A feast of South African festivals
Compiled by Mary AlexanderHere's a comprehensive month-by-month guide to some of South Africa's best excuses for a party. You can browse the whole list, browse by province from the page list at right, or click on the links below to jump to a specific month:
FNB Dance Umbrella
Website: Artslink - FNB Dance Umbrella
A festival of contemporary choreography and dance, the FNB Dance Umbrella presents work ranging from community-based dance troupes to international companies. 1988. It's launched many South African choreographers into international dance, including Vincent Mantsoe, Robyn Orlin and Boyzie Cekwana.
Up the Creek
Where: Up the Creek campsite, Breede River, near Swellendam
Website: Up the Creek
The Up the Creek campsite is situated on the banks of the Breede River and during the four-day festival offers three stages: the main stage, the river stage and the all-night-long Breede River bar stage. Visitors can frolic in the river during the day and then move up to main stage as the day progresses.
Prickly Pear Festival
Where: Uitenhage, Nelson Mandela Bay
The Prickly Pear Festival is held in late February or early March every at Cuyler Hofstede farm near Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape's Nelson Mandela Bay. It's a day of traditional food, such as ginger beer, pancakes, potjiekos, home-made jam, a spit braai and fish braai, bunnychow and home-made pudding.
Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Where: Cape Town
Website: Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Cape Town International Jazz is a two-day festival featuring some 40 international and African acts performing on five stages to an audience of 15 000. It also features photographic and art exhibitions.
Lambert's Bay Kreeffees
Where: Lambert's Bay, West Coast, Western Cape
Kreef is Afrikaans for crayfish, and a fees can be both festival and feast. It is held every March in the West Coast town of Lambert's Bay, where you'll feast on fresh crayfish and get festive at rock concerts by some of South Africa's favourite musicians. There's also bungee jumping, aerial displays, a half-marathon, beer tents and more.
The Rotary River Festival
Website: Rotary River Festival
The Rotary River Festival takes place on the banks of the Vaal River at Stonehaven on Vaal in Vanderbijlpark and has been running since 1995. It's a fun fund-raising occasion, with the money raised going to a large number of local charities. The festival features top musicians, dance, fashion, raft racing, tasty eats, and plenty of fun for the kids and those that ar young at heart.
Website: Scifest Africa
SciFest Africa, or the National Festival of Science, Engineering and Technology, is held in late March in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Over seven days it features some 600 events: lectures, game drives, a laser show, workshops, sunset shows, robotics competitions, science olympics, school quizzes, interactive exhibitions, the PlayFair, field trips, talkshops and a film festival. Attendance now exceeds 35 000 visitors every year.
Tonteldoos Country Festival
Where: Tonteldoos, Mpumalanga
The Tonteldoos Country Festival, previously known as the Peach Festival, happens in late March or early April in the village of Tonteldoos, some 20km northwest of Dullstroom and two hours from Johannesburg. It offers peaches and pretty much everything that can be made from the fruit, including peach mampoer.
Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees
Website: Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees
The Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn features well-known and young up-and-coming artists in dance and theatre. Started as an Afrikaans alternative to the mainly English National Arts Festival, KKNK has 200 different shows on three different stages.
Where: The Karoo
Afrika Burn is based on The Burning Man festival which grew out of a loose grouping of individuals and organisations who questioned, and continue to question mainstream, highly commercialised society and what it does to the notion and workings of community. In a nutshell, it's about radical self-expression.
Where: Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal
Website: Splashy Fen
Every year the Splashy Fen music festival attracts thousands of people to a farm near Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal for a feast of mainstream and alternative rock and pop. It offers plenty of facilities, but there are great bed-and-breakfasts in nearby towns for those who believe music festivals can be enjoyed without mud.
Tulbagh Goes Dutch
Where: Tulbagh, Western Cape
Tulbagh Tourism describes its two-day Dutch Festival as "a Gezellig Feestje for the whole family". In April the town's Church Street, with its beautiful Cape Dutch architecture, hosts cultural activities, appetising spijs en drank temptations and authentic treasures. It includes a traditional Dutch beer garden and a tulip exhibition at the Volksmuseum.
