As late winter transitions to early spring and the thermometer mercury is rising, regular storms still bring rain and gray clouds to Western Cape. Temperatures remain cool across most of the country, and the higher mountains remain covered in snow. The exception is Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast, which stay warm—good bets for a sunny beach holiday.
Kruger and the northern game parks are also warm, still in winter drought (August is the driest month in the bushveld), and ideal for game viewing and walking safaris. However, pack some cold-weather clothing for early morning game drives, as nights can drop to freezing. With such varying temperatures, bring lots of layers. At a very mild average of 63°F (17°C), Cape Town is distinctly chilly, as is Johannesburg (68°F/20°C), while Kruger averages 79°F (26°C).
Crowds & Costs
This is the ideal time for northern game park safaris, so many national parks and reserves are busy. Prices are high, lodging availability can be limited, and Kruger can be especially crowded. Since dozens of other game reserves host the Big Five and fabulous birdlife, consider a less well-known venue for a quieter, more personal safari. Regardless, book well in advance, and don't expect any bargains. Other popular destinations at this time of year include Hermanus and Plettenberg Bay.
Where to Go
With wildlife gathered around precious waterholes, game-viewing is at its finest. Savor a Big Five safari in a northern game park, where crystal-clear skies provide for sensational photography—for example, this is the optimum time to spot elusive leopards lurking in the treetops and herds of larger animals clustering at the waterholes. Kruger National Park gets busy, particularly the southern lodges, so book well in advance. This is still the tail-end of winter, so pack some snug cold-weather clothing for nights and sunset and sunrise game drives.
This is the best time of year to visit the Northern Cape, as the arrival of spring transforms the semi-desert into an ocean of color. Carpets of pink proteas, flame-red strelitzias, and white arum lilies brighten destinations like Goegap Nature Reserve and Namaqua National Park—part of the Namaqualand Wild Flower Route. Plus, the crystal-clear winter night sky offers excellent star-gazing.
If Cape Town is part of your plan, join the locals who flock to see newborn penguins at Boulders Beach. Further east, southern right whales have arrived in force, and mothers and newborn calves can be seen swimming close to shore in Hermanus' Walker Bay—dubbed the "whale-watching capital of the world"—and Plettenburg Bay. With luck, you might spy breaching humpbacks and, fingers crossed, a rare orca! Accommodation sells out well in advance. Book early.
What to Do
With a 1,800-mile (3,000 km) coastline and ocean on three sides, from the warm waters of the Indian Ocean to the rugged Atlantic Coast, South Africa is surfing Heaven. There's no better time than August to suit up and hit the waves, as winter brings big swells and the year's best rides. While Jeffrey's Bay—South Africa's "surf capital"—is well-known, true experts set their sights on Dungeons, where on a good day, waves can soar 60 feet (20 m). Novices searching for a tamer ride might head to Muizenberg, a longboarder's paradise at the edge of Cape Town's False Bay. Muizenberg has plenty of surf schools and is a great place to learn.
If you prefer a lazy beach holiday, head north to the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal for far warmer ocean waters than Cape Town. The dry, sunny days also mean it's warm enough to top up the suntan.
Although the spectacular autumn colors have faded, August is an excellent time to hit the wineries of the Cape Winelands for wine-tasting in cozy cellars. The Winelands are pretty quiet at this time of year, without summer crowds, so snagging seats at Franschhoek's premier restaurants is easy. And in rainy Cape Town, focus your sights on its wealth of museums: don't miss the South Africa Museum and Two Oceans Aquarium. But note that the cable car up Table Mountain closes for maintenance in early August.
Events in August
Klein Karoo Klassique, Oudtshoorn. The charming town of Oudtshoorn hosts this weeklong arts festival, featuring an eclectic range of music concerts, plus local wines, cuisine, and art.
South African Tattoo, Pretoria. Modeled on the globally renowned Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and held in Pretoria’s Times Square, this spectacular event showcases ceremonial bands, music, and dance from around the world.
Stellenbosch Fine Wine & Food Festival, Stellenbosch. Top chefs and talented winemakers celebrate the culinary arts with delicious canapés and hearty varietals to help stave off the winter chill.
Traveling to South Africa in August? Check out these great itineraries
Explore South Africa: Cape Town, Winelands, Johannesburg, Safari & Beach - 12 Days. An all-encompassing itinerary perfect for August, including the penguins of Boulder Beach, cage-diving with sharks, and a Big Five game safari.
Discover South Africa: Cape Town, Winelands, & Tswalu Kalahari - 10 Days. The Boulder Bay penguins, a guided bike tour of Winelands, plus the springtime flowers of Northern Cape are major highlights.