Epic South African winter retreats to soak in the season

2017-05-13 14:30 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - It's no secret that winter time in South Africa is the best time for local travellers to explore the country. Cheaper rates, fewer crowds and the long winter school holiday all add up to create the perfect winter escape opportunity. 

Whether you're an adventurer, a lone winter explorer or a family-travelling memory maker, we have all the reasons to love winter right here - 

Nature solace seekers 

Limpopo’s Waterberg region - Limpopo

Situated in Limpopo’s striking Waterberg region, Welgevonden Private Game Reserve is just an easy two and a half hour drive from Johannesburg, yet it feels a million miles away. 

The weekend crowds and busy tar roads that are found in other parks in the vicinity of South Africa’s biggest city, such as Pilanesberg and Kruger, are notably absent from this exclusive yet remarkably accessible wildlife sanctuary.

If you are in need of a really wild weekend getaway in these wintry months, Welgevonden is certainly worth a visit.

Self-drive vehicles are not allowed in Welgevonden, so you’ll leave your car – along with all your worries – at the gate on arrival and be picked up and taken to your lodge. Most of the reserve’s small handful of luxury lodges are restricted to a maximum of ten guests, so overcrowding certainly won’t be an issue at breakfast or dinner time either.

Aptly, Welgevonden roughly translates as “well-found”.

READ MORE HERE: A wild weekend in the Waterberg



Samara - Eastern Cape

There's something magical about the Karoo during winter. Skies are more grey and the cold cuts through your bones like toothache, but the people's warmth will keep you cozy long after you've left this seemingly desolate landscape. 

Samara holds everything that makes the Karoo great, plus a little luxury to get you through the nippiest of winters. 

Whether you are looking for a private space for yourself or you would like to share a room with 4 or 8 people, there are options to suit your requirements - so couples, small families and groups of friends are all welcome. 

The house boasts a perfect pool- side area with mountain views and absolutely unforgettable wildlife experiences.

READ MORE HERE: Samara: A secluded Eastern Cape escape



The Kruger National Park - Mpumalanga & Limpopo 

This might be the old South African winter holiday classic, but South African National Parks have found ways to anew ways in which we experience the park.  

The Mafunyane 4x4 Eco-Trail is a four day, three night, self-catering guided adventure activity in the north-western section of Kruger National Park between the Olifants and Luvuvhu Rivers. 

The trail route covers a distance of approximately 270km and all participants are required to drive their own 4x4 vehicles, with provisions for the four-day trip, including tents and camping gear, sufficient supply of water, firewood and food. 

The camping sites are like something out of a fairy tale. Although simple (there are only a few eco-friendly toilet stalls erected where you can camp), the sites are perched underneath sprawling old Tamboti trees or next to stunning lakes where wild animals come to quench their thirst at dawn and dusk...

Although the trail is self-drive, it requires an official, professional trail guide to lead the trail and also provide the necessary interpretation en route. 

READ MORE HERE: Ultimate SA Camping: Into the heart of Kruger's Mafunyane 4x4 eco-trail


Adventurers & Explorers

Shipwreck Hiking Trail - Eastern Cape

The idyllic Eastern Cape comes to life on this six day, five night trail from Port Alfred to the Fish River.

Beach strollers have vast, empty beaches, windswept dunes and thick coastal forest all to themselves, if you're not counting the fireflies, birds and wildlife that is. 

It is like being in Rivendell with the Elves, pro-hiking adventurer Hanlie Gouws describes one of the treehouse cabins in which hikers sleep for during the second night. The deck is high above the ground in the canopy and after a wash in the river you'll be able to relax on the hammocks on the deck and watch the full moon rise over the winter solstice...

The trail is 'self-guided', which means hikers have to take all their own food, beverages, toiletries, utensils, torches, matches and sleeping bags. All three huts on the route have drinking water, toilets and mattresses, and braaiwood is supplied free-of-charge at all huts.

If you're after a little more relaxation, you can also opt for a portage option. For a fee, a trail official will then ensure your gear and all supplies awaits you at your cabin when you arrive.  

