South Africa: A Hiker’s Guide to Another World

With the arrival of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, outdoor activities are a must and you can’t go past hiking in South Africa. After all, the country boasts some of the most exceptional trails in the world, and there are over 1,000 to choose from.

Taking advantage of the cooler temps, even if you’re not the fittest or most adventurous of naturalists but still crave the wild and free feeling of going on a quest, you’ll have a much better chance of conserving your energy and going that much further or higher. There is lesser risk of bumping into other people too which, let’s face it, is a huge part of the charm of taking the road less travelled (or, in some cases here, completely untravelled).

Experience the magnificent Otter Trail in South Africa. Photo credit: www.southafrica.net

Experience the magnificent Otter Trail in South Africa. Photo credit: www.southafrica.net

Picture it: just you sporting your hiking boots and backpack, trekking uncharted territory.

If that sounds a little too ‘rough’ for you though, depending on where you’re hiking, and if you’re alone or with a group, you can always hire a guide, have your gear dropped off to the next rest point, and stay in luxury cabins rather than bunk down in a cave or under the massive starry sky. It’s your pick.

One of the most appealing aspects of hiking in South Africa is the varied terrain. You’ll find awesome trails in each of the nine provinces, each of which offers magnificent scenery, challenges and surprises.

The Otter Trail along the Tsitsikamma coast is one of the most popular multi-day hikes you’ll find. Stretching from the Storms River Mouth in the East to Nature’s Valley in the West, you can expect lush forests, rugged shorelines, mountain streams and waterfalls, and fragrant fynbos. It’s 42km long and takes 5 days to complete but, while it’s strenuous, the distances aren’t too great. And you’ll have the sea mist of the Indian Ocean to refresh you the whole time as it’s always within sight.

If you enjoy coastal hiking, maybe also consider the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape that offers similar hiking with dramatically different scenery. Think endless stretches of beach with wave-lashed rocks and intermittent forest.

Exquisite Coffee Bay on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast. Photo credit: www.en.wikipedia.org

Exquisite Coffee Bay on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast. Photo credit: www.en.wikipedia.org

Another un-missable hike in South Africa is the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although, aptly listed by National Geographic as one of the world’s best “grail trails”, this is one you might want to start training for! Despite being shorter than The Otter Trail (a mere 20-30 kilometres taken over 3 days), it is particularly challenging, and recommended only for seasoned hikers accompanied by a guide. It will take you to the top of the second longest waterfall in the world via ascending chain ladders!

The uKhahlamba peaks (meaning "barrier of spears in Zulu) along the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike. Photo credit: www.flickr.com

The uKhahlamba peaks (meaning “barrier of spears in Zulu) along the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike. Photo credit: www.flickr.com

And if that isn’t enough of a challenge for you, try the Amathole Trail (120km over 6 days) from Madam Dam, about 22km outside of King Williams Town to the Tyume River about 3km outside of Hogsback, an arty eco-village perfect for recovery. The landscape along this hike is so picturesque, it might even give you inspiration to write your own fictional masterpiece as it did J.R.R. Tolkien with The Lord of the Rings!

Hogsback, at the end of the Amatole Trail, transports you to another world. Photo credit: www.getaway.co.za

Hogsback, at the end of the Amatole Trail, transports you to another world. Photo credit: www.getaway.co.za

If all this sounds too strenuous though, don’t be put off. There are many gentler hikes to do too, and some that are guaranteed to heighten all of your senses. Accompanied by experienced rangers, you can join the Kruger Wilderness Trails in the iconic region bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe for about 50km over 2.5 days. You’ll cover some of the two million hectares of grassland, acacia-studded plains, bushveld, mopaneveld and tropical riverine forest inhabited by the Big Five. Depending on where your trail takes you, you could spot hippos and crocodiles at the river (Olifants Trail), or see lions hunting on the thorn-tree savannah (Sweni Trail) and hear them roaring at night.

Feel the hairs on your neck rise as you come across the Big Five on one of the Kruger Wilderness Trails. Photo credit: www.krugerpark.co.za

No matter your experience or fitness levels, South Africa has a hiking trail for you. With registered trails in all nine provinces, facilities, information and guides standing by, you have no excuse for not getting out into the wild on foot and experiencing the beauty of South Africa first hand.

Not for the fainthearted! Photo credit: Ariadne Van Zandenbergen, www.adventure.nationalgeographic.com

Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg… not for the fainthearted! Photo credit: Ariadne Van Zandenbergen, www.adventure.nationalgeographic.com

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TRAVEL TIPS & PLANNING INFO

WHO TO CONTACT

South African National Parks
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111

The Hiking Organisation of South Africa
Mobile: +27 (0)83 532 5557
Email: hosavosa@gmail.com

Footprint Hiking Club Mobile:
+27 (0)82 456 7020
Email: bookings@footprint.co.za