar latitude in other parts of the world, this is mainly due to the area's high altitude. Highveld weather in South Africa is characterised by hot summer days and spectacular late afternoon thundershowers. The afternoon downpour offers a welcome relief from the high daytime temperatures of 25 to 32°C (77 to 90°F). Most precipitation in this area of South Africa occurs during summer and autumn from October, November, December, January and February through to March. Winter daytime average temperatures are a cool 15 to 19°C (59 to 66°F), but nighttime temperatures often drop below freezing and morning frost is common. Like the Highveld, the Lowveld experiences a similar weather pattern except this its slightly lower altitude means temperatures are somewhat milder than the extremes of South Africa's Highveld climate.
Weather on the West Coast
The climate of South Africa’s west coast region is typical of a desert or semi-desert region. Summers are hot, often unbearably so as the mercury reaches up to 40 and even 50°C (104 to 122°F) in some areas! Nighttime temperatures drop considerably and a jersey is often required. Spring temperatures are mild and while rainfall isn’t common once the first spring rains have come the desert erupts in a spectacular array of Namaqualand daisies and wildflowers. The peak flower season is between August and September. Summers are hot and dry, with cooler temperatures in the mountainous regions of the Cederberg. Most of the region’s rainfall takes place during winter, but there are occasional flash storms in summer. The prevailing on-shore winds of summer are popular with kite-boarders and wind surfers. Autumn is the mildest season with temperatures ranging from 14 to 25°C (57 to 77°F). With winter come sea mists, rain and temperatures that seldom reach above a high of 20°C (68°F).
Weather on South Africa's East Coast
The climate along South Africa’s east coast is sub-tropical. Sandwiched between the warm Indian Ocean and the towering Drakensberg mountain range, the weather along the coast is influenced by the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current flowing from north to south. South Africa's east coast weather tends to be hot and humid throughout the year with an average high temperature of 28°C (82°F) in summer and 23°C (73°F) on the coast in the mid-winter months (June to July). Inland regions experience similarly hot and humid temperatures during the summer months but winter temperatures can drop below freezing and snow is common in the Drakensberg Mountains. Most rainy season on the east coast begins at the end of December, culminates in January and February and dies down in March. The rain storms tend to arrive quickly and generally subside in a matter of hours.
Weather in the Karoo
The Karoo region in South Africa is generally divided into two parts: the greater Karoo and the small Karoo, but the weather is similar in both. Summers are hot - up to 40°C (104°F) and higher at times - but surprisingly summer is also the rainy season in the Karoo. This rainfall hardly amounts to much as precipitation is a miniscule 400mm annually. Winter temperatures drop below freezing at night and are only slightly warmer during the day, frost is common and the mountainous regions often experience snowfall. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit this part of South Africa as the highs are bearable and the lows are not too chilly.
Weather in Cape Town and the Western Cape
The Western Cape enjoys a Mediterranean climate characterised by hot dry summers (September to April) and winter rainfall (May to August). The Western Cape region covers Cape Town as well as most of the wine growing areas of South Africa. The weather in the cape is best enjoyed during the summer months when the beaches tend to fill up. The wind in Cape Town and other parts of the western cape is a force to be reckoned with throughout the year but particularly in Summer. Spring and autumn temperatures in the Western Cape tend to be mild and cool. Winter is generally avoided as cold fronts set in, but the clear days in between are worth the wait.
Like Australia, South Africa’s sun is unforgiving and many tourists have fallen victim to its charms. The Western Cape is well known for runaway fires during the summer months, particularly in December and January. While wet weather in South Africa can lead to flash floods, particularly in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Highveld areas and even parts of the west coast. Finally, electric storms are common along the east coast and in the Highveld. Lightening causes a number of deaths each year in South Africa and visitors to the country should be wary of stormy weather.
What is the best time of year to visit South Africa?
South Africans will tell you that any time of year is a good time to visit their beautiful country. South Africa’s climate and weather varies enough from region to region to allow visitors a sunny holiday whether they visit in spring, summer, autumn or winter. Late summer (December to March) is the best time to visit the Western Cape and Karoo regions. The spring months (September and October) are an ideal time to enjoy the west coast of South Africa or even the east coast, as the humidity levels are still bearable. The east coast is a perfect winter destination in South Africa as it is warm enough for visitors wishing to catch a tan. Winter visitors can also visit South Africa’s famous game reserves, such as the Kruger National Park.
What to pack for a holiday in South Africa
Most people wear shorts and T-shirts in summer and carry a light top for a breezy evening. For the most part, South Africans are very casual, but bring some smart casual or formal wear for a special evening out in major cities like Cape Town or Johannesburg, where the nightlife is stylish and busy. Even in the height of summer, the locals here wear jeans and long sleeved shirts. Sandals and trainers are great for the city, and breathable walking shoes are good for treks and safaris. Pack plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, as well as loose long sleeved shirts and trousers for safaris; insect repellent is also essential for summer.
Bring a few more layers for autumn and spring, as well as a light raincoat because it can get quite cold and very wet, especially at the coast.
Take layers in winter as it is cold, especially so in the interior; pack a light waterproof coat, thermals, warm jerseys, a warm hat, a scarf and gloves. Amphibian walking shoes or boots are great for winter walks, and pack trainers for the city.