This is a monthly guide of what to do and see in South Africa in 2018, from music and beer festivals to whale watching, witnessing the majestic sardine run as well as the Western Cape flowers in full bloom. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, it tells you the best of what to see in South Africa and when. Though this is not an exhaustive list, it covers the big events month-by-month. Get ready to be inspired and use it to start planning your next ShotLeft road trip across South Africa.
What to do in JANUARY in South Africa
Up the Creek (25 – 28 January)
It’s hot and the sun is sweltering what better way to celebrate summer than grabbing your lilo or inflatable pink flamingo tube and heading out to the warm waters of the Breede River for the Up The Creek Festival? This festival, between Cape Town* and Swellendam in the Western Cape, has been rocking since 1990.
There’ll be four stages, none of which will host the same act twice. Rock ‘n Roll, pop, indie folk, and local DJs will fill the air. And there’s a stage that’s only dedicated to up and coming artists.
There’s no need to bring along everything but the kitchen sink, as the food court will have many food options, including vegan and vegetarian fare too as well as appropriately themed cocktails, think: Titanic, Life Raft or Rubber Duck. After sunset you can camp by your car, choose a greener campsite with no cars or the tented Heartbreak Motel, if you want to be really fancy. And before you ask, yes, there’ll be hot-water showers and flushing loos.
Find more info here: www.upthecreek.co.za
What to do in FEBRUARY in South Africa
Ultra South Africa (09 – 10 February)
This year is the fifth anniversary of Ultra South Africa. It’s happening on the 9th in Cape Town*, which will host three stages at the Cape Town Stadium, and on the 10th in Johannesburg at Nasrec Expo Centre, which will have four stages. Headline acts include: Armin Van Buuren, Afrojack, Swedish DJ duo Axwell & Ingrosso, Dubfire, and Hardwell. There’s an awesome line up of South African artists too from Black Coffee and Good Luck to Timo ODV, Sketchy Bongo, Crazy White Boy and Lady Lea, among many others. They’ll ensure you spend the entire day on your feet dancing.
Find more info here: www.ultrasouthafrica.com
Clarens Craft Beer Fest (23 – 24 February)
I’ve attended the Clarens Craft Beer Fest with friends three times of the seven years it’s been around – this year will be the eighth. It’s one of my favourite festivals thanks to its really chilled vibe and live music. This year 24 craft breweries from around South Africa are going to be selling their beers on tap. Expect a large taste range from IPAs to weisses, stouts, ales, ciders and many more. Try my favourites – the Clarens Goes Nuts hazelnut-infused ale from the resident Clarens Brewery as well as the Mulled Cider from I-had-too-many-beers-to-remember Brewery.
We always book a place near the Clarens town square so that we can stumble home (please don’t drink and drive). You need to do so well ahead of time as places get booked up soon after dates are released. Otherwise there are out-of-town options and camping is a good alternative too.
Find more info here: www.clarenscraftbeerfest.com
Related reading: Clarens Craft Beer Fest
Cape Town Pride Mardi Gras (23 February – 03 March)
The Mother City* is colourful and LGBT friendly – it’s the gay capital of South Africa. Many call it it the gay capital of Africa, as sadly many (36 of 55) African countries still castigate homosexuality with fines, imprisonment and even death. Read more here. In fact South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to pass laws allowing gay marriage in 2006. We certainly love to celebrate our diversity. What better way than by taking to the streets of the CBD in full regalia, blowing whistles, dancing and spreading the love.
Find more info here: www.capetownpride.org
What to do in MARCH in South Africa
Greenpop reforest fest family weekend 2018 (16 – 18 March)
Get your hands dirty and help the Greenpop community plant trees at Platbos Forest Reserve, only 2.5 hours from Cape Town*. This three-day eco-friendly festival will help you reconnect with nature. After a camp out beneath the indigenous forest canopy, Saturday morning begins with planting thousands of trees with your team to help restore this Western Cape ecosystem. After a shower it’s time for dinner, a forest party, and stories (and marshmellows) around the camp fire. Sunday is all about relaxation with guided forest walks, yoga in the dappled sunshine and informative workshops. This is a zero-waste festival that works on a take it or leave it policy. You can learn how to make an ecobrick by using your non-recyclable waste (chip packets, sweet wrappers, cling wrap, foil, earbuds, cigarette butts and so on) that would usually end up in a land fill. The ecobricks will be used as building materials.