READ MORE HERE: Shipwreck Hiking Trail: Pure winter slackpacking magic!



Swellendam - Western Cape 

Often seen as nothing more than a pit stop on the Garden Route, Swellendam is an adventure-hub worth exploring.

The town boasts one of the country's very best Italian restaurants, La Sosta, beautiful, shady oak-lined streets and a road-side pit stop, Tredici, that has become something to tick off the ultimate South African 'padstal' guide. 

It's a perfect cocktail of Winelands flair mixed with farmstyle charm and the most welcoming of local residents. 

But it's not all laid-back, Breede riverside lounging either. Travelling family The Travel Manuel recently got a breathtaking bird's eye-view of the Buffelsjag Dam with the local Umshanti Watersports Centre there too.  

Dangling from a microlight steered by one Oom Kosie, the family travellers ventured out of their comfort zone to experience Swellendam in a whole new, late afternoon light... 

READ MORE HERE: Swellendam: The Overberg's unexpected adventure hub 




Cederberg - Western Cape  

It's one of the favourite adventure playgrounds for South Africans, and rightfully so. The Cederberg is a refuge in summer when Cape temperatures soar to into the 40s, and in winter, it becomes a snowy wonderland for adventurers to explore. 

Explorers will be happy to know that conservation custodians CapeNature recently upgraded its Truitjieskraal interpretive trail, part of the Greater Cederberg region which has more than 2 500 sites with rock art.

Truitjieskraal arguably boasts the most impressive of these sandstone formations in the area - with rock art dating back to 5 000 years ago. 

READ: Cederberg rock art trail upgraded + 5 things to make you pack your bags and go

But even if you're exploring this iconic mountainous landscape ancient rock art, know that you're not alone... Conservation journalist Scott Ramsay, on an exploration in search of the Cape Leopard, learnt that the Cederberg is a place where we can learn talk to life again, to learn the language of wild animals like the leopard.

READ MORE HERE: Cape Leopard: The soul of the Cederberg 


Free spirits and wild romantics 

Coffee Bay - Eastern Cape

Peak season nightlife in Coffee Bay is indeed not for everyone, but those who manage to embrace the culture will go home having had a thrilling experience. Chances are even that you'll leave with one or two new talents: Either mastering the art of drumming or kind of getting the hang of 'fire poi' (minus a few patches of your eyebrows)... A bonus would be the skill of being able to play the ukelele along to 'Somewhere over the Rainbow.'

The Wild Coast is like a galaxy far, far away. And this feeling culminates in Coffee Bay.

But before you run for the hills in fear of magic mushrooms or what knows else, rest assured that Coffee Bay can be whatever you need your secluded holiday to be. 

A 8km stroll from Hole in the Wall, the coastal gem is a goldmine for surfers and all ocean lovers alike, and a finish line for Wild Coast explorers coming from a 5-day nature and beach hike all the way from Port St John's, 80km north. 

Whatever it is to you, it will be a place to refuel and revive your senses. 

READ MORE HERE: Backpacking the Wild Coast: Coffee Bay's twist on a pub hop 




Kurisa Moya forest - Limpopo

This enchanted Limpopo hideaway has a sprinkling of magic dust all over... as well as the country's top Bird Man, one David Letsoalo, who has been voted the top local bird guide by members of Bird Life South Africa for at least seven years in a row. 

He has a fondly-nurtured friendship, one forged humbly over time, with the Magoebaskloof forest and its indigenous trees and dew-bejewelled ferns. 

Avid birders looking for a date with David, as well as travellers looking for an enchanted escape, would have to check into Kurisa Moya to do so. This 422-ha property encapsulates a diverse range of habitats, including the Magoebaskloof forest. 

It’s completely off the grid and you will also battle to find decent cellphone reception, making it the perfect breakaway spot for the work- and connection-weary… which is really all of us, writes travelling freelancer Nadia Krige. 

READ MORE HERE: #WeOpenAfrica: Magical creatures of Kurisa Moya forest 


Grootvadersbosch - Western Cape  

A World Heritage Site declared in 2004, Grootvadersbosch is the most significant stretch of indigenous afromontane forest left in the south-western Cape, with nearly all of the 35 typical forest tree species, including red alder, ironwood, stinkwood and yellowwood.

