Hiking in the Western Cape
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 crystal clear 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.
Articles & Blogs
SA's Whale Trail Upgraded Relaunch3:10pm 10 Nov
Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shaen Adey & supplied
The iconic Whale Trail, a five-day hiking trail through CapeNature’s flagship De Hoop Nature Reserve has just reopened after being closed for nearly two years for major upgrades. The world-famous trail was always a winner, but it just got even better!
The 34 000 hectare De Hoop Nature Reserve, which extends 5km out to sea, is one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa. Part of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site, and with magnificent scenery and incredible biodiversity including rare flora and...
Tackle the Steenbok Day Trail3:17pm 16 Apr
Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shaen Adey
For two months a year, hikers can enjoy the flowers, birds and exquisite scenery on the Steenbok Day Trail in West Coast National Park. Fiona McIntosh takes us along on the trail while Shaen Adey captures each moment.
A faint grunt caught our attention. We looked up to see four Great White Pelicans flying overhead, their huge wings and heavy undercarriage making them all look a bit like Boeings. Shaen and I were on our annual pilgrimage to the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park.
Only open during August...
Alternative Trails to Lions Head2:29pm 15 Jan
Pics by Shaen Adey
Lion’s Head will be closed for maintenance from 7th January 2018 to 15th February 2019. So, hikers and trail runners, you’d better start thinking about alternative routes. SANParks offers this advice, and some alternative trails.
If you wish to hike in an alternative location or plan to hike elsewhere on Table Mountain please note the following:
Please ensure that you
• depart with adequate time for your hike: Both UP and DOWN before sunset
• always walk in group. We do not recommend hiking alone or in small groups
• have told...
Hiking the Trails of the Gifberg Holiday Farm3:32pm 18 Sep
Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shaen Adey and supplied
The spectacular spring flower show is just one of the attractions of hiking at Gifberg, a remote mountain wilderness in Namaqualand.
Hidden away in the Gifberg mountains up the West Coast, that dramatic backdrop to Vanrhynsdorp, Gifberg Holiday Farm’s primary focus is producing rooibos tea. But its rugged wilderness area boasts a wonderful network of family- and pet-friendly hiking trails. So when our friend Theresa Horn booked a weekend away there with her dog Lulu (and tantalised us with images of waterfalls...
Harkerville Red Route Re-opens9:30pm 15 Jul
SANParks was delighted to reopen the world-famous Harkerville MTB red route on 20th June 2018, the first day of the Knysna Oyster Festival. Speaking on site after an assessment was done, Area Manager for the Knysna section of the Garden Route National Park, Megan Taplin says her section has received numerous requests from cyclists to reopen parts of the trail affected by the June wild fires.
The Red Route Mountain biking trail coastal section through the fynbos area is now open after monitoring rehabilitation for a year and working on the part of the trail that offers cyclists...
The Crayfish Trail4:27pm 8 Apr
Words and pics Di Brown
The early morning sun warmed my back and cast a golden glow on the landscape. The air was fresh and fragrant, the peppery smell of fynbos mingled with a salty tang from the ocean hidden by the distant dunes. Birds called, creatures scuttled in the undergrowth and my feet kicked up little puffs of dust with each step.
My moving meditation was interrupted by a sharp command to STOP!
Our party of six watched in awe, and a little bit of fear, as two...
Delvera Full Moon Hikes2:48pm 28 Nov
Pics Chris Hitchcock
If you love the outdoors, sunsets and moonrises the Falke Full Moon Hike at Delvera should be on your December diary with hikes offered on 2, 3 and 31 December.
The scenic 9.75km trail takes you on a 523 climb through the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy to the top of Klapmutskop with breathtaking panoramic views of the Winelands and Cape Town.
Starting from the Dirtopia Trail Centre, it takes approximately 1.5 hours to reach the top, but a shuttle service is available to transport children...
Through the Cracks2:11am 4 Sep
Words & pics Morgan Trimble
Exploring Wolfberg makes for an excellent day hike, although the route is rather tough. Go with a backpack for the weekend instead and camp out in the Cederberg wilderness. You’ll probably have the whole area, plus the impossibly bright starscapes, all to yourself.
It’s midday, but all I see is the glare of my friend’s torch beam as he contorts back to check my progress. I’m practically stuck: my backpack, crammed with camping gear, is wedged in a narrow but towering sandstone chasm. Boulders hang overhead, defying gravity much...
Natural High4:01pm 20 Aug
Words and pics Romi Boom
We saw the two snakes not half an hour apart. Some folks in the group were apprehensive, others curious. Everyone was happy that guide Werner Titus was walking in front.
The first was a common slug-eater, or tabakrolletjie in Afrikaans, a non-venomous endemic usually found in damp areas. The second was venomous, a leaf-green and bright boomslang, camouflaged in a tree. Though small, we treated it with the respect due to a rear-fanged species.
Enveloped by the Tsitsikamma forest, our group of nine hikers and two guides...
Hi-Tec Garden Route Walking Festival5:22pm 4 Apr
Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shaen Adey
The Easter weekend sees the second edition of the Hi-Tec Garden Route Walking Festival, during which time hikers from around the country will gather to stride out on the area’s myriad trails with knowledgeable guides. Some hikes are well-known and iconic. Others are only well-kept secrets, open only during the festival, specialty walks or guided by celebrities.
Stretching from Mossel Bay to the lush indigenous forest of the Tsitsikamma, the Garden Route is a hiker’s paradise. There are high peaks to scale if you’re in need of a...
