The 2019 South Africa Travel Calendar

I’ve decided that The South Africa Travel Calendar is going to be an annual installment of the Eager Journeys blog. This year-long travel guide highlights the best of what to see, do and experience in Mzansi this year. The 2019 South Africa Travel Calendar outlines some of the more interesting events, festivals and goings-on that characterise South Africa, its culture and people, such as music, beer and harvest festivals, whale watching and flower blooming season, as well as trail runs. This handy month-to-month guide can help you plan your holiday. It is really easy to navigate, by either using the table of contents below or the Google map that has each event plotted. And I’ve also included South African public and private school holidays, as well as how to maximise those public holidays in between. The 2019 South Africa Travel Calendar also showcases the province within the title of each event, which will hopefully make it easier to plan your trip. Though it’s not exhaustive, I’m always happy to hear about noteworthy travel-related events that you think are worth mentioning. So let’s get straight into it.

2019 South Africa Travel Calendar Map

Not quite sure when you’re going to be travelling, but know more or less where you want to go? Use this plotted Google Map to plan your Shot Left around Mzansi.

What to do in JANUARY in South Africa

I’m not even sure where the bleep January went? And it’s early February as I write this post, so that seems like a good place, as ever, to start. And here’s one of my photos from last year’s Otter Trail to distract you.

What to do in FEBRUARY in South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal: Midmar Mile (09 – 10 February)

Though I am certainly by no stretch of the imagination a swimmer, I swam the Midmar Mile with only three weeks of training, just to prove to myself that I could, if I tried, and for the bragging rights, of course. It is the world’s largest open water swim and as the name suggests is about a mile-long swim in Midmar Dam, though this varies depending on the rainfall. The event attracts Olympic swimmers and recreational paddlers, such as myself, which is why swimmers are grouped in eight batches at two-minute intervals across two days. The dam is located just north of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal and it’s well worth visiting Howick Falls on your way back home.

Read more here: www.midmarmile.co.za

Related Reading: Brahman Hills is just 30 minutes away from Midmar Dam.

Gauteng: Lunar New Year Celebrations at Nan Hua Buddhist Temple (10 February)

In 2010, while living in South Korea, I flew to China for a few days to celebrate the Lunar New Years. Upon returning to South Africa, I’ve enjoyed celebrating the arrival of the Lunar New Year across Gauteng. Below are three suggestions of how to welcome the year of the pig and what each celebration is best known for.

Each year, Nan Hua Temple, which is about an hours’ drive from Johannesburg, hosts a number of traditional events to celebrate the beginning of the new year. The Light Offering Dharma Ceremony begins at 09:30 ahead of the opening ceremony at 10:00. Chinese Cultural performances will take place from 11:30 – 14:30. Various Chinese and South East Asian cuisine will be on sale, alongside kicks and knacks from each country that celebrates the Lunar New Year.

Best for: Photographs of Nan Hua Buddhist Temple and cultural performances

Related reading: Nan Hua Buddhist Temple

Gauteng: New Years in Cyrildene’s Chinatown (16 February)

Johannesburg’s biggest Chinatown will host celebrations to welcome the new year, the following weekend. Cyridene’s ‘New’ Chinatown is characterised by a large Paifang. The Chinese arch serves as a gateway to Derrick Avenue, which is lined with Chinese shops, restaurants and traditional Chinese massage parlours. The street is closed to traffic for the celebrations, as the parade, made up of a dragon and lion, dance down the street to the sound of drums and cymbals as they bless each shop and set off fireworks that hang in front of shop entrances while accepting offerings in return. The restaurants, decorated with red lanterns, set up street-side food stalls, where you can grab food on the go or enjoy a festive set menu (though you have to book well in advance to be seated). Try to find a fortune cookie for dessert.

Best for: Authentic Chinese food and the best dragon parade in my opinion. Less crowded than the celebrations in town.

