August in Southern Africa marks the end of the region’s short-lived winter and the welcome return of warmer temperatures. Down in Cape Town, the last few winter storms wring themselves out and the days get longer, while up in safari country the weather is pretty perfect: sunny, warm and dry.
Travellers planning to visit Southern Africa in August are spoilt for choice. Every safari destination from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley is settling into peak game-viewing season. Photographers enjoy stiletto-sharp light in the early mornings and red dusty sunsets in the evenings, and animals concentrate around water, trampling and stripping vegetation, making them easier to see.
But big game viewing isn’t just restricted to dry land - it actually gets bigger offshore. August is whale season and the brilliant blue waters of South Africa’s Whale Coast host visiting southern right whales, their giant tails flapping languidly in the air like a royal wave. And, although the ocean here is pretty chilly at this time of year, there are plenty of hot-and-sunny beach holiday add-ons that are perfect in August.
Decisions, decisions: here’s where we recommend you go in Southern Africa in August.
Any keen photographer simply has to make a pilgrimage to Namibia once in their lifetime. Home to scenery that brings to mind sci-fi movies and prehistoric vistas – (in fact, Mad Max: Fury Road was shot here, starring South Africa's Charlize Theron) – Namibia has such ideal photographic conditions that you barely need to do more than focus your camera to capture National Geographic-style photographs.
Namibia’s air is clear and the light 24-carat golden on an August morning. Its famous Sossusvlei sand dunes will be in dazzling form: towering hundreds of metres above desert pans dotted with fossilised trees. The dunes are best photographed at dawn when they emerge from darkness, turning from purple to apricot to orange as the sun rises. Take off your shoes and socks and hike up a dune before sunrise: the reward at the top is a rolling ocean of luminous sand – a breath-taking experience in all senses of the word.
In the north, the beautifully scenic mountains of Damaraland hide secret grasslands and rivers, vital resources for wild-roaming desert elephant while further north still, the glowing red landscape of the Kaokoveld is reflected in the colour of its indigenous people, the Himba, who apply a paste of butter and red ochre to their skin as protection against the sun. Have a look at this real traveller's photo album for exceptional shots of Namibia and the Himba.
How to do it: the Damaraland and Kunene Fly-in Safari makes the most of its air transfers to deliver three of Namibia’s best photographic destinations in seven days. You enjoy the dunes at Sossusvlei and game drives in Damaraland before finishing off at a riverside lodge in the Kaokoveld wilderness where you also have an opportunity to meet Himba villagers.
Cape Town, the Winelands & Whale Coast – South Africa
Good timing: in August, the Western Cape's waters are punctuated by submarine-sized splashes as breeding southern right whales breach out of the ocean.
Begin your vacation in Cape Town. By August, the city is packing away its winter coat and wearing a light jacket. Sun-loving wild flowers pop up all over Table Mountain, the early harbingers of the coming spring. You can see whales from many points around Cape Town itself but the best sightings are along the aptly named Whale Coast – a stretch perfect cruising roads along a rugged coastline, with the best viewing centred on the quaint seaside town of Hermanus. If your luck is in, all you have to do is find a comfortable chair to sit down and watch the whale 'show'.
How to do it: The Cape, Whale Coast and Garden Route Self-drive mixes whale-watching and romance, while adding three more nights at a beach lodge in Plettenberg Bay. Self-drive tour offer you complete independence and flexibility on vacation.
While you may be surprised to learn that South Africa has a reputation for whale watching, chances are you already know about its fantastic wines. So why not combine them? The Cape Winelands, Whale Coast and Karoo itinerary opens with four nights at a regal Cape Town wine estate before heading to a forest hideaway on the Whale Coast. Add game viewing and white lions at a private reserve before ending off at a luxury mountain retreat - a simply superb vacation!
The Cape Town, Winelands, Whale Coast and Madikwe vacation offers a mix of Winelands and Whale Coast luxury accommodation plus a proven winner: four nights at an owner-run lodge in Madikwe, one of South Africa’s finest malaria-free Big 5 private reserves.
For very discerning travellers, we recommend the Cape Town, Kruger and Mauritius Honeymoon, a 14-day itinerary that is hard to beat: one of Cape Town’s best boutique hotels followed by one of Africa’s most beautiful safari lodges, Londolozi Tree Camp, set in a private Big 5 haven, the exclusive Sabi Sands. The grand finale of this tour is five nights at a fabulous resort on Mauritius, where you enjoy dry and warm weather on an idyllic private beach.
Zambia – the rugged country situated between Zimbabwe and Tanzania – has quietly built a gold-plated reputation among true aficionados for delivering unbeatable safaris. It's assets are extraordinary: superb and diverse wildlife, uncrowded parks and specialist experiences - Zambia is highly recommended.
The show-stopper is the South Luangwa National Park, a game-filled paradise that offers everything from luxury lodges and game drives to bush camps and walking safaris. For a different take on big animals, try the Lower Zambezi National Park where you enjoy canoe safaris as well as game drives. If you think an elephant is impressive viewed from a 4X4 seat, wait until your canoe drifts past a dozing old bull at the water’s edge - an incredible thrill! Include the Busanga Plains in Kafue National Park in your safari, and you may well see Africa's rare carnivore in action - wild dogs hunting buffalo.
How to do it: keep things simple with a tailor made South Luangwa Safari, an unbeatable combination of safari lodges and bush camps that offers you the opportunity to walk between camps in the company of expert guides and armed rangers. The Kafue, Zambezi and Kariba Adventure has a different appeal, taking in big game viewing in the Kafue and Lower Zambezi national parks before ending off at Lake Kariba.
If you’re thinking about combining big game action with blissful beach relaxation, think about Lake Malawi: hundreds of miles from the ocean but home to lapping waves, nodding palm trees and swaying hammocks. August is rain-free with an average temperature of 27C / 80F: not bad for a late winter’s beach vacation. Try winding down at Lake Malawi’s Kaya Mawa Lodge, rated as one of the most unique and beautiful in Africa.
Winter packs away the chilly weather as spring's gentle sunshine drenches the countryside, making August one of the best months to visit Southern Africa, especially if you want big game experiences in very comfortable conditions.