In Your Stride6:11pm 28 Mar
By Fiona McIntosh
The sheer cliffs of Kasteels Buttress glow in the late, golden light. Below me the sun glints off the Camps Bay houses. I’m at one of my favourite viewpoints in the whole world. The ruin of the old cableway on Postern Buttress was used to carry passengers and supplies during the construction of the Woodhead Reservoir in 1893.
Having hiked up Oudekraal Ravine and along the 12 Apostles Path, I’ll now descend Kasteelspoort, take in the sunset from Breakfast...
Shipwreck Hike9:30am 1 Jan
On a sunny day in Cape Town, we decided to go for a hike on a beach. Out of a hat we drew Llandudno, and so we decided to hike from Llandudno through Sandy Bay and onto the two famous shipwrecks around the corner. The hike is glorious. Looking back, you can see the mountain peaks tempting you to return to the city that is only thirty minutes away… yet, we wouldn’t give in. After bounding over large boulders, averting our eyes while passing through Sandy Bay, and climbing slippery rock faces, we came to a rocky point. At the end of this point lies...
Nature’s Valley9:30am 4 Dec
Nature’s Valley, Garden Route
The conserved paradise is beyond Knysna, but before Plettenberg Bay. We hiked it on a not-so-sunny day and still left impressed. We climbed out of our cars onto a pebble-lined beach and stumbled over jagged boulders with waves crashing against them to reach the dense indigenous forest. The magic never began suddenly. It built up from that pebble-lined beach and so, when the golden orioles began chanting in the canopy of the forest’s tall trees, the goosebumps were expected. It isn’t a hike on which you aim to reach the end, but rather to...
Half-Collared Kingfisher Hike9:30am 6 Nov
Half-Collared Kingfisher Hike: Garden Route
Hidden inside the forests of Wilderness, the trail is 7.2 kilometres long. It replaces an old favourite, the Giant Kingfisher trail, and roughly follows the same path, ending in that celebratory waterfall. But, now it was the path that I enjoyed most, and not just the final moment. We lunched at Tolkien-esque picnic spots, uncaring if we ever made it to the end, and sated my “birder” friends by noting the tambourine doves, Knysna loeries and, of course, the half-collared kingfishers. The path twisted around giant trees and...
Bloomin’ Marvellous9:55pm 23 Sep
Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shaen Adey
The plains are a mass of purple, the hillsides ablaze with yellow, and tucked away in between the ubiquitous daisies are patches of brilliant pink, purple and orange vygies, delicate orchids and tiny oxalis. As we start the climb up to the koppie the vegetation changes becoming more bushy and green. The daisies are still eye-catching but they’re smaller and of a more varied hue.
The start of...
Lion’s Head6:30am 14 Aug
Lion’s Head: Off Kloof Nek, Cape Town
I’m not a hiker, but I love the views that Cape Town has to offer. My brother is a hiker, but he always wants a challenge. So when we woke up to climb Lion’s Head for sunrise, we were both excited. He was going to hike, and I was going to see the sun fall over city-views. The path was easy even for me, and when the end was in sight, someone brilliant thought it’d be far more exciting (and safer) to ascend the summit via ladders and chains. While I kept my mind on the views that the summit promised, my brother revelled in the...
Unearthing the Cape6:30am 13 Aug
Unearthing the Cape: 3 Caves with Ridiculously Beautiful Views
Alessandro Candotti for Cape Town Tourism
Why are caves cool? There's a kind of primordial beauty to them. Especially the third of these, the burial site of a 12,000 year old cave-man! This list has been hand selected for the most glorious views in Cape Town and surrounds. Ready to unearth the ancient beauty of the Mother City?
Check out our 3 top caves with spectacular views, starting with...
1. ELEPHANT'S EYE
Silvermine Nature reserve is home to...
Brown-Hooded Kingfisher Trail6:30am 11 Aug
Brown-Hooded Kingfisher Trail: Wilderness, Garden Route
For once my friends and I weren’t concerned about watching the sunrise, and only started the trail at midday. I expected unbearable heat and long hills. It was far better than that. The forest around Wilderness is thick, and only where the path has been cut away is there space to walk – shaded walkways, long vines and moss-covered stones reminded me of reading The Lord of the Rings, or watching scenes from Avatar. Even the couch-potato inside of me enjoyed those wooden bridges and dirt paths...
Cederberg6:30am 30 Jun
Cederberg Wilderness Area
Only two-and-a-half hours from Cape Town by car, the Cederberg Wilderness Area is the perfect weekend getaway for those seeking peace, quiet and outdoors activities.
It’s a plant lover’s dream, with rare and endangered flora such as the red disa, snow protea, and Clanwilliam cedars. For a moderately-steep hike with great rewards, try the Middelberg Waterfall hike, a trail of switchbacks that leads from campsite 23 at the Algeria Forest Station to thundering falls in about one-and-a-half to two hours. Hikers can enjoy a...
Power Surge9:55pm 25 May
Words and pics Ron Swilling
Recharge your batteries before they dip dangerously into the red by getting into the great outdoors and breathing it all in. The Garden Route is always delightful for a breather from the rat-race, somewhere to stretch your legs on a few day trails. Walk in the wild places where vehicles aren’t permitted, where spectacular trails loop over mountains, through indigenous forests that beat with a life-affirming presence and along coastlines that remind you how magnificent the Earth is.
It's hard not to get a feeling of anticipation and excitement as you...