While the rainfall of Western Cape is easing off, Johannesburg and Kruger begin to see occasional showers, and the first afternoon thunderstorms can bring an early splash of green to the parched game parks. However, it’s rarely likely to have a huge impact on your safari experience.
The good news is that nights in the northern game parks are starting to warm up, although early mornings can still be quite chilly. And despite the rising thermometer, days and nights in Cape Town can still be cool. Durban and KwaZulu-Natal also increasingly witness rainy afternoons and fewer hours of sunshine. Expect an average temperature of 66°F (19°C) in Cape Town, 73°F (23°C) in Johannesburg, and 84°F (29°C) in Kruger National Park.
Crowds & Costs
Tourism is generally at a fairly low level in the September shoulder season, and the availability of accommodation is generally good. The exceptions are Kruger and other northern game parks, where game-viewing is still a top draw; and on the West Coast as travelers catch the tail-end of wildflower season. However, a surge in local tourism occurs during the short spring school holiday of late September as South Africa gears up for summer. The holiday coincides with the Hermanus Whale Festival, drawing huge crowds to the Garden Route. You’d be wise to book well ahead. Fortunately, further north the beach resorts of Durban and KwaZulu-Natal are relatively peaceful.
Where to Go
September is widely considered the best month of all for game viewing in Kruger National Park and other northern reserves. The bone-dry end-of-winter months and animal grazing have reduced foliage cover to a minimum, and concentrations of thirsty wildlife around perennial waterholes is at a peak. There’s no better time for sightings leopards and cheetahs. And with rising temperatures and humidity, the first afternoon thunderstorms can add to the drama.
September also offers a last chance to beat the sizzling heat of impending summer in the Kalahari. To see the black-maned lions, head to Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve or Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where you can also interact with the San Bushmen. To get the most from your journey, take a road trip through the central Karoo and along the West Coast to catch the last wildflower blooms, including the world-famous Namaqualand daisies, which bloom in late August and early September.
With winter downpours now fading, gear up to drive the incredible Garden Route coastline, including a diversion inland to the incredible Cango Caves. Southern right whales can still be seen around Plettenberg Bay. And beyond Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant National Park and other game reserves that dot the region, offer prime wildlife viewing without the crowds. You’ll benefit, too, from excellent value-for-money accommodation at this time of year.
What to Do
September is a great time to marvel at the panoramic view from atop Table Mountain while in Cape Town. Take the scenic cableway with its rotating cabins, then hike one of the many trails. Keep your eye out and your camera ready for cute rock hyrax. Expect “Goldilocks” weather—neither too hot nor too cold. Next, indulge in a nostalgic trip on the vintage Atlantic Rail steam train (built in 1949) that puffs between Cape Town and Simon’s Town. Savor the sensation of yesteryear luxury on this 6-hour round-trip journey via the scenic coastline of False Bay, and the quaint villages of St James and Kalk Bay.
If water’s your thing, drive the Garden Route to Knysna before the summer crowds. Tranquil Knysna Lagoon is a fisher’s Nirvana and a popular activity center for stand-up paddle-boarding, canoeing, and water-skiing. You might even rent a houseboat for a multi-day adventure upriver. And with the whale-viewing season at its peak off Western Cape, Knysna is a great place for a boat trip for up-close encounters of humpbacks and Southern right whales. Top off your activities with an adrenalin-charged bungy leap off Bloukrans Bridge.
Events in September
Heritage Day. Known colloquially as “National Braai Day,“ this celebration of South African cultural heritage sees scores of events nationwide each September 24—a national holiday.
Hermanus Whale Festival. Capetonians flood Hermanus in late September for a whale of a time. Revel in three days of music, street parades, arts, culinary treats, “eco-marine” exhibitions, and of course, whale-watching activities. If you plan on staying, book accommodations many months in advance.
Royal Reed Dance Festival. This sensational and colorful four-day celebration at Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, is a rite of passage for thousands of young Zulu maidens, who parade in traditional costume. Led by the chief princess, each carries a symbolic reed, recalling the proud origin of the Zulu people: according to legend, their ancestors emerged from a reed bed.
Traveling to South Africa in September? Check out these great itineraries
Discover South Africa: Cape Town, Winelands & Tswalu Kalahari – 10 Days. An active travelers dream, this itinerary features cycling in the Winelands, cage-diving with Great White sharks, and a Kalahari safari among its many highlights.
Country of Contrasts Road Trip: Garden Route, Kruger National Park, & More – 20 Days. This epic road trip takes you through a kaleidoscope of South African landscapes and regions, with plenty of fantastic activities along the way.