Winter. Hectic cold. Squalling rain. Short days. Soggy roads. Foggy commutes. Muddy carpets. Snotty noses. Gasping coughs. Boring television. Miserable adults. Grumpy children. Smelly dogs… The WORST time of the year. The only good thing about winter is skiing – but apart from that, it is the one season that everybody dreads, right?
We South Africans love winter. We look forward to it and we embrace it, as one of our outdoor-wear stores likes to tell us in its advertisements, every year. Especially in the northern parts of the country, where it fits us perfectly, like a warm slipper.
“Imagine a place … where the sun shines reliably; every single day. Imagine … endless warm days and clear blue skies without a cloud; for months on end; walking, wildlife, long uninterrupted views. Imagine giant deeply-defined dark mountain ranges backed by dusty ochre and red sunsets. Imagine warming soups, fine steaks and a hearty glass of Shiraz in front of a warming fire in an open hearth. Imagine star-studded nights and cool, silent sleeps... Then imagine that every day is like this, from autumn right through to spring. You are imagining winter in subtropical South Africa.”
Thanks Liam. Or Morgan. Everything you say is true. This is not wild and exotic ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’. It is not Delhi-belly-bearing ‘Incredible India’. It is good old, just-like-home-only-much-much-better, friendly South Africa in the sunshine.
You can plan a hike, or a game drive any day. You can go camping, head out for a picnic, light a braai (a barbecue) and KNOW that the weather will be perfect. You can even plan a wedding and be sure that it won’t rain. In the daytime, it will maybe reach 25 degrees or more, then perhaps drop to 12 or 15 degrees in the middle of the night.
Winter is also the best time for wildlife-watching - probably July and August - when the bush is dry and the grass is low, forcing the game to gather at the rivers and waterholes.
And yes, in July, there is even skiing, in the Eastern Cape and Lesotho. Alpine chalets and carefully manicured pistes. Even mulled wine and après-ski. South Africa really does have everything. Picture postcard scenery and proper picture postcards to send to those foolish enough to stay at home, just to show them what they are missing.
So put away the sou’westers, the umbrellas, the Barbours and the Benylin. Dig out the hiking boots, the sunglasses and the binoculars and head for winter in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal or the Limpopo Province.
OK. So there is one fly in the ointment, even if there are no wasps at the picnic because we don’t have insects in the winter. In all honesty, the sunshine story does not apply to the Western Cape, which calls winter the Green Season for good reason. It rains there, but not every day, and when the sun comes out, which it frequently does even in winter, Cape Town is probably still the most beautifully-situated city in the world. Ask Liam. Or Morgan. They are both regulars.
So come on. Pull on some shorts and a T-shirt and let’s braai – it’s wintertime in South Africa!
Chris Harvie - in real life - is a Lowveld hotelier of thirty years' standing. Having cut his tourism teeth in some of South Africa's finest hotels, he founded Rissington Inn in Hazyview, in 1995. In the parallel universe, however, he is a renowned author, inveterate traveller and freelance travel writer with an insider's view of the industry he loves. Often amusing, occasionally caustic and always entertaining, Chris can be relied upon to dig up an unusual tale and to spin it with consummate skill.