Month by Month
Wildlife watching, July
Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts, November
Whale watching, September
Oyster Festival, July
Jo'burg festivals, September
South Africans descend on tourist areas, including the coast and major parks, during summer school holidays (early December to mid-January). Book accommodation and transport well in advance. High season for accommodation is November to March.
Cape Town Minstrel Carnival (Kaapse Klopse)
The Mother City's colourful new-year celebration begins with a carnival on 2 January and continues for a month. With satin- and sequin-clad minstrel troupes, ribald song-and-dance routines, floats and general revelry, it's the Cape's Mardi Gras.
Summer continues, with smiles on the beaches, half-price cable cars up Table Mountain for sunset, and dramatic lightning storms in Jo'burg. Elephants munch marula trees, and baby antelope, zebras and giraffes cavort in the parks.
At the first of Robertson's four annual wine festivals (www.handsonharvest.com), budding vintners can help with the harvest and sample the results. Activities include grape picking and stomping, wine blending, food pairing, vineyard safaris and a market.
Summer rolls towards autumn, although days remain sunny, the lowveld steamy and the landscapes green. Good for walking and beach bumming in the Western Cape. Cultural and music festivals happen in Cape Town and Jo'burg.
Cape Town Cycle Tour
This 109km spin around the Cape Peninsula is the world's largest timed cycling event. More than 30,000 contestants, from serious racers to costumed Capetonians, tackle Table Mountain and Chapman's Peak Dr. There's a mountain-biking challenge in the Winelands around the same time.
There's a two-week school holiday around Easter, generally regarded as the beginning of autumn. Temperatures drop, and wildlife watching in the bushveld starts to look more attractive than beach bumming. Rutting season runs until May.
Africa's entry in the global calendar of festivals inspired by the USA's Burning Man is a subcultural blowout and a survivalist challenge. Art installations and themed camps turn a corner of the Tankwa Karoo into a surreal paradise.
Winter brings rain to the Cape and clouds to Table Mountain. Northern areas experience fresh, sunny days and clear night skies. Low season is June to September, apart from the mid-June to mid-July school holidays.
Cooler, drier winter weather is perfect for wildlife watching. Thirsty animals congregate at waterholes and foliage is sparser, making spotting easier. The lower temperatures make toasty northern areas such as the bushveld and Kalahari more enjoyable.
Knysna's 10-day oyster orgy is one of a few seafood-oriented events on the South African coastline. Fixtures include oyster-eating and -shucking competitions, wine tastings, a mountain-bike race and the Knysna Marathon.
National Arts Festival
Feel Africa's creative pulse at the continent's largest arts festival, held over 10 days in early July in studenty Grahamstown. Performers from every conceivable discipline descend on the refined spot, and Fingo Village township holds an associated festival.
The winter months bring big waves to the Eastern Cape, and Jeffrey's Bay holds its international Open JBay surf competition. Part of the 10-day Winter Fest in mid-July, the contest on the town's famous Supertubes break attracts thousands of spectators; accommodation fills and prices rise.
Winter starts giving way to spring. Cherry trees bloom in the Free State Eastern Highlands in September and October, which are also the last dry months for wildlife viewing. School holidays run from late September to early October.
In late August and early September, nature plays a springtime trick and covers this barren area with wildflowers. Namakwa's parched terrain sprouts improbable meadows of flowers in rainbow hues. The spectacle also happens elsewhere in the Northern and Western Capes.
Watch southern right whales calve in Walker Bay throughout the second half of the year; the best time to spot them is the period around Hermanus Whale Festival in September/October. During this time, Hermanus is the world's best land-based whale-watching destination.
A great month to visit, offering mostly sunny weather without the worst of the summer crowds and prices. There is a 10-day South African school holiday at the beginning of the month.
South African National Gold Panning Championships
Celebrating the gold-prospecting roots of 19th-century Pilgrim's Rest in Mpumalanga, this contest involves hopeful panners from local schoolchildren to semiprofessionals. The nugget-foraging action takes place in a line of watery troughs by the Blyde River, overlooked by stands and smoking braais (barbecues).
Spring drifts into summer: wildflowers in the Drakensberg, beach potential before the worst humidity hits KwaZulu-Natal, and all of the above in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Rain in the lowveld. High season begins.
Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts
Summer music festivals take place in stunning settings nationwide. In the Western Cape alone, the choice includes the unmissable Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts in Cape Town's botanical gardens (November to April), the West Coast's indie Endless Daze (www.endlessdazefest.com) and numerous trance parties.