Gauteng: Chinese New Year in First Chinatown (23 February)

Johanessburg’s oldest Chinatown was established along three blocks near Commissioner Street. Though some shops and restaurants moved to Cyrildene in recent years, this Chinatown certainly draws bigger crowds for its Lunar New Year celebrations, particularly for its firework display, which is said to end at 21:30. Expect to see Kung Fu and Tai Chi displays throughout the afternoon as well as a menu of Chinese fare. My recommendation would be Swallows Inn, which is the oldest Chinese restaurant in the city and still going strong.

Best for: Fireworks display and Chinese cuisine, though it is busy and packed and you probably need to me a reservation well ahead of time if you want to find a spot to sit and eat your meal.

Related reading: Inner-city Johannesburg with Past Experiences.

KwaZulu-Natal: Dusi Canoe Marathon (14 – 16 February)

It takes a lot of upper arm strength and training to take on the annual Dusi Canoe Marathon — the biggest of its kind on the continent with between 1 600 and 2 000 participants. The Dusi extends for 120 kilometres on the waters of the uMsindusi River. The race is divided into three stages. The first is a 42-kilometre stretch that includes 15 kilometres of portage, that is carrying your raft along the land. The second stage extends across 46 kilometres from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam, where participants flatwater paddle across the dam’s 11 kilometre length. The final stage begins at the aforementioned dam, with a 10-kilometre flat paddle, and ends in Blue Lagoon after 36 kilometres.

Read more here: www.dusi.co.za

Free State: Clarens Craft Beer Fest (22 – 23 February)

The Clarens Craft Beer Festival has become somewhat of an annual tradition among my friends. If I’m not travelling elsewhere for work, I am there. Twenty four craft breweries from around the country will be selling their beers and ciders on tap in the town square of this Free State town come late February. Breweries you’ll recognise include the hosts, Clarens Brewery, Copperlake, Anvile Ale, Everson’s Cider (their mulled cider is one of my favourite ciders of all time), as well as Limpopo’s Zwakala and Mainstream Brewing Co. Doors open at 12:00 on the Friday and close at 19:00 on the Saturday. As always there will be live music including Prime Circle (yay!), Jaryd Smith among others musicians. As the festival’s pay-off line goes: Life is just a little more honest after a few beers.

Read more here: www.clarenscraftbeerfest.com

Related reading: Clarens Craft Beer Fest

Western Cape: Cape Town Pride and Mardi Gras (23 February – 03 March)

Rainbow flags, glitter, unicorn onesies and extravagant outfits from the Oriental City and party store down the road characterise the fun-filled atmosphere of Cape Town‘s annual Gay Pride. The Mother City is South Africa’s gay capital and the country’s largest magnet for LGBTQI tourism with numerous gay-owned and gay-friendly accommodation, numerous gay bars and everything else you’d expect of an ideal holiday destination — the ocean, white beaches, the mountain and winelands within close reach.

2019 marks 23 years since South Africa decriminalised homosexuality and 11 years since the country legalised same-sex marriage. This year the Parade of floats and bands will start at Prestwich Street in De Waterkant and move towards Reddam Field at the Green Point Urban Park. Get ready to dance and gyrate to the sounds of local and international musical acts, such as: Ceri Dupree, Jimmy Nevis, Craig Lucas, Manila von Teez, Zoe Zana, 3D, Lathiem Grabriel. This is Cape Town’s most fabulous event on the gay calendar.

Read more here: www.capetownpride.org/pride-events-2019/

Related Reading: Free things to do in Cape Town

What to do in MARCH in South Africa

Western Cape & Gauteng: Ultra South Africa (01 – 02 March)

South Africa’s legendary house artist Black Coffee will be playing at this year’s Ultra South Africa, alongside DJs such as Lady Lea, Kyle Cassim, Kyle Watson, Themba, Tim ODV, The Chainsmokers, Shimza and Martin Garrix among many others. Ultra South Africa will take place across four stages on Friday 01 March in Cape Town and Saturday 02 March in Johannesburg. As always you can expect music and lights to collide at the sixth local edition of this musical extravaganza.

