The outdoor lifestyle of South Africa only expands the further north east you go, so it isn’t difficult to find top hiking trails in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Dominated by far more than the Kruger National Park, the north eastern corner of South Africa is a patchwork quilt of game and nature reserves where largely uncharted mountain ranges (Waterberg, Blouberg, Wolkberg) give rise to wide regions of wilderness, winding rivers, lakes, lush indigenous forests (particularly in the Magoebaskloof), rugged kloofs and plenty of game.
To experience the wildness at the heart of South Africa take advantage of top hiking trails in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Top hiking trails in Limpopo
Conveniently starting in the village of Haenertsburg, the Louis Changuion Hiking trail in Limpopo is a wonderful meander through forest and highly threatened grassland (pick up a booklet on medicinal plants, insects and birds of the area in the village) in the foothills of the Wolkberg Wilderness.
Duration: roughly half a day, 10 km
Ease: not difficult, but if you’re a nature lover, you’ll easily get caught up in the plants & birds so allow plenty of time
It wasn’t a difficult choice to list another top hiking trails in Limpopo in the Magoebaskloof region. This one starts at the De Hoek forest station near Tzaneen and heads up onto the escarpment above town, a network of trails that offer several options for you, depending on how much time you have. The area is sublimely beautiful. There are six overnight huts.
Duration: 60 km circular trail over 2-5 days
Ease: you’ll need to be rather fit, this isn’t a walk in the park, and the full version is tough
This is one of the most beautiful ways to experience the Waterberg, and close enough to Pretoria and Johannesburg to make it an easy weekend escape.The reserve lies in the heart of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve the hike winding its way along interconnected paths through indigenous forests and grassy plains where you might stumble upon the odd zebra or giraffe. If you’re pressed for time, do the Zebra Trail.
Duration: 90 km network of interlinked paths
Ease: all fitness levels; plan your route accordingly
There is no set trail when you set out into the wilderness of the Wolkberg. It’s you and 24 000 hectares of the wild as we might have experienced it as hunter gatherers way back. How you walk it, and which barely there tracks you follow, is half the joy of the experience (the area has only two small standard routes; otherwise you walk where the urge takes you). Start at Sarala forest station where you can camp. Thereafter pitch your tent anywhere in amongst the rugged mountains, streams and glens. The strenuous challenge of walking where there are no paths, and being in the middle of nowhere, are all the reward you need.
Duration: plan your route on a map beforehand
Ease: this is strenuous and you need to be hiking fit; go with an experienced leader
Top hiking trails in Mpumalanga
The Num-num Trail, Waterval Boven
Easily one of Mpumalanga’s most famous hikes, the Num-num trail is a tough five-day trail between Badplaas and Machadodorp through some of the most incredible scenery. Day two, Aloe Khaya to Candlewoods, can be particularly hard going (if you’re pressed for time it’s often a compression of two days into one) but the scenery is breathtaking. Otherwise the daily distances are doable. The route is offered as a slackpacker hike.
Duration: 2 – 5 days, depending on your needs
Ease: you’ll want to prepare for this hike; make sure you’re fit
The popular weekend town of Dullstroom, well known for its trout fishing, is also host to this hiking trail on a farm just outside of town. You can opt to base yourself in the farm hut and from there do the top hiking trails in Mpumalanga hike as day trails, making it a perfect weekend venture. Conversely, settle for one day’s hike, heading out from Dullstroom. The initial day’s hike skirts the edge of the farm and includes a river, waterfall and lunch at a rock pool. Day two is a lot easier, a gentle 6 km meander up the river.
Duration: a good 19 km over 2 days
Ease: you’ll need to be hiking fit
A more sublime way of experiencing Africa’s second largest canyon does not exist. This hike follows the river all the way to Bourke’s Luck Potholes, with overnights in simple hikers’ huts. It’s a one-way route, so you’ll need to arrange a trip back to your car at the end of the top hiking trails in Mpumalanga. The route is surprisingly beautiful, with numerous stream crossings, plenty of river pools in which to swim, and a waterfall. Views of the Three Rondavels are spectacular.
Duration: 60 km, you don’t have to do it as a full 5-day hike, there are shorter options
Ease: be reasonably fit
Stay: Blyde River Canyon
This option of hiking trails in Mpumalanga is a highlight of any trip to South Africa. Game drives are one thing, but a guided walk through Kruger is quite another. Once you’ve walked in the wild there’s no going back. You are changed forever (the conventional game drive and luxury lodge combo pale by comparison). The African bush on foot is roughing it. You’ll stay in basic camps overnight. But the peace, the remoteness, the possibility…nothing quite prepares you for the experience.
Duration: 2 days, 3 nights, on average
Ease: you’re walking for up to four hours at a time, so relatively fit
Stay: in Kruger
This is a circular hiking trail through wonderful grasslands, sandstone formations often mentioned in Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s book Jock of the Bushveld, with wonderful views over both the escarpment and Pinnacle Gorge. This is the Staffordshire terrier character’s stamping ground, where he and his owner spent time during the book’s account, hence its name.
Duration: 10 km, roughly 4 hours
Ease: relatively easy, although you’ll need to have endurance to last the distance and there are a few climbs
This farm outside Middelburg is made for adventure junkies (4×4 trails, horse safaris, abseiling, trail running, ruins and excellent birding), which makes it a wonderful space in which to get lost for a weekend trail. There are six trails in all, but three focus on the mountains that border the rustic campsite that serves as your base. One of these is a good 13 km and will serve as a good day’s worth of hiking.
Ease: all fitness levels