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sa accommodation south africa geography

South Africa occupies the southern tip of Africa, its long coastline stretching more than 2 500km from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast southwards around the tip of Africa and then north to the border of subtropical Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.

The low-lying coastal zone is narrow for much of that distance, soon giving way to a mountainous escarpment that separates it from the high inland plateau.

In some places, notably the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, a greater distance separates the coast from the escarpment.

gauteng sa accommodationLand area:

South Africa is a medium-sized country, with a total land area of 1 219 090 square kilometres, or roughly equivalent in size to Niger, Angola, Mali or Colombia.

It is one-eighth the size of the US, about a third the size of the European Union, twice the size of France and over 3x the size of Germany. South Africa measures some 1 600km from north to south, and roughly the same from east to west.

The country has nine provinces, varying considerably in size. The smallest is tiny and crowded Gauteng, a highly urbanised region, and the largest the vast, arid and empty Northern Cape, which takes up almost a third of South Africa’s total land area.


On dry land, going from west to east, the country shares long borders with Namibia and Botswana, touches Zimbabwe, has a longitudinal strip of border with Mozambique to the east, and lastly curves in around Swaziland before rejoining Mozambique’s southern border. In the interior, nestled in the curve of the bean-shaped Free State, is the small mountainous country of Lesotho, completely surrounded by South African territory.

The Atlantic Ocean lies to the west of South Africa, and the Indian Ocean to the south and east.


South Africa has three capitals: Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Pretoria. The Western Cape city of Cape Town, where the country’s parliament is found, is the legislative capital. In the Free State, Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, and home to the Supreme Court of Appeal. In Gauteng Pretoria, where the Union Buildings and a large proportion of the civil service are found, is the administrative capital, and the ultimate capital of the country.

The largest and most important city is Johannesburg, the economic heartland of the country. Other important cities and towns include Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

Climate and topography:

Although South Africa is classified as semi-arid, it has considerable variation in both climate and topography.karoo plateau sa accommodation

The great inland Karoo plateau, where rocky hills and mountains rise from sparsely populated scrubland, is extremely dry, and gets more so in the northwest towards the Kalahari desert. This is a region of temperature extremes, extremely hot in summer and icy in winter.

The eastern coastline, by contrast, is lush and well watered, a stranger to frost. The southern coast, part of which is known as the Garden Route, is rather less tropical but also green, as is the Cape of Good Hope – the latter especially in winter. This south-western corner of the country has a Mediterranean climate, with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Its most famous climatic characteristic is its wind, which blows intermittently virtually all year round, either from the southeast or northwest.

The eastern section of the Karoo does not extend as far north as the western part, giving way to the flat landscape of the Free State, which though still semi-arid gets a little more rain.

The Highveld region north of the Vaal River is better watered, with its high altitude producing milder weather, with less extreme subtropical heat. Johannesburg lies at 1 740 metres above sea level, with an annual rainfall of 760 millimetres. Winters on the highveld are cold, but snow is rare.

Further north and east is the Lowveld, a region that gets its name from the drop in altitude beyond the Highveld escarpment. Here temperatures rise, and the land turns to typical South African bushveld, the habitat of the country’s wildlife. The Tropic of Capricorn slices through the extreme north.

On the eastern escarpment are the high Drakensberg range of mountains, where it often snows in winter. But the coldest place in the country is the Northern Cape town of Sutherland, in the western Roggeveld Mountains, with midwinter temperatures as low as -15ºC (5ºF). The deep interior provides the hottest temperatures: in 1948 the mercury hit 51.7ºC (125ºF) in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington.

Oceans and rivers:

By far South Africa’s biggest neighbour is the ocean – or two oceans, which meet at the southwestern corner. Its territory includes Marion and Prince Edward Islands, nearly 2 000km from Cape Town in the Atlantic Ocean.

