South Africa has a wealth of natural beauty, and with so many different kinds of landscapes all over the country there are so many places to explore.
Planning a holiday is something you will be doing in South Africa, especially over December when many businesses shut down for a whole month, during July when many schools close (if you have children), and over April, when the many public holidays mean that a lot of people take leave to make this a longer holiday break.
For those with school-going children here are the School term dates for 2017*:
*Please note that this can depend on the school
Private schools (3 terms):
Term 1: 18 January - 12 April
Half Term: 23 February - 28 February
Term 2: 03 May - 04 August
Half Term: 23 June - 03 July
Term 3: 05 September - 07 December
Half Term: 19 October - 24 October
Government Schools (4 terms):
Term 1: 11 Jan - 31 March
Term 2: 18 April - 30 Jun
Term 3: 24 July- 29 Sep
Term 4: 9 Oct- 6 Dec
Public Holidays 2017:
1 January 2017 - New Year’s Day
20 March 2017 - School holiday
21 March 2017 - Human Rights Day (This is the day that commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre)
14 April 2017 - Good Friday
17 April 2017 - Family Day
27 April 2017 - Freedom Day (This commemorates the date of the first democratic elections in 1994)
28 April 2017 - School holiday
1 May 2017 - Workers’ Day
16 June 2017 - Youth Day (This date commemorates the Soweto Uprising in 1976)
9 August 2017 - National Women’s Day (This date commemorates the day thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 to petition the extension of pass laws to women)
24 September 2017 - Heritage Day
16 December 2017 - Day of Reconciliation (Previously Dingane’s Day, this is a reappropriation of the day that commemorates the Battle of Blood River, which was traditionally celebrated by Afrikaners as a day of victory against Dingane’s Zulu army. For more detail visit the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria where an annual celebration takes place)
25 December 2017 - Christmas Day
26 December 2017 - Day of Goodwill
SOUTH AFRICA OVERVIEW
To get a better idea on how to plan a holiday while living in Johannesburg, and South Africa, it helps to get an overview of the surrounding area and the country as a whole.
South Africa is divided into 9 provinces, with the province of Gauteng located somewhere just above the middle. South Africa is also made up of seven different terrestrial biomes, or types of dominant vegetation, which can influence your choice of holiday based on the surrounding landscape, weather and natural attractions.
To give you some holiday ideas here’s a breakdown of all the different provinces, with an insight into the landscape and highlights:
Gauteng is the smallest but most populated province, so it can be a relief to escape the city on weekends and during the holidays. During the December holidays Joburg is quiet though, which can also be a nice change.
Gauteng falls into the bushveld/grassland biome, which means that the province is largely flat, with rolling hills, with the exception of the Magaliesberg mountain range about an hour outside of Johannesburg which is known for its beautiful hiking trails and natural pools.
With a very temperate climate, Gauteng is considered to have some of the best weather in the country, with sun almost every day of the year, summer thunderstorms, dry and mildly cold winters and occasional windy days.
Pretoria and Johannesburg: With so much to see and do in each city, you could spend all of your time as an expat in South Africa just exploring the two major cities in the province (See our Social Media Guide for more information).
PRETORIA: As the capital city, Pretoria is an interesting place to visit to get a sense of the country’s history, with many historical attractions and museums. Pretoria is also a bite more laid back, and has a number of outdoor markets and restaurants to try.
Day Trip Idea: Take the Gautrain to Pretoria and then an Uber to the city’s weekend market at 012 Central.
JOHANNESBURG: As you’ll soon discover, Johannesburg is known for its busy nightlife, many restaurants as well as its art and cultural events.
(See Annual Events Calendar)
OUTSIDE OF THE CITY:
Here are some places to visit just outside of the city:
Soweto: An acronym for South Western Townships, Soweto is one of South Africa’s largest and most established townships, and is a popular tourist attraction for its many historical sites, including Nelson Mandela House. Other things to do: Lebos Backpackers Cycle Tour; Chisa Nyama in Soweto; Bridge Swing; Mandela’s House, Tour with Thami
Magalies Meander: One of the country’s many tourist routes, follow the Magaliesberg Meander for restaurants, hikes, getaways and other places to visit.
