Wilderness areas are the most intact, undisturbed, truly wild spaces left on the planet…
They are unaffected by any development and many, if not all of them, practice the highest level of conservation – legally protected and untouched by man. There are no roads, vehicles, houses or industry in these areas.
In short: wilderness areas are the only places left in which man can develop a true relationship with nature, if he wants to. South Africa is the only country in Africa with such a rich variety of parks, reserves and wilderness areas.
The first wilderness area (now the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park) was designated in South Africa in 1959 – 12 150 hectares in which all form of motor traffic was stopped and rangers and visitors were allowed in the area only on foot. Soon afterwards the St Lucia Wilderness Area, now in the northern section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site, followed.
The country only introduced legislation to protect formal Wilderness Areas In South Africa in 2003.
Today South Africa is said to have 28 wilderness areas (I’ve yet to find a comprehensive list) making up 2.6 million hectares of wild country. The preservation of these Wilderness Areas In South Africa is imperative.
They are all we have left of life before us.
When you spend time in these truly undisturbed areas, you are exposed to perfection; a foreigner in a place that evades control, that is far greater than you.
Wilderness areas are not for everyone. The lack of marked hiking trails or routes, basic or no overnight accommodation, and exposure to nature without any intervention can intimidate those who prefer the safety of well defined journeys.
If you had to name a wilderness area, most people would come up with either the 71 000 hectare Cederberg Wilderness Area – between the towns of Citrusdal, Clanwilliam and Ceres – or the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, 33 km outside of Porterville.
But few people know about these 7 wilderness areas…
Boosmansbos (angry man’s forest) lies adjacent to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve in the Langeberg Mountains, just west of Swellendam; 14 000 hectares of mountainous wilderness used mainly by hikers, who spill over from Grootvadersbosch into this place of peaks.
Its 64 km of unmarked footpaths and trails through largely mountainous terrain provide visitors with an uninterrupted commune with nature.
As with all wilderness areas, a visit to Boosmansbos involves a great deal of off-the-beaten-track style hiking, in and out of forest and kloof, overnighting in simple huts or in tents under the stars.
Lying in the far reaches of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains the Groendal Wilderness Area is known to few, its unspoilt and rugged terrain one of the only legally-proclaimed wilderness areas in the Eastern Cape, and the third largest wilderness in the country. It is also remarkably accessible, lying only 10 km north of Uitenhage just outside Port Elizabeth.
Its beauty protects fynbos, isolated pockets of indigenous forest (particularly in the ravines) and bits of thorny, semi-succulent Valley Bushveld scrub.
At its centre lies the Groendal Dam. Caves and shelters in the area are rich with Khoi-San paintings.
There are both marked and unmarked trails in the reserve, including Blindekloof Trail.
One of the few parts of the country where you can hike for days and not come across another soul, Mkhomazi includes the mountain reserves of Vergelegen, Lotheni, Highmoor and Kamberg and is one of the most isolated and unexplored areas in KwaZulu-Natal.
It is separate from the main Drakensberg escarpment and made up of a number of high ridges that extend in the direction of the Midlands. It is not the only wilderness area in the Drakensberg, but it is one of the most beautiful.
4. MOUNTAIN ZEBRA WILDERNESS CORRIDOR
Within this 530 000 hectare area roam Cape mountain zebra, black wildebeest, black rhino and cheetah, but it also home to unusual animals like the aardvark, black-footed cat and honey badger as well as 1 288 indigenous plant species (including 29 endemics).
This mosaic of protected areas includes 75 farms, some of them private conservation areas, who get ‘protected environment status’ by joining the corridor (they are also protected from fracking and shale gas exploration).
Ntendeka is a protected portion of the Ngome Forest. The smallest wilderness area in the country, the 5 000 hectare Ntendeka nonetheless makes up for its diminutive size with its glorious scenery – waterfalls, rivers and sandstone cliffs.
The dense stinkwood forest, ranked among the best preserved forests in the province, was once the refuge of the Zulu king Cetshwayo.
This totally undeveloped forest is a feast for tree enthusiasts and botanists, including such rarities as bastard stinkwood and green witch hazel, but its bird life too draws visitors to its dense canopy to try and spot forest buzzards and purple-crested turacos.
6. TEWATE WILDERNESS AREA
Tewate is an area within iSimangaliso Wetland Park set aside and managed as a wilderness area. It is 15 000 hectares north of Cape Vidal; the combination of terrestrial and marine wilderness a first in Africa.
KZN Wildlife organises a guided wilderness trail along the area’s footpaths and routes, covering between 10 and 12 km a day, between April and October.
The unique setting of the wilderness area includes wetlands and dune forest, with a prolific bird life and the possibility of sighting black rhino.
To find it travel along the R71 between Pietersburg/Polokwane and Tzaneen, following the signs to Serala Forest Station where you can park your car and head into the Wilderness (although you may want to try a visit to the Klipdraai waterfalls first, if you have not been in the wilderness before).
The area is incredibly scenic. To describe it as paradise would not be far off the mark. The krantzes, kloofs and flowing streams, densely forested ravines and tough hiking make it at once challenging and beautiful.