Philippolis Witblits Festival
Where: Philippolis, Free State
Website: Philippolis Witblits Festival
The Philippolis Witblits Festival, held in early April, will give you a taste of a proud local tradition - witblits (Afrikaans for "white lightning") is South African moonshine. Held in the oldest town in the Free State, the festival has boeresport (literally "farmers sport") for the kids, food, drink and more witblits.
Prince Albert Town and Olive Festival
Where: Prince Albert, Western Cape
Website: Prince Albert Town and Olive Festival
The Prince Albert Town and Olive Festival, held in the Swartberg region of the Western Cape in April, offers a whole lot more than just the region's famous olives and wine. There's an art exhibition, beer tents, live music, witblits tastings, crafts for kids, historic tours, a cycle race, an olive pip-spitting competition, culinary demonstrations, a midnight ghost walk, stalls, cabaret, a dance and more.
Pink Loerie Mardi Gras
Website: Pink Loerie Mardi Gras
The Knysna loerie is a green bird, but the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras is different. A gay festival held in the beautiful coastal town of Knysna in May, the Mardi Gras offers four days of non-stop entertainment for anyone who enjoys a party.
Riebeek Kasteel Olive Festival
Where: Riebeek Kasteel, Western Cape
Website: Riebeek Kasteel Olive Festival
The Riebeek Kasteel Olive Festival takes place in the Swartland area of the Western Cape in May. A feast of wine and the best olives in SA, the festival also has an art competition, live entertainment, stalls and lots of food.
Calitzdorp Port and Wine Festival
Where: Calitzdorp, Western Cape
Website: Calitzdorp Port and Wine Festival
The Klein Karoo town of Calitzdorp is the port-wine capital of South Africa. Its annual port festival, held over a weekend in June, is hosted by the eight wine cellars of Calitzdorp. There's a a historical treasure hunt around the town, local arts and crafts, lifestyle market stalls to suit all tastes, the Port Dance, restaurants, food stalls and and the annual South African boules Championships, plus much more.
National Arts Festival
Website: National Arts Festival
The Grahamstown National Arts Festival, held in late June or early July every year, is South Africa's oldest, biggest and best-known arts festival. The 10-day event offers culture hounds every indulgence of theatre, music, song, dance, film and a whole lot more. If there's one South African festival you have to attend, this is it.
Dullstroom Winter Festival
Where: Dullstroom, Mpumalanga
Website: Dullstroom Winter Festival
Held annually in July, the Dullstroom Winter Festival is historically themed as Christmas in Winter. Activities during the Festival include a golf day, a tagged trout event - Dullstroom is a fly-fishing hotspot - chocolate and wine tastings, art exhibitions, whiskey tastibngs and themed restaurant evenings. Live music shows showcasing Roots, Blues and Folk music from top South African performers take place at various venues around town.
Knysna Oyster Festival
Website: Knysna Oyster Festival
The coastal town of Knysna is famous for its oysters, and increasingly famous for the July festival that celebrates them. In addition to oyster braais, oyster tasting, oyster-eating competitions and other molluscular activities, there's live entertainment and lots of sporting events.
Formerly the Volksblad Arts Festival, this is a lovely festival with lots of live shows, stage productions, art market with lots of stalls. This festival has been running for the past ± 12 years and is the big showcase for artists from all over the country who wants to perform in the Freestate.
Ellisras Bushveld Festival
Where: Lephalele (Ellisras), Limpopo
The Ellisras Bushveld Festival takes place in early July in the heart of the bushveld, in the Waterberg district of Limpopo. The festival includes cattle shows, a game auction, horse jumping, dog shows, agricultural activities, a three-day battle for the best 4x4 competition, a game farms expo, hunting opportunities, bird- and tree-identification competitions, traditional food, a beer tent and huge camp fires.
Oppikoppi Bushveld Festival
Where: Northam, North West
Held on the bushveld farm of Oppikoppi ("op die koppie" in Afrikaans, or "on the hill"), this festival offers three permanent thatched stages, a smaller comedy stage and a stage for more chilled music at the top of the koppie. Oppikoppi has helped establish many South African musicians' careers, but it's not for the faint-hearted. This is real bushveld: hot and dry, and everywhere red dust and thorn trees. Expect to shower a lot when you get home. (Oppikoppi also hosts an Easter Festival in March.)
