Travel Wise | Weather & Wildlife In South Africa

Traveling to South Africa for the first time puts you in a unique position to experience a few surprises. Some might be pleasant, others not so much. If you have already sussed out the flights with South African Airways and you’re planning your upcoming trip, you might want to spend some time looking into the country’s unique weather, roads, and wildlife situation. This will ensure that you aren’t taken by surprise when the weather suddenly doesn’t match up to what you have read about it, when the road you are traveling on is more dust than tar, or you have an unplanned encounter with a wild animal.

South Africa’s Weather

South Africa is renowned for having fantastic weather all year round. The climate is warm with a bit of humidity, but on occasion there can be heavy rain, and in some areas, the winter can be really cold.

Make sure that you investigate the expected weather in each area that you plan to visit, at the time that you plan to visit. It’s always best to be prepared for most weather conditions when travelling in South Africa and particularly in Cape Town where you can experience four seasons in a day (if you are really lucky!).

You may be better prepared if you know what to expect in terms of weather in each of South Africa’s main cities:

  • Johannesburg – Jo’burg is known for its mild climate that typically doesn’t get too hot or humid. Between June and August it can get quite chilly in the mornings and late afternoon. The warmer months, which are between October and March bring fairly humid nights with days reaching a max of 28-32 degrees Celsius. Rainfall happens most often in summer.
  • Cape Town – Cape Town is usually warm and sunny, except in winter (May-August)which brings cold fronts, rain, and general chilly weather. June is usually the month that experiences the most rainfall in Cape Town. The summer months can also be quite windy and reach temperatures of 29-34 degrees Celsius max.
  • Durban – Durban experiences hot and humid days nearly all year round. The winter months, June to August, can have cold mornings and evenings with warm days. The most rainfall happens in Durban during the summer months (November to March) which can also reach temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius max.

If you are lucky enough to experience a South African lightning storm, prepare for a stunning show put on by Mother Nature herself.

According to the Lightning Climatology of South Africa website, lightening storms are most prevalent in outlying areas in the North West, Northern Cape, Free State, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and even Lesotho. Cape Town also experiences quite magnificent electric storms. Apparently these areas are high risk with positive polarity. Areas with ferric or red soils provide positive charge which makes them prime areas for lightning strikes.

SA actually has the most occurrences of lightning strikes globally, but this doesn’t mean that the country has come up with innovative ways to avoid the dangers that come with these beautiful light displays. In fact, South Africa ranks third in terms of lightning strike deaths annually (more on this here).

If you are caught in a lightning storm, turn off your electrical appliances and keep away from the windows until the storm dies down. If you are swimming, get out of the pool immediately. If you are on the golf course or out on a game drive, stop what you are doing and try head towards shelter or back to your camp/accommodation if there is no safe shelter. Avoid driving anywhere when there is lightning.

South Africa’s Wildlife

Wild animals and the Big Five are one of the main reasons why so many people book flights to South Africa with national carriers South African Airways and other leading airlines. If you are booking a holiday to do some game viewing and to get back to nature, you will be undoubtedly encountering wildlife in its natural environment. However, it is important to know the right and wrong ways of interacting with wildlife to avoid getting potentially hurt. Here’s what to expect:

  • Lions and other wild cats.

Lions, Leopards, and various smaller cat species all tend to look very relaxed while strolling along the road or through a park/camp. While they may appear calm and relaxed, never get out of your car or try to interact with the animal. Don’t hang out of the vehicle to take pictures, or attempt to feed the lion or cat either. Stay a while and enjoy watching them, but do so with your windows up and with no interaction with the animals.

  • Troops of monkeys and baboons

Unfortunately, many monkey and baboon troops in South Africa are misplaced and make a nuisance of themselves. Even those that are found in national parks and with an abundance of space and food sources tend to cause trouble in residential areas or camps. It is important to never feed the monkeys or baboons and under no circumstances should you ever try to touch or pet them. If they snatch food or steal something, it is best to just let it go. Don’t fight back. The strength and aggressiveness of these creatures is often underestimated.

  • Hippos

Hippos kill more humans every year than any other wild animal (this is usually at night and most often in areas where refugees stumble into them while trying to cross borders). They are extremely aggressive even though they look the complete opposite. The last thing you want to do is make a hippo feel uncomfortable. If you are in an area where you are camping outside of your vehicle and there is a hippo nearby, stay away. If you get between a hippo and the water or if you make it feel remotely threatened, it will charge you.

  • Crocodiles

These reptiles are every bit as deathly to humans as you would expect them to be. Many bodies of water in South Africa play home to a variety of crocs. If you are planning to go for a swim in an area that is not expressly marked as a safe swimming area, don’t! Keep swimming for safe beaches and swimming pools, just to be safe.

  • Elephants

Elephants are wildly entertaining. If you are going on safari you will undoubtedly be spoiled by a number of sightings of elephants eating, ambling, and best of all, drinking and rolling in the bodies of water that they find along the way. Younger elephants are extremely playful and can seem as if they don’t have an aggressive bone in their bodies, but unfortunately, they do. Young males are known to be ‘testing the waters’ and can get spooked unexpectedly and also show sudden aggression. Mothers with young calves can also be particularly aggressive. If you see elephants, it is best to keep your distance. Even if you are in a vehicle, don’t get too close or you could find yourself paying a hefty insurance cost when the elephant destroys it. Of course, never get out of your vehicle or try to feed the elephants.

  • Rhinos

Rhinos can be unpredictable. The Black Rhino is typically more aggressive than the White Rhino, but both can be quite territorial and should not be approached. Rhino happen to have quite poor eye-sight. Never get out of your vehicle to interact with a Rhino – even if it is a baby.

The State of the Roads in South Africa

South Africa has a unique road situation but it’s simply not true that our roads are non-existent. Some roads do suffer serious pot holes and safety hazards, but these are usually well-documented on the internet. Do a bit of research on the routes you plan to take and get in touch with a travel agency or a local resident to determine if you are making the best route choices. All national parks and reserves have well-maintained roads, so you should have no problem if you are spending time on any of those.

Sometimes you might encounter antelope, ostrich, buffalo, cows, dogs and various other animals crossing roads. Always obey the speed limit and watch out for signs warning of wild animals. Try to be as alert and aware of your surroundings at all times.

Tourism information offices at your destination will always provide you with safety tips and advice that is specific to the area that you are visiting.

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