South Africa

South Africa

Southern Africa
LAST UPDATED 25/06/2008
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Level of surfing


Quality of surf


Call code


Net code





2,798 km


mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights


Coup / Civil Unrest

Best Months

May - September




South African Rand (ZAR)

Time Zone


Special Requirements

Private Beaches, Special Pass / Permits


CIA WFB: Map of South Africa; 2007

Situated at the base of Africa lies the Republic of South Africa. From east coast to west coast, this country offers fantastic surfing options. Punctuating the coast to the south is the Cape of Good Hope. To the east of the Cape lies the Indian Ocean and to the West, the colder waters of the South Atlantic. The popular city locations such as Durban and Cape Town will always offer rewards but depending on how much time is at your disposal, the entire coast in between can display amazing and totally uncrowded surf conditions for those of spirit.


Charles Bell (1813-1882): The Landing of Jan van Riebeeck; Oil on Canvas c.1850

Ancient man and our early cousins have inhabited the modern area known as south Africa for over 3 million years. Eventually, modern species of Homo including Habilis, Erectus and finally Sapien moved into the area. African peoples in the area reached the Iron Age around 1000AD and by that time had developed into many clearly defined tribal and cultural groups. Modern Europeans arrived in the area from Portugal in 1488. Frequent shipwrecks around the Cape of good Hope saw many survivors set up small temporary villages along the coast. Eventually in 1652 as the Dutch were to eclipse the Portuguese spice trade, a Dutch settlement was founded at the Cape to offer a victualling outpost for Dutch spice ships rounding the Cape for Europe and heading eastwards to Asia.

The first conflicts with the native peoples arouse around this time as each group became concerned over land and livestock. To ensure the rapid development of the colony, the Dutch imported slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar and India. Britain seized the area in 1806 after the Dutch East Indies company declared bankruptcy. During this time, many original Dutch settlers, the ‘Boers’ moved northwards away from the Cape area. The discovery of diamonds and gold in 1867 and 1886 led to increased immigration from Europe but also saw competition increase between the British and the Boers.

This was to lead to the First Boer War in 1880-1881 which was a victory for the Boers. The British returned in greater numbers with additional resources from her colonies in Australia and New Zealand and were to defeat the Boers in the Second Boer War 1899-1902. Perhaps the most disturbing outcome of this war was the British development of concentration camps in which Boer women and children were inturned. The death toll in these camps throughout the war was to reach 26,370 of which a staggering 24,000 were children. From the ashes of the Second Boer War, the Union of South Africa was to arise and comprised all of the former Dutch and British colonies. South African troops served in World War II as allies of Britain.

A dark period of the countries history began in 1948 with the election of the National Party and the introduction of segregationist style laws that were to be known collectively as apartheid. As apartheid continued to dominate South Africa, many countries were to install sanctions with South Africa. The country remained a major influence over African politics however and contributed troops to various factions fighting in other African countries such as Angolla. By the 1970’s, South Africa had developed a nuclear strike capability and was the only country in Africa to have done so. By 1990, the national party was under increasing domestic and international pressure to reform. The first step it took was to lift the ban on the African National Congress Party (ANC) and to free it’s falsely incarcerated leader, Nelson Mandella.

Mandella had spent the past 27 years incarcerated on a fabricated sabotage charge. South Africa destroyed it’s nuclear arsenal and institutued the countries first multi racial elections in 1994. Mandella’s ANC won by an overwhelming majority and have been in power ever since. The main challenge facing this incredibly beautiful and resource rich country is the addressal of the severe poverty that many native peoples still endure. This in turn has led to widespread social damage caused by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and early 90’s amongst the native community due to the governments failure to take suitable action.

The South Africa of today is a fantastic place to visit and in the majority a very safe place to surf, whether you be on a six month solo exploration or 3 weeks leave with the wife and kids – enjoy.


NJR ZA: View of Cape St. Francis from the Seal Point Lighthouse; 2007

The Port Elizabeth to Cape Town route stretches along 700 kilometres of some of the finest surfing beaches in the world. Dotted along this coast are names that read like a who’s who of classic waves. Victoria Bay, Jeffreys Bay, Cape St Francis, Dungeons; the list goes on.

The sheer variety of beach break, reefs and points will keep you very busy during the winter months of May to August when the majority of this coast comes to life courtesy of intense low pressure systems rushing from west to east along the 40 degree latitude mark to the south. Having said this, you could easily fill your diary by surfing for a few weeks around Durban on the east coast, you may even chance some hurricane swell around summer (Dec-Feb) which could turn on some of the true novelty spots in the area and of course the big wave spots for those amongst you that had room to pack your rhino chaser.


Andrew Balet: The Blue Train; 2001

South African Airways (SAA) is the national carrier and connects to all major centres internationally and domestically. There are a lot of internal providers covering south Africa so you should have no problems in securing cheap internal flights if you need them. can offer you some competitive rates online. Trains and buses connect to all major cities but unless you are happy to be confined strictly to the tourist route you will need a car. Car hire rates are very reasonable and driving in south Africa is very safe for the most part. Just remember to stay on the left hand side of the road for all you weirdos that are used to sticking right.