The cold Benguela current sweeps up from the Antarctic along the Atlantic coast, laden with plankton and providing rich fishing grounds. The east coast has the north-to-south Mozambique/Agulhas current to thank for its warm waters. These two currents have a major effect on the country’s climate, the ready evaporation of the eastern seas providing generous rainfall while the Benguela current retains its moisture to cause desert conditions in the west.

cape town harbour sa accommodationSeveral small rivers run into the sea along the coastline, but none are navigable and none provide useful natural harbours. The coastline itself, being fairly smooth, provides only one good natural harbour, at Saldanha Bay north of Cape Town. A lack of fresh water prevented major development here. Nevertheless, busy harbours now exist at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Richard’s Bay.

There are only two major rivers: the Limpopo, a stretch of which is shared with Zimbabwe, and the Orange (with its tributary, the Vaal) which runs with a variable flow across the central landscape from east to west, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at the Namibian border. In a dry country, so dams and irrigation are extremely important: the largest dam is the Gariep on the Orange River.

Source:  Brand South Africa

sa accommodation weather climate banner

SOUTH AFRICA - A subtropical location, moderated by ocean on two sides of the triangle-shaped country and the altitude of the interior plateau, account for the warm temperate conditions so typical of South Africa – and so popular with its foreign visitors.

sa accommodation weather climate1

 South Africa is a subtropical region, moderated by ocean on two sides of the triangle-shaped country and the altitude of the interior plateau. These account for the warm, temperate conditions so typical of South Africa – and so popular with its foreign visitors.

The country is bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the Indian Ocean; their waters meet at Cape Agulhas, at the southernmost tip of the continent.

The coastline stretches 2 798 kilometres from a desert border with Namibia in the northwest, down the icy Skeleton Coast to Cape Agulhas, then up along the wide beaches and green hills on the coast of the Indian Ocean, to the border with subtropical Mozambique in the northeast.

South Africa is famous for its sunshine. It’s a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm; the world average is about 860mm. While Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region.

Temperatures in South Africa tend to be lower than in other countries at similar latitudes – such as Australia – mainly because of its greater elevation above sea level.

On the interior plateau, the altitude – Johannesburg lies at 1 694 metres – keeps the average summer temperatures below 30°C. In winter, for the same reason, night- time temperatures can drop to freezing point, and lower in some places.

South Africa’s coastal regions have the warmest winter temperatures in the country. There is, however, a striking contrast between temperatures on two different coasts, a result of the warm eastern Agulhas current and cold western Benguela current that sweep the coastlines.

In the southern hemisphere our seasons are opposite to those of Europe and North America, so, yes – we spend Christmas on the beach!

sa accommodation Boulders Beach Cape Town

Summer:  Over much of South Africa, summer, which lasts from mid-October to mid- February, is characterised by hot, sunny weather – often with afternoon thunderstorms that clear quickly, leaving a warm, earthy, uniquely African smell in the air.

Western Cape, with its Mediterranean climate, is the exception, getting its rain in winter.


sa accommodation Hex River Valley


Autumn:  Autumn in South Africa is from mid-February to April. It offers the best weather in some respects. Very little rain falls over the whole country, and it is warm but not too hot, getting colder as the season progresses.

In Cape Town, autumn is fantastic, with hot sunny days and warm, balmy nights which many people spend outdoors.



sa accommodation Durban

Winter:  Winter in South Africa – from May to July – is characterised in the higher-lying areas of the interior plateau by dry, sunny, crisp days and cold nights, sometimes with heavy frosts. It’s a good idea to bring warm clothes.

Western Cape gets most of its rain in winter, with quite a few days of cloudy, rainy weather that can be quite stormy with high winds. On 1 June 2013, for example, a cold front accompanied by an intense upper-air trough led to heavy rains and flooding in places over Cape Town, mainly in the informal settlements.

Heavy snow falls occurred over the high-lying areas in the south-western parts of Western Cape and Northern Cape, while it was extremely cold over the interior of the two provinces.