Read more here: www.ultrasouthafrica.com

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Western Cape: Greenpop Reforest Fest (15 – 17 March AND 22 – 24 March)

The Greenpop Reforest Fest (AKA ‘probably the biggest tree planting festival in Africa’) is an eco-friendly reforestation event that takes place each year at Platbos Forest, which is the continent’s southernmost indigenous forest
with trees estimated to be over one thousand years old. According to the United Nations, reforestation is one of the most effective ways to combat climate change. Over 55 000 trees have been re-planted at PlatbosForest since 2011. For the first time, the festival will take place over two weekends. It will hold a family weekend (15-17 March) and a friends weekend (22-24 March). Both events offer the chance to reconnect with nature and showcase live music, interactive workshops and delicious food.

Read more here: www.reforestfest.com

Related reading: How to be a responsible traveller

Western Cape: Cape Town Carnival (16 March)

Brazil might have Carnival, but now so does Cape Town. The Cape Town Carnival is equally as colourful, jovial, filled with exuberant outfits, various forms of artistic expression and boisterous festivities. African themed floats and larger-than-life manned puppets will dance along the streets alongside 55 participating groups to the theme Vuka Ukhanye Rise ’n Shine. It illustrates a journey of waking up at sunrise to awakening to your own power and our interconnectedness. Since the inaugural carnival which took place in 2010, alongside the FIFA Soccer World Cup, the crowds ballooned to 54 000 last year with 10% of spectators from around the world. And it’s events like the Cape Town Carnival that helped the city win the Global Event & Festival City Award at the 2018 World Travel Awards.

Read more: www.capetowncarnival.com

Related Reading: 48 hours in Cape Town

Western Cape: Cape Town International Jazz Festival (29 – 30 March)

This year Cape Town will host the 20th edition of the hugely popular Cape Town International Jazz Festival at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Over 37 000 music lovers can appreciate the sounds of 40 artists across five stages during the two days. As always the festival will host workshops that aim to build the local music scene from music career to master classes and music technology workshop.

Read more here:  www.capetownjazzfest.com

Related reading: 48 hours in Cape Town

Mpumalanga: Wakkerstroom Music Festival (12 – 14 March)

The little town of Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga hosts an annual music festival of its own. This non-profit organisation was founded in 2010 to help music students study music further. Highlights include jazz and piano concertos as well as harpsichord, cello and flute performances. There will be delightful country fare to savour, as well as hikes, bike routes and the usual bric-a-brac in the street-side shops and art galleries. As one of the province’s oldest towns in the province, it has earned a reputation as a serene birding retreat, about three hours from Johannesburg. And don’t forget to visit the local lamas.

Read more here: www.wakkerstroom.co.za

Related reading: Wakkerstroom: The Country Life

Western Cape: Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) (29 March – 04 April)

Because it’s quite a mouthful, perhaps its easiest to refer to the the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees by its accepted abbreviation — no one calls it by its full name anyway. The KKNK, South Africa’s biggest Afrikaans-language cultural festival, fills the streets of semi-desert town of Oudtshoorn around Easter. It gets really busy during the festival, especially as the town is so small, so make sure you book your accommodation well in advance. This year will be the 25th edition of this week-long national arts festival, which sees around 1 000 performers in genres of theatre, dance and sound production, alongside visual art installations. New productions are often first staged at the KKNK before taking to the road for a nationwide tour.

Read more here: www.kknk.co.za

Related reading: Gamkaberg: Big Sky, Klein Karoo Country

What to do in APRIL in South Africa

Western Cape: Fools and Fans Beer Festival (06 April)

The Overberg town of Greyton will host the third annual Fools and Fans Beer Festival in early April. Eighteen independent breweries from around the country will pour pints for those attending. They will include:
Zebonkey, Triggerfish, Little Wolf and Blouberg breweries among others. And beer always goes down nicely with an accompaniment of good music and delicious food. The supervised kiddies play area will ensure that mom and dad can have fun too. The festival will also include a bottle share, a homebrew competition, as well as a bread baking contest.