The Blue Train is considered one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world and travels between Cape Town on the coast and Pretoria in the. A fantastic way to wrap up you trip if you have the time…and the $10,000 of course.


Robert A. Rohde: Annual Average Temperature Map, 15 February 2008

South Africa is a large country stretching latitudes of 22 to 34 degrees south.  As a consequence it has diverse climactic regions from arid desert in the northwest to tropical in the northeast.  The main eastern coastal surf areas offer less variability mostly contained in the subtropical belt around the Western Cape and along the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth, and in general the weather is sunny and hot in the summer months, and mild and wet during winter, mostly exhibiting a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters. While the eastern areas around Durban receive peak in rainfall in summer months. Seasons are well defined, with four southern hemisphere seasons: Winter (June-August), Spring (September-November), Summer (December-February) and Autumn (March-May).  The main influences of the climate are polar lows and associated cold fronts that cross the Cape from the Atlantic Ocean and the position of the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean Highs, part of the subtropical ridge moving north and south throughout the year with the sun. The cold Benguela current in the Atlantic Ocean and maintains generally cool to mild sea surface temperatures around the western cape, while the warm south flowing Aguhlas current sees water temperatures more comfortable along the eastern coast.

Winter (June-August)

In winter, subtropical ridge moves northward and the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean highs form a saddle of high pressure across South Africa. As well, the polar westerlies shift northward and associated low-pressure systems affect the southern coast of Africa. This set up sees the dry season for most of South Africa except for the western coastal surfing areas, which receives it highest rainfall of the year. The winds are primarily from the west, and see temperature bitingly cold. Another feature of this time of year is Berg winds, hot, dry winds from the interior, which occur when a low-pressure system lies off the coast and can cause unseasonably warm and offshore conditions. Combined with massive southern ocean swells, this is the serious surf travel time, typified by the Billabong Pro at J-Bay. Rain occurs on an average of 11-12 days per month all winter in winter, while the eastern areas are considerably drier at 4-6 days. The mean highs are 18°C in the west to 21°C in the east. The mean lows are 8°C in the west and 14°C in the east.

Spring (September-November)

During this season the ridge of subtropical ridge of high pressure weakens and moves southward. The saddle of high pressure that dominated winter is replaced by a thermal low, as the polar westerlies move southward away from the southern tip of Africa.  So increasingly less low-pressure systems directly affect the coast and good surfing conditions persist through most of the season.  The prevailing winds come from the southwest and side shore at most spots but northerly (offshore) winds are almost as common, especially early morning. However by end season winds come from the east and onshore by lunch. Rainfall decreases through the season from 9 days per month to 5 days by November in the west, while rain increase in the east to 9 days. The moderating influence of the ocean prevents temperatures from warming quickly in spring but they rise to summer norms by the end of November.  The mean highs are 20-23°C throughout rising to 24°C in November. The mean lows are 9-12°C in the west and 15-16°C in the east.
Summer (December-February)

The thermal low over southern Africa reaches peak strength and southernmost position in summer.  At the same time, the subtropical ridge of high pressure is at its weakest and southernmost position as well. The polar westerlies are well south of Africa and few lows affect the coast. The prevailing winds come from the south and east all summer.  Northerly winds occur early morning but sea breeze winds augment daytime winds and typically see conditions blown out by mid morning. Rainfall reaches the annual minimum in summer in the west occurring on an average of 4-5 days per month all season and is only a fraction of the annual rainfall, so leave the umbrella at home. However there is a maximum in the east occurring on an average of 13-15 days per month. Moderating influence of the ocean means it doesn’t get oppressively hot with mean highs 26°C all summer, but cracking 30°C on occasion.  The mean lows are 16 to 18°C all summer.

Autumn (March-May)

The thermal low over southern Africa weakens and begins to shift northward toward its winter position.  At the same time, the subtropical ridge of high pressure strengthens and moves northward. The polar westerlies move northward as well and bring back the rain bearing low-pressure systems. As the season progresses, poor weather affecting of the coast is more likely in the west where rainfall increases toward the annual winter peak, while the east gets drier By May, winter regimes are in full force and the prevailing southerly winds return to the preferred. In the west rainfall occurs on an average of 5 days at the start of the season to 12 days at the end.  While in the east follows the opposite pattern. Temperatures cool gradually and the mean highs are 25°C in March dropping to 19-21°C in May. The mean lows drop from 14°C in March, to 9-12°C in May.

where to stay

1123dbn: Durban's Golden Mile; 2007

You will have a lot of options right throughout the country. All of the major cities have everything from the larger chain hotels through to smaller B and B’s near the coast. Many of the guest houses away from the cities offer excellent accommodation. There are even guesthouses appearing in some of the local zulu villages. No doubt a unique experience for the more adventurous.

what to pack

Defsac: The Steamer - bring everything rubber!; 2005

There isn’t really a lot you need to bring that you won’t be able to buy in South Africa if you forget something. If you are planning to go out of the major cities for an extended period you should consider anti-malarials and the usual tablets for tummy bugs. The water in the cities is of a high standard however and safe to drink. You will probably end up doing a lot of walking so comfortable shoes and clothese are recommended.

