Festival fun can be found at a number of annual events around South Africa, which celebrate anything from the arts and live music, to cherries, whales, olives and wine.
Watch the lively New Year’s Day Cape Town Minstrel Carnival (website: www.capetownminstrels.co.za) with its floats and minstrel bands in brightly coloured costumes, straw boaters and open umbrellas.
Enjoy cutting-edge performances at Johannesburg’s FNB Dance Umbrella (website: www.at.artslink.co.za/~arts), a showcase of contemporary and often community-based choreographers and dance troupes at venues around Newtown.
Sample jams, chutneys and other homemade goodies made from prickly pears at the Prickly Pear Festival (website: www.nmbt.co.za) near Port Elizabeth, as well as traditional South African cuisine like potjiekos (stews cooked in cast iron three-legged pots) and braais (barbecues). At the Cape Town Jazz Festival (website: www.capetownjazzfest.com) catch local and international jazz groups performing over 10 days on five stages to huge crowds at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Eat plenty of delicious seafood in Lambert’s Bay on the west coast during the Kreeffees (Crayfish) Festival (website: http://kreeffees.com), where bands play in the beer tents. An alternative to arts festivals in English, the ABSA Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (website: www.absakknk.co.za) showcases Afrikaans-language arts in Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape. Revel in the laid-back European-style camping festival atmosphere at Splashy Fen (website: www.splashyfen.co.za), where local rock acts perform on a farm near Underberg in KwaZulu Natal’s southern Drakensberg Mountains.
Get informed at SciFest Africa (website: www.scifest.org.za), the National Festival of Science, Engineering and Technology held in Grahamstown. The lectures, films and interactive science exhibits now attract some 40,000 visitors, many of them school children. Experience the flavours of Holland at the Tulbagh Goes Dutch Festival (website: www.tulbaghtourism.org.za) along historical Church Street in this pretty Western Cape town, with Dutch food, market stalls, and a tulip display. Also in the Western Cape, the Prince Albert Town and Olive Festival (website: www.patourism.co.za) offers wine and olive tasting, live music, an art exhibition, and a unique olive pip spitting competition.
Party in pink at Knysna’s Pink Loerie Mardi Gras (website: www.pinkloerie.com), a four-day non-stop festival celebrating gay pride that attracts revellers from Cape Town. There’s cabaret, fashion shows and lots and lots of themed parties.
South Africa’s version of Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival, the 10-day National Arts Festival (website: www.nafest.co.za) is held in the university town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. It’s the largest festival in the country attracting tens of thousands of visitors, and showcases every genre of the arts in both mainstream and fringe performances.
Slurp and shuck oysters at the Knysna Oyster Festival (website: www.oysterfestival.co.za) when there’s oyster tasting, oyster-eating competitions, plus live entertainment, bike races and a marathon. Rub shoulders with farmers at the Bushveld Festival (website: www.bushveldfestival.co.za), a large agricultural show in the Waterberg region in Limpopo Province. There are cattle and dog shows, a game auction, food and beer tents and a 4×4 driving challenge. Sip port at the Calitzdorp Port Festival (website: www.calitzdorp.co.za) in the Western Cape, which also hosts South Africa’s annual boules championships.
Rock to local bands at the Oppikoppi Bushveld Festival (website: www.oppikoppi.co.za) near Northam in the Northwest Province, another open-air rock and camping festival that attracts up to 60 live acts on several stages. Get your feet tapping at the Joy of Jazz (website: www.joyofjazz.co.za) to the best of South African and international jazz artists, which also attracts American big bands at various venues around Newtown in Johannesburg.
Sip wine and picnic underneath shady trees on the banks of the Maglies River at the Cellar Rats Wine Festival (website: www.cellarrats.co.za) in the pretty Magaliesberg countryside northeast of Johannesburg. Take in highbrow dance, poetry, visual and performance arts at the month-long Arts Alive (website: www.artsalive.co.za) festival at various venues around Johannesburg. Spot Southern Right whales in Walker Bay from the cliff tops during the Hermanus Whale Festival (website: www.whalefestival.co.za), which has markets, food stalls, sporting events and everything you need to know about whales.
Enjoy a five-day jol (Afrikaans for ‘good time’) at the Aardklop Arts Festival (website: www.aardklop.co.za) in Potchefstroom in the Free State, which has live entertainment from circus performances to rock and pop, food stalls and a craft market. Macufe (website: www.macufe.co.za) is another large 10-day arts festival held in Bloemfontein in the Free State featuring anything from jazz and hip hop to fine art and theatre.
See how far you can spit a cherry pip in competitions at the Ficksburg Cherry Festival (website: www.cherryfestival.co.za) in the Eastern Cape, which also offers live bands and children’s entertainment including the crowning of Miss Cherry Blossom and Mr Cherry Pip. Camp out at South Africa's largest youth-orientated open-air rock festival, Woodstock (website: www.woodstock.co.za) near Harrismith in the Free State, for performances of hard rock and additional entertainment like fire breathers, drumming circles and a skateboard park.
Franschhoek is the self-proclaimed gastronomic capital of South Africa, so quaff a glass of bubbly at the Cap Classique and Champagne Festival (website: www.franschhoek.org.za) and nibble on gourmet snacks prepared by the town's famous restaurants. Party hard at Cape Town’s gay-dominated Mother City Queer Project (website: www.mcqp.co.za), which draws thousands to see the fashion shows, beauty pageants, and spectacularly outrageous costumes at the final mother of all parties.