If you are into hiking and love South Africa as much as I do, than you will enjoy this post!! Not only is South Africa one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but the scenery it presents and the coastlines are some of the best the world has to offer!!
I don’t hike that often, but do love it when I get the chance and if I could, I would love to do all of these trails someday!! This post will cover list the top 10 hiking trails in South Africa with a general description of each as well as some very good tips on how to prepare for a hike as well some other very helpful hiking tips. If you are a professional hiker and have done some of these trails, if not all, please do leave your comment, I would love to hear your experience!
1. Otter Trail:
This beautiful trail runs along the well known Garden Route along the coast of South Africa and is named after the Cape Clawless Otter, which occurs in this region. The trail is widely known as one of the finest in the world and stretches from Storms River Mount in the east to Nature’s Valley in the west. The trail is 26km long as the crow flies and 41km as the hiker walks. The trail takes 5 and 4 nights to complete and the nights are spent in comfortable huts with spectacular views. The route runs entirely through the Tsitsikamma National Park, which protects and 80km long strip of coastal mountains, forest and beaches.
On route the hike, you will experience extremely scenic landscape, never straying far from the shoreline. Often you will climb steeply and then descend to the beach of a river crossing. Vegetation along the way is either fynbos, dense gallery forest or open, rocky sections near the sea with an abundance of wildflowers.
Details on what each day covers, can be found on this website: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=159
2. De Hoop Whale Trail:
Rated as one of the best hiking trails in South Africa, this 54km hiking trail has some of the most beautiful nature, sea, caves and whale viewings! The 5 day hike has been developed by Cape Nature Conservation at De Hoop Nature Reserve near Bredasdorp and oversees one of the Western Cape’s most unique and diverse nature reserves, while providing nature lovers and those who love the outdoors with unique comfortable overnight accommodation situated at spectacular locations.
The route stretches from Potberg to Koppie Alleen and includes 5 overnight stops, while offering hikers the opportunity to explore the unsurpassed natural diversity of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, where the fragrance of fynbos on the Potberg mountains and the unique limestone fynbos plains intermingle with the salty sea air of the marine protected area. Some of the highlights on this hike, includes abundance of indigenous plants, members of the last remaining vulture colony in the Western Cape as well as numerous amounts of other bird species and small antelope.
Now you probably asking “what about the whales?” – yes, there is whales and what a sight it is!!! De Hoop is world wide known as one of the best whale-watching spots, especially between June and December when the coastline transforms into one of the world’s most important nursery areas for the Southern Right Whales, which often leaves whale-watchers stunned at the sight of more than 50 of these sea giants lying a mere kilometer from the coast.
For more in depth details on this amazing hike, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=43
3. Amatola Hiking Trail:
Situated in one of the most scenic mountain areas in South Africa – the Amatola mountain range – is this beautiful hiking trial. The trail starts from Madam Dam, 22km from King William’s Town and ends 3km from Hogsback at the Tyume River. The Hogsback hamlet is the best know area for the Amatolas and its surroundings provide a glimpse of what the trail has to offer.
The 6 day hike has a loads to offer and the days are spend in high climax Afro-montane forest, with its rolling mountain plateaus swathed in rich mountain fynbos and sprinkled with wild flowers. The trail also offer countless rivers, streams, waterfalls and pools. Other features of the hike includes isolated peaks and dark secretive gorges, open grassy glades in distant views across the Evelyn, Keiskamma, Wolf Tyume and other lush river basins. Not only is this hike a must do, but it also focuses on some decisive battles between British and Xhosa forces in the years of the Frontier Wars. Amatola means “place of many calves” and the meadows here were used as grazing lands by the Xhosa and by the Hottentots before them.
Not only does this hike cover some of South Africa’s most beautiful scenery, but it also give you a glimpse of South Africa’s early history.
For more in depth detail of the hike, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=8
4. Outeniqua Hiking Trail:
This stunning and oldest hiking trail is situated between George and Storms River and runs over 7 days, which starts at Beervlei Hut and finishes at Harkerville Hut near Harkerville Forestry Staion. Hikers can either hike the full 7 days, or just 2 or 3 days and trails may only be done from west to east. The cosy huts offer shelter, firewood, grids, water and rudimentary bedding. The hike is rich in indigenous forests, giant Yellow wood trees, as well as bird – and animal-life.
