Snow-hunting SA

2012-07-11 08:23

While snow may not be one of South Africa's main tourism selling points, only gracing us with its presence on the odd occasion and in the most remote of outposts, it sure does know how to draw a local crowd.

With the help of Kevin Rae, chief forecaster for South African Weather Services, we've put together a few tips to keep tabs on this unpredictable weather occurrence, as well as a list of the snowfall hotspots around the country.

West to East

Snowfall in South Africa generally seems to follow an anti-clockwise progression, moving from west to east.

"Typically, the first events will take place in the Western Cape and spread out from there, finally reaching the Drakensberg region," Kevin explains.

Best time to expect snow

Kevin points out that even though the solstice may have come and gone, we haven't seen the back of winter just yet. "While snowfall events could happen as early as April, July is widely considered to be mid-winter, and therefore also a prime time for snow. So is August."

He added that events have been known to take place as late as September or October, and once even on New Year's day!

Favourable conditions

The possibility of snow falling in a certain area depends on the altitude at which temperatures fall below zero. During mid-winter this would normally happen at around 6000 feet, therefore mountain ranges and areas at this altitude would be likely to receive some snow. However, if the winter system is more intense, freezing point could happen at lower altitudes. A good example of this happening would be when Table Mountain, or even the Outeniqua mountains in George, experience snowfall.

Snow searching SA

Western Cape


Picture: Matroosberg. From Outdoorphoto.co.za

Matroosberg, Ceres

When snow falls in the Western Cape, Matroosberg peak, the second highest in the province, is always first on the list of places to go. Located about 30km from the town of Ceres, it's a breathtakingly beautiful 3-hour drive from Cape Town, however, you will need a 4x4 vehicle to navigate the slopes.

Cederberg

While snow in the Cederberg may typically not be deep and powdery enough for skiing or snowboarding, bundling up in your warmest gear and setting out on one of the many hiking trails in the Cederberg Wilderness Area to take a closer look is a great for an exhilarating winter activity. Take a look at Cape Nature's website for accommodation and hiking details.

Franschhoek pass

In the midst of winter, the magical winelands scenery in the Stellenbosch/Franschhoek area is often made even more magical by light dustings of snow on the surrounding mountain tops. While it mostly requires admiration from a far, more accessible areas such as the Franschhoek pass and Jonkershoek mountain trails have enjoyed sprinklings in recent years. 


Not sure how you will know if this happens? If you don't quite trust word of mouth, keep your eyes peeled and ears open for snow warnings released by weather services.

Eastern Cape

Picture: Hogsback. From saweatherobserver.blogspot.com

Rhodes

South Africa's one and only ski resort sadly closed down sometime last year, and is currently awaiting a revamp, but that doesn't mean it's not snowing! Heading to Rhodes Village in the Eastern Cape on a really icy day, you'll be almost sure to find some glorious snow to play around in.

Rhodes is located 342km from East London and 330km from Bloemfontein.

Hogsback

The magical, Lord of the Rings type village of Hogsback receives snow once or twice every winter, and the surrounding mountains even more often. Book a weekend stay in one of the town's cozy B&Bs to make sure you get a full fix of white wonderland!

Hogsback is 264km from Port Elizabeth and 138km from East London.

Graaff-Reinet

While the town itself may not receive snow during the average winter, the nearby Lootsberg pass that connects Graaff-Reinet and Middelburg on the R57 is a common recipient. 

Other Eastern Cape passes that may be affected by snowfalls during winter months include Penhoek pass near Sterkstroom between Queenstown and Aliwal North, the Barkly Pass near Elliot, Prince Alfred's Pass between Avontuur and Knysna, the Swartberg Pass and the Nico Malan Pass between Port Beaufort and Queenstown.

Free State

Picture: Golden Gate Highlands National Park. From Sanparks.org

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

If you're seeking a little taste of Switzerland on home soil, head to Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State during mid-winter. Temperatures may drop as low as -15 degrees celsius, making it a prime location for deep and luxurious snowfall. The park offers a selection of accommodation including camping, chalets close to the entrance and gorgeous log cabins higher up in the mountains. Add to your European experience by visiting the quaint little town of Clarens close by.

Van Reenen

Known as the gateway to the Northern Drakensberg, Van Reenen practically straddles the border between the Free State and KZN. Furthermore, at only a quick three hour drive from both Johannesburg and Durban, it's a convenient and central location for both sea-side and city dwellers to experience some winter fun.

Mpumalanga

Picture: Dullstroom. From fosaf.org.za

Long Tom Pass

With its top point reaching a whopping 2 150m above sea level, the Long Tom Pass between Pilgrim's Rest and Lydenburgh is one of the highest tarred roads in South Africa. Although snowfall usually tends to be rather light, the pass is highly accessible to even the most average of vehicles, making it a favourite snow-viewing spot. Be sure to visit Hops Hollow microbrewery at the top of the pass to sample some of their original beers, such as The Digger's Draught and Blacksmith's Brew.

Dullstroom

Probably most famous for fly-fishing, the picturesque town of Dullstroom is one of South Africa's quintessential country breakaway spots. Located 2,077m above sea level, it tends to get pretty chilly during winter months, practically making snow an annual occurrence. In between snowball fights and building snowmen, be sure to explore the wide variety of shops, restaurants and do a whisky tasting at Wild About Whisky.

KwaZulu-Natal

Picture: Sani Pass. From The Witness

Underberg

Similarly to Dullstroom, Underberg is probably best known as a fly-fishing hotspot with its 160km of river and 60 plus dams. Located in the Southern Drakensberg it forms part of the Sani Saunter, which may not be as well known as the Midlands Meander, but offers the same sort of outdoor and artsy experience. While snow isn't an annual guarantee in the town, the surrounding mountains are sure to receive at least a dusting during favourable conditions.

Sani Pass

Connecting KwaZulu-Natal with Mokhotlong in Lesotho, Sani Pass is a notoriously dangerous road that should only be attempted with 4x4 and lots of reliable equipment - especially if your mission is to see some snow. If you have all of this in place, then what are you waiting for? It is sure to be an experience of a lifetime!

 
Read more on:    travel south africa
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