By Justin Hawthorne
Snow in South Africa? Yes! You read that right, we do get snow down here at the tip of the African continent – and a fair dose of it too. I recently took my camera and headed out into the Franschhoek Mountains to capture the experience.
Winter in the Western Cape and neighbouring provinces of the Northern and Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng all can receive snow during the winter months when big cold fronts sweep across South Africa. The southwestern Cape is a winter rainfall region, and as such the season is cold and wet, with snow on higher elevations on a number of occasions during winter highly likely. The snow-capped peaks of the Boland and beyond to the north can be seen for a few days at a time every winter from Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula – the icy air felt too! Driving out to the country towns such as Villiersdorp allows for beautiful snowy vistas, and in towns such as Ceres you’ll drive right to the snow itself (think Klondyke Cherry Farm, or Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve if you go for the 4×4 option). Hiking is an altogether different story, and I describe my latest experience on foot here…
I set off for the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve which provides an excellent base from which to access snow on the mountain peaks. It was already bustling with snow hunters – geared up like us as if we were set for a long winter in the Great White North of Canada! Well, we should have been as the temperature was 5º Celsius and would drop more as we pushed many hundred metres further up the mountain slopes, that coupled with cloud cover, potential rain and the wind chill factor. I’d prepaid our permit fees so it was just the formality of signing in before we were off, trekking up the gorgeous Protea-clad slopes where endemic Cape Sugarbirds braved the chill for their daily nectar fix.
The scene was surreal, morning sunshine piercing through the clouds and hitting the vibrant mountain slopes above which snow was visible. The excitement grew as we saw the first indications of snow in among the vegetation along the footpath and before long the slopes were smothered in white powder. Conditions deteriorated as we climbed with visibility down to barely anything at times. We crossed paths with a familiar face – pausing temporarily to exchange pleasantries while knowing that standing still wasn’t doing the body any favours. The path was barely walked higher up, and in places one could see footprints wandering off track through the near knee-deep snow. It is in these conditions that an unfamiliar hiker to the area may become disorientated and together with weather conditions it could lead to significant problems.
We tested our finger dexterity with enjoying a couple steaming cups of Rooibos with eggs on ciabatta for a memorable lunch in the snow! Later that afternoon drizzle began falling as we descended from 1500+ metres elevation, dropping below the cloud to get a glimpse once more of Theewaterskloof Dam and the golden sun-kissed slopes of the Groenlandberg – a beautiful scene fitting to cap off an epic day out.
The reserve offers a host of hiking options such as the out-and-back Uitkyk which is very popular, DuToitskop which is a steep climb and then Perdekop which is a full day hike that is not to be taken lightly at he best of times, let alone just after a heavy snowfall.
The gorgeous town of Franschhoek lies within the valley of the same name and the nature reserve itself is a 1hr15min drive from Cape Town city centre. It forms part of the Western Cape’s iconic winelands region and neighbours both Stellenbosch and Paarl. Just over the mountains to the east lies Villiersdorp and Wellington together with Worcester is a drive further to the north.
South Africa is hoping to responsibly open up the tourism sector to international travel in spring 2020, and domestic leisure tourism sooner.
Photographed using a Fujifilm Xt20
The latest Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve update stated on montrochellehiking.co.za
–Hikers must wear masks when entering the reserve and talking to staff members.
–The temperatures of all hikers will be taken on entering MRNR and those found to have an elevated temperature won’t be allowed to enter the reserve.
–Lockdown social distancing rules must be adhered to.
–During the COVID-19 period all hikers will have to sign our logbook prior to entering the reserve. They will need to supply their full names, cellphone and car registration numbers, and indicate that they understand and accept the rules of the reserve during the COVID-19 period.
–MRNR will provide screening and sanitising for all hikers entering the reserve.
–The Advisory Board of the MRNR and the Stellenbosch Municipality won’t be held liable if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19 at a later stage.
–All hikers will exit the reserve daily by 6pm.