Hiking in South Africa
Hiking in South Africa
There’s no better way to explore a country than on foot, taking in the smells of the sea or bush, enjoying the views and interacting with local people you meet along the way. A network of long-distance and day trails criss-cross the varied landscapes of South Africa, taking hikers along stretches of unspoilt coastline, to scenic viewpoints, along Coca-Cola coloured rivers and through indigenous forests and flower-covered plains. Whatever your fitness level and interest, you’ll find a trail to suit you. There are flat, easy strolls through vineyards or to magnificent natural galleries of San rock art; wonderful walks under leafy canopies; unmarked paths through vast wildernesses; and demanding scrambles to the high peaks that will satisfy the most obsessed peak-baggers.
The greatest density of day walks is in the Western Cape, particularly on and around the Cape Peninsula, in the rugged Cederberg Mountains and on the Garden Route. Table Mountain National Park, which runs the length of the Cape Peninsula from the city to the Cape of Good Hope, has myriad trails, most of which are free. Further afield, there are spectacular hikes through the fynbos-covered Hottentots-Holland Mountains and in the Overberg, while on the Garden Route, walkers have the choice of meandering to pretty lakes, along golden beaches or enjoying the wildlife of the indigenous forests.
There are few marked trails on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast – but that’s part of its attraction. Rather, you can stride out along the empty beaches and animal paths for as long as the fancy takes you, stopping to swim, to explore little patches of forest and to explore the rock pools. And for the more adventurous, there are strenuous trails in the Amatola Mountains and the untamed Baviaanskloof, where you might bump into buffalo!
The trails in the Northern Cape are particularly attractive from July to September, when the normally arid plains are covered with a blanket of colourful wild flowers, but for most of the year the province, and much of the Karoo and the Free State, is big sky country – the place to escape and enjoy the emptiness and endless views.
Walks in the Drakensberg Mountains, KwaZulu-Natal’s premier hiking area, showcase the area’s rolling grasslands, deeply incised gorges, dramatic sandstone formations and towering basalt peaks. There are gentle trails around the resorts, while the fit and strong can brave the relentless passes that give access to the plateau and free-standing peaks. The Drakensberg Mountains are home to one of the largest natural art galleries in the world and the exquisite paintings of the San people can be viewed on guided walks to the rock shelters.
Mpumalanga’s Drakensberg escarpment also offers dramatic cliffs and mountain scenery as well as sublime lakelands, tumbling waterfalls and historical sites, which can be explored with or without guides. And on many of the trails in Limpopo, Gauteng and in North West province, there’s a good chance of encountering plains animals, and, every so often, even dangerous game.
Not that you have to venture out of town to commune with nature - you can simply head out on one of the city strolls. Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth can be explored on well-marked, self-guided routes and interpretive guided hikes.
Although often on private farms where advance booking is required, many of the trails are in national parks and wilderness areas managed by CapeNature and MTO Forestry, where you can rock up, lace up your boots and hit the trail. Just don’t forget water and sunscreen.