If you are going to hook up for a safari then make sure you bring appropriate clothing, boots and other protective wear. Even if you are going in summer (Dec-Feb) make sure you bring your steamer if you plan to do any surfing around the west coast. The waters around Cape Town are up to 10 degrees cooler than parts of the east coast and rarely rise above 11 degrees.

dangers and warnings

Althepal: Great White Shark; 2007

The wet season to the north around most of the major game parks is also the prime season for malaria, ensure you take appropriate precautions if you are planning to visit here.

Parts of the cities in Johannesburg and Durban are not very safe at night, but no more so than other major cities of the world. Cape Town has a more relaxed feel about it however and would be a great place to base yourself for a few weeks.

There are sharks in South Africa, the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans creates an excellent source of disturbance that serves to boost  the entire marine food chain, sharks of course sitting on top of that pyramid. Obey the usual rules ie don’t swim near baitfish or sea lions and avoid surfing at dawn or duck if possible. A lot of spots in South Africa can look really sharky and based upon what you can see on youtube it’s because they often are – if in doubt don’t go out.

restaurants, shopping and nightlife

Henry M. Trotter: Downtown Durban; 2006

The seafood and steaks are great all along the coast of south Africa and the regional variations of African, Indian and Malay food create a great mix with plenty of options. If you love your meat though you really cannot go past Carnivores. There are a few of these restaurants throughout Africa. South Africa has one around 20 minutes out of Johannesburg. You pay a fee of around $20 and then sit back and enjoy an amazing variety of bush meats including impala, giraffe, zera, ostrich and crocodile. When you have had your fill, raise the white flag in surrender at your table and they will stop bringing it. Personally I liked the giraffe the best…tasted like chicken. Sausages, lamb and pork are available for the less adventurous.

Edgars is the largest chain of department stores and can offer pretty much everything you need. Some products are unusually cheap such as European sunglasses and bathing costumes. Arts and craft abound throughout the country with each tribal region offering its own unique carvings. Be careful in buying weapons such as spears and clubs – your own customs people may take offence to them. Animal skins are freely available but almost surely due to be confiscated, check your own customs laws before you consider purchase. Don’t even think of trying to buy endangered animal products such as the greater cats skins or ivory. Poachers of these products are shot on site in some areas of the country and you yourself may be facing heavy fines if not gaol time in encouraging them by purchasing these products.

Nightlife abounds in every flavour, from English pubs to tea houses. Many areas host traditional dance, especially the hotels. The docks area at Cape town has had a recent renovation and is a great place for a meal a few drinks and a little dancing if your that way inclined. Most south Africans dress fairly casually but you will need at least jeans, enclosed shoes and a collar to get in anywhere decent at night.

what to do when it's flat

Aimee Tyrrell: Lion on Safari: 2007

Safari’s are a once in a life time experience but a long way from the surf. Based upon the cost it isn’t something you would look to do on the fly either but a great way to spend some time in a unique part of the world. The table mountain area in cape town offer breathtaking scenery for the day tripper as does the road through The Garden Route along the coast to the east of Cape Town.

The Cape vineyards to the north of Cape Town offer some fantastic wines and most of the cellars have regular tastings.  The rugged west coast snakes up to the Namibia border and the start of the skeleton coast. This area offers unique beauty for the explorer albeit a little off the beaten track. Chances are that after you start of on your trip you are going to have a few waves to play with somewhere along the coast and it is more than likely that you will have them all to yourself.

useful phrase guide

Joziboy: Distribution of Zulu Speakers: 2006

Hello. (formal) - Goeie dag.
Hello. (informal) - Hallo.
How are you? - Hoe gaan dit?
Fine, thank you. - Goed, dankie.
What is your name? - Wat is jou naam?
My name is ______. - My naam is ______.
Nice to meet you. - Aangename kennis.
Please. - Asseblief.
Thank you. - Dankie.
You're welcome. - Dis 'n plesier.
Yes. - Ja.
No. - Nee.
Excuse me. (getting attention) - Verskoon my.
Excuse me. (begging pardon) - Verskoon my / Jammer.
I'm sorry. - Ek is jammer.
Goodbye - Totsiens.
Goodbye (informal) - Baai.
I can't speak Afrikaans [well]. - Ek kan nie [ goed ] Afrikaans praat nie.
Do you speak English? - Praat jy Engels?
Is there someone here who speaks English? - Is hier iemand wat Engels praat?
Help! - Help!
Look out! - Oppas!
Good morning. - Goeie môre.
Good evening. - Goeie naand.
Good night. - Goeie nag.
Good night (to sleep) - Goeie nag.
I don't understand. - Ek verstaan nie.
Where is the toilet? - Waar is die toilet?
I am wearing jeans. - Ek dra 'n denim broek.

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