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz
Website: Standard Bank Joy of Jazz
Johannesburg's biggest annual jazz festival is an ideal family outing, featuring a range of musical styles but with a strong emphasis on jazz. Over 200 local and international artists perform at different venues across the city, particularly in Newtown.
Where: Calvinia, Northern Cape
Website: Hantam Vleisfees
Calvinia in the Northern Cape is sheep country, and this festival celebrates meat. There's meat braaied, stewed, curried, in pita, on sosaties, in potjies - you can even pick up a done-to-perfection sheep's head for a mere R30. First held in 1989, the three-day Hantam Vleisfees has a music concert, street party, vintage car rally and, a highlight for many, the Miss Vleisfees competition - a glittering affair with dinner and dancing.
Cellar Rats Wine Festival
Where: Magaliesberg, Gauteng
Website: Cellar Rats Wine Festival
Taste South Africa's best wines in a tranquil outdoor setting in Magaliesberg. Held every year in August, the Cellar Rats Wine Festival is a day of wine tasting, with picnic baskets for sale and many activities for the kids. Enjoy huge shady trees, lush green grass and an abundance of birdlife on the banks of the picturesque Magalies River. Designated drivers get in for free.
Website: Arts Alive
Arts Alive, held every September since 1992, features a heady mix of dance, visual art, poetry and music at venues in the Joburg inner city. The main concert, held at the Johannesburg Stadium, headlines international superstars such as 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes. Over 600 artists perform during the four-day festival, with most shows at various venues in Newtown. The ever-popular Jazz on the Lake is held on the final day.
Aardklop Arts Festival
Website: Aardklop Arts Festival
Aardklop Arts Festival offers a feast of arts and an all-round good jol for five days in late September and early October. First held in 1998, Aardklop - Afrikaans roughly translated as "earth beat" - has over 90 productions, with classical music, jazz, hard rock, cabaret, visual arts, theatre, circus performances, opera, African and World music, poetry and more, ending with the OppiAarde rock festival on the final day.
Website: Sedibelo Festival
The Sedibelo Festival is a cultural event held annually in September to unite the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela nation across national borders in a shared celebration of rich history and culture.
Southern Cross Music Festival
Where: Mooi River
Website: Southern Cross Events
Every September the Southern Cross Music Festival showcases South African music in a three-day event in Hidden Valley on the banks of KwaZulu-Natal's beautiful Mooi River. First held in 1998, the festival donates part of its proceeds to charity. In addition to music, there's fishing, swimming, white water rafting, abseiling, hikes, walks, mountain biking and 4x4 courses. The farm caters for 6 000 festival-goers.
Woodstock Music Festival
Where: Hartbeeshoek, North West
Website: Woodstock Music Festival
Woodstock, first held in 1999, is the largest youth-oriented music and lifestyle festival in South Africa. In addition to mainstream music, the festival offers a market of crafters and alternative lifestyle products over four days. It is held at Hartbeeshoek Holiday resort near Hartbeespoort Dam in North West.
Where: Bultfontein, Free State
Website: Boertjie Kontreifees
The Boertjie Kontreifees is an agricultural festival, featuring 340 stalls, which draws about 20 000 people over four days. It includes plenty of sport, plenty to eat and drink, lots of competitions, and many entertainers. It being an agricultural festival, you can expect to find horses, cattle, sheep, buck, greyhounds, tractors, and cars as well.
Website: Gariep Kunstefees
The Gariep Kunstefees (arts festival) features an impressive line-up of local musicians, a film festival showcasing South Africa's new film-makers, as well as art exhibitions and children's theatre.
Hermanus Whale Festival
Where: Hermanus, Western Cape
Website: Hermanus Whale Festival
Every year, southern right whales travel thousands of miles to the Cape south coast to mate and calve in the bays. Join the villagers of Hermanus for an entertainment-packed festival, in the town with the best land-based whale watching in the world.
