Weather: South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland

Hail, tornadoes, snowstorms: at first glance the climate of South Africa seems to resemble that of the US Midwest. In reality, the extremes here are more localized and not terribly common. Sunshine and moderate warmth are actually the most prevalent features of South African climate.

Jutting into the Atlantic, the southwest corner of the Western Cape coast – with Cape Town at its centre – has a Mediterranean regime. Its summers are dry and warm (a few notches cooler than, say, Italy or Tunisia) and the cool winters bring periods of rain and drizzle every few days, often during the night or early morning. Along the rest of the coast, from Port Elizabeth up to Natal, summer is the wetter time, with showers and thunderstorms about every third day on average from October to March.

Temperatures warm as you go north, although beachgoers from Miami or Mykonos may find it chilly. Even in January, its warmest month, the KwaZulu-Natal coast often stays below 28°C/82°F by day, although its nights are balmy. The Great Karoo and Drakensberg mountains separate the wetter coast from the quite arid interior. On occasion KwaZulu-Natal gets a heavy round of spring or autumn rains. The mountains of Lesotho are usually hammered with a few big snows each winter, and nights tend to be frosty all along the Drakensbergs, although the bright afternoons often warm above 10°C/50°F. In summer, the region from Lesotho northward gets thunderstorms almost every day – sometimes wild ones that drop serious hailstones (they can be bigger than golf balls) and, on rare occasions, a tornado. The afternoon storms usually move east across the Highveld, reaching Pretoria and Johannesburg by evening, but seldom making it as far as the Lowveld that extends into Swaziland. The Lowveld gets hot, humid summers – most afternoons soar well above 30°C/86°F – but pleasantly mild winters, with warm afternoons and nights that are chilly but usually frost-free.

Despite their proximity to each other, Johannesburg gets more wind and stays a few degrees cooler than Pretoria due to an extra 400m/1300ft of elevation. In winter, both cities often see a frosty morning followed by a bright afternoon as mild as 18°C/64°F in Johannesburg and 22°C/72°F in Pretoria. The northwest is more arid and hotter, and the interior Northern Cape even more so, with a typical year bringing only 100–200mm/4–8in of rain. The northwest coast is virtually rain-free, yet fog is frequent and San Franciscostyle coolness prevails. Heat from the dry interior can spill over the coastal ranges through gusty downslope Bergwinds that can send readings above 30°C/86°F at the shore almost any time of year.