Find more info here: www.greenpop.org/events/family-fest/
Related reading: How to be a responsible traveller
Cape Town Carnival (17 March)
Get ready to gyrate, salsa, Macarena, wobble, or whatever it is that is your signature dance move at the annual Cape Town Carnival. It seems that Cape Town never stops partying… or dancing for that matter. What started out as a celebration during the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup, has become one the City of Cape Town’s* biggest celebrations, as it attracts around 50 000 people. This year’s theme is “Mother City, Mother Nature”. Over 2 000 costumed performers and musicians, alongside floats, will take to the 2.6 km-long Fan Walk in Green Point as part of the parade. Entrance is free, though if you prefer not to stand you can buy a seated ticket (R300) on a bleacher-style terraced platform, at a stand of your choice or VIP ticket (R1 300), which includes a raised viewing platform within an exclusive area, with finger foods and a selection of cold drinks, beers and wines, plus a DJ. The parade will be followed by live performances, food and drinks at both of the Cape Town Carnival Villages.
Find more info here: www.capetowncarnival.com
Related reading: Free things to do in Cape Town
Cape Town International Jazz Festival (23 – 24 March)
The Cape Town* International Jazz Festival, which is held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre is affectionately referred to as “Africa’s Grandest Gathering” and the largest music event in sub-Saharan Africa, as it welcomes over 35 000 music lovers as around 40 artists perform across five stages over two days. Some of the country’s, continent’s and world’s top jazz performers like my friend Billy Monama (who recently released his album Rebounce), The Soil and Corinee Bailey Rae will be performing in 2018 at the 19th edition of this much-loved music festival. Attendees can also expect the free, pre-festival community concert, as well as various workshops ad master classes.
Find more info here: www.capetownjazzfest.com
Splashy Fen (29 March – 01 April)
As its name suggests there will be lots of splashing about in the Mzimude River, just south of the Mkhomazi Wilderness Area in the southern Drakensberg near Underberg. But in actual fact Splashy Fen is named after the farm on which it is hosted, all those years ago back in 1990. Since then it has also been dubbed as South Africa’s friendliest festival. Splashy Fen falls over the long Easter weekend (Friday 30 March and Monday 02 April are public holidays). Local and international artist such as Bowling For Soup, Desmond and the Tutus, Prime Circle, Matthew Mole, Good Luck, Mango Groove and many others will be playing across four stages: the main, river, treehouse and acoustic stages. Plus there’s an electric boma. You can either camp beneath the stars (the festival ticket already includes four nights of general camping) or glamp for an additional cost. There’s also a designated family camping area, as well as the general camping area and electric camping area. For more info download the Splashy Fen app on the iStore or GooglePlay store.
Find more info here: www.splashyfen.co.za
Related reading: Midlands Meander (If you’re driving from Johannesburg then drop by the Midlands Meander to stretch you legs and for a coffee break. From there it’s only two more hours to Splashy Fen.)
Two Oceans Marathon 2018 (30 – 31 March)
It’s really no surprise that the Two Oceans Marathon has earned a name as the world’s most beautiful marathon, it does after all wend its way along the spectacular Cape Peninsula. Twenty six runners ran the first race in 1970, these days there are around 26 000 entrants. They can choose from various distances – the 2.5km fun run, the 5km, the 21km half marathon or the 56km ultra marathon with winners of the ultra marathon crossing the finish line shortly after three hours. This year there will also be a 12km and 24km trail run across the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak and the forests of the Table Mountain National Park. It also held over the long Easter weekend each year.
With Day Zero (12 April 2018) looming due to Cape Town’s* severe drought and water shortage, the Two Oceans Marathon is working closely with the City of Cape Town and their disaster management team. It has committed not to use any municipal water, not to provide showers at the finish, to reduce the number of refreshment stations, and provide refill stations for hydration pack users.
