Hit The Trail
Hiking in South Africa
THERE ARE FEW BETTER WAYS TO EXPERIENCE NATURE THAN TO PUT YOUR BOOTS ON AND YOUR FEET ON THE GROUND, ONE IN FRONT OF THE OTHER. SOUTH AFRICA HAS A HUGE VARIETY OF SCENIC HIKING TRAILS. HERE’S A GUIDE TO HELP FIND ONE NEAR YOU.
The Oystercatcher Trail is a spectacular guided, luxury and fully catered route on the Garden Route which has earned high praise from, among others, National Geographic, Getaway Magazine, and the BBC.
The Otter Trail along the Tsitsikamma coast is easily the most popular hike in the country. Lush forests, rugged shorelines, mountain streams, waterfalls and fragrant fynbos make this a special one. It’s strenuous, with lots of ups and downs, but the distances aren’t too great.
If you want the scenery but less slog and more luxury, try the Dolphin Trail. It traverses similar terrain to the Otter – joining up with it in places – but instead of hiking huts you stay in fully catered guest houses with great views and good food.Your pack is transported to your next overnight spot by vehicle, and you need carry only a day pack with you.
The Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape offers similar trails but dramatically different scenery in the form of miles of deserted beaches, wave-lashed rocks and occasional tropical forest. Accommodation is in coastal hotels instead of huts. Hikers usually carry their own packs, but you can arrange to have it driven around, if you plan ahead.
Purists can also tackle the rougher side of the Wild Coast as there are kilometres of unspoiled hiking trails traversing high mountains and forests, where the accommodation is the usual hiking hut, and the cuisine whatever you have decided to carry with you.
The Strandloper Hiking Trail, on the Transkei coast, covers 60 km over four days, starting at Kei Mouth and finishing at Gonubie. A literal translation from Afrikaans for “strandloper” is beach walker, which gives one an idea of what to expect. An
easier option, the Strandloper Sundowner Trail, is also available.
For an even wilder experience, you can hike for days in the Cederberg, not too far from Cape Town, or the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, without seeing a hut or even a route marker. These are designated wilderness areas, and you simply take a map and a permit and set off, sleeping under the stars or in caves if you happen to come across one.
The Num-Num Trail in Mpumalanga is a five-day, 42-km hiking trail that passes through a variety of pristine landscapes, from yellowwood forests to sandstone mazes and open grasslands. There are also almost 1,000 waterfalls in the area, including the Uitkomste Falls – the highest in Mpumalanga.
Of course, the most important aspect of a hiking trail is that you don’t constantly bump into other people.And the only way to ensure that is to limit numbers, which means doing a little research ahead of time and booking well in advance.The following organisations and online resources could prove invaluable in this regard.
THE EASTERN CAPE & WILD COAST
Active Escapes (www.active-escapes.co.za) is a leading authority on Wild Coast hiking, from traditional backpacking trails to fully supported “slackpacking” holidays. They also offer fully guided hiking trails in the Drakensberg, Eastern Cape Highlands and KZN Midlands, as well as more challenging Drakensberg hikes with a registered mountain guide.
Drifters (www.drifters.co.za), a tour operator, offers a tour that features a choice of hiking or cycling on the Wild Coast. Wild Coast Holiday Reservations (www.wildcoastholidays.co.za) offer exciting holiday options in the Wild Coast. Their choice of hiking trails includes the Hole-in-the-Wall Trail, the Wild Coast Meander, the Wild Coast Amble, and the Wild Coast Pondo. Wild Mountain Adventures (www.wildmountainadventures.co.za) operates in the beautiful mountainous regions of the Eastern Cape, and specialise in luxury adventure trails as well as tailor-made activity holidays, fully catered in beautiful farm-stay accommodation.
Berg Free (www.bergfree.co.za) is run by Dave Sclanders, a registered mountain guide. He offers hikes in the Drakensberg which range from one day to five days in length. Descriptions of the hikes are provided, along with extensive safety information, photos, and feedback from hikers.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (www.kznwildlife.com) oversees the many game parks in KwaZulu-Natal.They have a section on hiking, which includes a weekly hiking report, links to weather reports, safety information and tips.
Peak High Mountaineering (www.peakhigh.co.za) offers trekking, rock-climbing, ice-climbing, and Mountain Development Trust Courses in mountaineering, trekking and abseiling. SHAKAbarker Tours (www.shakabarker.co.za) is located in St Lucia, and operates in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve.They offer a number of different trails, including the 65 km Emoyeni Trail.
