This is a difficult list to assemble, particularly in a country so filled with incredible hiking opportunities and trails that one is hard pressed to narrow it down to seven. Nevertheless, we have endeavoured to put together a list of those hikes in South Africa that people talk about for years after the event; the hikes people tell others to do.
They’re also relatively kind to hikers, in the sense that there is overnight accommodation on the route and the route is clear and well marked. Most of them are long haul hikes, most of them are at the coast (for some reason hiking at the sea provokes manifold memories), and a number have slackpacker versions, or can be divided into shorter hikes making them more accessible to everyone.
We will have omitted many fantastic trails, so, by all means add your memorable hikes to our comments section below …
7 most memorable hikes in South Africa
Amatola Hiking trail
The good news about the Amatola Hiking trail is that you can do it in installments, or parts of it as day hikes or even longer. You don’t have to do the whole 6 day haul in one. And if you shop around, some tour companies will offer it as a slackpacker version. That said, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful hikes imagineable and you need to be fit to manage it in its entirety.
Most of the trail passes through incredible, ancient and indigenous rainforest with huge outeniqua yellowwoods, redwoods, sneezewoods, wild olives and lemonwoods to accompany you. The outside world disappears, the bird life is incredible and your destination, Hogsback, well worth remaining in for a few days.
Where: Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal, from foot of Sani Pass to Bushman’s Nek
How long: 5 days, 59.3 kms
Best time to go: winter and autumn, although prepare for cold nights, snow, and sudden changes in weather
This hike runs along the foothills of the gorgeous Drakensberg range of mountains, mainly through the Cobham and Garden Castle reserves. Views here are to die for. Along the trail there are rock pools, rivers (six rivers rush though the valley), caves and waterfalls.
And best of all, Giant’s Cup trail is regarded as only moderately difficult and children can manage it, within reason – whilst there are some pretty steep sections, if reasonably fit, you should manage. Overnight accommodation is in basic huts and you’ll need to provide your bedding and food. If it sounds too long, you can shorten the trail by starting or finishing at Swiman or Pholela huts. The main ‘downside’ of the hike is packing as you’ll need clothes for all seasons.
Where: East London coastline, Eastern Cape
How long: 5 days, 59 kms
Best time to go: before the summer rains, best between Feb and May, although from July to September you might see whales
The Strandloper Trail runs from the Kei River Mouth to Gonubie – almot 60 kms of gorgeous beaches, rivers, cliff tops and coastal forests. It’s not called Strandloper (beach walker) for nothing. Most of the hike travails beaches and the accompanying waves, shorelines, tidal pools and incredible sand dunes, estuaries and coastal forests.
It’s clearly marked with little yellow feet and accommodation borders on basic with four overnight shelters and no hot water.But there are some good stops en route at hotels and pubs where you can get a good meal (although you might want to plan these beforehand), and, despite one or two difficult river crossings and the fact that the last two hours of the hike are said to be the worst, it has some of the most magnificent accompanying scenery.
The good news is that there is a slackpacker version of the Strandloper called the Strandloper’s Sundowner Trail – the same route, sleeping in hotels with your luggage carried for you. However the cost is a lot higher.
Where: Western Cape, mostly through the De Hoop Nature Reserve
How long: 5 days, 54 kms
Best time to go: when the whales are here, between August and December
As its name suggests, this gorgeous hike takes place mostly on the coast where you are most likely to spot whales. The trail is 54 kms that stretch from Potberg to Koppie Alleen with five overnight stops within De Hoop Nature Reserve, one of the most unique and diverse reserves in the country with spectacular views.
Whilst taking in a vast array of indigenous plants and flowers you will also get to spot around 50 whales at a time in the bay at De Hoop, regarded as one of the best whale watching spots in the country. Day one is the hardest and covers 15 km up Potberg Mountain – views from the top are breathtaking.
By day three you’re doing a leisurely 8 km through rock pools on the coastline. And overnight accommodation is not roughing it by any stretch of the imagination – you get to stay in a range of cottages, although you will need your own bedding. That said, you don’t have to carry all your own luggage, as what you don’t need in a daypack is taken for you to the next lodging.
If not the most well known then certainly the most popular hike – you’ll need to book the Otter Trail well in advance if you intend walking it. And you will also need to be more than a little fit, as there isn’t anyone to carry your bags for you, and it’s a long-haul hike. But it follows what is arguably one of the most beautiful strips of coastline in the country along rugged, rocky shoreline.
There are exciting river crossings that need a little forethought to manage, such as Bloukrans, deserted beaches, and frequent sightings of dolphins. Despite the steep ascents and descents people do this hike again and again. If you haven’t attempted it, you’re not regarded as a ‘seasoned’ hiker.
Kosi Bay Trail
Whilst there is a Kosi Bay Trail that takes roughly four days to complete, which can also be done as a slackpacker version, there are variations and flexible trails, depending on your level of fitness. The old trail, remembered by seasoned hikers with nostalgia, unfortunately fell into disrepair. But it is possible to do the same trail again, just the accommodation has changed.
On average, if you do the trail in its entirety, you’ll walk for three to four hours a day. And if you’re up to it, you can add canoeing and horse riding, a turtle tour or a boat cruise to your itinerary. You will also be exposed to some of the most incredibly diverse and beautiful scenery – deserted beaches, dune forest, open savannah and wetlands, and the sighting of loggerhead turtles make this an incredible hiking experience.
Outeniqua Hiking Trail
Where: Garden Route, Western Cape
How long: 1-7 days long, depending, 108 kms altogether
Best time to go: all year round
Set in the gorgeous Garden Route, this one of the most popular hikes, and one of the oldest. A seven-day trail in its entirety it starts at Beervlei Hut, an old forest station, and finishes at Harkerville hut near another forestry station. Despite the fact that the trails can only be done from west to east, you can make it shorter by doing it in 2, 3, or 4 day installments.
The hike wends its way through ancient indigenous forests with incredible tree ferns and mountain scenery. It is a self-hike, well signposted, with accommodation in huts along the way. The hike is peppered with the call of birds, sightings of the legendary Knysna loerie, rivers, streams, and towering yellowwoods, stinkwoods, ironwoods, white pears, beech trees and the occasional vervet monkey.
What’s your favourite Hiking Trail in South Africa? Leave us a note in the comment section below!
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