Read more here: www.ticketrush.co.za/event/fools-and-fans-2019

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Gauteng: SA On Tap Craft Beer Festival (13 April)

South Africa’s biggest Craft Beer & Music Festival. Featuring the alchemists of our country’s finest brews in a theatre of craft brewing excellence. A world of specTAPular brews, ciders and craft distilleries in one platform for you to enjoy to with friends and family along with brilliant SA bands. Tickets are limited, secure your booking now for this not to missed craft brew, music and food affair.

Read more here: www.saontap.co.za/johannesburg-festival

Related Reading: Johannesburg’s Second Golden Age

Free State: Lush Festival (18 – 20 April)

If “I’m just a teenage dirtbag” brings back memories then you better head to Clarens this April as American Rock Band Wheatus are confirmed for this year’s Lush Festival. They will rock on hard alongside local bands and musicians such as Good Luck, Tim ODV, Desmond and the Tutus among others throughout the three-day festival. There are various accommodation options available from accommodation in town to tent hotels and camping (with or without cars). Spend some down time by taking a walk around town, explore its Art Route or take a short hike up the surrounding sandstone peaks. The Kloof Trail is by far my favourite.

Read more here: www.lushfestival.com

Related Reading: Clarens

KwaZulu-Natal: Splashy Fen (18 April – 22 April)

As its name suggests there will be lots of splashing about in the Mzimude River in the southern Drakensberg near Underberg. Splashy Fen falls over the long Easter weekend (Friday 18 April and Monday 22 April are public holidays). Local and international artists will be playing across five stages: the main, river, treehouse, acoustic and electric boma. You’ll be jamming to the sounds of Desmond and the Tutus, Good Luck, Jeremy Loops, Mi Casa, Wheatus, Short Straw along with many other sounds. Camping beneath the starts is always a highlight (the festival ticket already includes four nights of general camping) or you can try glamping for an additional cost. There’s also a designated family camping area. Download their nifty Splashy Fen app on the iStore or GooglePlay store.

Read more here: www.splashyfen.co.za

Related reading: Midlands Meander (If you’re driving from Joburg, it’s two hours from the Midlands Meander to Splashy Fen.)

Western Cape: Two Oceans Marathon 2018 (20 April)

This year marks the 49th anniversary of the world’s most beautiful marathon. Blisters, sweat, many tears and months of early morning runs along the road and after-work gym sessions is what it takes to prepare to participate in this 56km or 21km race, which is the Africa’s largest running event and sees around 56 000 runners.

Read more here: www.twooceansmarathon.org.za

Related Reading: How to spend time in Cape Town

Western Cape: AfrikaBurn (29 April – 05 May)

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 mind blow.

Read more here: www.afrikaburn.com

What to do in MAY in South Africa

Western Cape: Riebeek Valley Olive Festival (04 – 05 May)

After last year’s hiatus, due to the Western Cape’s water shortage, the Riebeek Valley had a successful olive harvest and the Olive Festival is bigger than ever before with events across eight venues along the Golden Olive Triangle in the twin Swartland towns of Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West. You can even jump on a tractor that will take you between venues. 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 beers, homemade food, entertainment and live music. At the the foot of the Kasteelberg mountain, everything is about olives… and wine.

Read more here: www.riebeekvalleyolivefestival.co.za

What to do in JUNE in South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal: Comrades Marathon

At 89 kilometres long, the Comrades Marathon is the world’s greatest ultra-marathon. The run between the capital of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, and the coastal city of Durban, which alternates its direction each year celebrates its 93rd edition this year — it was postponed during the wars years of the Second World War. While only 16 of the 34 starters completed the inaugural race in 1921, these days thousands make the journey.

Read more here: www.comrades.com

Related Reading: Durban in the Summer

Gauteng: Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival (June: Dates TBC)

Each June, Constitution Hill – a beacon of human rights in South Africa – is home to the three-day Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival, which memorialises Youth Day. It was on 16th June 1976 that the world could no longer turn a blind eye to the atrocities inflicted by the Apartheid government. The urban cultural festival celebrates the South African youth, their vibrant energy and creativity through music, art, design, film and photography. As with any noteworthy festival there will be food stalls and bars.