Visitors to this beautiful reserve will relish the opportunity to get out into the forest on day walks and mountain biking trails.

CapeNature has also recently upgraded the accommodation facilities in the forest, and explorers can now rest assured knowing the cabins are all 100% eco-friendly. 

Whether you're in one of the new, off-the-grid cabins, or out and about in the forest, Grootvadersbosch is an excellent birding destination with more than 196 bird species regularly spotted.

Hikers are likely to bump into bushbuck and spot baboons and smaller mammals when out on the trails. Sighting the forest emperor butterfly and a subspecies of the rare ghost frog would be the highlight of a visit here, as they can only be found in this particular forest.

READ MORE HERE: Grootvadersbosch - the making of a true eco-friendly escape


Family explorers 

Cellars-Hohenort - Western Cape 

Luxury meets making family memories in the established Cape Town classic, Cellars-Hohenort.  

To might think that this sort of escape lends itself more to a romantic weekend away or as a mainstay on any discerning foodie travellers bucket list you wouldn’t be far off, especially considering the well-known, fine dining Greenhouse Restaurant, as well as the High Tea served at The Conservatory.

But Cellars can't be bothered with wearing one or two cloaks only, and is surprisingly and naturally family friendly. The attentive staff, some of whom have been there for more than 15 years, go out of their way to make little travellers feel welcomed and comfortable - whether it be in delivering movies to watch after nightfall or directing them to the enchanting forest for a walk in the damp, mossy trails. 

With all its luxury roaring fireplaces, fine cuisine and wine, the Cape Town icon is also a winter luxury retreat for families, and the resident ducks and cat Angel all do their bit to make the stay a memorable one...

READ MORE HERE: Winter mini-break: Enchanted family spoils at Cellars-Hohenort 


Port Alfred - Eastern Cape

A small coastal town with the ideal holiday climate - warm ocean waters throughout the year - Port Alfred is the Sunshine Coast’s well-kept secret, not only among visitors from around the country, but even among Eastern Cape locals too.

It seems the beaches in this tiny town never ends. Port Aflred is located on the banks of the Kowie River and managed to maintain that English fishing village feel, since the English settlers first set foot there in the 1800s.

You can still walk the very stretch of sand those settlers walked way back, but today the sleepy town also boasts a couple of morish little eateries, cozy accommodation and the perfect escape for creating family memories to last a lifetime. 

READ MORE HERE: Sunshine Coast: A complete guide to Port Alfred




Tulbagh - Western Cape

Being a newfound wedding venue of note, and an all-time classic winter destination completely with snowy mountain tops, Tulbagh is one for the romantics. 

And if you're a travelling family, like The Travel Manual, it's a place where first memories will be made and forever cherished. 

READ MORE HERE: Tulbagh: Of tents and teething syrup

Oh, and did we mention they host a splendid Christmas in June festival every year to celebrate SA's very own 'White Christmas', completely with winter snow.

During the festival, which takes place on 24 and 25 June this year, restaurants in Tulbagh offer traditional Christmas dinners, and the Oude Drostdy displays festive decorations throughout the weekend.

Wine Tasting, gluhwein, a beer garden, art and craft exhibitions, stalls and a kiddies corners are a few of the activities happening over the weekend, while a ‘Rock with Santa’ party is always the place to be on the Saturday evening.



Sedgefield - Western Cape

The Garden Route is one of the classic bucket list destinations. One which always summons travellers back as they fall more and more in love with the lush green forests, the pristine beaches and the secluded little seaside towns. In summer, the N2 is crawling with cars as holidaymakers from all over the globe fight for their place in the sun. 

In winter, however, the Garden Route caters for locals. Not necessarily the fun-in-the-sun type, but rather the serenity seekers who crave a winter break, reading a pile of books and drinking a bottle of red wine alongside a cozy fireplace... 

For families, a winter escape to this classic SA spot means quiet lakeside fishing, sunrises and sunsets and altogether slow living. 

