Each year 100s of travellers are drawn to the magic of Sutherland’s snow. But when does it actually snow in Sutherland? When is the best time to go? If these are the questions you’ve been asking – search no further!
Firstly, I have to confess – this is not an exact science, and even though I love sharing my knowledge on snow in Sutherland, please don’t hold me by it! This is written from experience and perception, and not necessarily mathematical statistics. The next thing you have to know – is that even in places like London, where it snows basically every year, snow is sporadic and it is not necessarily a magical white place throughout the winter.
In other words. Yes, it does snow annually in Sutherland, but it does not snow the same time each year. It also doesn’t snow the same amount each year. Like rain, it is only predictable by percentages. But unlike rain, it cannot always be predicted far in advance and usually only the day or two beforehand will show real tell-tale signs. Ok, so I do not want to disappoint you or make you think there is no chance of seeing snow in Sutherland. I am just trying to sketch a picture and help you know what to expect.
According to Sutherland locals, the first cold comes in Easter Weekend. The colder this weekend – the colder the winter usually will be. In the four years I’ve been in Sutherland, this has been the weekend when frost starts creeping in. So definitely the start of winter. Some years snow comes early, even at the end of May or beginning of June. The earlier it starts, the more often there it tends to snow. But as a rule of thumb, I have noted from locals who have been in Sutherland for generations – and they have dubbed August as the snow month. This does not mean June and July has no snow, it just means that August is normally the month that gets the most snow, and the most often. BUT, this is based on averages – and as all things in life, it is not a guarantee, but rather a calculated guess based on past years.
When it does snow – there are a few things to take into consideration. The excitement of magical snowflakes falling from the sky does not always translate in a town covered in white. If the snow is too wet, or if too much rain mixes with the snow (i.e. if it rains in between), then the snow won’t stick to the ground. So you may see snow falling – but have no proper photos of you making a snow angel to prove it.
When the snow does stick, it usually starts showing in the higher areas first. So the pass (Verlatenkloof) normally fills up with snow first, as well as higher lying farms like Gunsfontein Guest Farm, Blesfontein Guest Farm, Sterboom Guest Farm and Skurweberg Guest Farm. These farms are further out of Sutherland. Verlatenkloof Guest Farm is situated in the pass and of course also has a window to the first snows that usually fall in the pass.
When it snows a lot, the pass may become unapproachable. As the wetness, water and ice rain lies on the tar, and temperatures drop, the road may freeze over, and it becomes extremely slippery. The sharp rise in altitude in the pass, means roads are steep and makes it very difficult to climb – especially with a backwheel drive car. So in many cases, you may have to turn around and wait at Matjisefontein. The best advice I can give is to always appreciate the road closure signs and not enter if the road is closed. It is really dangerous and we have had families trapped in the pass overnight. It is always a good idea to phone Sutherland police on 023-5718041 to make sure the pass is open (only if it has really snowed a lot!).
Snow only lasts a short while. Of course how long it lasts would depend on the temperature and amount of snow that has stuck to the ground. But chances are good that if there is snow everywhere the morning, it may have all melted in the lower areas and on the tarred road by midday – with only drips and drabs in the shade. But please don’t turn around if you think this means you will miss out completely – the higher areas usually have snow for a little longer – and you can drive out and still get the chance to build yours snow man and have a snow ball fight. This would be at the Observatory, in Verlatenkloof Pass, on higher farm areas.
So I hope this helps! In short –
1. Yes it snows in winter;
2. It only snows sporadically;
3. It is unpredictable – but you can look out for updates on twitter @DiscoverSutherland or facebook/discoversutherland (also try wunderground.com and accuweather.com);
4. Snow does not usually last more than a day – so hurry up. In rare cases it may last longer than two days and you may still find snow.
Also remember that snow is not the only reason to visit this beautiful and historic town of Sutherland. There are several things you can do and see while here. And once the snow clouds blow over – this is an excellent time for stargazing (please bring your K-way jackets, beanies and scarves). Also visit the NP van Louw Huis Museum, do a church tour, walk along the veldplant route at Middelfontein – and visit the Largest Telescope in Southern Africa.
*A quick after thought – snow and cold weather could affect the electricity in Sutherland. So take extra coats and blankets and be prepared to huddle up in front of the fireplace with candles. This cannot be controlled by the local service providers, but they will do everything they can to keep you warm. We always rush to the Jupiter Restaurant – where their pizza oven and fireplace will help you stay warm.