Dinokeng: The only Big 5 reserve within city limits in the whole world, Dinokeng is just past Pretoria and an accessible option for game viewing, with a number of self-drive routes and accommodation options.
Cullinan: close to Dinokeng is the old mining town of Cullinan, where you can visit the other big hole and eat at one of the town’s many restaurants.
Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve: South of Johannesburg you’ll find open spaces and nature reserves like Suikerbosrand where you can go for walks and escape the city buzz.
Take a train trip on an old steam train:
Cradle of Humankind: This area of the province is where the oldest hominid fossils have been found, which you can learn more about at the Maropeng Visitors Centre and Sterkfontein Caves. There are a number of restaurants and outdoor activities in the Muldersdrift area.
Some ideas of things to do and places to visit in the Cradle of Humankind:
The Western Cape is South Africa’s top tourist destination, with so many beautiful places to visit:
Cape Town: The “Mother City” as it’s known is a very popular tourist destination, with beaches, winelands and world renowned restaurants and nature reserves.
Garden Route: heading east along the N2 from Cape Town you’ll be spoilt with even more of the area’s beauty, from mountain ranges to even more winelands and even whale sightings in season.
Train trips: Why not explore the country by train? Although it is possible to travel on Shosholoza Meyl from Johannesburg to Cape Town, there are also some luxury options available including The Blue Train and Rovos Rail, which also do trips further up into neighbouring countries.
- Paternoster: heading north west outside of Cape Town, the town of Paternoster is a popular holiday destination along the coast, known for its fresh seafood and white-washed houses.
Some online resources to plan your trip:
A diverse province that has everything from rolling hills, to mountain ranges to coastal forests, KwaZulu Natal offers a number of different kinds of holidays, only limited by the time you have to spend there!
Durban: a popular holiday destination year-round, Durban is popular for it’s warm ocean currents, surf scene and lush, tropical feel. Very humid in the summer, Durban is a great option for a winter break from Joburg during the cooler months.
Lesotho (Sani Pass): accessible as a day trip from Durban, the Sani Pass is a rugged pathway into the Drakensberg Mountains, and an off road adventure for anyone who’s into 4 x 4’s.
Battlefields (Rorke’s Drift, Spitskop): in the early years of British colonialism in South Africa, there were many epic battles between the Zulu and the British in the interior KwaZulu-Natal region. With a knowledgeable guide, exploring this region is like taking a step back into the past, and gives a insight into the early beginnings of South Africa as a country. We highly recommend a stay at Fugitives Drift - its a once in a life time experience!
Drakensberg: This extensive mountain range has a number of different peaks to climb and lodges to stay in at all times of the year.
Hluhluwe: A park famous for its rhino conservation, the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park is a private reserve well-known for its variety of animals.
iSimangaliso: a wetland park and UNESCO heritage site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (also known as La Lucia), is home to a number of endangered species like turtles, and wonderful place to learn more about South Africa’s marine life.
For more information and travel resources:
Another diverse province when it comes to scenery, Mpumalanga stretches from grassland to low altitude bushveld, and has everything from misty, fly-fishing getaways to your prized 5-star luxury wildlife getaways.
- Kruger National Park: the world renowned park spans a wide area of the north eastern part of the country and extends into the Limpopo province, so here there are various types of terrain, from bushy shrub to more sparse, Baobab dotted landscapes. With so many different kinds of accommodation available, you’re likely to see all of the Big 5 here, and more.
- In addition to Kruger, there are so many other different game parks and private reserves to visit, from luxury Londolozi to more affordable family-getaways. One of the most popular tourism routes is the Panorama Route, which will take you to all of the most popular destinations in the area.
- Dullstroom: A popular getaway for people living in Gauteng, Dullstroom is known for its fly-fishing, outdoor activities and it’s variety of restaurants.
Some resources to use to plan your trip:
The North-West province is best known for its platinum mines and its main tourist attraction: Sun City. With rolling savanna and bushveld, the North-West province has some of the country’s best known game reserves too.
