Incredible Destinations for a Winter #ShotLeft

Even though the June vacation comes hand-in-hand with some of Cape Town’s most miserable weather, it’s also a cosy time of hot chocolates, pretty coats and roaring fires. For some added luxury and adventure, a winter getaway is the little marshmallow on top!

There tend to be two camps of holidaymakers in June: those that jet off for European summers and those who take on the highways for a local #ShotLeft. And why not embrace the winter season at home in Mzansi? It may be freezing but there are some fantastic upsides to the winter season that are best experienced when you leave your comfort zone for a #ShotLeft. Here are some ideas for incredible local holidays, some of which are actually best experienced during winter!

Wild Coast, Eastern Cape

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The serene combination of grassy hills and seaside is what makes the Wild Coast so unique.  Image: Jenna Solomon.

Believe it or not, there are coastal vacations that make for wonderful #ShotLefts in winter. One such destination is the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. The rugged coastline is dotted with a network of Xhosa villages, making this the perfect vacation for those who enjoy both nature and cultural activities. Coffee Bay is the true gem of the Wild Coat: a settlement so small I can’t even call it a village and which sits right beside the ocean on hills sprinkled with Chinese aloes. It’s known as a good spot for surfing but the coastal hiking is the highlight of any trip to the Wild Coast.

My reflective experience on the seaside hills

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    The sublime views from hilltops really make the hike worthwhile.

I visited Coffee Bay with my family a few years ago and it’s a local vacation that really stands out. Coffee Bay itself is full of hippie charm but it’s more of a gateway to the stunning surrounding areas.

From Coffee Bay, we took a guided hike to Hole in the Wall which, through the course of the day, saw us strolling amongst cows, spotting dolphins, teetering on the edge of a rocky cliff, stopping in a local Xhosa village for beer and wading through the sea to the next uphill path.

Along the way, we met local residents who were really friendly and provided insight into the realities of rural life, such as the struggle of walking uphill to bring home mussels collected from the rocky coast. Hole in the Wall is a beautiful sight, with the water crashing through the gap, but after such an epic walk, Hole in the Wall was no longer the highlight compared to the friendly people and strenuous journey.  It was a beautiful hike that also exposed me to the sobering realities of rural life and the contradictions of life in such a stunning country.

What to wear hiking on the Wild Coast

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My sturdy shoes and my walking stick were the best accessories on this hike.  Image: M Solomon

This is not a stroll on the soft sand; it’s rocky and uphill quite a bit so the wrong clothes (especially shoes) can ruin what should be a beautiful experience:

● Wear serious hiking shoes or good takkies. Also, have a few plasters for any blisters.
● If you’re like me and my mom, find yourself a sturdy stick to help pull yourself up the way. It’s also quite reassuring when you’re on a high cliff edge.
● A hat is an absolute must!
● Otherwise, wear just comfy clothes.

National Arts Festival, Makhanda

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Makhanda really comes to life with vibrant markets alongside the festival. Image: Emma Dachs

Attending the National Arts Festival in Makhanda is probably the top cultural #ShotLeft you can take over the winter vacation. You only need to drive through Makhanda to see how the National Arts Festival brings the town to life. The festival takes over the university town in the June/July holidays with both acclaimed and up-and-coming performances on the programme. It’s mainly about theatre but you can also look forward to comedy and some of South Africa’s best musicians like Freshlyground and Mafikizolo. Talk about making the most of bad weather!

Emma’s charming arty escape

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    With so many shows and experiences on offer, Makhanda becomes a truly vibrant destination during the festival. Image: Emma Dachs

Emma Dachs is one of many festival-goers who rave about the festival and the town as a #ShotLeft. For Emma, the festival’s attraction has always been sentimental. “I’ve been going to the festival since I was a child. Both my parents studied at Rhodes University and so Makhanda has always held special significance for me.”

However, like most festival-goers, who are drawn to the jam-packed programme of South Africa’s best theatre pieces, Emma remains in awe of the variety and quality of the programme: “It provides an opportunity for South Africans to witness our country’s creative talent at its best. From late-night stand-up comedy to dramas, there is always something on offer for everyone.”

This year’s line-up reads like a who’s who of South African artists, including the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir, playwright Amy Jephta, ballerina Kitty Phetla and visual artist Gabrielle Goliath. There’s a particular focus on African influences this year. Ekasi Lam — An Ode to Kwaito, Un-Owed to Kwaito centres on township life and tells the story of the beloved Kwaito music genre, while Amawethu challenges colonial stereotypes of African spirituality through dance.

But stage action isn’t the festival’s only attraction. “[Makhanda] comes alive during the festival,” Emma says. She mentions enjoying exploring the town, browsing the market stalls and attending art exhibitions. Gallery in the Round will be showcasing a new exhibition by Berni Serle, which was commissioned especially for the festival. There are also exhibits at Ntsikana Gallery, Standard Bank Gallery and Grahamstown Gallery.

With such an exciting programme, it’s easy to believe Emma when she says that the National Arts Festival is “an unforgettable experience”.

What to wear to the festival

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The festival’s trademark fashion is hipster and comfy. Image: provided by Emma Dachs

The vibe in Makhanda during the festival is very arty and hipster, and this shows in how festival-goers dress:

● Emma recommends comfortable clothing that’s fairly stylish.
● Also make sure to have a bag to keep all your tickets and other essentials!

Searching for Snow

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The landscape undergoes an other-worldly transformation during snow season. Image: Erin Gemmell.

