As South Africa lies in the southern hemisphere, the seasons in South Africa are the other way around from how we have them here in Belgium. So when we planned on visiting South Africa in September, I knew we were planning to visit at the end of winter.
I researched what to pack for South Africa extensively and read trip reports of other people who'd visited the area we were going to – the Western Cape – before putting together my South Africa packing list, which I'll share with you below.
First, I want to share some tips and thoughts from our experience traveling to South Africa at the beginning of Spring.
Winter and spring in South Africa
So when is winter in South Africa exactly?
The winter season in South Africa runs from June until August, so when we flew there on August 29, spring was actually just about to start. While it can snow in the mountainous regions of South Africa in winter, the Western Cape enjoys more of a Mediterranean climate, with milder winter temperatures and a higher chance of rain.
And until when is spring in South Africa?
September and October are the spring months in South Africa. November is considered the start of summer, lasting until the end of March, when fall starts.
According to Holiday-Weather.com, these are the weather averages for Cape Town in July, the middle of winter in South Africa:
- average low temperature: 7°C/45°F
- average high temperature: 17°C/63°F
- average rainfall: 100 mm
- average hours of sunshine: 5
- average sea temperature: 16°C/61°F
And these are the averages for Cape Town in September, when we went:
- average low temperature: 9°C/48°F
- average high temperature: 19°C/66°F
- average rainfall: 50 mm
- average hours of sunshine: 7
- average sea temperature: 16°C/61°F
While those September averages might not look that exciting, it's clear that you don't really need winter clothes in South Africa during the day, but you might want a warm jacket at night.
We did experience some really warm days on our 15-day trip. I even had to buy shorts as I'd only packed long trousers and the day we walked the Cliff Path in Hermanus, it was at least 26°C/79°F.
I frequently walked around just in a t-shirt, but there were also times when I was bundled up and cold. We spent a lot of time by the coast and the wind there could get really chilly, so be prepared for that. It might also be good to mention that when I was wearing four layers and being cold, Boyfriend was usually wearing two or three and fine :D
What to wear in South Africa in September depending on your activities
When we visited the Western Cape, we went on a road trip from Cape Town to the beginning of the Eastern Cape and back, covering a bunch of different places and activities. Check out our complete itinerary here.
Some of those activities did require a bit of outfit planning, so I've listed them here for you with some information:
What to wear in Cape Town
The four days we spent in Cape Town were easily the coldest days of our trip, which is a bit weird if you think that cities are usually a bit warmer. This might just have been a coincidence as well, but if you're wondering what to wear in Cape Town in September, I'd definitely recommend layers.
I often wore regular jeans with sneakers and then had a top, a t-shirt, a fleece vest and a rain jacket on so that I could take off layers as needed. My rain jacket is also windproof, which definitely helped when we took the boat to Robben Island or were standing on top of a cloudy Table Mountain.
If you're wondering what to pack for Cape Town in terms of how fancy you need to be, I wouldn't worry about it. We ate out every night and while we didn't go to super fancy places, we never saw anyone who was really dressed up. Also walking around the city, everyone was dressed pretty to very casual.
What to wear to go whale watching by boat
My number one reason for wanting to visit South Africa in September was whale season. I'd been wanting to see whales in the wild for such a long time and had read that they can be spotted all along the Western Cape that time of year.
While you can also spot the whales from land, we also went on a boat trip so we could see them from (very) closeby. That day it was pretty cloudy and even though it wasn't very windy, it got rather cold when the boat made some speed to get out onto the water. Plus, if you're standing outside to spot the whales, you're entirely exposed to the weather so again I recommend layering up and definitely wearing something windproof and a hoodie.
Why a hoodie and not a hat? Because you don't want the wind to whistle your hat away :-)
What to wear on safari
If you're wondering what to wear on safari, I can only be of limited help. We had an amazing experience at the Shamwari Game Reserve but I do have to admit it was a very luxurious place to do a safari. We didn't sleep out in tents but instead stayed at a nice lodge from where we went on game drives in the mornings and afternoon/early evening.
What I can tell you, is that it gets cold. On morning drives, you'll probably leave around dawn so it hasn't warmed up yet and in the evenings you'll leave when it's still light, but you'll come back after sunset. That's how we did it and it was chilly because the safari jeeps are open so that you can spot the animals and really take in the environment.