Hartebeespoort Dam: take a day trip out to the dam to eat at one of the area’s popular restaurants (Silver Orange Bistro and Orient- one of the top 10 restaurants in the country), or go up the newly built cable car to get a view over the surrounding area. There is also an elephant rehabilitation centre where you can walk “trunk-in-hand” with elephants.
Pilanesberg: Pilanesberg is easily one of the country’s most underrated game reserves. Easily accessible from Joburg, this Big 5 reserve offers a range of accommodation options, and is also very close to Sun City.
Sun City: a gambling mecca, Sun City is an expansive resort that hosts an annual golf tournament and a popular outdoor water park and outdoor activities centre- great for kids!
Madikwe: One of the most famous and luxurious game reserves in the country Madikwe is close to the Botswana border.
Groot Marico: a historic area famous for the stories about it written by South African author Herman Charles Bosman, the Groot Marico is a quirky, off-the-beaten path literary and cultural destination.
Previously known as the Northern Province, Limpopo is named after the river that forms the boundary between South Africa and its neighbouring countries. Made up of a variety of different landscapes, from savanna to forests, a section of the province is the Kruger National Park, with the rest of the province home to a number of other wilderness areas.
Waterberg: An accessible getaway from Joburg, there are a number of private game reserves in the Waterberg area, which is malaria-free.
Venda: a lush and fertile area, Venda is one of South Africa’s official languages and also an area of cultural significance.
Mapungubwe: The ruins of Mapungubwe show evidence of an advanced civilisation, which wasn’t given credit until recently, which makes it an important cultural destination.
National Parks: Marekele National Park is one of South Africa’s national parks, with a variety of accommodation options available.
Magoebaskloof: known for its forests and famous cluster of cycads, Magoebaskloof is a beautiful escape from the surrounding bushveld.
Some ideas of things to do and where to stay in Limpopo:
Another diverse province in terms of scenery, the Eastern Cape landscape ranges from sem-desert Karoo to rolling grasslands, savanna and coastal thicket. It’s a bit of a drive from Joburg, but for an extended getaway a road trip down to the Eastern Cape will be well worth your time, with lots of stops to make along the way.
- Kenton: A popular seaside holiday destination for families, Kenton-on-Sea has both a large beach and a river nearby, if you’re looking to ski or take part in watersports, and have access to a boat. There are also some game reserves nearby which make this a destination with lots to see and do in the area.
- Wild Coast: A largely underdeveloped part of the country (and formerly an “independent” country), the Wild Coast is an idyllic getaway for those looking for something more rustic, although there are a number of luxury resorts and lodges as well.
- Graaff Reinet: A Karoo town with beautiful historic architecture, Graaff Reinet is an ideal stopover on the way to the Eastern Cape coast, for its history and nearby game reserves, the most famous of which is the Valley of Desolation. The town also hosts an annual wine festival called Stoep (Porch) Tasting.
- Addo Elephant Park: One of South Africa’s most diverse national parks in terms of terrain, Addo covers everything from dunes to forest, and is most famous for its elephants, although you’ll also see a variety of other animals as well.
- Port Elizabeth (PE): a thriving port city, PE infrastructure got a substantial upgrade before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and has several historic sites worth visiting, as well as an underrated variety of restaurants and coffee shops.
Jeffrey’s Bay: A surfing town made famous by the movie The Endless Summer for its right break wave, Jeffrey’s Bay is still a surf mecca, and a popular tourism destination along the N2.
Grahamstown: Another historic town, Grahamstown is famous for its annual arts festival, which takes place in July.
East London: Another coastal hub along the N2, East London is South Africa’s only river port, and also a gateway to many of the province’s tourist attractions. Nearby Chintsa is a popular holiday destination.
Another resource to help plan your trip:
The interior of South Africa has wide open grassland spaces, and moves towards mountainous terrain closer to the Lesotho border. A largely agricultural area, the Free State is known for several agricultural fairs, it’s history and Bloemfontein- the judicial capital of the country.
Bloemfontein: the judicial capital is also a convenient stop over along the N1 highway. An administrative hub for the surrounding region, Bloemfontein has a number of historic buildings.