Read more here: www.bashauhuru.co.za

Gauteng: Fête de la Musique (21 June)

As any French expat living in the City of Gold will tell you, Fête de la (literally meaning World Music Day) may have started in France in 1982 but today it has spread its roots to 700 cities across 120 countries, including South Africa’s very own Newtown in Johannesburg. This day-long festival, which is traditionally celebrated on the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, celebrates various music styles side-by-side from jazz, soul and funk to rock, electro, reggae and even classical music.

Read more here: www.fetedelamusiquejhb.co.za

What to do in JULY in South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal: Durban July (06 July)

It’s time to get out your best frock, fascinator, that fake costume jewelry and diamante-encrusted heels because it’s the time of year again. With over 55 000 attendees, the Durban July is probably South Africa’s largest gathering of fashionistas and their wannabes. Some of whom come to watch the country’s best thoroughbreds race down the home straight at Greyville Racecourse to the finish line, while others come to parade their outfits and be seen. Either way, if you’re there, make sure to place your bets… and who knows.

Read more here: www.vodacomdurbanjuly.co.za

Eastern Cape: National Arts Festival ( 27 June 07 July)

Grahamstown’s National Arts Festival is surely the largest appreciation of arts and culture in Africa. It’s South Africa’s Fringe and has been going since 1974. Over fifty venues throughout the Eastern Cape town host various performances during the 11-day festival. It’s a movement, quite literally, and figuratively, of dance, physical theatre and drama the reverberates to the sound of music, spoken word performances and film screenings. Here, the quirky and artsy are home. It is a free space for artistic expressions, where there is no censorship and no artistic restraint. Students and stalwarts of the stage perform side-by-side to the applause of global audiences.

Read more here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za

Eastern Cape: Jbay Open International Surfing Competition (09 – 22 July)

Jeffreys Bay, affectionately referred to as J-Bay among locals, was put on the social media map when surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a Great White Shark during 2017’s final. Despite this, the Eastern Cape coastal town is renowned for the world’s, not just South Africa’s, best right-hand point break. Just ask Kelly Slater. It is one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the world surfing calendar. Last year saw a women’s event too (about time).

KwaZulu-Natal: 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.

Read more here: www.southcoasttourism.co.za

Western Cape: Knysna Oyster Festival (June – July: Dates TBC)

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 re-greening 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.

Read more here: www.oysterfestival.co.za

What to do in AUGUST in South Africa

Western Cape: Whale Watching Season (August-November)

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.

Read more here: www.dehoopcollection.com

Related reading: Whale Watching at De Hoop Nature Reserve

North West: OppiKoppi (August: Dates TBC)

OppiKoppi is the biggest multiple day music festival held in the North West Province. It started back in 1994 at the dawn of democracy 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 then 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). This year’s artist and the dates are still to be announced.

Read more here: www.oppikoppi.co.za and download the OppiKoppi app for iOS or Android.

Eastern Cape: The Chokka Trail Run (10 – 11 August)

The Chokka Trail Run follows the route of the 62km Chokka slackpacking hiking trail between the fishing villages of Oyster Bay, St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape. The route traces its way along a rugged coastline through spectacular dune fields, a tidal river as well as coastal thicket and protected fynbos and wetland areas. You can choose your trail run route depending on your fitness level, there’s an ultra distance of 62km, a 42km marathon, 23km half marathon and an easy 10km.  While on the second day there’s a 5km fun run as well as 1km and 3km kids race.

Read more here: www.stfrancissport.co.za

What to do in SEPTEMBER in South Africa

Gauteng: Oktoberfest at the German International School (Dates TBC)

Bratwurst, beer and sauerkraut. What more could you want of a German beer fest? The German International School in Pretoria has been serving up beer since 1977, dressed in authentic Lederhosen and Dirndl to the soundtrack of German (and local) music. But did you know that the inaugural, what would later become known as, Oktoberfest (even though it now begins in September) took place on 12 October 1810. This as the day when the Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria married Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Munich’s residents were invited to partake in the festivities on the fields where the couple were married. And to this day, this is where the original Oktoberfest till takes place.  

