Anyone who’s a seasoned traveller knows about the mountain ranges in South Africa that most impress:
Table Mountain, the Drakensberg, the Pilanesberg, the Tsitsikamma Mountains and the Cederberg make it onto most visitors’ must-do lists.
But the country has a good deal more to offer by way of mountains…
Geologically many of the mountain ranges in South Africa are part of the Cape Fold Belt system – a series of ancient parallel mountain ranges that extend between the Cederberg and Port Elizabeth, including Table Mountain.
This mountain system made travel for early settlers into the inner reaches of the country almost impossible.
Other mountain ranges in South Africa link in to the Great Escarpment, like the Roggeveld, Nuweveld and the Drakensberg.
The Drakensberg abruptly changes the leisurely east-west flow of the Great Escarpment to the north east corner of the country, where it transforms into the Blyde River Canyon and its Three Rondavels.
But there are loads of other mountain ranges South Africa the average traveller won’t know anything about. In fact, many South Africans won’t know some of these…
Visit these spectacular uncharted mountain ranges in South Africa
Leave Cape Town by way of the N2 and you’ll find your way impeded by a series of traffic lights at Somerset West. You might get a little irritated at the delay, but don’t let the lights fool you. It wasn’t their presence that held the Dutch and British settlers at the Cape back in the 1820s. It was the mountains that loom ahead of you.
Your passage is a lot less strenuous over this mountain range in South Africa. What was a severe mountain wagon crossing (damaging up to 20% of wagons en route) through this portion of the Cape Fold Belt takes you via Sir Lowry’s Pass across the Hottentots Holland Mountains where, on the other side, you’ll descend into a valley of orchards, vineyards and the rocky Elgin Mountains.
There’s a four day hiking trail through these mountains (known as the Green Mountain trail), if you want to do more than just look at them. And if you want to overnight see Accommodation in Elgin and make a weekend or holiday of it.
Hex River Mountains
When it snows in the Western Cape, as it does at least once every winter, this is the river valley in which you’ll most likely see snow capped mountains. As the province’s second highest mountain range these Table Mountain sandstone peaks soar to above 2 000 metres above sea level looming over a valley given over predominantly to fruit farms, mainly table grapes, and even cherries.
Pass through this valley surrounded by mountains as the grape vine leaves turn to red, orange and brown and you’ll find yourself in a winter tapestry of colour. Find a local guide to take you through the well maintained paths of the Hex River Mountains (there are no maps of trails).
Conversely, visit the Matroosberg Reserve on the eastern edge of the mountains where there are marked hiking trails. Stay in Ceres or other places in the Hex River Valley, close to this mountain range in South Africa.
The Amatolas extend their heavily forested slopes north of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. They rise 1 800 metres above sea level, their ancient yellowwoods, white stinkwoods and other indigenous trees the home of the threatened Cape parrot and one of the country’s most taxing (no slackpacker option, packs on back), and beautiful, hikes – the Amatola hiking trail.
Nestled in amongst its folds is the faerie town of Hogsback, so beautiful it’s said to have inspired Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Whether you traverse these mountain ranges South Africa, or simply lie back and stare at them, the Amatolas deserve your attention. Stay in Hogsback or other places offering accommodation in Amatola Region.
There’s only one route through the gorge known as the Baviaanskloof between the towns of Studtis and Patensie, in the Eastern Cape.
The valley links the Baviaanskloof Mountains with the Kouga Mountains and is a World Heritage Site of incredible beauty. But back to the route – a single dirt road that follows the dry river beds and takes in some of the country’s most spectacular scenery when it comes to remote mountain landscape.
42 river crossings later will find you at the other end (did we mention there is no other access, in or out, but this road?). The best time to visit is reputed to be spring, although there are many who time it with the excitement of turgid river crossings come the heavy summer rains. Find somewhere to stay at accommodation in the Baviaanskloof.
Looming over the town of George you’ll find the Outeniquas, named after the San and Khoi people who lived in these mountains (you’ll be able to explore San rock art in the Outeniqua Nature Reserve’s caves).
You’re in the heart of the Garden Route when exploring these mountain ranges in South Africa, a series of sandstone fold mountains that combine with the Langkloof Mountains to form a barrier between the coast and the Klein Karoo.
Today there are numerous beautiful passes over these mountains, but back in the 1600s people used to follow elephant to find easier paths across its extensiveness. Do the Outeniqua Hiking Trail (from Beervlei Hut) to explore 108 km over 7 days! (you need to be reasonably fit, or you can do a section of the hike over 3 days instead). Stay near the Outeniqua Mountains at George accommodation or anywhere in the Garden Route.
The Kamiesberg Mountains derive their name from the Khoi word ‘Th’amies’, which means ‘jumble’ and refers to the jumbled granite inselbergs that look a little like someone has strewn a handful of crumbs across sandy inclines. There are those who liken the Kamiesberge to the Matopos of Zimbabwe.
The Namaqualand mountain ranges South Africa extend for about 140 km between Garies and Springbok in the Northern Cape, one of South Africa’s least inhabited and dry regions famed for its spring flowers that emerge after the rains.
It’s a place of wide open spaces, spectacular night skies, rock formations and quiver trees, incredible mountain passes and the chance to stay in traditional matjies huts (huts made from mats by the Nama people). Visit Springbok and other little towns in the area for Namaqualand accommodation.
One doesn’t expect to find such extensive mountains in the Free State, but the Witteberge (white mountains – a name given because of the tendency for snow during winter) extend between Lundin’s Neck and Lady Grey in the Eastern Free State, virtually on the border with Lesotho.
You’re in the thick of the Karoo in the Witteberge with isolated farms, and huge trackless valleys hidden in amongst the undulations of mountains that rise as high as 2400 metres above sea level, its peaks unusually named (Avoca, Halston).
There are a myriad hiking paths and jeep track to explore. Stay in Lady Grey or other find accommodation in Northern Ukhahlamba for this adventure.
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