Find more info here: www.twooceansmarathon.org.za
What to do in APRIL in South Africa
Afrika Burn (23 – 29 April)
This is one f*cking epic week that’s characterised by self expression and open-mindedness in the Tankwa Desert in the Western Cape, where a temporal gifting community is set up in the nothingness. Festival goers trade their skills and homemade wares with one another. Modelled on America’s Burning Man this festival is all about creating a higher awareness for how societies could possibly function, where life is lived out with carefree abandon. Remember to bring your wackiest outfits and face paint for this one. You’re expected to be self-sufficient for this one as nothing is provided except for ice, toilet facilities and a whole lot of mindblow.
Find more info here: www.afrikaburn.com
Pringle Bay Festival (27 – 29 April)
Pringle Bay is a small coastal village along the famous Whale Route in the Overberg region of the Western Cape, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town*, between Betty’s Bay and Gordon’s Bay. It is named after the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief Sir Thomas Pringle, who was in command of the Cape naval station in the late 1790s.
Pringle Bay and its surrounds are part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site. It is encircled by mountains on three sides and a lagoon connects the Buffels River to the ocean. The locals are trying to eliminate the use of single-use plastics in the community, and the annual Pringle Bay Festival is a celebration of their environmental achievements as they continue to promote ocean conservation and awareness. There will be guided walks through the biosphere throughout the festival, though booking is essential, as well as fun runs and cycling. Expect lots of cultural activities and events, delicious food (think seafood potjies, spit braais, German food and all the usual festival fare), arts and craft stalls, as well as live music.
Find more info here: www.pringlebayfestival.com
What to do in MAY in South Africa
Riebeek Valley Olive Festival (05 – 06 May)
Back in 2000 the Riebeek Valley Olive Festival was created to celebrate the end of a good olive harvest. Today, this two-day annual event takes place at six venues along the Golden Olive Triangle in the twin Swartland towns of Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West. You can jump on a tractor that for R5 will take you to and from Kloovenburg Wine and Olive Estate, Het Vlock Casteel and Olive Boutique.It’s the only olive festival of its size in South Africa and sells locally-produced olives, olive oils and olive related products such as tapenades and soaps. Plus you can expect Swartland terroir wines, craft beer from Flagship and Garagista breweries, homemade food, entertainment and live music. It’s really grown in popularity over these last 18 years and since 2012, the number of oil olives harvested has increased by 60%, while processed table olives have increased by 100%. At the the foot of the Kasteelberg mountain, everything is about olives.
Find more info here: www.riebeekvalleyolivefestival.co.za
What to do in JUNE in South Africa
Sardine Run (June – July)
Winter is a popular time to visit South Africa’s South Coast, especially between June and July, when around 700 000 sardines swim north from the cold southern oceans off South Africa’s Cape Point along the coastline to the northern Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. This silver sardine shoal is said to be 15km in length, 3.5km wide and nearly 40 metres deep – and visible from space. It can certainly be seen from land as it is followed by predatory fish and circling birds. It’s a feeding frenzy, as dolphins, sharks, whales, game fish and birds gorge themselves on sardines. The Sardine Run is one of the region’s most popular attractions and one of the world’s great migrations. Although you can witness it all along the South Coast, the sardines have their own schedule, so check South Coast Tourism’s website for information about sightings.
Find more info here: www.southcoasttourism.co.za
What to do in JULY in South Africa
Knysna Oyster Festival (29 June – 8 July)
You now what they say about oysters? They’re best eaten in company and with Tabasco sauce and a squirt of lemon. Despite the Knysna Fires in the middle of last year, this section of the Garden Route is rebuilding and regreening and open for business. There’ll be over 100 activities spread over ten days of the festival with lots of live entertainments, kids activities and lots of oysters, of course. And while you are here, why not kayak through the canals of Thesen Island, go for a sunset sundowners cruise along the Knysna Estuary or cycle to the top of the Eastern Knysna Head.