Read more here: www.oktoberfest-pretoria.co.za

Western Cape: Hermanus Whale Festival (27 – 29 September)

Whales, whales and more whales. That’s what you can expect to see at the annual Hermanus Whale Festival. This coastal village in the Western Cape along the Cape Whale Coast is said to be the world’s best land-based whale watching spot, though I’d argue that it might have to battle De Hoop for that title. In September the magnificent Southern Right Whales come here to nurse their young. During the three days of the festival there will be land- and boat-based whale watching, arts and crafts, a street parade, beach clean-up and the Whales and Wheels Classic Car Show. Restaurants will dish up mouth-watering seafood platters and musicians will take to the stage. All activities are centered around the conservation of marine life and our oceans with talks by marine biologists.

Read more here: www.hermanuswhalefestival.co.za

Western Cape: Wild Flower Season (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 bird life 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.

Read more 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 (September: Dates 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 in collaboration with 21 national parks, check out more details in the link below. 

Read more here: www.sanparks.org

Limpopo: Magoebaskloof and Haenertsburg Spring Festival (September: Dates TBC)

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.
Also check out this photographic tour organised by the photowalkers.

Read more here: www.springfestival.co.za

What to do in OCTOBER in South Africa

Western Cape: Otter (Retto) African Trail Run (09 – 12 October)

The best thing I did for myself in 2018 was to accept a last-minute offer to do the 45km, five-day Otter Trail along South Africa’s Garden Route. While availability is really hard to come by, as it is surely one of South Africa’s most popular overnight hikes and dates are only released a year ahead of time, I highly recommend it. And the reward is undoubtedly the most spectacular landscapes South Africa has to offer.

If you’re a real fitness fundi you can try the grueling day-long Otter or Retto Trail Run. This year, it will be run from East to West, starting at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp and finishing at Natures Valley. And when it’s run in reverse it’s called the Retto. It’s no easy feat, as it includes four river crossings, over 2 600 meters of elevation gain and 11 significant climbs.
The run has an 8-hour cut-off, while he Challenge has a more breathable 11 hour cut-off for the 42km course. The website provides a comprehensive training guide.

Read more here: www.otter.run

Free State: Macufe African Cultural Festival (04 – 13 October)

Each October, Mangaung, formerly known as Bloemfontein, hosts around 140 000 spectators who come to enjoy the soulful beats of the 10-day Macufe African Cultural Festival. The musos perform in a number of musical genres such as jazz, rock, R&B, hip-hop, gospel and South Africa’s very own kwaito with previous acts including Lady Zamar. This cultural-based festival also hosts comedians, cabaret shows, musical theatre, poetry performances, as well as fine art and traditional arts and crafts exhibitions.

Read more on the Facebook here.

Free State: The Mangaung Rose Festival (18 – 20 October)

Translated from the Afrikaans, Bloemfontein means fountain of flowers and has also been called the City of Roses. Despite its recent name change to Mangaung, it is still associated with South Africa’s famous heritage roses. The Rose Festival has been an annual tradition since 1976 and today includes a parade of flower floats that make their way through town, a high tea, beauty pageant and visits to gardens that are opened to the public by the residents.

Read more here: www.mangaungrosefestival.co.za

Western Cape: Rocking the Daisies (October: Dates TBC)

This three-day, environmentally-friendly music festival takes place in early October, at Cloof Wiene Estate in Darling. Last year, it had a line-up of 98 artists, including local artists alongside musicians from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Nigeria among others. Rocking The Daisies is a cashless festival and there are no ATMs, so make sure you bring along your credit and debit cards. The wine estate promotes the natural growth of indigenous fauna and flora. It has been globally recognised as one of the world’s greenest festivals. Their environmental partner, Greenpop (read more about it by following the link below), helps ensure the ecological effects of the festival are as minimal as possible. Rocking The Daisies uses a grey water filtration system and recirculates it for irrigation on the venue’s farm. Vendors are required to use environmentally friendly packaging. While the annual Walking the Daisies initiative is a two-day hike that starts in Cape Town and ends at the festival in Darling. It aims to offset the festival’s carbon footprint, create positive environmental action and raise awareness in surrounding communities.