Awesome Africa Music Festival
Where: Midmar Dam, Kwazulu-Natal Midlands
Website: Awesome Africa Music Festival
The Standard Bank Awesome Africa Music Festival, first held in 1999, takes place at the Midmar Dam in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands after having called Durban home for many years. Its focus is on collaboration with musicians from Africa and beyond.
Prince Albert Agricultural Show
Where: Prince Albert, Western Cape
Website: Prince Alfred
Join the people of Prince Albert as they celebrate their agricultural heritage in September. Homecrafts, art and flowers, horses, motorbikes, sheep and angora goat competitions, local products, delicious food, bar facilities and entertainment for young and old are all on the menu.
Macufe, the 10-day Mangaung African Cultural Festival, showcases the cream of African and international talent. It features jazz, gospel, kwaito, hip-hop, R&B, rock and classical music, as well as dance, drama, cabaret, musical theatre, poetry, fine art and traditional arts and crafts. The festival attracts up to 140 000 people and is presented in late September and early October by the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State.
White Mountain Festival
Where: Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal
Website: White Mountain Festival
The White Mountain Folk Festival in the Central Drakensberg mountain range offers great music in an awesome setting for three days in September. Featuring acoustic performances by some of the South Africa's top folk musicians, it is held at White Mountain Lodge in the foothills of the Giant's Castle Nature Reserve. Camping in a beautiful site at the edge of a dam is free, with brand new hot shower units at the ready, plus lots of "executive" loos. There's also a variety of food stalls, and a beer market offering naturally brewed local ales and lagers.
Vrede Paddadors Fees
Where: Vrede, Free State
Website: Vrede Paddadors Fees
The full name of Paddadors, the Free State town of Vrede's annual festival, is the Vrede Paddadors Rooivleis en Kultuurfees - which translates literally as the Peace Frog-Thirst Red-Meat and Culture Festival. The story goes that the dry land on which the town was established was originally called Paddadors ("frog thirst" in Afrikaans), until peace came and place was named Vrede. The festival offers live music, traditional food, a beer garden, children's activities and more.
Where: Polkadraai Festival Ground, Zwartkops, Centurion
Website: Polkadraai Festival Ground
Featuring a brand new festival farm and entertainment venue, the Lekkerhoekie Opskop brings together many of South Africa's best-loved Afrikaans singers. There is also plenty of other entertainment on the side, including things for the kids to do.
Herman Charles Bosman Weekend
Where: Groot Marico, North West
Website: Herman Charles Bosman Weekend
Herman Charles Bosman was one of South Africa's greatest writers, and this weekend festival celebrates his work in dry town of Groot Marico, the setting for many of his stories. Some of South Africa's top actors read from and perform Bosman's work; there's also good food, good company - and lots of mampoer.
Rocking the Daisies Music and Lifestyle Festival
Where: Cloof Wine Estate, Darling, Cape West Coast
Website: Rocking the Daisies Music and Lifestyle Festival
The Rocking the Daisies Music and Lifestyle Festival features top South African bands performing a wide variety of music, as well as comedy, burlesque dancing, acoustic jams, and giant African puppeteering. The Food Village looks after the stomach and the Traders Market offers exciting goodies. Other attractions include swimming, wine tasting, the Daisy Den and Art Field, and activities for the kids.
Ficksburg Cherry Festival
Where: Ficksburg, Free State
Website: Ficksburg Cherry Festival
One of the oldest festivals in South Africa - first held in 1969 - the Ficksburg Cherry Festival now attracts around 20 000 visitors to this small eastern Free State town every November. The scenery is magnificent, and the festival offers cherry and asparagus tastings, tours, picnics, music, and the Miss Cherry Blossom and Miss Cherry Pip competitions.
Rustler's Valley New Year's
Where: Ficksburg, Free State
Website: Rustler's Valley New Year's Gathering
Rustler's Valley in the eastern Free State hosts some of its best trance, dance and drumming festivals in late November and December, including a New Year celebration. The majestic scenery on the foothills of the Maluti Mountains alone is worth the trip.