Holidays are perfect for getting out of doors and experiencing summer at its best. Depending on where you’re headed, there are countless day trails that vary from a couple of kilometres, done in an hour or two, to more substantial 17 km hikes that take the better part of a day to complete.
We’ve tried to select relatively easy hikes the whole family can do, although anyone can enjoy these. And we’ll no doubt have missed some obvious ones, although we’ve also included a couple of city walks. Essentially we’ve put together a list of day walks across the country that might entice one to get out of doors. I know it has me …
Up Lion’s Head
where: Cape Town
how long: one to three hours, depending
take: a lot of water, snacks, a hat
Heading up Lion’s Head – a mountain in Cape Town that hovers around 670 metres above sea level – is a great way to see Cape Town from the heights, short, and steep enough to get the blood pounding, but not difficult enough to hinder those who are not particularly fit. The winding path up and around the mountain gives incredible views over Robben Island, the Atlantic Seaboard and Blaauwberg, through some of the most beautiful local fynbos. And the top holds further promise of rock climbing, if that is your thing. This is a free hike and you won’t have to bother with permits. That said, you will need to take a lot of water with you, and snacks. There are no facilities up at the top, so best use the bathroom first too (desperately beating a track into the bush is difficult as the walk is popular). If the heat of the day alarms you, then try the full moon version of the hike. It is extremely popular, but when the moon is up and the wind down, there is no better place to be.
where: Hekpoort, Magaliesberg
how long: 5 to 6 hours
take: water, lunch, snacks, a hat, swimming gear
This is a wonderful way to get out of the city to experience the beauty of the Magaliesberg. Included in the hike are encounters with numerous crystal clear mountain pools, cabbage trees and wonderful rock formations. Time spent lazying on the edge of the pools remains a memory for years to come. The hike starts with quite an uphill climb, but it’s good to know that the worst is over at the beginning. Once up on the ridge the views are worth it. And twisted rock formations, wooded valleys, and the pools and waterfalls make it an incredible experience – hard to believe you are but an hour and a half out of Johannesburg. Access into the gorge proper can be steep and pretty daunting to those afraid of heights, or children, so be aware and careful. But the pools are so lovely that it is worth it. You will need permits for the hike (and a code for the gate), which you can get from the Johannesburg hiking club
Lammergeyer (Lammergeier) Hiking Trail
This hike, or variations of the hike, traverses the foothills of the Witteberg Mountains. The scenery – mountains, grasslands – is inspirational, to say the least, and the area devoid of any development. Add to this picture crystal-clear streams, gorgeous sandstone formations and basalt cliffs and you can understand why this part of the world is so highly regarded. The trail runs through the Lammergeier Nature Reserve in the southwestern spur of the southern Drakensberg (be aware that even summer thundershowers are possible here, and the weather is variable). Bird life here too is pretty spectacular. If you have children, try to include Slidey Pool on the itinerary. You can also plan your hike to suit your needs, simply contact the private Lammergeier Nature Reserve.
Big Tree and Ratel Trail
where: Garden Route, Tsitsikamma National Park
how long: 4.2 km, about an hour
take: water, a hat
This isn’t a long walk, but it is worth the trip and can take the whole day, depending on how much time you want to spend in the Tsitsikamma National Park. The hike is all about the Big Tree – an incredible giant yellowwood tree that towers above other trees in the canopy. It is thought to be about 800 years old and reaches 36.6 metres into the sky, its trunk a mere nine metre circumference. There is a boardwalk along which you can walk through the wonderful cool forest – great for families. If you’re into a longer trail there are another two you can take from here – one that is 2.6 km and another of 4.2 km – neither is daunting. If you love trees, or a cool walk then Big Tree, which starts at the parking area 3 km from Storm’s River bridge, is worth it. There is an entrance fee.
where: Hluhluwe, Greater St Lucia Wetland Park
how long: roughly 3 hours, 7 km
take: water, a hat, binoculars
One of two self-guided trails in Hluhluwe, the Mpophomeni Trail is a wiser choice for a day walk – the other, the Dugandlovu, involves an overnight stay. Mpophomeni will take you through a sand forest filled with trees of every description, all labelled, and bird spotting is one of the highlights – it is after all, an avian paradise. It is beautiful, well worth doing and not all that taxing, unless you want to do the second section, which is a further 10 kilometres. And there is a booklet you can pick up from the camp office that gives you all the points of interest along the trail.
where: in the Langeberg, roughly 22 km north west of Heidelberg
how long: most of a day (2 – 15 km)
take: water, lunch, snacks, a hat
Renowned for its huge indigenous forest, you get more than one day trail in Grootvadersbosch in the Langeberg Mountains. Three trails – known as the Bushbuck – described as a ‘disorderly dawdle’ even if it is a favourite – Fonteintjiesbos, which runs through the forest with a waterfall halfway to look forward to, and Grysbok, which trails along the fringes of the reserve through fynbos with wonderful views. The forest is spectacular to walk through and if this is your first time in the reserve, worth taking the Bushbuck trail for this reason.
where: Albertsville, near Northcliff corner, Johannesburg
how long: the choice is yours
take: water, lunch, snacks, a hat
Not even Jo’burg residents know about Alberts Farm, the 90 hectare conservancy that includes grassland, rocky ridges and a section of wetland along the Montgomery Spruit. Those who know about it enjoy it for walking their dogs, orienteering and flying kites. It is also the site of the only artesian spring in Gauteng and the second-largest green lung in the city, after Delta Park. It is thus a wonderful place to walk for the better part of a morning along the spruit downstream where it joins the Braamfontein Spruit. Best to go in groups.
This is one of three hiking and mountain bike trails you can do from Delvera Farm in the heart of the Simonsberg winelands. Dirtopia Trail is a marked vineyard trail of about 10 km that starts from the Trail Centre and wends its way through a Renosterveld Conservancy (formed by surrounding farmers in 2004 to protect the rare Renosterveld vegetation) and yellowwood forest right to the summit of Klapmutskop. It takes you roughly an hour to reach the top. The trail is sometimes done as a moonlit walk on full moon evenings, or as a sunset hike. The views from the top are pretty spectacular and worth the effort.