Read more here: www.rockingthedaisies.com

Related reading: 8 easy ways to be a responsible traveller in 2018

Eastern Cape: Bedford Garden Festival (18 – 20 October)

The little town of Bedford in the Eastern Cape Midlands, a two-hour drive from Port Alfred past Grahamstown, lies in the Baviaans River Valley. Today, you can still find fragments of 1820s Settler history along Bedford’s dirt roads that are lined with farms, noteable examples of architecture and immaculate gardens. Each year, as the flowers bloom and trees begin to wear green, the three-day Bedford Garden Festival energises the town. Now, in its 15th year, the festival attracts visitors from across the country, who come to admire the town’s heritage roses, walk through manicured gardens and savour the homemade flavours of Bedford’s tannies at the country fair to the sound of live music.

Read more here:www.bedford.co.za/page/garden_festival_landing

Gauteng: Johannesburg Pride Parade and Festival (26 October)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Johannesburg Gay Pride, a clear indication that South Africa has been a proud (excuse the pun) of LGBTQI rights across the continent. Each year, around 20 000 people walk through Johannesburg in what is surely the city of gold’s most colourful festival. Joburg Pride has been dubbed the “pride of Africa” as it is the longest and largest LGBTQI event on the continent’s social calendar. But despite all the fun, such as live music, DJs, entertaining drag acts, a fashion show, and of course many food stalls and bars, the festival also focuses on the serious aspects of the event such as: everything you need to know about civil unions, adoptions, surrogacy and fertilisation, Trans health, as well as women’s and men’s health.

Read more here: www.johannesburgpride.co.za

What to do in NOVEMBER in South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal: 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 for 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 special 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.

Read more here: www.isimangaliso.com/activity/turtle-tours/

Free State: The Ficksburg Cherry Festival (November: Dates TBC)

South Africa’s oldest agricultural festival is hosted in a little Free State town that few have heard of never mind travelled to. But Ficksburg, just on the outskirts of Clarens believes that is the cherry capital of the world. If you love all things cherry, like myself, then visit the town to satiate yourself on the fruit in the summer months of October through until December. There is an overflow of cherry merchandise from cherry trees for your garden to cherry-infused cosmetics, clothes and accessories, liqueur, compotes and preserves. All while listening to live music and enjoying an array of family-friendly activities. The cherry farm tour will take you on a tour of a cherry orchard. The weekend activities also include a 23km walking or running trail as well as a mountain bike challenge.

Read more here: www.cherryfestival.co.za

What to do in DECEMBER in South Africa

Limpopo: Mapungubwe Arts Festival (Early December: Dates TBC)

Limpopo is synonymous with its 800-odd-year-old golden rhino of the
Mapungubwe region as well as its annual Mapungubwe Arts Festival, which takes place in Polokwane, the province’s capital, during the first two weeks of December. The festival aims to foster social cohesion and nation building through a collective celebration of local art, culture and heritage through an open-air Jazz festival, including a film and video festival, theatre and comedy night, a craft market and fashion show, as well as a typical South African bush braai.

Read more here: www.golimpopo.com

KwaZulu-Natal: Smoking Dragon (NYE: Dates TBC)

Last year, I received the BEST Christmas gift ever from my boyfriend, a VIP ticket to Smoking Dragon in the foothills of the Drakensberg – he’s lovely, really. Over three days we danced – hard – swam in the dam, took a walk to the Big Tree, made some kick ass gourmet camping food and had an awesome time with friends. My favourite of the five music stages was the acoustic Ripple Zone, pictured below, which is located on the edge of the dam. Each stage showcased musicians and DJs in various musical genres from Mainstream, to the Pink tent (female artists of women-fronted bands), Electric Jungle and The Fringe. The vibe was very chilled and this is certainly a family-friendly music festival. On the way back to Johannesburg we stopped by The Royal Natal National Park and did the 10km to the waterfall, here we swam in the cool mountain water and ate a picnic lunch on the rocks.