If you're after just that, settle into Sedgefield. 

READ MORE HERE: Sedgefield: Why you need a Garden Route stay on the vlei

Winter also ushers in the loved Oyster festival in the Garden Route. The festival boasts a remarkable selection of sporting and lifestyle events from swimming, bowls and hiking to food and wine-tastings, live music, a children’s programme and oodles of oysters! This year's festival takes place from 7 to 16 July 2017.  


Food lovers and wine flies 

Clarens - Free State

Snow - check. Jaw-dropping landscapes - check. Cozy, sandstone B&Bs with rumbling fireplaces - check. Copious amounts of red wine and some of the best pancakes in SA - you've got it.

Clarens is the optimum winter destination for South Africans and for foodies, even more so. One weekend alone will not be enough for you to eat your way through this little town, so make sure you go prepared (read: hungry).  

To warm the heart and belly, the Clarens Brewery and many other drinking holes which have sprout up in town will also keep you busy.

READ MORE HERE: Clarens: A brewery with a town around it 

And if you're in need of working up an appetite again, you can always explore the iconic surrounds of the Eastern Free State will a big hit of adrenaline. 

READ: Extreme exploring the eastern Free State of Adventure: 5 Things to do


Riebeek Kasteel - Western Cape

A little microcosm of Western Cape magic and local living. Where many small towns across the country have regressed due to diminishing farming communities, financial stress on small businesses and ailing, inefficient municipalities, Riebeek-Kasteel is a breath of positive, fresh air. 

Here is a small town, one with but a handful of tarred roads, that decided to start supporting its community - with incredible results. There's only a corner-cafe supermarket in the centre of town, but that's only for toilet paper and cheap liquor. For everything else, there are community-driven, entrepreneur-run shops. 

The key? Love local. Whether it be with organic soaps and handmade goods, or a personal selection of the best in the region, Riebeek Kasteel is a gem. 

Foodie visitors are spoiled with sweet spots like Mama Cucina, one of the best Italian restaurant in the country, The Alchemist wine shop which stocks a selection of the best local wine and Flagship Brew or Garagista Beer Co Brewery, which boasts fizzy local craft beers.  

The area is also a renowned olive-growing region, so be sure to stock up on marinaded olives and oil at the Olive Boutique. 

READ MORE HERE: Why you need a breakaway to Riebeek-Kasteel



Kievitskroon - Gauteng

The grasslands of South Africa in and around Gauteng have a certain charm in winter. It’s warm and dry, to the extent that your skin cracks up. And at night, it’s bitterly cold. But when you’re sitting in the afternoon winter sun, basking like a rock rabbit, the heatwaves of summers’ past couldn’t be further away. And during those cold nights, a fireplace and a bottle of red are all you need for ultimate bliss. 

In Gauteng, the prospects of taking a break are often overshadowed by having to travel far distances and having to dish up big bucks for flights and fuel, in addition to accommodation. But why travel out of this winter wonderland if you can have a break right outside the Big City? 

Kievits Kroon Country Estate lies less than 30km outside Pretoria, in the Kameeldrift-East region. Up until you reach the driveway leading up to the stately Cape-Dutch inspired major house which personifies the estate, you wouldn’t say you’re heading to a luxury retreat...

Until you arrive, greeted by crowned 'kieviets', and the relaxation can begin. 

READ MORE HERE: City buzz to classic country: A weekend escape to Pretoria’s Kievits Kroon 




The Winelands - Western Cape 

It may be cliche, but The Winelands can't age in our books. And in winter, with the crowds fewer, we love it even more.

Your options are endless, really. From family escapes in like Geting lost in the Cape winelands to exploring the Winelands with little people - What to see and do in Franschhoekit's a feast for all.

One thing that's constant throughout the region it good wine to accompany all those fabulous, home-grown wines. So rest assured you won't go hungry in the Winelands in winter. All you have to do is find the perfect region for you, and explore the daylights out of it!

You can #DiscoverDurbanville for a wine-filled winter break or Eat, pray, love at the new Bosjes Winelands hideaway or explore the creme de la creme as voted for by the public.


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