Find more info here: www.oysterfestival.co.za
The centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday (18 July)
18 July will be the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. There are quite a number of celebrations planned around the country, especially by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but why not visit some significant sites around South Africa that are linked to this freedom fighter. You can celebrate the life and times of Madiba with a visit to: his former home in Soweto, Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia where he worked undercover, the site where he was captured in KwaZulu-Natal on 05 August 1962, Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town where he was imprisoned, or his final resting place at his birthplace of Qunu in the Eastern Cape. And if you’re in Johannesburg you can also visit the newly installed, permanent exhibition on the Life and Times of Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton.
18 July is also known as Mandela Day when South Africans pledge to do good deeds for their fellow countrymen to uphold Mandela’s legacy, as well as the countless freedom fighters who stood alongside him during his long walk to freedom.
Find more info here: www.nelsonmandela.org/activities
Related reading: The Nelson Mandela Capture Site along the Midlands Meander
What to do in AUGUST in South Africa
Whale Watching Season
Whale Watching Season in South Africa depends on where along the coast you are. Though it generally begins in June and ends in November. Thousands (yes, quite literally) of Southern Right Whales swim northwards to the warm waters of the Agulhas Current to birth their calves. Once the calves are strong enough, the whales leave this watery ‘nursery’ and swim westwards, where they follow the whale trail along South Africa’s south western coastlines, all the way to Namibia, with its nutrient-rich cooler waters of the Benguela Current.
An aerial count estimated around 700 whales along the 70km coastline during my visit to De Hoop Nature Reserve, in the Western Cape, a three-hour drive from Cape Town*. It’s a prime place for land-based whale watching, so remember to bring your binoculars and telephoto lens. This UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site is one of the largest marine protected areas on the continent.
Find more info here: www.dehoopcollection.com
Related reading: Whale Watching at De Hoop Nature Reserve
What to do in SEPTEMBER in South Africa
Wild Flower Season in the Western Cape (01 August – 30 September)
Mother Nature erupts in full bloom each August and September around the Cape region. It’s hard to argue that this is one of the best times of the year to visit the national parks along the western coast. And some of the best places to witness these colourful floral carpets are in Namaquland (seven hours from Cape Town), Tankwa Karoo National Park (four hours from Cape Town), and The West Coast National Park (an hour from Cape Town) – though there are many others. But it’s not just about the flowers as it’s also a spectacular time to spot endemic wildlife and birdlife too.
If you’re heading on a road trip to the latter two national parks, then try a self-drive route within the protected Postberg section of the West Coast National Park, which is only open to the public from August to September, as well as through the western section of the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Also inquire about the various walking and hiking trails within both national parks, at the visitors centre when you arrive.
Find more info here: www.sanparks.org/parks/namaqua/ AND www.sanparks.org/parks/tankwa/ AND www.sanparks.org/parks/west_coast/ Remember to bring your South African ID or passport to enjoy discounted entry and conservation fees, which generally increase during flowering season.
South African National Parks (SANParks) Week 2018 (TBC)
September is both heritage month and tourism month in South Africa and what better way to promote local tourism than by encouraging locals to take a #ShotLeft (check out the hashtag on social media) and to visit South Africa’s national parks by offering them free or discounted entrance. Since the inaugural SANParks Week in 2006, thousands of ‘Satafricans‘ now plan trips according to the dates. SANParks Week is hosted by a different national park each year and around 21 national parks across South Africa participate in the initiative. Dates for SANParks Week 2018 haven’t been released yet, but as soon as they are I will update this post.
Find more info here: www.sanparks.org
Magoebaskloof and Haenertsburg Spring Festival (22 – 30 September)
The annual Spring Festival is held in Haenertsburg Village, Cheerio Gardens and the Magoebaskloof Hotel each September, though the tradition goes back more than thirty years. And since then this little town in Limpopo province has been welcoming gardening enthusiasts and nature lovers ever since. People open their gardens for guests to visit, there’s an art and craft market with food stalls that sell a wide selection of home-made goodies from preserves and rusks to sauces and fudge, and live music playing in the background. A highlight is a visit to Cheerio Gardens with its Japanese cherry blossoms (sakura), crab apple trees and azaleas. This is a perfect weekend getaway for families, only four hours from Johannesburg.