However, wonderful days are spread throughout winter that rival the best of a British summer.

The hot, humid KwaZulu-Natal coast, as well as the Lowveld (lower-lying areas) of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, offer fantastic winter weather with sunny, warmish days and virtually no wind or rain.

The high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal usually get snow in winter.



Spring:  Nowhere in South Africa is spring, which lasts from August to mid-October, more spectacular than in Northern Cape and Western Cape. Here the grey winter is forgotten as thousands of small, otherwise insignificant plants cover the semi-arid plains in an iridescent carpet of flowers.

The journey to see the flowers of the Namaqualand is an annual pilgrimage for many South Africans.


Best time of the year to travel?

sa accommodation Whale watchingThat depends on what you want to do. The Namaqualand flowers are obviously best in August and September. Winter is a good time for game watching, as the veld is not as lush as it is in summer and the lack of rain means animals are more likely to congregate around water holes and rivers.

Southern right whales hang around off our coasts from about mid-June to the end of October, making for spectacular whale watching.

Diving is best in most of the country outside summer (ie, from April through September), and so is surfing – but that certainly doesn’t limit either activity to those times.

River rafting is better in Western Cape at the end of winter, and in KwaZulu-Natal in the height of summer (late November to mid-February). In Mpumalanga and Limpopo, it’s less time dependent.

The “shoulder” seasons – spring and autumn – are best for hiking, as summer can be hot over most of the country. In the Drakensberg, summer thunderstorms are dangerous, while there is a good chance of snow in winter. In Western Cape, the winters are wet, so it’s not necessarily the best time for hikes.

If you’re a birder, the palaeoarctic migrants arrive around November and the intra- African migrants usually by mid-October.

Of course, if you want to lounge around on the beaches, midsummer is the best time – though everyone else will be there too. And – a big bonus – the beaches of northern KwaZulu-Natal are warm and sunny even in midwinter.

Source:  Brand South Africa

Eastern Cape province, South Africa

The Eastern Cape, lying on the southeastern South African coast, is a region of great natural beauty, particularly the rugged cliffs, rough seas and dense green bush of the stretch known as the Wild Coast...

Mpumalanga province, South Africa

Mpumalanga – “the place where the sun rises” – is a province of spectacular scenic beauty and an abundance of wildlife, lying in the northeast of South Africa.  Bordered by the countries of Mozambique and...

Free State province, South Africa

The Free State, in the centre of South Africa, is a region of flat, rolling grassland and crop fields rising to sandstone mountains in the northeast. In the southeast the mountain kingdom of Lesotho nestles in the hollow of its bean-like shape, while...

North West province, South Africa

North West is home to Sun City resort and the world’s richest platinum reserves, so tourism and mining dominate. It lies in the north of South Africa on the Botswana border, with the Kalahari desert to the west...

Western Cape province, South Africa

The Western Cape is one of South Africa’s most beautiful provinces, attracting the lion’s share of foreign tourists. It is a region of majestic mountains, colourful patchworks of farmland set in lovely valleys...

Northern Cape province, South Africa

The vast and arid Northern Cape is South Africa’s largest province – around the size of Germany – and takes up nearly a third of the country’s land area. Yet it has the smallest population, only 1-million people...

Gauteng province, South Africa

With only 1.4% of South Africa’s land area, the tiny province of Gauteng punches way above its weight, contributing around 34% to the national economy and some 7% to the GDP of the entire African continent.  With only 1.4% of South Africa’s...

Limpopo province, South Africa

Limpopo is South Africa’s northernmost province, the gateway to the rest of Africa, lying in the great curve of the Limpopo River. It is a region of contrasts, from  bushveld to majestic mountains, indigenous forests, unspoiltt wilderness and...

KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa’s garden province, a subtropical region of lush and well-watered valleys, washed by the warm Indian Ocean. One of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, it stretches...

See All:  All Holidays Destinations in South Africa


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