South Africans have a vibrant culture, and celebrate the natural beauty and bounties of their cities and towns with festivals and much celebration. Explore the countryside while taking part in these festive gatherings.
The Minstrel Carnival or ‘Kaapse Klopse’ (as it’s known to locals) takes place on 2 January every year. It’s a riot of colour and music as competing troupes of performers singing, playing instruments, carrying a rainbow of umbrellas, and wearing bright costumes put on Cape Town’s biggest street parade. The parade commemorates the terrors of slavery in the mid-19th Century. Participants traditionally paint their faces black and white, and are proud members if the Cape ‘coloured’ community.
Grahamstown National Arts Festival
Arguably the most popular arts festival in South Africa, the National Arts Festival showcases some of the best established and emerging young artists in the country. Theatre, dance, and poetry readings... Street performers, crafts and fine art, tours and lectures – a smorgasbord of art forms entertain the festival’s almost 200 000 patrons that flock to this quaint university town each July. The atmosphere is vibrant, the performances range from first-timers to dazzling showstoppers, and the experience is unforgettable.
Knysna Oyster Festival
Situated along the beautiful Garden Route, every July the town of Knysna is taken over by the annual Knysna Oyster Festival. Over 10 days, more than 200 000 oysters are shucked and slurped, eaten fresh or cooked, and with a variety of fascinating flavours (oysters with Tabasco, lime and ginger, and even tequila!). This popular annual event is not just a celebration of molluscs; it includes that fine Western Cape tradition – wine tastings – and many sporting and charity events, gala evenings and competitions.
Hermanus Whale Festival
Southern Right whales splash about in Walker’s Bay in Hermanus (one of the best spots in the world for land-based whale-watching) for six months of the year. The town even has its own ‘whale crier’ who lets everyone know he’s spotted the large sea mammals by blowing on his kelp horn. The Whale Festival takes place in late September at the peak of the season, and is billed as an ‘enviro-arts’ event, with educational talks, arts, crafts and stage shows, and the Whales & Wheels classic car show.
While not a festival, the annual blooming of the Namaqualand daisies is a natural phenomenon not to be missed! It draws thousands of onlookers, as the 160km stretch of coast in the Western Cape that is usually dry and arid, bursts into carpets of colour with rare, unusual plants – and the Namaqualand daisies, of course. Catch the show from early August through to September, best seen from the Namaqualand National Park.
Oppikoppi Bushveld Festival
South Africa has many ‘rocking’ music festivals. There’s the grand old dame Splashy Fen, which takes place in the breathtaking Drakensburg every April, and Woodstock which happens every September near Hartbeespoort Dam. But the wildest, most popular of all is Oppikoppi. For a few days in the beginning of August, thousands of fans camp out at the ‘koppie’ (or hillside) outside the town of Northam in the Limpopo province to listen to a line-up of local and sometimes international acts.
Ficksburg Cherry Festival
The oldest harvest or crop festival in South Africa, the Cherry Festival held in the town of Ficksburg in the Free State takes place in the third week of November. The locals host a fantastic market, and there are other events to enjoy such as beer fest, baking contests, and a very competitive cherry pip spitting competition. Don’t leave without sampling all the cherry products, including cherries jubilee, cherry fritters, pickled cherries and the cherry ‘mampoer’ (liqueur or moonshine)!