Find more info here: www.springfestival.co.za
What to do in OCTOBER in South Africa
OppiKoppi (05 – 07 October)
OppiKoppi is the biggest multiple day music festival held in Limpopo Province. It started back in 1994 with a few hundred people watching Koos Kombuis among other local artists on OppiKoppi farm. “OppiKoppi” is an easy-on-the-tongue abbreviation of the Afrikaans phrase “op die koppie”, meaning “on the hill”. Since those days it has grown to over 20 000 annual festival goers since 2013 onwards and seven stages, with around 160 sets of all music genres from rock, hip hop, punk to folk, blues, drum ‘n bass, kwaito, jazz, metal and indie.
It’s all about the music, no one seems to care that there’s dust everywhere (it’s also that time of year before the spring rains) and that they’re camping in the bush. After all it was named the fourth best music festival in the world by the British media. This year Beatenberg, The Black Cat Bones, The Sextons, Timo ODV, Mafikizolo, Nomadic Orchestra, Die Heuwels Fantasties, The Kiffness and Black Coffee are taking to the stage.
Find more info here: www.oppikoppi.co.za and download the OppiKoppi app for iOS or Android.
Bedford Garden Festival (19 – 21 October )
Bedford in the Eastern Cape Midlands, 80km from Cradock and 150km from the ocean at Port Alfred, is carved into the earth of the Baviaans River Valley. It was founded in 1854 on a section of Maaströom Farm, which belonged to the British Lieutenant Governor of the Cape, Sir Andries Stockenström, and was named in honour of his dear friend, The Duke of Bedford. To this day, you’ll find remnants of the 1820s Settlers and their descendants along the dirt roads that radiate from the main thoroughfare – from the pointed architecture of the admired Glen Lynden Churches to farmsteads with fifth-generation families still living on them. Spring brings with it the three-day Bedford Garden Festival, now in its 14th year, where gardeners with dirt still under their nails open their green patches to visitors. From the expansive farm gardens with their rivers and mountains, and those along the garden route through the informal settlement, to the South African Rosarium, with its heritage roses, Bedford beguiles with its natural and nurtured beauty. Fresh produce, homemade goodies and kaggelkakkies are sold at the country fair and market hubs. Buy plants at the many nurseries, while live music is carried by the country air. Donations are welcome if a garden doesn’t have a set entrance fee (usually around R20).
Find more info here: www.bedford.co.za/page/garden_festival_landing
Rocking the Daisies (TBC)
This four-day music festival, which happens during the first weekend of October, at Cloof Wine Estate in Darling see over 200 artists performing on stage. The 2018 event info hasn’t be released yet, but I’ll edit this as soon as it is. In 2017 it was a 100% cashless festival and there were no ATMs. The wine estate promotes the natural growth of indigenous fauna and flora. It has been globally recognised as one of the greenest festivals on the planet.
Find more info here: www.rockingthedaisies.com
What to do in NOVEMBER in South Africa
iSimangaliso turtles (November – March)
The 200km-long coastline along the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and beyond is Africa’s only remaining major nesting site and breeding ground for Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles. For this reason it has been protected by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife or over half a century.
In early November female turtles emerge from the waters of the Indian Ocean and make their way along the beach and above the high tide mark in search of a suitable site to lay their eggs. They dig the nest up to one metre in depth before depositing between 80 and 100 eggs and covering it up again. Between January and March the hatchlings dig their way out of their sandy nest and hurry off into the ocean by the cover of night. Only about four out of 1 000 will reach maturity.
It’s something quite miraculous to witness with a registered and responsible turtle tour operator that doesn’t get too close to the turtles, so as not to stress them.
