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Warm up winter with the hottest local travel destinations

The morning air is getting crisper, and the temptation to stay under the duvet is getting stronger. Winter is fast approaching, and with it a slew of holidays and long weekends.

Are you prone to the winter blues? The best way to beat them is by embracing the season and heading off for a getaway. Make the most of our mild South African winters and opt for a bush break or go in search of snow in the mountains.

Flight Centre statistics from 2022/2023 show that South Africans tend to go on holiday for an average of four nights. All you have to do is take two days’ leave around a weekend and you have your winter break. Looking for some inspiration? Here are the hottest picks for winter travel in 2023:

Visit Cape Town
Cape Town remains the number one bestselling local destination based on booking numbers, according to Flight Centre statistics from January 2023.

As for what to do in the Mother City? Flight Centre reports that the most booked experience/add-on for Cape Town is a city tour followed by a Table Mountain Aerial Cableway tour.

Where to stay

With views of the iconic Table Mountain and, on a clear day, Robben Island, Milnerton’s Lagoon Beach Hotel offers seaside accommodation that can still be enjoyed on those mild winter days – but without the crowds. Use the direct beach access for long walks and enjoy a drink at the beach bar when you return. If it’s a little too chilly outdoors, make use of the free shuttle to the premier shopping, entertainment and lifestyle destination of the V&A Waterfront.

Why not add a few days to your break and venture out of the city? Head to Somerset West and check into the historic Lord Charles Hotel. Overlooking the Helderberg Mountains, the property is a stone’s throw from the Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch Winelands – ideal for day trips to award-winning estates. Enjoy the wine tastings and then settle in at a cosy restaurant with a fireplace for lazy wining and dining.

Hunt down snow

The Drakensberg is South Africa’s answer to the Alps (and dare we say it, just as beautiful?). If you’re chasing snow, you might get lucky too.

It’s the perfect winter playground for a family holiday. Fly into Durban’s King Shaka International Airport or Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport (they’re almost equidistant from the Berg), pack the family into a rented car and set off on the three-and-a-half-hour journey (approximately). The highest peaks of this mountain range will most likely be dusted with snow, and the magnificent landscape of rivers, waterfalls and valleys is best explored by hiking or on horseback. Other activities include rafting, mountain biking and fishing.

Where to stay

The charming Alpine Heath Resort’s six-sleeper, self-catering chalets are perfect for families or groups. The little ones are catered to with a kids’ entertainment programme, and there are 150 km of marked trails for horse riding, hiking and mountain biking suitable for all ages and levels of experience.

Bushman’s Nek Berg and Trout Resort is another great option, situated in the foothills of the Southern Drakensberg, accommodation ranges from luxury rooms to affordable self-catering apartments and rustic log cabins.

Surf and safari
Opt for the best of both worlds in the North West Province. The Pilanesberg National Park is home to the Big Five, 7 000 animals and 360 bird species and there are more than 200 km of roads for self-drive game viewing.

Situated on the border of the park you’ll find the one-stop resort destination of Sun City with a casino, loads of entertainment and activities, two top golf courses and the Valley of the Waves man-made beach and waterpark. If you’re craving the beach and sunshine, escape to this place of fantasy and fun. With a choice of accommodation for every budget and temperatures always warmer than Johannesburg, Sun City will make you forget it’s winter!

“A Pilanesberg safari and Sun City holiday makes for the perfect combo,” says Antoinette Turner, General Manager Flight Centre. “Depending on your route, the Pilanesberg National Park and Sun City are approximately 20 kilometres apart.”

Where to stay
The numbers speak for themselves. Flight Centre South Africa’s most popular hotel according to bookings is the Cabanas Hotel at the Waterworld Lake. Ideal for families, there are kids’ activities, watersports and sunset cruises, while a free shuttle allows for exploring the rest of the resort.

Follow the sun

Plan an escape to the warm and sunny KwaZulu-Natal North Coast. The Capital Zimbali is a luxurious eco-estate five minutes from Ballito. Here, you can enjoy a private beach, pampering at the spa, golf, and world-class dining at the Indian fusion restaurant OSA. Soak up the sun at the pool, sip cocktails at the bar and savour afternoon tea overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Get lost in the wilderness

Get off the grid on the Wild Coast, further south. Travel with a local for an authentic and responsible first-hand experience of this stretch of pristine, rugged coastline. Visit the Hole in the Wall at Coffee Bay, a natural arch carved by the sea into a rocky outcrop, enjoy an isiXhosa meal in a colourful thatched rondavel and wander along the beach dotted with a few roaming cattle.

Where to stay
The Wild Coast Sun Hotel in Port Edward is beloved by generations of South African families. Situated on an unspoilt beach with tropical bush as its backdrop, the hotel offers a variety of leisure activities from golf, scuba diving and a waterpark to a casino and a selection of restaurants.

Winter safari
June to August are ideal for planning a family safari. Why? It’s the dry season, so wildlife in the game reserves will be congregating around water sources. They’ll also be on the move more frequently, instead of seeking shelter from the sweltering sun, making them easier to spot in the bush, which has also died back.

“Limpopo is a top destination for game viewing due to its expansive stretches of bushveld wilderness. Furthermore, there is a wide variety of game lodges and reserves to visit, ranging from budget-friendly options to super luxurious alternatives,” says Turner.

Where to stay
Mabula Game Lodge in Limpopo’s Waterberg is just under two-and-a-half hours from Johannesburg by car. Cosy up in the luxury thatched-roof suites and enjoy hearty local dishes such as impala casserole and kudu and red wine potjie. The lodge is set in a Big Five private game reserve and offers morning and late afternoon game drives, where other inhabitants to spot include hyena, warthog and a variety of antelope.

If getting away from it all is what you need, travel to the North West Province to Thakadu River Camp in the eastern portion of the Madikwe Game Reserve. Staying here is all about tranquillity and immersion in the bush, and your accommodation is in luxury tented suites with viewing decks overlooking the Marico River. Family suites are also available. At nightfall enjoy a dinner under the stars alongside a fire in the boma.

With all these top “winter warmer” holiday ideas the only difficulty is to choose just one destination. Luckily there’s always next winter…