Read more here: www.smokingdragon.org

Related Reading: Road tripping along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline

Gauteng: AfroPunk New Year’s Eve Party

Afropunk is the hippest and hottest New Year’s Eve party in Joburg. It is celebrated in the City of Gold alongside four other global cities from its home base in New York to London, Paris and Atlanta. Last year, Kwesta took to the stage, alongside Kid Fonque, Thandiswa, Thundercat and Youngstacpt among numerous other African and international musicians and DJs. At its core this American festival brand celebrates African and black culture, music, heritage, style and creativity. It’s held on the lawns of South Africa’s Constitutional Court – a symbol (and defender) of human rights.

Read more here: www.afropunkfest.com/johannesburg

Related Reading: Reasons to love South Africa

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South African Private and Public School Holidays

You may want to plan your holiday outside of the peak season and the school holidays. Here’s a helpful guideline.

Government School Holidays

Term 1: 09 January – 15 March

Holidays: 16 March – 01 April

Term 2: 02 April – 14 June

Holidays:  15 June – 08 July

Term 3: 09 July – 20 September

Holidays:  21 September – 30 September

Term 4: 01 October – 04 December

Private School Holidays

Term 1: 16 January – 20 March

Holidays: 21 March – 08 April

Term 2: 09 April – 21 June

Half term: 27 April – 01 May

Term 3: 16 July – 20 September

Holidays: 21 September – 07 October

Term 4: 08 October – 06 December

South African Public Holidays and how to maximise them

Tuesday, 01 January:  New Year’s Day

Thursday, 21 March: Human Rights Day (Take off Friday 22 March for a four-day long weekend.)

Friday, 19 April: Good Friday

Monday, 22 April: Family Day (This is a four-day long weekend.)

Saturday, 27 April: Freedom Day

Wednesday, 01 May: Workers Day (If you take off Monday and Tuesday (29-30th April), you can capitalise on a five-day long weekend.)

Sunday, 16 June: Youth Day (The public holiday will fall on Monday, 17 June, which will automatically make it a three-day weekend.)

Friday, 09 August: National Women’s Day (This is yet another a three-day weekend.)

Tuesday, 24 September: Heritage Day (If you take off the preceding Monday, you will get a four-day long weekend.)

Monday, 16 December: Day of Reconciliation (Yay, and another three-day long weekend.)

Wednesday, 25 December: Christmas Day (If you’re still at work at this stage of the year, I’m sorry, but you can take three days of leave, namely on Monday, Tuesday and Friday to capitalise on a nine-day break.)

Thursday, 26 December: Day of Goodwill

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Iga Motylska

Iga Motylska is a Johannesburg-based freelance writer, photojournalist, sub-editor and blogger. She is published in numerous local and international publications, including: Forbes Africa, Forbes Woman Africa, Forbes Life Africa, CNBC Africa, Ventures Africa, Marie Claire, Sawubona, AA Traveller, Fastjet inflight magazine and Seoul Magazine among numerous others. Her editorial interests range from documenting the entrepreneurial spirit to women's and human rights issues, environmental affairs and of course travel writing.

4 Comments:

  1. Wow wow wow! What an exhaustive post! I’ve been to South Africa in May and June, but definitely want to come again in September. Those wild flowers make for absolutely beautiful photos, and The SA National Parks week sounds like a great initiative to raise awareness of the wildlife and ecosystem. Plus I want more sunshine than I saw in May/June! Ha :)

  2. Wow…what a comprehensive post! I’m keen to get to SA and you have so many great ideas here…will definitely be saving this!

  3. So many exciting things to do! This is a great list.

  4. I miss South Africa!! Great post! There’s so much going on! I’ll be there in August so I’m happy to have found this post

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