Winter is the most rewarding season for tourists who won’t have to fight for bookings at hotels and restaurants in the Western Cape.
What is it with people from Gauteng who, while they’re happy to travel en masse to the Western Cape in summer, seem to have a mental block about visiting the province in winter? I can only assume they have an aversion to water.
I love the sound and fury of summer thunderstorms on the Highveld but, having grown up and worked there, I cannot think of a more drab and ghastly place to waste several months of my life in the cold part of every year.
Winter, on the other hand, is by far the best time of the year in the Western Cape. It’s also the most rewarding season for tourists who won’t have to fight for bookings at hotels and restaurants, and can avail themselves to off-peak accommodation and activity rates in the bargain.
Forget the nonsense that the province is grey, wet and icy from May until August: for every two days of rain (if we’re lucky enough to get them!), there are five of sunshine… with skies as blue and clear as an Alpine lake.
It’s the time of year when the countryside truly reminds visitors of Europe. For years, tourism authorities marketed winter in the Western Cape as the “green” season – for obvious reasons – but lately they’ve been describing it as “the secret season” and are doing their best to ensure the cat is let out of the bag.
Actually, there’s far more to do in the Western Cape in winter than there is in summer (if you accept that the Atlantic is too cold to enter without a thick neoprene skin whatever the time of year).
Blossoms. Picture: Jim Freeman
Take my home town of Stellenbosch as well as neighbouring Paarl, for instance. Both towns boast a plethora of hikes and rambles as well as all the activities that you would associate with the great outdoors such as mountain biking and trail running.
However, with temperatures regularly going up to about 40°C, such physical exertion becomes practically impossible for all but the fittest and the foolish. All that’s left is wine estates and restaurants, leaving visitors with a pretty but very one-dimensional view of the Boland.
The Western Cape encompasses places such as Darling, Riebeek Kasteel, Stanford, Gansbaai, Wilderness, Sedgefield, Montagu and Barrydale, yet summer visitors rarely get to explore these places simply because of traffic and crowds.
Delaire Graff. Picture: Jim Freeman
It doesn’t take much for one of the province’s “best-kept secrets” to become a destination from hell when a 100 or so cars arrive of a morning. How many people turn their cars around or walk off in
a huff when they encounter long queues at the Table Mountain cable car, Cape Point Nature Reserve or your local cage-diving or whale watching operator?
Lots… and it leaves a long-lasting bitterness that makes it all the way back to Gauteng and conversations for the next 11 months till they do it all again.
The weather this past Sunday was gloriously sunny but the air was crisp. I decided to take a spontaneous trip up the West Coast to Paternoster, which is about a two-hour drive from where I live.
Paternoster. Picture: Jim Freeman
I made it in time for lunch and was spoiled for choice of restaurants. There were very few people
out and it wasn’t only because of Covid-19. Service, too, improves in winter because table and kitchen staff aren’t run off their feet.
I spoke to an acquaintance the next day of my experience and she said she’d gone for a hike in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve above “Stellies”.
It had rained on the Thursday and Friday (intermittently, not 48 hours without interruption) and
the streams were running. She’d had the trail almost to herself, she added.
And yes, the nearly 30 reserves run professionally by CapeNature (www.capenature.co.za) are among the Western Cape’s bestkept secrets.
Elsewhere in Citizen Travel you’ll read of my recent trip to the De Hoop Nature Reserve outside Bredasdorp; I’ve been living down here since 1988 and I think that was the last time I visited!
There was only a handful of people there. So what if the weather turns wet and wild? People from Gauteng pride themselves on their spontaneity and ability to improvise, so it shouldn’t be hard for them to make an alternate plan that will keep them cozy and dry.
You won’t have to look too hard to find a fire, hearty food and glass of good, red wine.