In Cape Town we get to feel the freeze that accompanies snowcapped mountains but imagine a #ShotLeft where you can play around in the snow, build snowmen and have snowball fights! That’s the incredible experience on offer when you take a winter #ShotLeft to Matroosberg Nature Reserve.

Erin’s surreal snowy experience

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    This was the most snow the reserve had seen in about a decade! Image: Erin Gemmell

Erin Gemmell is one of those lucky Cape Tonians who’ve experienced the full magic of a snowy landscape. She took a day trip to the Matroosberg Nature Reserve which is well-known for receiving generous snowfall in the winter months.

Erin is full of praise for the day trip, “It was a really fun experience and we were lucky to go on the day we did – it was the most snow the reserve had seen in a decade or something like that!” The reserve, which is just outside of Ceres, is a 2-hour drive from Cape Town. There are also overnight options available if you want to take advantage of the many activities, including snowboarding and hiking, which are available.

“It really felt like we’d been transported to another world!” Erin says. “We didn’t even get to the lodge because the snow was so thick. It was honestly a breathtaking experience and I would go snow-chasing again in a heartbeat.”

What to wear in the snow

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Erin dressed comfortably for the snowy experience. Image: provided by Erin Gemmell.

As beautiful as the snow looks, it’s difficult to enjoy it if you’re not dressed appropriately. Luckily, Erin’s shared a few tips for those looking to go snow hunting this winter:

● Make sure you wear multiple layers (including socks).
● Wear waterproof clothes, especially shoes (if your body gets wet, it’s just unpleasant).
● Gloves are also essential. If the snow is fresh and not too wet then fabric gloves are fine but waterproof are better. If you only have fabric gloves then bring multiple pairs in case yours get soaked.

Game reserves

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Going to a game reserve is an exhilarating experience for a winter holiday.  Image: Jenna Solomon

Game reserves are a staple when it comes to vacation-time in South Africa. They have both the allure of the outdoors and the indulgent comfort of the indoors. Game drives often take place so early it’s still dark but coming back to hot baths and roaring fires after hours in an open Landrover with just a blanket is one the most blissful feelings in the world! Winter is actually the best time to go on safari as the rain brings all the animals to watering holes, making it easier to spot them.

My exhilarating veld experience

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    The endearing elephant herd is a highlight in the reserve.

Of course, there’s no shortage of game reserves in our country but there’s one that stands out for me. My family went to Botlierskop Game Reserve outside of Mossel Bay years ago but it still tops my other winter game reserve getaways.

It’s a small reserve but there is still so much to see and do within the park. The sunrise game drives allow you to take in rhinos, elephants, the usual array of bok and others. This can also be experienced on horseback safaris which cater to all levels of riders.

Indoors, there’s a heavenly spa along the river and a cosy dining room. In addition to all the usual treatments, there’s also an indoor heated pool you can make use of. But the highlight of the indoors is coming back from an early morning game drive to that roaring fire in the lodge. No matter how wonderful it is outdoors, we all crave the warmth — this is the best of both worlds!

What to wear on safari

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Even if the skies are clear, it’s often chilly so dress warmly. Image: M Solomon

From morning and evening game drives to dinners and horse rides, there’s plenty to keep in mind fashion-wise for a game reserve getaway:

● Thick jerseys and jackets for game drives. You may even find gloves helpful!
● Takkies are good for horse rides and nature trails.
● It’s nice to change out of your outdoor clothes for meals, especially dinner, so bring smart-casual items along, too.

Staycation, Cape Town

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The Iziko South African National Gallery is a treasure trove of local art. Image: Jenna Solomon.

We can’t all afford to leave town every holiday but that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on a #ShotLeft. Cape Town’s museums and galleries are great destinations where you can keep warm while out and about on your winter staycation.

My vibrant time in the city centre museums and galleries

Cape Town’s developed a thriving art scene, at the heart of which are galleries and museums with evocative exhibitions on various aspects of life in the country and wider continent.

The Iziko South African Museum and the District Six Museum both have a strong emphasis on the enduring impact of Apartheid. The South African Museum is currently showing an updated exhibition on the life and legacy of Mandela, as well as H2O Today which looks at the importance of water in life on Earth. At the District Six Museum, you’ll find that the use of multimedia is particularly attractive — look out for audio recordings by former residents and the display of street names!

On the art scene, there’s the Iziko South African National Gallery and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA). The collection of beadwork, as well as work by artists like Irma Stern, stands out at the National Gallery. Thanks to its spectacular architecture (the building is a renovated grain silo), the Zeitz MOCAA is a work of art in itself (and ahs a great restaurant upstairs). It’s currently presenting One Thousand Voices, an exploration of female coming of age and female genital mutilation/cutting.

Best of all, most of these institutions can be accessed free of charge over the winter season. Both the Iziko South African National Gallery and the Iziko South African Museum are free on Youth Day (16 June), while the Zeitz MOCAA offers free entry for African citizens on Wednesday mornings.

What to wear gallery-hopping

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Once you are inside the gallery or museum, it doesn’t really matter what you wear. Image: M Solomon.

There’s nothing like being freezing cold or dripping wet to ruin a gallery or museum visit so make sure to dress appropriately:

●  Waterproof shoes, a removable raincoat and an umbrella will ensure you arrive dry.
● Dress comfortably so you can walk around for an hour or two.
● Otherwise, there’s no reason why you can’t dress up or down as much as you like.

Ready for your #Shot Left?

Whether you want to flee the cold for the mild Wild Coast or are ready to embrace winter in the snowy mountains, these local getaways make even the coldest weather seem charming. And best of all: these incredible destinations are all on offer right here in Mzansi!

What are your travel plans this winter?

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