SA Adventure Trails (www.trails.co.za) is based in Hilton and offers a number of trails all over South Africa.
Spanafrican Adventures (www.spanafrican-adventures.co.za) organises hiking expeditions in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Park, ranging from day hikes to seven-day traverses on top of the escarpment. Included in the offerings is the 60 km Giants Cup trail, the only established trail in the Drakensberg.
The Boksburg Hiking Club (www.boksburghiking.co.za) meets on the first Wednesday of every month. They organise trails, and a hiking programme is available on the club’s website. Johannesburg Hiking Club (www.jhbhiking.co.za) organises
hikes and hiking-related events, and fosters a sense of responsibility towards the environment.
Cape Nature (www.capenature.co.za) provides information on numerous outdoor activities, including hiking – from one-day to multi-day trips in the province’s many nature reserves.
Excelsior Wine Walks (www.excelsiorguesthouse.co.za) offers something a little different: a three-day walk through beautiful Cape vineyards and orchards that includes visits to a number of wineries.
Garden Route Hiking Trails (www.gardenroute.com) has information on different routes which are also rated according to difficulty. High Adventure Africa (www.highadventure.co.za) is a mountain guiding and training company based in CapeTown.They offer guiding services that cover the Cape Peninsula mountain chain and other Cape mountain ranges, as well as other parts of South Africa and Namibia.
Hike and Trail Run Cape Town (hikecapetown.co.za) is a comprehensive site that focuses on day hikes in the Cape Peninsula.Walks are graded according to difficulty.
Namaqua Silver SandsTrails & 4X4 (www.namaquasilversands.co.za) offers the fully-catered, six-day Namaqua Coastal Tour, as well as the self-catered Namaqua Coastal Tour.
Ridgway Ramblers (www.ridgwayramblers.co.za) offer guided tours and operate out of Cape Town.Table Mountain is a favourite venue, but the hikes go further afield too.
Sandpiper Safaris (www.sandpipersafaris.co.za) provides accommodation and hiking safaris in Boggomsbaai, close to Mossel Bay.
Venture Forth International (www.ventureforth.co.za) is based in Cape Town and incorporates the Cape Town School of Mountaineering. It’s a specialised mountain guide service and an accredited mountaineering school.They offer guided hikes in the Cederberg, Swartberg, and Drakensberg mountains, as well as on Table Mountain.
The Trails Club of South Africa (www.trailsclub.co.za) is based in Cape Town and offers a wide variety of hikes and trails in various parts of SA.
LIMPOPO & MPUMALANGA
Serendipity Eco Trails (www.serendipitytrails.co.za) is situated on a beautiful Bushveld farm called Tierkloof, near Polokwane.The hiking options include 16- and 24-km trails, with overnight stays in comfortable bush camps.
Komatiland Eco-Tourism (www.trails.co.za), which operates out of Nelspruit, offers hiking, 4×4 trails and mountain biking. There are seven overnight hiking trails and eight-day trail options, all featuring wonderful scenery.
Info Hub (www.infohub.com) has a list of hiking and trekking tours. Each of the tours includes comprehensive information on the itinerary and links to tour operators.
Linx Africa – Trails in Southern Africa (www.linxafrica.com) is a useful resource which has information about the hiking trails available in each province.
South African National Parks (www.sanparks.co.za): Click on the links to Game Parks run by SANParks to find out more about hiking opportunities in each of them.
South African Hiking Trails (www.hikingsouthafrica.co.za) has information on more than 300 trails. Useful details such as duration, layout, difficulty and distance are provided.
Trail Guide South Africa (www.trailguide.co.za) is continually adding new trails around South Africa, including hiking and mountain-biking trails, and has put together an impressive list of routes on an app.
Adventure Dynamics International (adventuredynamics.co.za) specialises in organising mountain and trekking logistics and guided mountaineering expeditions worldwide. They also offer team building through Peak Teams.
Footprint Hiking Club (www.footprint.co.za) offers pictorial reports on various trails, as well as written reports. A hiking calendar is included, as well as advice on hiking equipment, hiking with children, and how to start hiking.
The Mountain Club of South Africa (www.mcsa.org.za) regularly organises hikes in various parts of the country ranging from short day walks to multi-day traverses.