The 5 Best Hikes in South Africa

The 5 Best Hikes in South Africa

I don’t ever allow guest posts in the Blog section of this site. This is the one exception because it covers 2 of my favorite subjects: South Africa and hiking.
This post was contributed by Bianca Knauf, a resident of Cape Town. See her Bio at the bottom of the post.
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South Africa is blessed with such a diverse countryside, the landscape changes through each province and district and offers something unique to outdoor lovers around every corner.

We have compiled a list of the top hikes in South Africa that are the most scenic and diverse  and which cater for the serious multi day hiker as well as the casual day hiker.

 


The Otter Trail

This is an iconic South African multi-day hike, which was officially opened in 1968. This 5 day coastal hike traverses the most rugged and beautiful coastline in the Tsitsikamma National park marine and coastal protected area. It covers a distance of 44km, starting at the Stormsriver mouth and ending at Natures Valley.

The landscape here is untouched, you will experience hiking through dense coastal forest and cover areas of shoreline rock formations. You will come across Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) and in the evenings, the beautiful Small Spotted Genets (Genetta genetta) will visit the huts to scavenge for scraps of food.

A good level of fitness and hiking experience is recommended for this trail as you will be carrying a full pack with all your camping gear and provisions over fairly rough terrain. Nevertheless, this trail is an experience of note and most certainly worth the effort!

The overnight huts on the Otter Trail are all beautiful and are situated in scenic locations along the trail. There are a few river mouth crossings to be made on the trail, and it is imperative to plan your timing ahead as the tidal fluctuations could delay a crossing and make it risky. Tide tables are available at the park office.

The Otter Trail, South Africa

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Jonkershoek Waterfalls Trail

Jonkershoek nature reserve is situated just outside Stellenbosch in the winelands of the Western Cape. The reserve is located in a stunning valley of high mountain peaks which receives the highest rainfall per annum in South Africa, making it lush and green. This day hike ascends the headwaters of the Eerste river through typical Fynbos vegetation past an incredibly beautiful waterfall and then on to the second – and even more impressive waterfall – which is the source of the river.

It’s an easy to moderate hike with a relaxed gradient. The scenery is spectacular in the head of the valley and the pools below the first waterfall offer respite from the summer heat and are perfect for a dip.

The second waterfall is not accessible from the path as the steep gorge prevents a descent. This hike is about 2-3 hours long, but you can pace yourself to suit your level of fitness. Always watch the weather in the mountains, it can change within minutes, and it is always safer to turn around if you have any sense of inclement weather. A definite bucket list hike, perfectly positioned in the winelands.

Jonkershoek Waterfalls Trail, South Africa.

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Skeleton Gorge, Table Mountain

This day hike is the best known trail to access the summit of Table Mountain in Cape Town. The route covers a distance of about 6,4 kilometers and you will gain an elevation of 935 meters.

The first part of this trail ascends a ravine of stunning Afro Montane forest. From here, you will reach one of Table Mountain’s reservoirs. Once you have reached the reservoir, you can either link to another trail which leads to the “table”, or you can return via Nursery Gorge to the starting point at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

A high level of fitness is required for this adventurous trail. You will be climbing steep areas with ladders and rope in places. If you have a fear of slipping or suffer from vertigo, it may be best to avoid this route. It is not a relaxed trail and one should not attempt it after rain when the ladders and rocks are slippery and wet. No one really knows why it is named Skeleton Gorge. This just adds to the mystery and adventure of this unforgettable climb.

Bbqboy note: There are numerous trails up Table Mountain and while I was there I did the easy Twelve Apostles hike as well as the very challenging India Venster route. Any route you take will have incredible views and scenery.

Skeleton Gorge, Table Mountain, South Africa.

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Amphitheatre Trail, Drakensberg

The Drakensberg mountain range is just awesome; there are no other words to describe it. This range has the highest summit south of Kilimanjaro and the range spans a length of over 1100 km.

It has been frequented for many years by hard-core hikers and mountaineers for obvious reasons.

The Amphitheatre Trail takes about 7- 8 hours to return to the car park, a good level of fitness is required, yet it is not that strenuous. The trail zigzags up to the Sentinel and passes the Sentinel cave. After that, there is a chain ladder to climb which is not too long or difficult to negotiate.

The stunning views on the way up are just unbeatable. After the ladder, a path takes you to the head of the Tugela Falls. It is the second tallest waterfall in the world and the tallest in Africa. It plunges 950 meters into the basin below and is truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring. One can overnight at the hut close to the falls or return back to the car park.

The Drakensberg region has many other fantastic hikes, all incredibly worthy of exploration.

Amphitheatre Trail, Drakensberg, South Africa

 

 

Outeniqua Trail

One of the all-time favorite hikes of local explorers is the 7 day Outeniqua Trail. This trail passes through the mysterious forests that are drenched in history. Panning for gold, bearded woodcutters, moonshine and mystic elephants still haunt the magic forest halls. This is all that remains of the life history of the pioneers of the hardwood timber industry in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

There are still the occasional signs of the mystic elephants that call the forest home. The landscape here is mainly dense hardwood forest, laced with a myriad of streams and rivers that whisper a magic that you can feel.

This trail can be attempted by most hikers with a moderate to high fitness level. The distances covered each day average at 17 km. Hikers can tailor the trail and do fewer days if they wish to, but the total is 7 days and 8 nights. Huts at the end of each day offer firewood and water.

Outeniqua Trail, South Africa

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For any outdoor lover and hiker, covering ground on these routes with determination to reach your destination at the end of the day, is just awesome! So, get out there and explore, and enjoy South Africa’s beauty, and be prepared with camera in hand for all the breathtaking views and scenery. Always make safety a priority with regard to weather changes when you are in the mountains. Happy Hiking!

 

BiancaKnaufWriter Bio:

Hi, I’m Bianca, from Cape Town, South Africa.

I’m passionate about hiking, adventure, travel & the great outdoors. If you’re interested in those things, visit me at My Wild EarthOr connect with me on Social Media: Instagram, Facebook

 

 Have you done any of these? Have any others that you think should also be on this list?

 

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Comments

  1. These all sound like great hikes and we have done the Skeleton gorge hike and loved it. I do have a problem with blog posts like this because I think it is way to hard to say these are the “Best” 5 hikes in South Africa because unless you have done every single hike in a country, there could be others that are even better. And what one person likes another doesn’t. So normally when I see a post that says they are the “best” whatever, I rarely click on them, I just think the title should say something like the “5 great hikes to do in South Africa” or “5 hikes that you shouldn’t miss”. Just giving my two cents worth.

    Ruth

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I agree in a way with you Kevin/Ruth, I don’t usually like Top 5 or Top 10 lists. BUT…
      I did one of the own when I did Croatia’s Top 10 Hikes. I studied the hell out of it, cross-referencing many different hiking sites (many Croatian) to do it. I did it because there was very little out there in English and since hiking is something I enjoy (and I wanted to do it as much for myself as for others). In the end I know I covered the Top Hikes in the country and I felt comfortable with my list.

      In this case I know South Africa has great hiking having been there but I wanted a local’s take. The idea is to include the great “iconic” hikes in South Africa, the ones that serious hikers who may go to South Africa just to hike would want to do. A 7 day hike might not be for everyone that’s for sure, but I’ve been to SA and the Outeniqua hike is well known and definitely iconic. It won’t be for everyone – I loved hiking Lion’s Head and it’s one of my favorite hikes but is not on the list probably because it’s basically an hour up, so not an iconic hike. So I do understand your point – but I think the goal was really to gear this to the serious hiker who might go to SA with a special, one-in-a-lifetime hike in mind. And I think the above covers that.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…The 5 Best Hikes in South AfricaMy Profile

  2. Hi Frank

    The above is good but in my opinion they are standard hikes – the best stuff is off the beat track but you will need to go with guys from the Mountain Club of South Africa to find the places.

    Western Cape

    Elandspad Kloof – Du Toits Kloof/ Agtertafelberg – 1 day in + 1 day down gorge (an excellent weekend of swimming, waterfalls, rapids down a narrow gorge)
    Witels – Hex River Mountains – 5 Days (University of Cape Town Permits) – STUNNING (The BEST river gorge trip in Southern Africa)
    Hex River Traverse – Waaihoek – Perry Refuge/ Milners Peak 3 days (very strenuous) but spectacular scenery and can easily be extended to 12 days if wanted.
    Wolfberg Cracks – Cedarbergs + Tafelberg – similar to being parts of the US but under African Sky.
    Witzenberg Traverse (Knife edge ridge with stupendous views – rope necessary)
    Klein Winterhoek/ Sneeugat + Groot Winterhoek – Tulbach Valley

    Gauteng/ Transvaal

    Tonquani/ Cedarberg Kloof – Magaliesberg
    Blouberg – Soutpansberg
    Kransberg – Waterberg

    Drakensberg – same as above but via Mnweni Cutback or the Giants Castle/ Organ Pipes region.

    There is so much over there and it is well worth your time contacting the Mountain Club.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Great stuff Colin, thanks for adding these.
      You guys are really organized down there for hiking – I googled mountain clubs in South Africa and they have them (I’m just saying this for most people reading this) for all the different regions and they all have calendars with different walking/hiking activities. Excellent.
      Some of these might be challenging for the non-professional hiker? When you start mentioning ropes (or rungs like we had on the India Venster) then I start hyperventilating 🙁
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…The 5 Best Hikes in South AfricaMy Profile

      • Hi Frank

        Yes the MCSA (Mountain Club of SA) is very organised and have been going for well of a century. They have weekly meets and lots of socials and organise trips abroad. Land access in SA can be a tricky as many of the mountain areas are either surrounded by private farms or the areas themselves are privately owned. The MCSA over the years has purchased much land for conservation purposes but some of the access is via other private land so deals had to be struck with those owners.

        Unfortunately there are always a few lunatics creating problems for the rest and that has put strain on access in some areas. Apart from members the MCSA use permit systems to control and limit access….however some of these areas are vast and first timers wouldn’t have a clue where to access or go in these regions.

        I remained a member even though I haven’t lived there for over 20 years but one day I intend going back for an extended period and my membership remains useful.

        If you guys are intending hiking in SA contact me via my email and I can give you my brothers details. He is an MCSA member, very experienced mountaineer/ hiker and knows the mountains over there like the back of his hand.

  3. Gorgeous photos! Hope to see South Africa for myself someday!
    Anita recently posted…A Walk Across Prague’s Charles Bridge, Three Towers and Thirty StatuesMy Profile

  4. I am sad that I’ve not yet made it to South Africa! What stunning scenery these hikes cover, I can see why you were keen to add this guest post! My favourite is the Drakensburg Region.
    Jane recently posted…Flight & Driving TimesMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I’d love to see the Drakensburg one day as well. I’ve seen many photos of the area and the geography incredibly. Another place I’d like to see is the Blyde River Canyon which although not included in this list has some amazing geography.
      Thanks Jane.

  5. South Africa is such a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing this destination.

  6. They ALL look amazing!
    Andrew Boland recently posted…Taking a … Journey to the Center of the EarthMy Profile

  7. The pictures look amazing. Great read, makes one want to up and board a plane to South Africa. Truly Africa is beautiful.
    Gioko Pat recently posted…Coleman 4 People Family Tents ReviewMy Profile

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