Weather in South Africa
South Africa is lucky enough to have an excellent climate year round. This does not mean that we never get rain or that it is never cold, but that, season for season, our climate is hard to beat.
Best time of year to visit South Africa
Most activities in South Africa are not dependent on the time of year. You would avoid the extreme summer heat in some parts of the country – the arid desert regions of the Northern Cape or the very hot and humid areas of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. If you have special interests, then see our guide below for choosing the best time of year.
- The flowers are best in August in Namaqualand and in September further south on the West Coast.
- The best time for game viewing is late winter and spring as the bush is less dense and the animals are more likely to collect around the waterholes
- The southern right whales visit our coasts from about mid-June to the end of October.
- The diving is best in most of the country outside of summer from April through September, and so is the surfing – but that certainly doesn’t limit either activity to those times.
- River rafting is better in the Cape at the end of winter, and in KwaZulu-Natal in the height of summer (late November to mid-February). In Mpumalanga and Limpopo, it’s less time-dependent.
- Spring and autumn are best for hiking, as summer can be hot over most of the country. In the Drakensberg, summer thunderstorms can be dangerous, while there is a good chance of snow in winter. In the Cape, the winters are wet, so hiking can be a bit uncomfortable and wet feet are almost a given.
- If you’re a birder, the Palaearctic migrants arrive around November and the intra- African migrants usually by mid-October.
- Of course, if you want to lounge around on the beach, mid-summer is the best time. Out of summer, the beaches along northern KwaZulu-Natal coast are warm and sunny, even in midwinter.
Climate Zones in South Africa
Most people thinking of planning a holiday visualise hot sunny weather, perfect for lying on the many beautiful beaches in South Africa.
Our summer is from November to the end of March and is hot in all regions. Just how hot or humid depends on where you are. The Western and Eastern Cape rarely reaches temperatures above 30°C (86°F) whereas in the north of the country, temperatures can be even higher. In the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga temperatures can reach above 45°C (113°F), too hot for hiking and outdoor pursuits. Humidity is also a factor, especially in KwaZulu-Natal.
Most of South Africa has summer rainfall, which conveniently falls in the form of late afternoon thunderstorms which are quick to clear and cool things down. It is only the area around Cape Town which has a Mediterranean Climate which experiences rain in winter. However, these rainy days are always offset with wonderful days to rival the best of a British summer.
On the Garden Route, rain can fall all year round keeping the vegetation beautifully green year round.
Autumn brings really enjoyable weather to South Africa. The climate has low rainfall, warm sunny days and chillier nights. Autumn falls between the months of April and mid-May. In the wine growing regions, the vines change to their gorgeous rust tones and make a beautiful picture.
The winter weather is cold and dry through the northern region and cold with rain through the southern region. The winter falls between the months of mid-May and July. Natal however is known for its really mild winters, making it a popular destination for that time of year.
In the arid desert regions of the Northern Cape, winter and spring is the best time to visit, but bring warm clothing for the nights, which can be very cold. The winter days are excellent for hiking and other outdoor activities.
The high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal usually get snow in winter.
The hot, humid KwaZulu-Natal coast, as well as the Lowveld (lower-lying areas) of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, offer fantastic winter weather with sunny, warmish days and virtually no wind or rain.
Spring in South Africa brings the amazing natural floral kingdom to life, especially on the West Coast. The spring weather has warmed up but still has a mild chill at night. The weather is a gentle changeover after the cold or rainy winter. The spring falls between August to September or October, depending where you are.
What to wear
For summer bring shorts and T-shirts for day-wear and you will need some layering for the drop in temperature when the rain falls in the summer rainfall areas. In the evenings wear lightweight trousers or jeans and always take a warmer jacket. An umbrella is useful in the summer rainfall areas and a cap or hat and block out cream are essential for all seasons.
Autumn and spring can still be warm but one can experience fluctuations. The evenings are chilly so for these seasons, layering is the answer. Expect to strip off as the day wears on, and then to start adding warmth from about 16H00.
In winter, denims with a choice of layered tops that includes a light jersey as well as a very warm jacket will suit most places in winter. The midday temperatures can get up to 18°C in many parts of the country and cold mornings and afternoon, though most places seldom plummet below zero. Dress for cold mornings and evenings, and strip down during the day.
Snow can fall in the mountainous areas where the temperatures can drop to below zero. Bring warm pyjamas, especially if you are camping out or staying in unheated accommodation.
The city enjoys a dry, sunny climate, with the exception of occasional late afternoon downpours in the summer months of October to April.
Temperatures in Johannesburg are usually fairly mild due to the city’s high altitude, with the average maximum daytime temperature in January of 26 °C (78.8 °F), dropping to an average maximum of around 16 °C (60.8 °F) in June.
Winter is the sunniest time of the year, with cool days and cold nights. The temperature occasionally drops to below freezing at night, causing frost. Snow is a rare occurrence.
Johannesburg tends to be on average 2 degrees cooler than Pretoria (now known as Tshwane) – the other major Gauteng city, and South Africa’s capital.
Cape Town Weather
Cape Town and surrounding areas enjoys a typically Mediterranean climate. Warm, dry summers with a low rainfall alternate with relatively mild, wet winters.
March and April are the most popular months for visiting the Cape as the weather is close to idyllic, the “Cape Doctor” – a strong South Easterly wind that gusts a good deal of the mid-summer months has blown itself out by then and the beaches and shops are free from the summer holiday crowds. The autumnal colours in the winelands during these months enhance the already beautiful landscape.
Winters in the Western Cape have rainy weather, but there are delightful, crisp, sunny days in between to enjoy the myriad of things to do in Cape Town. However, spectacular storms are not uncommon in the winter months, earning the region the nickname “Cape of Storms”.
Cape spring is a great time to visit the fruit farming regions of Elgin and Grabouw to enjoy the blossoms. Alternately take in the world-famous wildflower display that adorns the West Coast, attracting hordes of visitors every year.
Summers in the Cape are all about the beaches. Bleached white, soft sandy shores and aquamarine waves line the entire coastline of the province. For swimming the water is much water in the Indian Ocean than the Atlantic Ocean of the West Coast.
To see the weather forecast, visit the South African Weather Service.
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