Challenge yourself physically and mentally with one of these five local long-distance hiking trails.
Five of the best long-distance trails
1. Drakensberg Grand Traverse, Kwa-Zulu Natal
Backpacking the length of the Drakensberg mountains isn’t for sissies. (Check out our best Drakensberg trails for seeing snow.) There are no paths and every day you’re subjected to punishing climbs and descents as you traverse the 3000m high range from the Sentinel car park in the Free State to Bushman’s Nek border post, near Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal. To add to the agony, the classic traverse of the Dragon’s Back includes bagging the range’s six highest peaks: Mont aux Sources, Cleft Peak, Champagne Castle, Mafadi, Giant’s Castle and Thabana Ntlenyana. Shorter sections such as the one between Sentinel and Cathedral peaks are spectacular and more manageable. Peak High Mountaineering and Spanafrican Adventures offer guided trips.
Length: 210 to 250km over 10 to 12 days
Difficulty: Extremely strenuous
Cost: From R125 for a single traverse and R12000 a person for a guided hike
Contact: For the unguided hike, tel 0732287391 or
For further information on visits or bookings visit: witsieshoek.co.za. For the guided hike, visit Peak High or Span African adventures.
2. Wild Coast Hike, Eastern Cape
With deserted white beaches, dramatic cliffs, rugged green hills and smiling people, the Wild Coast offers some of the finest hiking in the world. (Read about a more relaxed hike: the Wild Coast meander). Sadly, the oncemarked trail from Mtamvuna River just south of Port Edward to Kei River near East London is in disrepair, but some sections are still accessible. The stretch from Port St Johns and Coffee Bay is the most spectacular, but make no mistake it’s a tough trek with steep hills, river crossings and long sections of beach walking. Assuming you don’t get too lost (asking locals for directions is part of the fun) the 64km trail will take five days. Take a tent and ask permission from the village chiefs to pitch it or better yet do a community-guided trek and overnight in village rondavels.
Length: 64km over five days
Cost: R20 (R10 for kids) fee to enter Silaka Nature Reserve. Guided five-day hikes are from R1745 a person for group of six
Contact: For the unguided hike, tel 0437019600. For further information on visits or bookings visit: visiteasterncape.co.za. For the guided hike, visit wildcoasthikes.com.
3. Rim of Africa, Western Cape
One of the world’s great long-distance trails, the Rim of Africa traverses more than 600km of rugged mountain terrain from the Cederberg to the Outeniqua Mountains of the Garden Route. It’s more than a trail in the usual sense: at its heart lie conservation, culture and community projects that link across the landscape. Rim of Africa takes several forms. There are traditional guided routes for hardcore hikers, Pack-Lite trails for those who prefer a slackpacking approach, and self-carry, self-guided adventures on certain sections for those who like to go it alone. If you’re short on time, walk the three-day Weekender Trail or one of the seven-day section hikes. The ultimate adventure is to link all the sections in one long journey, the Thru-Hike.
Length: About 600km over 52 days (10 to 22 km a day)
Difficulty: Very strenuous
Cost: R1800 a person for two- to three-night weekender trails, section hikes from R5800 to R7800 a person, seven-day Pack-Lite from R9800, and the Thru-Hike is R33800 a person
Contact: Tel 0764532366, for further information on visits or bookings visit rimofafrica.org
4. Otter Trail, Western Cape
The world renowned Otter Trail is one of the most beautiful hike sites around. Established in 1868, the Otter trail is the oldest hiking trail in South Africa, stretching over 40 km in distance. The Otter Trail is approximately five days long and is quite strenuous so be sure to carry enough water with you (children under 12 are not permitted to hike this trail; neither are adults over 65 years of years of age). Self-catering accommodation is provided and so is water and firewood. The site also warns that hikers watch out for low and high tides as on the fourth day of hike, hikers will cross the Bloukrans River Mouth.
Length: 45 km about 4.5 days
Cost: R1150 per person until 31 October 2017; R1220 thereafter
For further information on visits or bookings visit the SANParks website.
5. The Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail, Western Cape
The Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail, located in Nature’s Valley Western Cape, is yet another beautiful South African hiking trail (read a day-by-day account in our Tsitsikamma Trail story). Upon journeying throughout this 6 day trail, one can marvel at the nature surrounding them whilst walking through mountain fynbos and greenery. For those who are less keen on spending a full six days on this trail, Tsitsikamma offers variations of the trail with the options of 2,3,4, or 5 day shorter routes. The site also offers optional equipment porterage (or “slackpacking”), a feature which gives hikers the option of having their baggage transported between different overnight huts, meaning that hikers only have to carry their daypacks. This deals comes at an additional fee however at R800 for at least 5 items, prices may vary with more items.
Length: 60 km; or 5 days 6 nights
Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
Cost: R155 per person
For further information on visits or bookings visit: mtoecotourism.co.za
This article first appeared in the April 2014 issue of Getaway Magazine.