Geography and Climate

rainbow and mountains in Stellenbosch
A rainbow shows over the mountains in Stellenbosch

Africa’s most southern country shares its borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland, and stretches to the Indian and Atlantic oceans. South Africa is 1,221,040 square kilometers in area (more than five times the size of the UK or 18 times that of Ireland) and embraces an incredible variety of landscape, from desert and rugged mountains to luxuriant forests and long, white sandy beaches.

Several high plateaus, ranging from 500 meters above sea level near the Limpopo River in the north to over 2,000 meters at their highest points, largely define South Africa’s geography and particularly its climate, which although mild all year round can be as varied as the landscape.

The air in the highveld is dry and temperatures in summer (November to March) can top the 30s. Nonetheless the heat is rarely uncomfortable, despite the fact that this is usually the rainy season with violent thunderstorms not uncommon. The mornings can be cold, below zero even, in the highlands in winter (June to August). On the plus side, the sky is clear and when the sun rises temperatures by mid-morning can easily reach the 20s or higher.

The air is quite humid in the more low lying lowveld and eastern coastal regions. Temperatures here range from 24 to 32 degrees centigrade although not prone to the same seasonal variations as the highlands. Rainfall, like in the highlands and the rest of the country with the exception of south western Cape, is largely confined to the summer months. In contrast, the area from the Garden Route to Cape Town, unlike the rest of the country, enjoys dry warm summers. So, here they pray for rain to fill the reservoirs during the winter, enough to bring snow to the mountain tops around Winelands.

A woman with an umbrella walking in Pretoria
A woman with an umbrella walking on the road in Pretoria
Jacaranda trees during a rain storm in Pretoria
A street with beautiful purple Jacaranda trees during a rain storm in Pretoria

Summer is from October to March, with average temperatures of 15–35 degrees centigrade. Winter is from April to September with temperatures averaging 0 – 20 degrees centigrade. The climate is generally mild throughout the year with a large number of sunny days and a highly variable annual rainfall of approximately 502 mm (mostly during the Summer months). The Western Cape is the exception and enjoys warm and dry summers and cold, wet winters.