Ours did have fleece ponchos and blankets we could use and I can tell you I really needed those. So if you're going on a game drive, make sure to wear long trousers and take layers with you, even if you leave in the afternoon while it's still warm.
My South Africa packing list
Below you can find what I packed for our trip during the spring season in South Africa. I've also added the shorts I bought while I was there, as I've worn them on several occasions when it was just too warm for long trousers. I hope this list helps you decide which things to pack for South Africa for your own trip there.
1. Luggage and day pack
While I love traveling carry-on only, that was not going to happen for South Africa. Both Boyfriend and I took a large suitcase and a regular backpack with us. I also packed a lighter backpack that I used as a daypack and brought my PacSafe anti-theft purse to take to dinner with me in the evenings.
One of our suitcases is a brandless one that we got for free with a magazine subscription ages ago.
The other is the Thule Subterra. Check it out here.
As a laptop backpack, I've been using the Eastpak Egghead for years. It's indestructible but it's a bit of an older model so harder to find. You can get it on Amazon and I've pictured an alternative below.
The other backpack we took is from the brand Tatonka. It's a bit smaller than my Eastpack and while it has a padded back, it's not a laptop backpack so it's great for just taking stuff on the plane and to use as a daypack or as a beach backpack. I think mine is a bit of an older model as I can't find it online anymore.
Lastly, my PacSafe anti-theft travel purse. This one's been with me for several years already. It's slashproof, has an RFID pocket and comes with a lockable zipper. Plus, mine's black so it doesn't look like a special purse. Read my review here.
2. Accessories, shoes, and clothes for South Africa
Except for a nice warm sweater and a wind and waterproof jacket, I didn't feel like I needed any special gear for the trip we've done. I do usually pack hiking socks as they keep my feet drier, but those are completely optional.
In terms of shoes, I wore sneakers. Like I always do :-)
- my fleece zippered Quechua jumper
- my fleece zippered Quechua hoodie
- 1 light cardigan
- 3 pairs of loose trousers
- my Weekday Thursday skinny jeans
- my Icebreaker lightweight Oasis Henley 200 g base layer
- my warm Icebreaker leggings
- a bunch of t-shirts
- 3 tops as base layers
- daily fresh socks, most of them low ankle hiking socks
- compression socks for on the plane
- basic underwear and bras
- my Quechua wind and waterproof jacket – though I would've taken my light Fjällräven jacket if i'd already had it back then
- my 13-year old sunglasses that I really needed to throw away after this trip. I know have Ray Ban Aviators
- my Reebok Women's Classics
- My Asics Gel Lyte sneakers
- 1 pair of extra warm socks to wear in our hotel rooms and airbnbs
- a black scarf that matched all of my outfits
- zomig (for migraine attacks)
- immodium (against diarrhea)
- montelukast (against allergies)
- cetirizine (against allergies)
- motilium (against nausea)
- spidifen (painkiller)
- symbicort (inhaler)
- birth control pil
- Compeed bandages against blisters
- cold meds (because I had a cold)
- my laptop + charger
- my Kindle
- my Samsung S8 + charger
- USB-cables to connect all the electronics to each other
- my Fuji camera
- my Skyroam portable WiFi device
- a universal adapter
Wondering how we survived the 15-hour flight to Cape Town?
Check out my post on long-haul flight essentials
Reasons to visit South Africa in the low season
- While early spring weather in South Africa can be a bit moody, there's a good chance of warm weather and sunny days. No need to bring winter jackets!
- You'll get to see all the biggest sights without the hords of tourists – like the penguin colony at Boulders Beach.
- Safari and hotel prices are lower.
- You'll enjoy calmer game drives and might even get a ranger all to yourself, like we did.
- You'll have the beaches mostly to yourself.
- You won't have any problem finding parking space at the various stops around Cape Point.
- It won't be too hot to go hiking.
And that's it! I hope this post will help you with packing for South Africa in September (or another month). We're still happy about our choice to the go in whale season and would recommend springtime in South Africa. If you're totally flexible, I think end of September – beginning of October will be slightly better and a bit more stable than when we were there.
Now go, pack, and enjoy!
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