It is recommended that each hiker MUST do this hike, at least once.
For more information on this hike and a breakdown of what each day covers, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=162
5. Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail:
My personal favourite part of South Africa!! This absolutely stunning 6 day, 60km hiking trail begins at Nature’s Valley and ends at the Storms River Bridge or village. The trail journeys through the heart of the beautiful Tsitsikamma mountains where extensive patches of indigenous afromontane forest and mountains fybos still occur. The mountains form the watershed for a myriad of streams and rivers, many of which are fountainheads for the wider, slower-flowing and magnificently sculptured rivers of the Tsitsikamma coast. There are shorter versions of the trial available as well as a range of novel ecotourism activities and luggage transportation are available on request. The accommodation facilities is of excellent standard with magnificent views and facilities.
The trail offers excellent opportunities for photography as well as tree, flower and bird watching. The many rivers and pools make for wonderful swimming along the route. There are very informative, guided hiking excursions available as wall as qualified and knowledgeable guide which will accompany your group on route.
These are just some of the exciting expectations on this hike and are sure one not to be missed.
For more information on this beautiful hike, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=222
6. Swellendam Hiking Trail:
The Swellendam Hiking Trail is a 6 day hiking trail and leads through deep ravines and past high cliffs in the Langeberg Mountains above Swellendam in the southwestern cape. The trail offers some breathtaking views and one outstanding feature is the unsurpassed floral wealth of the area which changes with the succession of the seasons. The trail opened to the public in June 1979 and was the first circular trail of the National Hiking Way System. The trail starts in the town of Swellendam and the total distance of the trail is 80km.
This trail is not for the faint hearted and fairly demanding and should only be attempted by fit, competent and well-equipped hikers. Trips should be planned in advance as hikers are not permitted to leave the trail at any stage due to private property and the possibility of getting lost.
Things to look forward to on this hike is the Bontebok National Park, 7km south of Swellendam, home to the Bontebok which nearly became extinct during the nineteenth century. Other bok species to be spotted are the grey Rhebok, Springbok, common Duiker, Steenbok and Grysbok. There are also some 180 bird species to be spotted.
So, if you are up for a new challenge, then do not miss this hike.
For more information on the hike, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=204
7. Strandloper Hiking Trail:
This spectacular, not to be missed hiking trail runs from Kei Mouth (Cape Morgan Eco Tourism Centre) to Gonubie. This trail is not only about beaches, but takes you in estuaries, high cliffs with panoramic views and coastal forests which buzz with birds and insects. The trails runs over 5 days and can be walked anytime through the year. The trail follows the beach from Kei Mouth to Gonubie, passing several hotels and also running through forests. Weather conditions are optimal with warm, windless conditions between February and May and it’s advised to avoid Christmas and the Easter season as the hotels and beaches becomes crowded with holidaymakers.
At the start of your hike, you will be given a tide table so you can plan to cross the estuaries at low tide, particularly at Quko, Kwenxura, Kwelera and Gonubie and it is advised that you take on the long stretch between Cape Henderson and Beacon Valley at low tide and when you can walk on the harder inter-tidal area.
The trail is called after the shoreline above the high water mark from Cape Morgan to Gonubie and stretches 59km. Each section of the trail was designed to reveal many special aspects of the coastline so the hiker may capture a complete Strandloper experience. Enjoy the beautiful beaches, the surf and the opportunity to fish, sail or just watch the great variety of bird life.
If you have that thrill for adventure, then I would recommend you make this hike your next hike!
For more information on this adventurous hike, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=200
8. Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail:
Traversing through some of the most spectacular coastal scenery, The Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail follows an exceptionally interesting, but difficult route. The trail includes walking, scrambling and climbing along the rugged littoral zone. The number of hikers is restricted to 12 hikers per day and is a 2 day hike. The trail follows a circular route (1 day out and 1 day back), making it ideal for weekend outings.
As mentioned previously, there is a certain amount of climbing involved and narrow ledges have to be negotiated; stormy seas and high tides must be kept in mind when attempting to do the hike. The journey is a memorable experience for the hiker that can match up to the challenging conditions. Stepladders and chains assist at dangerous places and parts of this circular trail passes through Sinclair Nature Reserve that protects Afromontane Forest and Mountain Fynbos. Occasional sightings of whales, dolphins and otters may occur.