Find more info here: www.isimangaliso.com/activity/turtle-tours/
The Annual Ficksburg Cherry Festival (16 – 18 November)
Ficksburg – a little town in the Free State, not too far from Clarens – refers to itself as the world’s cherry capital. This is a fact I still need to verify, however there’s no doubt in my mind that if you’re a cherry lover like myself then this is the place to be from October until December. This is the time of year to get your fill of cherries. You can buy everything from cherry trees to cherries dipped in chocolate, cherry liqueur and jam as well as cherry cosmetic products, plus you can join a cherry farm tour to walk among the cherry orchards.
If you’re feeling fit you can partake in the 23km (walking or running) Cherry Race or the Cherry Mountain Bike Challenge. This family-friendly festival also has a kid zone full of activities, so mom and dad can just chill with cherries.
Find more info here: www.cherryfestival.co.za
South African School Holidays
You may want to plan your holiday outside of the peak season and the school holidays. Here’s a helpful guideline.
Public School Holidays
29 March – 09 April
23 June – 16 July
29 September – 08 October
Public schools break up for the Christmas holidays on 12 December
Private School Holidays
First term midterm break: 02 March – 05 March
12 April – 01 May
Second term midterm break: 23 June – 01 July
04 August – 03 September
Third term midterm break: 19 October – 22 October
Private schools break up for the Christmas holidays on 06 December and return on 16 January 2019
South African Public Holidays
Monday 01 January – New Year’s Day
Wednesday 21 March – Human Rights Day
Friday 30 March – Good Friday
Monday 02 April – Family Day
Friday 27 April – Freedom Day
Tuesday 01 May – Workers’ Day
Saturday 16 June – Youth Day
Thursday 09 August – National Women’s Day
Monday 24 September – Heritage Day
Sunday 16 December – Day of Reconciliation
Monday 17 December – Day of Reconciliation Holiday
Tuesday 25 December – Christmas Day
Wednesday 26 December – Day of Goodwill
Cape Town Water Crisis and Day Zero
*Please note that Cape Town is currently experiencing a serious drought and there are strict water restrictions in place. Please be a conscious traveller when visiting the Mother City.
The Cape Town water crisis is the result of a three-year drought and hence falling water levels in dams that supply municipal water (let’s not get into the political stuff). At the time of writing this post (late January 2018) Cape Town has been experiencing a serious drought with Level 6B water restrictions coming into place as of 01 February 2018, which only allow for a 50 litre (13 gallons) daily water allowance per person. This doesn’t just relate to the home, but across the workplace and leisure activities too. Here’s official correspondence from the Cape Town Government regarding all you need to know about the water crisis. Day Zero is the day that dam capacity will reach 13.5% and municipal taps will be closed for all but essential services such as hospitals. From there water (25 litres per person per day) will be rationed from around 200 municipal water stations. Day Zero is currently estimated at 12 April, though it is calculated weekly based on reservoir capacity and daily consumption and hence changes accordingly.
Even if you’re only spending 48 hours in Cape Town, responsible water usage can make a big difference to the locals, who have to deal with the long-term consequences. Hence, many hotels, restaurants and travel service providers are getting on board to do their bit by using grey and recycled water as well as by reusing their water supply – in a responsible manner and obviously while keeping hygiene and sanitation in mind. Please be understanding that hotel bathtubs are now plug-less, as bathing consumes about 80 litres of water, and everyone is encouraged to shower for no longer than two minutes once a day (or once every second day if you can manage a wipe down). We also follow the kids’ adage, if it’s yellow let it mellow. Also if you can reuse your towels and don’t need clean bed sheets every day that will go a long way in decreasing unnecessary water consumption.
Also certain items may be removed from the food menu, such as pastas and cooked vegetables. Restaurants are opting for fresh, baked and fried food options instead. There is also a high demand for bottled water being sold at shops. Restaurants are also trying to be resourceful and water from ice buckets (perfectly good water as it is melted ice) is being used to wash floors at the end of the day or to water plants and gardens, instead of using water from the tap. Responsible water usage can hopefully push D-Day further out. Here are some really easy-to-follow tips about how to be an H20 Hero when you’re visiting Cape Town. We thank tourists for their understanding and for their help by being water-wise travellers.