Clarens: right next the beautiful Golden Gate Park (named for the range of sculpted sandstone mountains), Clarens has become a popular getaway only 4-5 hours away from Joburg. The town has an annual craft beer festival in February.
Ficksburg: right next to the Lesotho border, the town of Ficksburg hosts an annual cherry festival.
Gariep Dam: a prominent water source for the rest of the country, the Gariep Dam is an impressive structure to see, and there are a number of resorts and places to stay nearby, as its also a convenient N1 stopover.
The Northern Cape is South Africa’s largest province, as mostly made up of semi-desert Karoo vegetation, made up of two different areas: Succulent Karoo and Nama Karoo.
Kimberley: the place where the South African diamond rush took place, Kimberley is an administrative hub for the surrounding region and a historic centre, with the Big Hole a prominent tourist attraction. We reocmmend staying over at the Kimberley Country Club.
Upington: A prominent agricultural and miningcentre, Upington is a gateway for further travel in the area.
Namaqualand: famous for its annual bloom of desert flowers, you’ll need to plan ahead to make the most of this natural event. The coastal Groenspoeg area is a recent addition to the national park in the area.
Tankwa Karoo: an area known for its stargazing, there is another national park in this area as well as the annual Afrikaburn festival.
Sutherland: one of the coldest places in the country during winter, Sutherland is the best place to go stargazing, and the home of SALT, an internationally run astronomical telescope and centre.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: An international collaboration between South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, the Kgalagadi is a large expanse of wilderness with a lot to see and do within it.
December is summertime in South Africa, which means that most people will be heading to the sea, so all coastal areas, especially Cape Town are very busy over this time, so it’s advisable to book in advance, although last minute deals can be an option (if you’re quick!).
Overall, the weather patterns generally follow a similar pattern:
Interior: wet and hot summers with thunderstorms, dry and moderately cold winters (with particularly cold evenings and mornings)
Coastal areas: windy, hot and dry summers and wet winters.
OTHER BUSY TIMES FOR POPULAR DESTINATIONS: April holiday period over Easter and the number of public holidays, July during school holidays and other school holiday periods (depending on the province/school).
There are a variety of different accommodation options to choose from in South Africa, depending on your budget and preference. With so many beautiful natural areas, there is a focus on creating eco-friendly accommodation, which can mean that accommodation can be more simple and rustic, but don’t let this put you off! Staying in a tented camp can be a wonderfully immersive experience, even if you’re more accustomed to more luxury accommodation.
Some accommodation websites:
Portfolio Collection (for more upmarket guesthouses and accommodation)
- Victoria Falls: considered to be one of the main energy centres of the world, it’s been said that you haven’t been to Africa unless you’ve been to “Vic” Falls.
- Lesotho - the Sani pass is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, but be sure to be in a 4 x4 car.
- Madagascar: A bit more off the beaten track, Madagascar’s tourism infrastructure is largely underdeveloped, but there are resorts at places like Nosy Be and also some more rustic accommodation options for those looking for more of an adventure.
- Mozambique: While you might hear stories about bad roads, and it’s best to have a 4x4 if you intend on exploring more rural parts of the country, the road network from Johannesburg all the way up to Vilanculos is tarred and easy to navigate on a self-drive holiday. Otherwise you can fly to Pemba, Inhambane and Maputo, depending on where you want to go. Popular tourist destinations are Maputo, Tofo, Vilanculos, Ponto Do Ouro, Ponta Malongane and luxury resorts all the way along the coast.
- Namibia: Namibia is largely a desert, which means either renting your own 4 x 4 and taking a drive or joining a tour group on a desert safari. There are a number of luxury and budget accommodations available. The towns along the coast are also popular tourist destinations, fro example, Swakopmund.
Mauritius: A hub for commerce and resort holidays, Mauritius is a popular luxury getaway destination for South Africans, especially for honeymoons.
Seychelles: An archipelago with islands of varying sizes, the Seychelles are also another luxury getaway destination for South Africans.
OTHER TRIP IDEAS:
Slackpacking is a way to explore nature without the effort, find out more about South Africa’s variety of slackpacking trails.
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Some planning resources: