The 5 Best Hikes in South Africa
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Related: The BIG Guide to South Africa
Hi, I’m Bianca, from Cape Town, South Africa.
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