If you think you have what it takes, don’t miss out on this hiking experience!
For more information on this trial, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=93
9. Fish River Canyon:
This hiking rail is unique among all the trails in South Africa! Not only is it the second largest in the world (only being surpassed by the famous Grand Canyon in Colorado), it covers over 180km and stretches south from Seeheim down to the Orange River which forms the border between Namibia and South Africa.
The Canyon features a gigantic ravine, in total about 160km long, up to 27km wide and in places 550 meters deep. The Fish River, which is the longest river in Namibia, cuts deep into the plateau which is today dry, stony and sparsely covered with hardy drought-resistant plants. Upstream the river runs through horizontal dolomite strata, which formed part of the canyon about 650 million years ago when plate movement cracked the earth, the first process in the formation of the Fish River Canyon.
Lower down the Canyon, a granite complex system is exposed to form a characteristic river bed that results in forms like Fingerspitze. In this area, a fault runs north-south, which accounts for the gorge-like channel and the presence of hot sulphurous springs.
Starting at the viewsite situated on the top of the Canyon, about 12km from the Namibian Parks Board camping site at Hobas, the trail leads downhill into a large sandbank that makes an ideal campsite for the fist night of the trail. This first section of the trail, takes about 1 – 2 hours, depending on how the knees can cope with the pressure. The downhill is very steep with chains at some sections as support and is considered by most to be the toughest part of the whole trail.
If you are into geology, you will find this hike very interesting. Be sure to add this hike on your list!!
For more details on this interesting hike, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=67
10. Swartberg Hiking Trail:
This trail runs through the Little Karoo Nature Reserve and is about 61km. The hike runs over 5 days with a maximum 18 people at a time.
Various hiking options are possible, ranging from easy 2 day hikes to a fairly demanding 5 day route. The 5 day trail has 3 alternative starting points. All through the hike you have panoramic views over the landscapes dominated by Cape fold mountains. The trail leads hikers past rock formations, incredible views and unspoilt mountain fynbos. Should you do the hike during the winter months, you will most definitely come across snow.
If this sounds like the hike for you, then be sure not to miss it!!
For more details on the hike, please visit: http://www.sahikes.co.za/Details.asp?TrailID=202
Now that we have the top 10 hiking trails listed and some information on each trail, here are some general hiking tips to keep in mind for your next hiking expedition:
1. A comfortable backpack and a good water bottle are absolutely essential and comfortable strong shoes are also important. The weight of your backpack (packed) may not exceed one third of your body weight.
2. Hikers must be fairly fit and shout definitely get exercise before any hiking trail. Don’t carry too many things and try to pack as light as possible.
3. Your backpack should always be packed to keep the load as close to our centre of gravity as possible. This lessens the “backward pull” you get when the bag is incorrectly packed.
4. Stuff your sleeping bag’s stuff bag with your fleece of jacket and use it as a pillow.
5. To prevent blisters, remove your shoes and let your socks dry in the sun when you stop for more than 5min.
6. To prevent your things of getting wet in your backpack, line your backpack with a heavy duty plastic bag before you fill the bag.
7. A proper fist aid kit, good communication among the group and a proper emergency plan is essential!
8. Always carry a beanie/balaclava and enough warm and waterproof clothes. The weather changes suddenly, especially in the mountains and don’t forget the sunblock!!
9. Make sure you have cable ties and duct-tape packed. They can be used to fix backpacks, torn clothing/material, tent pegs and anything that needs a quick, yet effective fix on the trail.
10. Increase your magnesium intake before setting out on the hiking adventure. This helps with leg cramps!
For more hiking tips, you can visit: http://www.getaway.co.za/article/top-20-hiking-tips-from-our-facebook-fans-2010-09-20
I hope this post has inspired you to dust of that backpack, scratch for that hiking shoes and remove that sleeping bag from the very top shelf in the cupboard and to take on one, if not all, of the listed hiking trails and explore the beauty of this beautiful country that we are living in.
And for those of you that does not live in South Africa or have not visited South Africa as yet . . . all I can say, is that you are missing out BIG time. Take this amazing opportunity to explore the beauty and majesty that this country has to offer!!